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CAGED IN

January 2017

SOLITARY CONFINEMENT’S
DEVASTATING HARM ON PRISONERS
WITH PHYSICAL DISABILITIES

CAGED IN

At America’s Expense:
SOLITARY
CONFINEMENT’S DEVASTATING HARM ON PRISONERS
The Mass Incarceration of the Elderly
WITH PHYSICAL DISABILITIES
©
2017
ACLU Foundation
June
2012

American Civil Liberties Union
125 Broad Street
New York, NY 10004
www.aclu.org
Cover image credit: Tim Gruber

Written by: Jamelia Morgan
Cover image: Andrew Lichtenstein

CONTENTS
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY........................................................................................................................................... 4
I. INTRODUCTION................................................................................................................................................10
A.	 Why We Must Act Now.............................................................................................................................13
	 1.	 Disabilities Are Common in Prisons and Jails. .....................................................................................13
	 2.	 Heightened Vulnerabilities..................................................................................................................13
B.	 Why It Can Get Worse..............................................................................................................................14
	 1.	 Crowded Prisons . ..............................................................................................................................14
	 2.	 Aging Prisoners..................................................................................................................................15
C.	 Scope of the Report and Definitions. ........................................................................................................16
D.	 Methodology...........................................................................................................................................17
E.	 A Note on Language................................................................................................................................18
II. SPOTLIGHT ON TARGET JURISDICTIONS...............................................................................................................19
A.	 Population Data......................................................................................................................................20
B.	 Limited Data on Complaints Filed by Prisoners With Physical Disabilities..................................................21
III. SOLITARY CONFINEMENT HARMS PRISONERS WITH PHYSICAL DISABILITIES.............................................................24
A.	 Psychological Harm. ...............................................................................................................................24
B.	 Physical Harms. .....................................................................................................................................26
	 1.	 Architectural Barriers in Facilities.......................................................................................................28
	 2.	 Self-Care. ..........................................................................................................................................29
	 3.	 Disrupted Medical Therapies...............................................................................................................30
	 4.	 Limited to No Physical Activity.............................................................................................................30
	 5.	 Physical Therapy. ...............................................................................................................................31
C.	 Rehabilitative Harms...............................................................................................................................32
D. 	Solitary Confinement Inflicts Acute Harms on Prisoners With Sensory Disabilities.....................................32
1. 	Deaf and Hard of Hearing Prisoners. ...................................................................................................32
2. 	Blind and Low Vision Prisoners...........................................................................................................35
3. 	Communication Barriers.....................................................................................................................35
IV. FAILURES TO PROVIDE ACCOMMODATIONS AND ASSISTIVE DEVICES.........................................................................37
V. HOW PRISONERS WITH PHYSICAL DISABILITIES END UP IN SOLITARY CONFINEMENT...................................................40
A.	 What We Know About Prisoners With Physical Disabilities in Solitary Confinement. ...................................40
B.	 How Do Prisoners With Physical Disabilities End Up in Solitary Confinement?. ..........................................41
	 1.	 Administrative Segregation.................................................................................................................41
	 2.	 Protective Custody..............................................................................................................................41
	 3.	 Medical Isolation. ...............................................................................................................................42
	 4.	 Disciplinary or Punitive Segregation....................................................................................................42
	 5.	 Placements Into Solitary Confinement Due to Lack of Accessible Housing.............................................45
	 6.	 Trapped in Solitary..............................................................................................................................46
VI. LEGAL PROTECTIONS FOR PRISONERS WITH DISABILITIES IN SOLITARY CONFINEMENT.. ..............................................47
A.	 International Law....................................................................................................................................47
	 1.	 UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.....................................................................47
	 2.	 Nelson Mandela Rules........................................................................................................................47
B.	 Constitutional Protections: The Eighth Amendment..................................................................................48
C.	 The Americans with Disabilities Act. ........................................................................................................49
	 1.	 Reasonable Accommodations. ............................................................................................................49
	 2.	 Effective Communications...................................................................................................................50
	 3.	 Limits to the ADA................................................................................................................................50
D.	 Prison Litigation Reform Act....................................................................................................................51
E.	 Protection & Advocacy Monitoring and Oversight......................................................................................51
F.	 State Law. ..............................................................................................................................................51
VII. RECOMMENDATIONS FOR ENDING SOLITARY CONFINEMENT OF PRISONERS WITH DISABILITIES....................................52
A.	 Recommended Action. ............................................................................................................................53
	 1.	 Correctional Systems. ........................................................................................................................53
	 2.	 Federal. .............................................................................................................................................54
	 3.	 State and Local.. .................................................................................................................................55
B.	 Model Policies and Procedures................................................................................................................55
	 1.	 General Principles..............................................................................................................................55
	 2.	 General Principles Regarding Incarcerated Persons With Physical Disabilities. .....................................56
	 3.	 Process Prior to Placement.. ...............................................................................................................56
	 4.	 Disciplinary Segregation.....................................................................................................................57
	 5.	 Protective Custody..............................................................................................................................57
	 6.	 Conditions. ........................................................................................................................................57
VIII. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS.. .................................................................................................................................59
IX. APPENDICES.. ................................................................................................................................................60
ENDNOTES	 .......................................................................................................................................................61

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

E

very day, in prisons and jails across America, prisoners
with physical disabilities are held in conditions of
near-total isolation—also known as solitary confinement. Locked in cages roughly the size of a regular parking
space, prisoners held in solitary confinement are kept alone
in their cells for approximately 22 hours a day or more.
While in solitary, they have little or no human interaction,
access to light, rehabilitative programming, or constructive
activity. In 2015, the ACLU sought to expose the harms
of solitary confinement by investigating the challenges
facing prisoners with physical disabilities subjected to this
devastating practice. The current and formerly incarcerated
people with disabilities who we spoke with described their
experiences of enduring extreme isolation for days, months,
and even years. They shared the pain and humiliation of
being left to fend for themselves in solitary confinement
without wheelchairs, prosthetic limbs, or other necessary
accommodations to carry out life’s basic daily tasks.
Without these vital accommodations, many of them were
left without the means to walk, shower, clothe themselves,
or even use the toilet. Deaf and blind prisoners reported
that prison officials failed to provide them with access
to hearing aids, Braille materials, certified sign language
interpreters, or other auxiliary aids and services that are
necessary to facilitate meaningful communication. As a result, many prisoners reported being left completely isolated
without any ability to communicate with other prisoners,
staff, family members, and other visitors.
The devastating psychological and physical harms of solitary confinement are well known. Mental health experts
studying the issue agree that solitary confinement is psychologically harmful. People subjected to solitary confinement may experience hallucinations, depression, paranoia,
anxiety, and thoughts of suicide, among other negative
reactions. In fact, prisoners held in solitary confinement
account for nearly 50 percent of all completed suicides by
incarcerated people. Beyond this, solitary confinement can

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AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION

also be physically debilitating. Stress, enforced idleness, and
limited access to health care, including medically necessary
prescriptions and physical therapies, among other factors,
can lead to severely diminished health outcomes for
prisoners.

Locked in cages roughly
the size of a regular parking
space, prisoners held in
solitary confinement are
kept alone in their cells for
approximately 22 hours
a day.
Our own research and interviews with incarcerated and
formerly incarcerated people with physical disabilities,
as well as medical experts and disability rights advocates,
confirmed these harms and more. Alarmingly, we’ve found
that for prisoners with physical disabilities, solitary confinement imposes additional harms. Prisoners with mobility
disabilities, such as those resulting from spinal cord injuries,
often rely on regular physical therapy, exercise, and access
to proper prescription medications to maintain a healthy
existence. Yet the highly restrictive environment of solitary
confinement runs completely counter to these health goals.
Held in tiny cells for upwards of 22 hours per day, prisoners
with physical disabilities in solitary confinement are either
completely denied or seldom provided the regular exercise

necessary to prevent muscle deterioration. They are also
denied or seldom provided the physical therapy necessary
to support muscle strength and conditioning.
Similarly, blind and/or deaf prisoners experience unique
harms when held in solitary confinement, and many experience this isolated condition more acutely than seeing
or hearing prisoners. These prisoners often experience a
heightened form of sensory deprivation while trapped in
the mind-numbing emptiness of solitary confinement. Not
only are these prisoners locked in their cells for most or all
of the day, they are also frequently denied access to in-cell
constructive or recreational activities, such as reading,
writing, or watching television, which can be used to help
stimulate the mind while in isolation. Instead, many are left
to languish in a state of total idleness for weeks, months,
and even years at a time.

OF ALL SUICIDES

BY INCARCERATED PEOPLE
ARE COMPLETED IN
SOLITARY CONFINEMENT

Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty

Prisoners with physical disabilities are not only acutely
and uniquely harmed by solitary confinement, but they
have also been effectively shut out from participating in
critical aspects of daily prison life. Drawing from research,

50%
NEARLY

CAGED IN: SOLITARY CONFINEMENT’S DEVASTATING HARM ON PRISONERS WITH PHYSICAL DISABILITIES

5

we know that prisoners with physical disabilities in solitary
confinement are frequently denied necessary accommodations to ensure they have equal access to prison medical
and mental health care, as well as prison programs and
services—including educational and vocational classes,
visitation, telephone calls, and exercise yards. For example,
prison authorities have failed to provide accommodations
—such as sign language interpreters for deaf prisoners or
text-to-audio devices for blind prisoners—in all prison
programs, thus actively thwarting effective communications with these prisoners. The exclusion of prisoners with
physical disabilities from the routine aspects of prison life is
compounded by the fact that the highly restrictive environment of solitary confinement already limits opportunities
for social interaction and environmental stimulation.
Prisoners with physical disabilities are in some cases shut
out from even the barest of opportunities for engagement
and constructive activity afforded to other prisoners, and as
a result are left in near-total isolation.
Given the damage to the human psyche and physical
health, the United Nation’s Special Rapporteur on Torture
and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or
Punishment strongly urges corrections systems to ban solitary confinement beyond 15 days. Beyond that point, the
Special Rapporteur has concluded that solitary confinement
can amount to torture. Yet, despite these clearly identified
harms and calls to end the practice, prison officials continue to rely on solitary confinement in American prisons
and jails across the nation. On any given day, approximately
80,000 to 100,000 people are held in conditions amounting
to solitary confinement.

Prisoners with disabilities
are placed in solitary
confinement even when
it serves no penological
purpose.
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AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION

Contributing to the overuse of solitary confinement in the
United States is the fact that this harsh condition is inflicted
on prisoners for a host of reasons beyond the most serious
of crimes of violence or attempted escape, such as for a minor infraction like disobeying a routine order or failing to
keep a tidy cell. As with all incarcerated persons, those with
physical disabilities can be placed into solitary confinement
for many reasons, including where the prisoner:
■■

Poses a general threat to the safety or security of
the facility (i.e., administrative segregation, or “ad
seg”);

■■

Is at risk of serious physical harm or death due to
the threat posed by other prisoners (i.e., protective
custody);

■■

Violates a prison rule (i.e., disciplinary
segregation);

■■

Has a communicable disease (i.e., medical
isolation); or

■■

Has a disability and prison officials determine
it is more convenient to place them in solitary
confinement until permanent housing is identified.

What is most troubling is the fact that prisoners with
disabilities are placed into solitary confinement even when
it serves no penological purpose. Corrections officials have
put prisoners with physical disabilities into solitary confinement because there were no available cells that could
accommodate them in a less restrictive environment. The
lack of available cells that can accommodate prisoners with
physical disabilities can also contribute to prolonged placements in solitary confinement. One blind prisoner was held
in solitary confinement for six weeks without any explanation until corrections officials determined where to place
him. During that time he was denied access to showers,
clean clothing, telephone calls, commissary, visitation, job
assignments, and writing materials. Corrections officials
have also placed deaf prisoners into solitary confinement
for failing to respond to spoken commands they could
not hear. Deaf prisoners also reported being disciplined
for communicating in American Sign Language—actions
which were interpreted by corrections staff as threatening.

This report draws from interviews with currently and formerly incarcerated people with disabilities, disability rights
advocates, prisoner rights’ advocates, medical experts,
legal scholars, and correctional officials and examines the
conditions of confinement, harms, and challenges facing
prisoners with physical disabilities in solitary confinement.
In addition, this report fills some of the gaps in data and,
where possible, builds on existing data to provide a snapshot of (1) the number of people with physical disabilities;
(2) the number of prisoners with physical disabilities in
solitary confinement; and (3) the volume of grievances filed
by prisoners with disabilities in 10 state prison systems:
California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Nevada,
Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Virginia. Finally, the
report closes by discussing the available legal protections
and by offering a set of recommendations to federal, state,
and local officials and policymakers to guide reforms for

KEY FINDINGS
The large population of prisoners with physical disabilities
makes it imperative that we address the challenges they face
in prisons and jails lest the needs of this sizable group go
unmet. The large proportion of people with disabilities in
prisons and jails nationwide likely means that this group
makes up a significant share of those held in solitary confinement. However, there is no publicly available data on the
number of prisoners with disabilities in solitary confinement
or any other form of restrictive housing. With few exceptions, corrections departments have no data, incomplete
data, or inaccurate data on people with disabilities in their
systems. Without accurate data, there is no way to tell exactly how many are subjected to the harms of solitary confinement and no way to properly ensure that their basic human
needs—food, water, shelter, and medical and mental health
care—are met.

prisoners with physical disabilities in solitary confinement.

TABLE 1: PRISONERS AS A PERCENTAGE OF TOTAL CUSTODY POPULATION1 BY STATE AND DISABILITY
Blind* and/or Deaf

Total Disability

Mobility, Assistive Devices,
and Special Passes**

California

2.03%

8.07%

5.38%

Florida

≤1.0%

2.29%

20.93%‡

Georgia

≤1.0%

3.28%

3.10%

Illinois

Does not track data

Does not track data

Does not track data

Louisiana

1.08%

1.21%†

2.55%*

Nevada

≤1.0%

Did not provide data

Did not provide data

Ohio

1.45%

3.98%†

N/A

Pennsylvania

4.46%

7.06%†

7.07%*

Rhode Island

≤1.0%

1.47%†

1.31%2

Virginia

≤1.0%

N/A

N/A

* Does not include persons whose vision can be corrected with prescription glasses.
** We cannot be certain how reflective this category may be of total population numbers, as prisoners with disabilities might have multiple
devices or none.
† Refers to where public records responses resulted in incomplete data, or data that was inconsistent across categories of disability.
‡ Refers to assistive devices and special passes, such as access to lower bunks or assistance from an attendant.

CAGED IN: SOLITARY CONFINEMENT’S DEVASTATING HARM ON PRISONERS WITH PHYSICAL DISABILITIES

7

Population Data
A few findings with respect to population numbers are
important to highlight:
■■

Almost 1 out of 10 prisoners in the state of
California report or have been identified as having
a hearing, visual, and/or mobility-related disability.

■■

Approximately 21 percent of prisoners in the
Florida Department of Corrections (DOC) have
been assigned some kind of assistive device or
special pass (e.g., access to lower bunks, assistance
from an attendant, etc.).

■■

Almost 1 in 20 prisoners in state-run prisons in
Pennsylvania have been identified as blind or low
vision and/or deaf or hard of hearing.

■■

The Illinois DOC does not track data on the
number of prisoners who have disabilities or the
nature of their disabilities.

Grievances
Corrections departments have not developed systems to
monitor grievances or formal complaints filed by prisoners
with disabilities. Grievances are one of the only means by
which prisoners can seek help, notify corrections staff of
their individual needs, or raise other issues with corrections staff and officials. By not monitoring the number of
grievances filed or keeping records of whether a particular
grievance was addressed and resolved, corrections officials
limit their ability to properly address the challenges and
meet the needs of prisoners with physical disabilities.

1 OUT OF 10
CA

8

PRISONERS IN CALIFORNIA
REPORT A HEARING, VISUAL,
AND/OR MOBILITY DISABILITY

AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION

ABOUT

1 IN 5

PRISONERS IN THE
FLORIDA DOC RELY
ON SOME KIND OF
ASSISTIVE DEVICE

Denied the opportunity to seek help and shut off from
systems of redress, prisoners with physical disabilities are
left even more vulnerable in these correctional institutions.
The responses as relate to the grievances filed by prisoners
with physical disabilities produced some notable findings:
■■

The Florida DOC reported 792 grievances filed
by prisoners with disabilities from January 2013
through January 2015. However, the department
reported that only 44 of those grievances were
TX
resolved during that same time period.3

■■

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and
Correction reported that approximately 1,839
prisoners in its state-run facilities have a disability,
but reported only three grievances filed by prisoners
with disabilities from January 2013 through January

IL

THE ILLINOIS DOC
DOES NOT POSSESS
ANY DATA ON THE
NUMBER OF PRISONERS
WITH DISABILITIES

2015. It reported that all three grievances were
resolved.4
■■

■■

■■

The Pennsylvania DOC reported that 132
grievances were filed by prisoners with disabilities
from January 2013 through January 2015. It did
not have records to track whether those grievances
were resolved or pending as of January 2016.
The Louisiana DOC reports that 186 grievances
were filed by prisoners with disabilities from
January 2013 through December 2015. According
to the department’s reported data, only 10
grievances were resolved during the same time
period.

confinement, or other forms of restrictive housing,
and the reasons for their placement.

TO THE DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE:
■■

Audit prisons on an annual or biannual basis
to evaluate whether corrections facilities have
completed building and programming evaluation
plans or are otherwise in compliance with the
regulations governing public entities under Title II
of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

■■

Augment existing guidelines on the treatment
of prisoners in solitary confinement, or
restrictive housing, found in the DOJ Report
and Recommendations Concerning the Use
of Restrictive Housing, to include prisoners
with physical disabilities consistent with the
recommendations in this report.

The Illinois and Virginia DOCs do not maintain
records that track information on grievances filed
by prisoners with disabilities.

Key Recommendations

TO CONGRESS:
■■

Enact appropriate legislation requiring state and
local jurisdictions to track the number of people
with disabilities and those in solitary confinement,
or other forms of restrictive housing, and the
reasons for their placement, in their state and local
corrections institutions.

■■

Enact appropriate legislation to provide increased
federal funding for Protection & Advocacy
organizations to engage in monitoring and
oversight of correctional institutions to increase
their capacity to advocate on behalf of prisoners
with physical disabilities more broadly.

■■

Pass the Solitary Confinement Reform Act (S. 3432)
introduced by Senator Dick Durbin (D-Il) to reduce
the use of solitary confinement, improve conditions
of confinement, and provide protections that limit
time spent in solitary confinement for prisoners
held in the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons
(BOP). This bill also prohibits BOP officials from
placing prisoners with physical disabilities into
solitary confinement, unless certain conditions are
met, in cases where a licensed medical professional
has determined that solitary confinement would
exacerbate existing disabilities.

To address the challenges faced by prisoners with physical
disabilities and to end the overreliance on solitary confinement by correctional systems, this report offers the
following key recommendations:

TO CORRECTIONAL OFFICIALS:
■■

End all placements of prisoners with physical
disabilities into solitary confinement where their
disabilities will be worsened by such placements.

■■

Prohibit all placements of prisoners with physical
disabilities into solitary confinement due to a lack
of accessible cells.

■■

Provide all accommodations, including assistive
devices and auxiliary aids, to prisoners with physical
disabilities who are held in solitary confinement,
unless a substantial and immediate security threat
is documented. In such cases, alternative arrangements must be made and documented.

■■

Establish data procedures to improve tracking and
monitoring of prisoners with physical disabilities
in prisons and jails, including the number of
people with disabilities and those in solitary

CAGED IN: SOLITARY CONFINEMENT’S DEVASTATING HARM ON PRISONERS WITH PHYSICAL DISABILITIES

9

I. INTRODUCTION

R

obert Dinkins is paralyzed from the waist
down and uses a wheelchair. Prison officials
confiscated his wheelchair when he was
placed in solitary confinement, “forcing him to
crawl” around on the ground and “eat [his] meals
on the floor.”5

Damon Wheeler is hard of hearing. He alleged
that he was unable to access his hearing aids for 86
days after prison officials confiscated them prior
to transferring him into the Special Housing Unit,
a form of solitary confinement.6
Abdul Malik Muhammad is blind. He alleges that
he was kept in solitary confinement for six weeks
in part because prison officials did not know
where to place him.7 During those six weeks, he
was denied access to showers, fresh clothes, recreation, telephone calls, and visitation.8

APPROXIMATELY

80,000 TO
100,000

PEOPLE ARE HELD IN
SOLITARY CONFINEMENT
IN THE U.S.

J.M. is a deaf prisoner.9 He reports that he was
held in solitary confinement for two weeks for
failing to respond to an oral command that he
could not hear and that was spoken behind his
back by a corrections staff member.10

Solitary confinement past 15 days can amount to torture.11
Locked in cells roughly the size of a parking space, prisoners are confined alone in their cells for approximately 22
hours a day or more, in a maximum-security environment,
with little to no human interaction or access to natural light.
Most of life’s daily activities—from dressing to grooming to
using the toilet—take place within the confines of a small
cell. On those rare occasions when prisoners are permitted to leave their cells—for example, to go to the exercise
yard—they must be escorted by prison security staff, often
while shackled with chains tied tightly around the ankles,
waist, and wrists. Many are strip-searched every time they

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AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION

leave their cells. Prisoners are typically unable to participate
in work opportunities or rehabilitative programming, such
as educational courses or vocational training programs.
Given these highly restrictive and isolating conditions, it is
not surprising that solitary confinement is known to inflict
acute and devastating mental and physical harms upon
prisoners.12 Yet, despite these harms, corrections officials

continue to overuse solitary confinement in prisons and jails
across the nation. On any given day, approximately 80,000
to 100,000 persons13 are held in conditions amounting to
solitary confinement in the United States. Some languish in
isolation for months, years, and even decades.14 This continued overuse of solitary confinement is an affront to one
of the foundational and professed goals of incarceration:
rehabilitation. Solitary confinement prevents prisoners
from participating in rehabilitative programming. Instead,
solitary confinement ruins lives. It often leaves those subjected to its harms worse off or irrevocably damaged.
Recent advocacy focused on ending solitary confinement
has sought to roll back more than four decades of “tough
on crime” rhetoric and policies, which have led to mass
incarceration,15 hyper-incarceration,16 and the overemphasis on punitive rather than rehabilitative approaches
to crime and punishment. The movement to end solitary
confinement has had tremendous success in recent
years—and calls for reform have come from the highest
offices in the land, including from both President Barack
Obama17 and Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy.18
Legislative campaigns and litigation at the state and local
levels have been successful in ending indefinite placements
in solitary confinement;19 enacting state laws and policies
that limit the use of solitary confinement for vulnerable
groups,20 such as youth, pregnant women, and persons with
mental disabilities; and garnering national attention on the
practice through human rights reports21 and congressional
hearings.22 Perhaps the most poignant message has come
from prisoners themselves after thousands participated in a
60-day hunger strike beginning in July 2013 to protest the
long-term isolation of prisoners at California’s Pelican Bay
State Prison.23
Despite these successes, considerably less attention has been
paid to one of the most vulnerable groups harmed by the
pervasive use of solitary confinement: people with physical
disabilities. People with physical disabilities are often placed
into solitary confinement for the same reasons as those
who do not have disabilities: they were deemed a risk to
the safety and security of the corrections institution; they
violated a rule; they were identified as a member of a vulnerable group and separated from the general population;
or they have a communicable disease. But some people with
physical disabilities are placed in solitary confinement for

reasons that have nothing to do with the safety and security
of the corrections institution. Prisoners and detainees with
disabilities may be placed in solitary confinement because
there are no accessible housing units in which to hold them,
as is the case for prisoners who use wheelchairs. Some have
even been punished with solitary confinement for rule
violations that were caused by their disabilities.

When I asked why I was being isolated
and held in seclusion, I was told that they
[would] put me wherever they want whenever
they want. All because I had a physical
disability, not because I had broken any rules
and certainly not because of my financial crime
that was the reason I was incarcerated. Simply
because I had a physical disability I was made
to endure isolation and abuse at an
indescribable level.” 24
—DEAN WESTWOOD, FORMERLY INCARCERATED AT COFFEE CREEK
CORRECTIONAL FACILITY IN OREGON

The placement of people with disabilities into solitary
confinement is deeply troubling. People with physical
disabilities constitute one of the most vulnerable groups
living in isolation in prisons and jails across America.
Although all prisoners and detainees rely on staff to provide for their basic human needs—nutritious food, clean
water, medical care, and mental health treatment—for
people with physical disabilities, their needs and reliance
on corrections staff are even greater. People with physical
disabilities not only rely on corrections staff to meet their
basic human needs, but they also may require additional
support to perform everyday tasks, be it support in eating
meals, taking showers, getting dressed, or attending medical
appointments.25 In addition, prisoners and detainees with
physical disabilities typically require accommodations that
will provide them with equal access to programs, services,
and activities offered in the corrections facility.26 This may
include providing them with assistive devices (e.g., canes,

CAGED IN: SOLITARY CONFINEMENT’S DEVASTATING HARM ON PRISONERS WITH PHYSICAL DISABILITIES

11

Despite the passage of the
Americans with Disabilities
Act over 25 years ago,
the needs of people with
disabilities are not being
met in prisons and jails.
wheelchairs, hearing aids, etc.) and services (e.g., sign
language interpreters, assistance with dressing, etc.) and/or
modifying a set program or curriculum.
In solitary confinement, all are vulnerable to the devastating psychological and physical effects of near-total
isolation, and social and sensory deprivation. But, for those
with physical disabilities, the harmful effects of solitary
confinement may be even worse. As explained in greater
detail below, people with physical disabilities have unique
medical and mental health needs, but many are denied
regular access to such care while in solitary confinement.
Limited access to health care can exacerbate some existing
physical disabilities, and limited to no access to regular
physical activity—whether indoor exercise or outdoor
recreation—can also be detrimental.
Federal law, most notably the Americans with Disabilities
Act (ADA), which was enacted in 1990, establishes comprehensive protections for people with disabilities, including
protections from discrimination on the basis of disability
and guarantees of equal access. Yet, despite these robust
protections, the needs of people with disabilities are not
being met in prisons and jails nationwide. Although it has
been over 25 years since the passage of the ADA,27 recent
litigation and media reports show that by failing to remove
architectural barriers, prison officials continue to deny
people with disabilities equal access to critical areas in corrections facilities, including housing units, medical centers,
recreation yards, law libraries, and visitation rooms. Even

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AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION

where states have facilities that provide equal access to prisoners with physical disabilities, these facilities have become
woefully overcrowded and understaffed.28 In addition,
recent court complaints allege that corrections systems
continue to deny people with disabilities equal access to
prison programs, services, and activities, including educational and vocational courses29 and telephone privileges.30
Beyond this, the barriers preventing equal access to prison
programs, services, and activities are heightened for those
persons with physical disabilities held in solitary confinement. When held in solitary confinement, all prisoners
may be prohibited from participating in programming,
including educational and vocational programs, and may
be outright denied visitation or telephone privileges.
However, even in those corrections systems where prisoners
in solitary confinement are offered access to programming,
people with physical disabilities are effectively barred from
participating due to architectural barriers that can prevent
them from accessing the physical location where the programming takes place. Moreover, people with sensory disabilities such as deafness or blindness are often effectively
excluded from programming in cases where the materials
are not provided in a format that is accessible to them.
Locked away and locked out of opportunities to engage
in any constructive activity offered by programming, the
sensory and social deprivation experienced by these prisoners is magnified. As a result, they languish behind bars in
a state of idleness, unable to engage in mental stimulation
and constructive activity, leaving them in an environment
of near-total isolation.
This report draws from interviews with current and formerly incarcerated people with disabilities, disability rights
advocates, prisoner rights’ advocates, medical experts,
legal scholars, and correctional officials and examines the
conditions of confinement, harms, and challenges facing
prisoners with physical disabilities in solitary confinement.
In addition, this report fills some of the gaps in data and,
where possible, builds on existing data to provide a snapshot of (1) the number of people with physical disabilities;
(2) the number of prisoners with physical disabilities in
solitary confinement; and (3) the volume of grievances filed
by prisoners with disabilities in 10 state prison systems:
California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Nevada,
Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Virginia. Finally, the

go unaddressed. This calls for a complete reexamination—
and in some cases, overhaul—of prison and jail policies
governing the treatment of people with disabilities.

1. Disabilities Are Common in Prisons
and Jails
A recent study by the U.S. Department of Justice estimates
that 32 percent of prisoners and 40 percent of jail detainees
report having at least one physical or cognitive disability.31
The data shows that the proportion of people with disabilities far outnumbers the incidence rates in populations outside prisons and jails, where about 10.9 percent of persons
report having a disability.32 Given the large proportion of
prisoners with physical disabilities, it is even more imperative to address the challenges they face in prisons and jails
to ensure that the needs of this group do not go unmet.

Photo: shepard sherbell/Getty

2. Heightened Vulnerabilities

report closes by discussing the available legal protections
and by offering a set of recommendations to federal, state,
and local officials and policymakers to guide reforms for
prisoners with physical disabilities in solitary confinement.

A. WHY WE MUST ACT NOW
People with disabilities comprise a large proportion of
the prison and jail populations. What’s more, crowded,
decrepit, unsanitary, and violent prisons heighten the vulnerabilities, unmet needs, and serious pain and suffering
inflicted on those persons with disabilities. The challenges
they face will only increase as the prison population ages, as
will the magnitude of the harms experienced if these issues

America’s prisons and jails are dangerous and dehumanizing
places.33 Recent media exposés and court cases tell stories of
deplorable living conditions,34 woefully inadequate medical
and mental health care,35 sexual abuse and rape,36 and allegations of purposeful starvation.37 Gripping accounts of
neglect,38 abuse,39 riots,40 suicides,41 and violence42 amongst
prisoners and by corrections staff43 reveal—with few exceptions—nationwide failures of epic proportions and systems
ill-suited to manage the task of true rehabilitation. These
accounts fly in the face of our constitutional protections
against cruel and unusual punishment and contribute to
human suffering on a massive scale.
Hidden among these systemic failures are people with
disabilities—mental and physical—left to languish in despair, isolated, shut off, and prohibited from gaining equal
access to programs and services. The brutality of prison
and jail life in America means that prisoners face a serious
risk of physical and psychological harm, especially in those
facilities that are overcrowded and understaffed.44 In these
environments, those with physical disabilities may be just
as susceptible to sexual assault as are those prisoners with
mental illnesses or psychiatric disabilities,45 as well as physical and mental abuse46 due to their perceived vulnerabilities.

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32%
40%

OF PRISONERS AND
OF JAIL DETAINEES
REPORT HAVING AT
LEAST ONE DISABILITY
Though there is limited research on the prevalence of
sexual abuse among incarcerated people with disabilities, if
rates mirror those found in the free world, there is reason
to believe that people with disabilities experience victimization at disproportionately higher rates. According to one
report, people with disabilities were three times more likely
than non-disabled people to be victims of violent crime.47
This is particularly true for people with physical disabilities,
who are even more vulnerable in corrections environments.
The high level of violence in corrections facilities exposes
all prisoners to a heightened risk of physical harm. In turn,
corrections officials may turn to solitary confinement as a
means to protect prisoners from harm.
According to court complaints, human rights reporting, and
media accounts, people with physical disabilities have been
the subject of harassment, taunting, and ridicule both by
other prisoners and even by corrections staff.49 For instance,
people who are blind or low vision face acute vulnerabilities
in prisons and jails.50 They may be vulnerable to physical violence,51 including stabbings and sexual assaults, as well as
robbery and theft. They are often the subject of harassment
and ridicule.52 Some are even taunted for purportedly “faking” their disability, which in turn exposes them to serious

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harm due to the failure of corrections staff to take seriously
and properly accommodate those disabilities.
The harms experienced by people with disabilities due
to their heightened vulnerabilities are morally untenable
and practically unnecessary, especially considering that
people with physical disabilities are often held in protective
custody, a version of solitary confinement, on account
of these heightened vulnerabilities to physical violence,
sexual assault, and harassment. Though some prisoners
may have to be separated from the general population
to protect them from harm, these same prisoners should
not be forced to endure the extreme social and sensory
deprivation of solitary confinement as a condition of their
safety. Reducing the number of prisoners with disabilities
exposed to solitary confinement will require addressing and
ending the violence and abuse that have tragically come to
characterize prisons and jails across the country.

B. WHY IT CAN GET WORSE
1. Crowded Prisons
Overcrowding is a serious problem in corrections institutions across the country. According to the most recent data
from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, prison overcrowding—above 100 percent capacity—remains a serious issue
in many states, including Alabama (192.7%),53 California
(136.6%),54 Colorado (115.1%),55 Delaware (161.7%),56
Hawaii (159.2%),57 Idaho (109.3%),58 Illinois (171.1%),59
Iowa (112.8%),60 Kansas (104.1%),61 Kentucky (104.5%),62
Louisiana (119.3%),63 Maine (103.1%),64 Massachusetts
(130%),65 Minnesota (101.3%),66 Missouri (100.7%),67
Nebraska (159.6%),68 New Hampshire (124.3%),69 New
York (102.8%),70 Ohio (131.9%),71 Oklahoma (115.7%),72
Pennsylvania (101.2%),73 Vermont (117%),74 Virginia
(117.6%),75 Washington (102.6%),76 West Virginia
(126.3%),77 and Wisconsin (131.4%),78 as well as the Federal
Bureau of Prisons (128%).79
Prison overcrowding compromises the quality of care for
and safety of people with disabilities. First, prisoners held

Deaf-Blind Prisoner Faces Abuse

O

ne report sheds light into the abuse experienced by
a deaf-blind prisoner in Florida—abuse that can
later serve as the justification for placements into solitary confinement:
One deaf-blind prisoner at [Tomoka
Correctional Institution] has the intellectual
capacity of a young child. He is constantly subjected to sexual assault. Multiple elderly (70+
years old) wheelchair users are housed [t]here
and are beaten by their impaired assistants.

in overcrowded prisons are often exposed to decrepit and
unsanitary living conditions80 and have limited access to
medical care81—even in cases involving serious health
emergencies. Second, overcrowded prisons can contribute
to an increase in incidents of violence,82 particularly for
prisoners with psychiatric disabilities who cannot cope
with the stress of incarceration and/or are unable to control
their behavior.83 Increased violence may lead to rule violations by prisoners, which in turn leads to greater reliance
on punitive forms of punishment for those violations using
sanctions like solitary confinement. Third, overcrowded
prisons place an additional financial strain on corrections
systems already struggling with limited funding84 and/or
staffing shortages.85 As a result, though people with disabilities are entitled to equal access under the ADA, in practice
overcrowding limits the ability of corrections systems to
provide such access.86 Criminal justice and disability rights
advocates alike should be concerned that overcrowded
prisons will result in people with disabilities continuing to
be denied equal access to programs, services, and activities
in prisons and jails nationwide.

2. Aging Prisoners
Research indicates that as the prison population ages, the
number of prisoners living with physical disabilities in
American prisons will also increase significantly.87 From

These impaired assistants regularly withhold
food and refuse to take blind or wheelchair
bound prisoners to the bathroom or shower
if these individuals do not perform sexual acts
for or with these and other persons. They have
been known to spend days in their own feces
and urine, afraid or unable to leave their cells.
Two of our deaf prisoners attempted to help
the blind guys when they could by helping
them get showers from time to time. These
prisoners (blind and wheelchair users) are
beaten (bones have been shattered and heads
split open) when they complained to guards.48

2007 to 2010, the “number of sentenced prisoners aged 65
or older increased by 63 percent, while the overall population of sentenced prisoners grew only 0.7 percent in the
same period.”88 Lengthy prison sentences and an increase in
the age of prisoners entering the system, as well as parole
policies that offer limited chances for release,89 have all
contributed to the growth of the elderly prison population.
As the elderly prison population grows, so too will the cost
of providing adequate medical care to meet the needs of
these prisoners.90 With each passing year, it will become
even more imperative that prison and jails nationwide
work to address the needs of prisoners with disabilities—
without excluding them from prison programs, services,

Prison overcrowding
compromises the quality
of care for and safety of
incarcerated people with
disabilities.

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15

and activities, and without resorting to harmful practices
like solitary confinement.

C. SCOPE OF THE REPORT
AND DEFINITIONS
This report discusses the challenges facing prisoners
with physical disabilities in solitary confinement—why
prisoners with physical disabilities are placed into solitary
confinement and the harmful effects of the conditions of
their confinement. In addition, this report captures some of
the general challenges and hardships faced by people with
disabilities in correctional settings, such as lack of access to
proper medical and mental health care, as well as rehabilitative therapy, programming, visitation, and other necessities.
An initial challenge of studying prisoners with disabilities is
that the definition of what constitutes a disability is broad.91
There are a variety of physical disabilities, and each one
manifests itself uniquely in each individual. Another limitation is that there is no precise definition of disability across
state and federal corrections institutions.92 The broad diversity and scope of physical disabilities cannot be covered
adequately in one report. Given that, the report focuses
on physical disabilities commonly found in correctional
settings: hearing, vision, and mobility-related disabilities.
This report uses the following definitions:
Accommodation: Any (1) alterations to the
physical plant, structure, or environment of a
building; (2) modification to a program curriculum, format, or schedule; or (3) equipment, aide,
assistance, or support that is provided to allow a
person with a disability to gain access to a program, service, or activity. 
Mobility-related
disabilities:
Disabilities
that affect one’s ability to ambulate, or move
around. This includes disabilities that result
from “congenital conditions, accidents, or
progressive neuromuscular diseases [and] may
include conditions such as spinal cord injury

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(paraplegia or quadriplegia), cerebral palsy, spina
bifida, amputation, muscular dystrophy, cardiac
conditions, cystic fibrosis, paralysis, polio/post
polio, and stroke.”93 For example, prisoners with
mobility-related disabilities would include those
who use wheelchairs (including manual or electric wheelchairs), walkers, prosthetic devices, or
special shoes.
Deaf or hard of hearing: Persons who are deaf
have “hearing loss so severe that there is very little
or no functional hearing.”94 The lowercase “deaf ”
will be used to refer to “the audiological condition
of not hearing,” and the uppercase “Deaf ” will
be used to “refer[] to a particular group of Deaf
people who share a language—American Sign
Language (ASL) [or other signed languages] and
a culture.”95 People who are hard of hearing have
hearing loss, but “there may be enough residual
hearing that an auditory device, such as a hearing
aid or FM system . . . provides adequate assistance
to process speech.”96
Blind or low vision: Legally blind is “[a] level of
visual [disability] that has been defined by law
to determine eligibility for benefits. It refers to
central visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the better
eye with the best possible correction, or a visual
field of 20 degrees or less.”97 Low vision refers to
“[v]ision loss that may be severe enough to impede a person’s ability to carry on everyday activities, but still allows some functionally useful sight.
Low vision may be caused by macular degeneration, cataracts, glaucoma, or other eye conditions
or diseases. Low vision may range from moderate
impairment to near-total blindness.”98 
Deaf-blind: People with combined visual and
hearing loss that “cause difficulties with communication, access to information[,] and mobility.”99
Assistive devices: Devices that help facilitate
access to programs, services, and activities by
helping to “maintain or improve an individual’s
functioning and independence . . . [and] prevent
impairments and secondary health conditions.”100

Assistive devices for persons with spinal cord
injuries include manual wheelchairs, motorized wheelchairs, ramps, and lower bunks.101
Additional assistive devices include crutches,
walkers, artificial limbs, canes, orthotics, special
footwear, bottom bunks, shower chairs, grab bars
in the shower, and special bedding.102
Auxiliary aids and services: Auxiliary aids
and services are devices that facilitate effective
communications with people with sensory or
communication disabilities (e.g., hearing, seeing,
speaking, etc.). Auxiliary aids and services for
people who are blind or low vision include Braille
material, books on tape, glasses, canes, readers,
access to magnifiers, large-print material, closedcircuit TV, talking computers, zoom text software,
scanners, talking watches, electronic vending, and
TDD Telephones.103 Auxiliary aids and services
for people who are deaf or hard of hearing include
video phones, visual notification systems, TTDs,
TTY phones, hearing aids and batteries, cochlear
implants and chargers, sign language interpreters,
closed captioning, strobe lights, flashing alarms,
shake awake alarms, and pocket talkers.104

D. METHODOLOGY
This report draws from evidence obtained from a variety
of sources, including firsthand interviews with prisoners,
formerly incarcerated individuals, lawyers, disability rights
advocates, service providers who work in prisons and jails,
and current and former corrections personnel; policies and
data obtained through public records requests submitted
to state Departments of Corrections; court pleadings and
judicial opinions; articles from news outlets; and academic
journals.

in scope and comprehensiveness. These 10 jurisdictions are
discussed in order to provide a glimpse into the practices
of state Departments of Corrections and were chosen to
provide variation in prison population size, geography, and
capacity.
There are a few limitations with the methodology for
this report. First, because there is no single definition of
disability across state Departments of Corrections, the
definitions of disability provided in the public records
requests may not have captured all the prisoners with
disabilities in a particular state prison system. For instance,
if the public records request sought records for all persons
with “mobility impairments” and the state Departments
of Corrections instead tracks persons with “spinal cord
injuries,” the responsive documents may not have included
the full range of mobility-related disabilities. As a result, the
records produced in response to the request may have been
under-inclusive. To address this problem, where possible,
the public records requests were drafted to include the
state’s own definition of disability, or multiple definitions
of disability, to ensure the broadest coverage possible.
Second, the data on incidence rates in this report reflects
estimates based on self-reported data from 10 state
Departments of Corrections. In some cases, the data responses received from the state Departments of Corrections
were inconsistent across states. For instance, where states
did provide data on mobility-related disabilities, there were
some that collected data on all mobility-related disabilities
represented in the state prison system, others that tracked
only the number of assistive devices distributed as a way
to capture the number of prisoners with mobility-related
disabilities, and still others that tracked some mobility-related disabilities and not others. These variations in data
collection make it somewhat difficult to standardize results
across states. Where possible, the data charts and analyses
note where distinctions exist in the self-reported data.

The report includes data gathered from 10 state Departments
of Corrections. Public records requests were submitted to
10 jurisdictions for information on the numbers of prisoners with mobility, hearing, and visual disabilities. Responses
were obtained from 10 jurisdictions; the responses ranged

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17

E. A NOTE ON LANGUAGE
This report adopts both “people-first” language and “identity-first” language when discussing people with disabilities.
As prominent disability rights scholars and activists have
noted, “[p]eople first language [aims] to avoid perceived
and subconscious dehumanization when discussing people with disabilities[.]”105 “The basic idea is to improve a
sentence structure that names the person first and the
condition second, i.e. ‘people with disabilities’ rather than
‘disabled people,’ in order to emphasize that they are people
first.”106 Alternatively, the identity-first language rejects
people-first language as an attempt to separate a person’s
disability from that person’s identity.107 Advocates for identity-first language contend that a person’s disability cannot
be separated from that person’s identity and that “disability
plays a role in who the person is, and reinforces disability as
a positive cultural identifier.”108 According to experts in disability rights and culture, “[i]dentity-first language is generally preferred by self-advocates in the autistic, deaf, and
blind communities.”109 Accordingly, identity-first language
will be used when referring to deaf or blind people. Finally,
the report is grounded in the perspectives of disability
scholars who argue that “disabled people have redefined the
problem of disability as the product of a disabling society
rather than individual limitations or loss[.]”110
It is also important to note that effective reforms aimed at
removing barriers and ensuring equal access for prisoners
with disabilities must adopt an intersectional lens. An
intersectional lens recognizes that people with disabilities
have a diversity of lived experiences111 and possess multiple identity traits112 that may intersect and overlap to
compound the forms of marginalization and oppression
they experience while incarcerated. Due to the well-known
racial disparities113 of mass incarceration, it is not surprising that many disabled persons identify as members of
historically marginalized racial minority groups.114 They
may also identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or
gender non-conforming.115 Furthermore, according to the
most recent report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, it is
estimated that 56 percent of state prisoners, 45 percent of
federal prisoners, and 64 percent of jail detainees have a
mental health issue.116 Given that, it is likely that incarcerated persons with physical disabilities will also have a history
of psychiatric disability. Taken together, it is not surprising

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that those with physical and mental disabilities struggle to
adapt to the frequently harsh conditions of prison life—in
some cases, leading to tragic outcomes.117 Reforms that
address the challenges facing people with disabilities must
provide intersectional solutions that acknowledge the many
ways that they may be marginalized in prisons and jails
nationwide.

II. SPOTLIGHT ON TARGET JURISDICTIONS

T

People with disabilities are
overrepresented in prisons
and jails.
as noted, over half of state prisoners, 45 percent of federal
prisoners, and 64 percent of jail detainees have a mental
health issue.121 By contrast, among non-institutionalized
persons, approximately 12.6 percent of the U.S. population

Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty

here is no publicly available data on the numbers of
people with disabilities in solitary confinement.118
Information is also limited as to the types of physical
disabilities that exist within state and federal prison populations. Although data on the exact number of prisoners
with disabilities in jails, prisons, and detention centers
across the nation is difficult to locate, by some estimates at
least 26 percent of state prisoners nationwide report possessing a hearing, visual, or physical disability.119 Including
cognitive disabilities and disabilities that limit the ability to
independently care for oneself increases the proportion of
people with physical disabilities in prisons and jails to 32
percent and 40 percent percent, respectively.120 Moreover,

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19

reports possessing a disability.122 Based on this data, it is
clear that people with disabilities are overrepresented in
prisons and jails.
The lack of publicly available data on the number of
prisoners with disabilities is concerning. Reforms to end
solitary have emphasized that is it overused and unjustified,
especially for vulnerable populations including prisoners
with disabilities. Yet, without data to track the number of
prisoners with disabilities, their location within the local,
state, or federal correctional system, or the nature of their
disabilities, it will be nearly impossible to provide accommodations for these prisoners,123 determine the extent to
which this group is subjected to the overuse of solitary confinement, or whether reform efforts, in the states that have
pursued them, have been effective in removing prisoners
with disabilities from solitary confinement. For the corrections systems, such information is essential to measure
the effectiveness of efforts to reform solitary confinement.
For outside advocates, such data will be necessary in order
to provide transparency and hold correctional systems
accountable. Finally, without data on the volume of prisoners with disabilities, or the nature of their disabilities, it
will be difficult to ensure that their needs—whether access

to critical areas in a correctional facility, assistive devices,
or other accommodations—are met while in prison. At a
minimum, correctional systems must be accountable for
keeping careful, comprehensive, and accurate records that
identify the number of persons in solitary confinement,
or any other type of restrictive housing, and their specific
disabilities and corresponding needs.
This report aims to fill some of the gaps in data and builds
on existing data by providing a snapshot of both the number of prisoners with physical disabilities and the volume
of grievances filed by prisoners with disabilities in 10 state
Departments of Correction: California, Florida, Georgia,
Illinois, Louisiana, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode
Island, and Virginia.

A. POPULATION DATA
The information below provides a snapshot of the number
of persons with physical disabilities in 10 state prison systems, along with other indicators, such as the number of

TABLE 2: PRISONERS AS A PERCENTAGE OF TOTAL CUSTODY POPULATION125 BY STATE AND DISABILITY
Blind* and/or Deaf

Total Disability

Mobility, Assistive Devices,
and Special Passes**

California

2.03%

8.07%

5.38%

Florida

≤1.0%

2.29%

20.93%‡

Georgia

≤1.0%

3.28%

3.10%

Illinois

Does not track data

Does not track data

Does not track data

Louisiana

1.08%

1.21%†

2.55%*

Nevada

≤1.0%

Did not provide data

Did not provide data

Ohio

1.45%

3.98%

N/A

Pennsylvania

4.46%

Rhode Island
Virginia

†
†

7.06%

7.07%*

≤1.0%

1.47%

†

1.31%126

≤1.0%

N/A

N/A

* Does not include persons whose vision can be corrected with prescription glasses.
** We cannot be certain how reflective this category may be of total population numbers, as prisoners with disabilities might have multiple
devices or none.
† Refers to where public records responses resulted in incomplete data, or data that was inconsistent across categories of disability.
‡ Refers to assistive devices and special passes, such as access to lower bunks or assistance from an attendant.

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assistive devices and special passes (e.g., for lower bunks or
for an attendant) distributed.
A few state-specific findings are important to highlight:124
■■

Approximately 1 out of 10 prisoners in the state of
California reports, or has been identified as, having
a hearing, visual, and/or mobility-related disability.

■■

Approximately 21 percent of prisoners in the
Florida DOC have been assigned some kind
of assistive device or special pass (e.g., passes
providing access to lower bunks or permitting the
prisoner to have support from an attendant or
assistant, etc.).

■■

Almost 1 in 20 prisoners in state-run prisons in
Pennsylvania have been identified as blind or low
vision and/or deaf or hard of hearing.

■■

The Illinois DOC does not track or keep data on
the number of prisoners who have disabilities or
the nature of their disabilities.

■■

Although we asked all 10 states to provide data
on the numbers of prisoners with physical
disabilities in solitary confinement, only two states
(Nevada and Georgia) provided records with this
information.

B. LIMITED DATA ON
COMPLAINTS FILED BY
PRISONERS WITH PHYSICAL
DISABILITIES
Requests for data on complaints, also known as grievances,
were submitted to 10 state Departments of Corrections.
The responses produced by these state Departments of
Corrections raised real concerns. State responses varied.
Some responded that they did not collect data on complaints filed by prisoners with physical disabilities, or provided incomplete, and in some cases arguably inaccurate,
data. As described in further detail below, the lack of quality
data on the complaints or grievances filed by prisoners with

IN FLORIDA, ONLY

FL

44 OF 792

GRIEVANCES BY PRISONERS
WITH DISABILITIES WERE
RESOLVED FROM 2013 TO 2015

physical disabilities means that corrections officials are
limited in their ability to adequately respond to the needs
of this group. Given the well-known harms of solitary confinement, failure to track and monitor data on grievances
filed by prisoners with physical disabilities suggests that
prisons have no effective way of knowing about the harms
caused by solitary confinement, or addressing those harms.
Ultimately, prisoners with physical disabilities are left with
little recourse in corrections institutions, leaving them even
more marginalized and isolated.
Grievance procedures are administrative processes that allow prisoners to present their requests, complaints, individual needs, or other issues to correctional staff and officials
and to seek administrative resolution of those concerns.
To initiate the grievance process, a prisoner will fill out a
grievance form127 and submit the form to the corrections
staff member responsible for collecting grievances.
Corrections staff and officials will then review the grievance
and submit a response to the prisoner, usually granting
or denying the prisoner’s specific request. For instance, if
the prisoner requests a shower chair or vibrating alarm,
corrections staff and officials may respond by granting the
request, or rejecting the request. If the prisoner is dissatisfied with the response from corrections staff, the prisoner
may appeal to a higher official within the prison facility.
These processes typically require multiple levels of appeal
to complete.
There are strict guidelines governing grievance procedures
and the specifics of those policies vary by state.128 Grievance
procedures may set forth strict time limits for filing an

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21

Failure to meet the needs
of prisoners with physical
disabilities exposes them
to an increased risk of
harm in correctional
institutions.
appeal,129 specific criteria for what may be included in a
grievance form,130 or what types of matters may or may not
be raised.131 Additionally, the procedures and policies governing grievance systems—again, the primary mechanism
for notifying prison officials of a problem, need, or other
concern—are notoriously complex procedures that are too
difficult for some prisoners to fully understand.132
At the same time, grievances can provide a vehicle for
systematically examining the issues faced by prisoners in a
local, state, or federal correctional system. Grievances can
provide an overview of common issues arising from prisoners, the responsiveness of the correctional system to those
concerns, and the efficacy of any implemented reforms.133
For example, corrections systems with a high proportion of
pending or unresolved grievances as compared to resolved
grievances will raise concerns about the system’s responsiveness to the issues affecting people with disabilities. In
this way, grievances help corrections officials evaluate the
effectiveness of specific facilities, or the entirety of their
correctional systems, on an aggregate level. Additionally,
public access to data on grievances can allow for greater
public monitoring and oversight of corrections systems.
Yet, despite the importance of comprehensive tracking mechanisms to monitor the volume and nature of grievances filed
by prisoners with disabilities, not only have some corrections
systems declined to publish data on the volume and nature
of grievances filed by all prisoners, let alone prisoners with
disabilities, but some have also failed to track and maintain
internal records containing this information.

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Ten target jurisdictions were each sent open records requests for information on all grievances filed by persons
with disabilities, and the number of those grievances that
remain pending or were resolved, in a two-year period.
Although the responses varied, overall, the data provided
by the jurisdictions was nonexistent, incomplete, or inaccurate. The responses from the 10 jurisdictions as relates to
the grievances filed by prisoners with physical disabilities
included some notable findings:
■■

The Florida DOC reported 792 grievances filed
by prisoners with disabilities from January 2013
through January 2015. However, the department
reported that only 44 of those grievances were
resolved during that same time period.134

■■

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and
Correction reported that approximately 1,839
prisoners in its state-run facilities have a disability,
but reported only three grievances filed by
prisoners with disabilities from January 2013
through January 2015 and reported that all three
grievances were resolved.135

■■

The Pennsylvania DOC reported that 132
grievances related to the ADA were filed by
prisoners with disabilities from January 2013
through January 2015. It did not have records to
track whether those grievances were resolved or
pending as of January 2016.

IN LOUISIANA, FROM
JAN. ’13 TO DEC. ’15, ONLY

10
OUT
OF
186
GRIEVANCES FILED
BY PRISONERS
WITH PHYSICAL
DISABILITIES
WERE RESOLVED

LA

TABLE 3: GRIEVANCES FILED, RESOLVED, AND PENDING FROM JANUARY 2013 TO JANUARY 2015
No. of grievances filed by
prisoners with disabilities,
Jan. ’13–Dec. ’15

No. of grievances filed by
prisoners with disabilities
that were resolved,
Jan. ’13–Dec. ’15

No. of grievances
filed by people with
disabilities that are
currently pending136

California

 No data provided

No data provided

No data provided

Florida

792

44

41137

Georgia

29

25

8138

Illinois

Does not maintain or
possess records

Does not maintain or
possess records

Does not maintain or
possess records

Louisiana

186139

10

0

Nevada

 No data provided

No data provided

No data provided

Ohio

3140

3141

Does not maintain or
possess records142

Pennsylvania

132

Does not maintain or
possess records

Does not maintain or
possess records143

Rhode Island

1144

1

0

Virginia

Does not maintain or
possess records

Does not maintain or
possess records

Does not maintain or
possess records

■■

■■

The Louisiana DOC reported that 186 grievances
were filed by prisoners with disabilities from
January 2013 through December 2015. According
to the department’s reported data, only 10
grievances were resolved during the same time
period.
The Illinois and Virginia DOCs do not maintain
records that track information on grievances filed
by prisoners with disabilities and do not monitor
whether those records were pending or resolved.

Failure to track and monitor the volume and nature of
grievances—including those filed, resolved, or pending—
impedes the ability of the correctional institutions to meet
the needs of prisoners with disabilities. By not responding
to grievances, or failing to monitor the status of filed grievances to ensure that they are resolved in a timely manner,
Departments of Correction effectively cut off prisoners
with disabilities from one of the only available mechanisms
for seeking assistance or raising even serious concerns

regarding necessary accommodations, safety risks, and
medical and mental health care, to name a few.
This failure to meet the needs of prisoners with physical
disabilities exposes them to an increased risk of harm in
correctional institutions. Cut off from responsive grievance
systems, prisoners with physical disabilities are made even
more vulnerable to physical injury in cases where the
grievance involves threats posed by other prisoners or dangerous conditions due to architectural barriers in facilities.
Similarly, unresponsive grievance systems may even result
in worsening disabilities where grievances challenging
inadequate medical care and the failure to provide proper
accommodations, physical therapies, or proper prescription
medications go unaddressed by correctional authorities. In
light of these harms, it is imperative for corrections systems
to develop robust databases with comprehensive information on prisoners with disabilities that can equip systems to
address the acute and diverse concerns of this group.

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III. SOLITARY CONFINEMENT HARMS
PRISONERS WITH PHYSICAL DISABILITIES

D

ecades of research establishes that solitary confinement inflicts devastating mental and physical harms
on human beings.145 Current research suggests that
solitary confinement can not only destroy the human
psyche, but it can also result in physical deterioration due
to the limited access to exercise, physical therapies, as well
as quality medical and mental health care.146 The physical
harms of solitary confinement cannot be easily undone and
may lead to long-term disabilities and increased health care

Back in 2009, I was placed in solitary
confinement, a young, healthy man.
[T]he disability . . . created, [m]entally and
[p]hysically from long term isolation IS
inhumane, they are creating animals. . . . The
lack of mobility and human contact over a long
period of time has destroy[ed] my mind and
health[.] I have an unhealthy weight gain and
severe lower back pain from only having a 2 foot
by 4 foot of space in the cell to move around[.]
For 23 hours a day I’m confin[e]d to this place. I
have develop[ed] extreme paranoia of others
around me and violent thoughts. In the past few
years I started having really bad anxiety attacks
when I have human to human contact[.] I’ve lost
the ability to interact with others.”149
—D.R., LOUISIANA STATE PENITENTIARY-ANGOLA

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costs once the prisoner is released from prison—and over
95 percent of prisoners will be.147 The result is that prisoners
are made worse off by incarceration, and then are released
back into the community with greater needs for medical
and mental health services due in part to the lack of care or
low-quality treatment they received in prison.148 Prisoners
with disabilities are uniquely harmed by the negative health
effects of solitary confinement. What’s more, they receive
even less access to programs available to prisoners held in
solitary confinement because they are not provided with
accommodations to allow them to participate in these
programs. Due to their disabilities, they are neglected and
even more isolated while in solitary confinement.

A. PSYCHOLOGICAL HARM
Prolonged isolation has a devastating effect on human
beings. Locked in a cell that is roughly the size of a regular
parking space for upwards of 22 hours per day, prisoners
in solitary confinement engage in most of life’s basic
activities—whether eating, washing, using the toilet, or
dressing—all within a few square feet of space. It is no
wonder that some, suffering from the psychological harms
of solitary, have “become so desperate for relief that they
[have] set their mattresses afire,” “[torn] their sinks and
toilets from the walls, ripp[ed] their clothing and bedding,
and destroy[ed] their few personal possessions,” all in order
“to escape the torture of their own thoughts and despair.”150
In light of these devastating harms, many major U.S.
health organizations, including the National Commission
on Correctional Health Care, the American Psychiatric
Association, Mental Health America, the American Public

Health Association, the National Alliance on Mental
Illness, and the Society of Correctional Physicians, have
all issued formal policy statements that oppose prolonged
solitary confinement, particularly for prisoners with mental
illnesses.152

The astonishingly high rate of completed suicides alone
reveals the dangers of solitary confinement. Shockingly,
approximately 50 percent of all suicides in prisons happen
among the 5 percent to 6 percent173 of all prisoners held in
solitary confinement.174 According to a 2014 study, detainees held in solitary confinement in New York City jails were
nearly seven times more likely to harm themselves than
were those in the general population—youth and people

Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty

Mental health experts studying the issue by and large agree
that long-term solitary confinement is psychologically
harmful.153 A series of scientific studies dating back to the
mid-1960s concluded that solitary confinement is psychologically damaging. Persons subjected to solitary confinement have displayed the following: negative attitudes and
affect;154 insomnia;155 anxiety;156 panic;157 withdrawal;158
hypersensitivity to stimuli;159 ruminations;160 cognitive dysfunction;161 hallucinations;162 loss of control;163 irritability,
aggression and rage;164 paranoia;165 chronic apathy;166 lethargy;167 depression;168 self-mutilation;169 suicidal ideation and
behavior;170 and lower levels of brain function, including a
decline in electroencephalogram (EEG) activity,171 which
were observed after only seven days in isolation.172

Solitary confinement
inflicts psychological
and physical damage on
human beings.

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25

with serious mental illness were particularly susceptible to
self-harm.175
The devastating effects of solitary confinement do not end
after release. In June 2015, the tragic consequences of solitary confinement came to a head. Kalief Browder, a 22-yearold who was imprisoned on Rikers Island in New York for
three years, two of which he spent in solitary, and who was
never convicted of a crime, took his own life approximately
two years after his release.176 Like so many prisoners exposed
to the horrors of solitary, the harms inflicted upon Kalief
extended well beyond release from prison.
Prisoners with physical disabilities are not spared from
the devastating toll solitary confinement inflicts upon the
human psyche. For those prisoners with existing psychiatric disabilities, the harms of solitary confinement can be
compounded.177 In solitary confinement, access to mental
health professionals is usually limited, if offered at all. Even
where offered by the correctional institution, prisoners
with physical disabilities may be unable to participate in
individual and group mental health-focused classes where
they require accommodations to facilitate meaningful
communications in the classes, or access class locations,
and such accommodations are not provided by corrections
staff. People with physical disabilities will suffer even greater psychological harms in correctional systems where they
do not receive these accommodations that allow them to
communicate effectively with mental health professionals.
For example, barriers to communication may make it difficult for prisoners with sensory disabilities to communicate
their symptoms or other pertinent information effectively.
Prisoners with sensory disabilities may have “increased
mental health care needs.”178 Deaf prisoners or prisoners
with severe speech impediments, groups that both experience harassment and abuse in the corrections environment,
may lack the accommodations to communicate their
needs to mental health professionals, thereby increasing
their vulnerabilities to harm in correctional institutions.
Without effective communication between mental health
professionals and regular access to mental health treatment
and therapies, prisoners who are deaf or hard of hearing,
and/or blind or low vision, may experience mental and
psychological deterioration, diminishing their ability to
function in prison.

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B. PHYSICAL HARMS
Beyond the damaging psychological effects of solitary
confinement, there is also evidence to suggest that the
practice can be physically debilitating. Movement in
solitary confinement is highly controlled. There is almost
no out-of-cell time, and movement outside of one’s cell is
usually impeded by required restraints and strip-searches.
Beyond this, architectural barriers prevent prisoners with
physical disabilities from not only accessing critical areas of
the prison, but also from even moving around within their
cells. Blanket security policies banning the use of assistive
devices within their cells can leave prisoners with physical
disabilities with limited ability to care for themselves, perform exercises to avoid total inactivity, or even access food
or necessary medications.
Stress and limited access to regular, appropriate health care,
including medically necessary prescription and physical
therapies, among other factors, can lead to diminished
health outcomes for all prisoners.179 This is especially true
for prisoners with physical disabilities. Prisoners with physical disabilities are particularly susceptible to worsening
physical health while in prison,180 as they are likely to “have
particular health care needs related to their disability, such

What I see time and time again is that
our clients with disabilities deteriorate
rapidly during incarceration. They leave prison
in worse condition and with a reduced ability to
function independently as compared to how they
were when they arrived. Solitary confinement is
a big part of this problem. Confining persons
with physical disabilities to a cramped cell with
no access to assistance from other prisoners
and no access to real recreation or programming
only serves to impede their progress[.]”
—MAGGIE FILLER, STAFF ATTORNEY, PRISONERS’ LEGAL SERVICES OF
MASSACHUSETTS

as physiotherapy, regular eyesight and hearing examinations and occupational therapy.”181
Prisoners with physical disabilities held in solitary confinement are often denied access to the very physical and
pharmacological therapies that will help them maintain
their health or prevent physical deconditioning. This type
of care is difficult to obtain while incarcerated—but the
difficulties multiply when prisoners are placed into solitary
confinement. For example, a stroke survivor will typically
require regular physical, occupational, and speech therapies
in order to fully recover from a stroke.182 Similarly, people
with quadriplegia will need specific prescription regimens
and routine physical therapies in order to maintain healthy
living. Yet, strict schedules in solitary confinement result in
disrupted treatment plans where corrections officials refuse
to modify schedules to allow these prisoners with mobility-related disabilities to take medications at specific times.

Short Stays in Solitary
Confinement Can Be Harmful

E

ven short stints in solitary confinement can lead
to serious physical consequences for people with
disabilities. Dean Westwood has quadriplegia. He
relies on a motorized wheelchair to ambulate and a
host of assistive devices to maintain healthy living and
prevent physical decline. He reported that while being
booked into an Oregon jail, he was rough-handled by
jail staff, pulled from out of his wheelchair, and dressed
in clothes that were approximately three times smaller
than his normal clothing size. Following the booking
process, he was placed alone in a cell and denied access
to his anti-spasm prescription medications, as well as
medications to prevent him from urinating on himself, for approximately 48 hours.
The combination of the rough handling by staff, tight
clothes, and lack of medications resulted in Dean
experiencing autonomic dysreflexia. Autonomic
dysreflexia occurs when the nervous system goes into
overdrive due to the presence of an irritating stimulus

Prisoners with physical
disabilities are particularly
susceptible to worsening
physical health while
in prison.
Doctors and health care professionals agree that solitary confinement is harmful to one’s physical health. The National
Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCCHC) has
explicitly acknowledged the adverse physical health effects of
prolonged solitary confinement. The NCCHC observed that:

in areas of the body that are paralyzed and, if untreated, may result in a stroke or heart attack. Dean began
to experience violent seizures and urinated on himself.
For nearly 48 hours, he endured painful muscle spasms
alone in an isolation cell in the jail infirmary, where he
was placed flat on his back on a bed that neither contained a slide board nor a hoyer lift, an assistive device
that would have allowed him to get onto and off of
the bed. Only after repeated complaints to corrections
and medical staff was he finally able to receive his
prescription medications to end the painful seizures.
In total, Dean reports that he remained in virtual isolation for a total range of 6-7 days, where he was confined
to his cell for 24 hours per day, while Oregon state
prison officials worked to find a facility to place him. He
was not provided with any materials to occupy the time
and states that the only human interaction he had was
with corrections staff, and even then those interactions
were rare. For Dean, the experience in isolation resulted
in an “incalculable mental toll” that continues to trouble
him to this day.185

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The inherent restriction in meaningful social
interaction and environmental stimulation and
the lack of control adversely impact the health
and welfare of all who are held in solitary confinement. . . . The World Health Organization
(WHO), United Nations, and other international
bodies have recognized that solitary confinement
is harmful to health. The WHO notes that effects
can include gastrointestinal and genitourinary
problems, diaphoresis, insomnia, deterioration
of eyesight, profound fatigue, heart palpitations,
migraines, back and joint pains, weight loss,
diarrhea, and aggravation of preexisting medical
problems.183
Failure to meet the important health care needs of people
with disabilities can result in deconditioning, such as the
loss of physical fitness or muscle due to limited exercise. In
some cases, failure to respond to the health care needs of
people with disabilities, even in the short term, can lead to
death.184

1. Architectural Barriers in Facilities
Architectural barriers186 to access are magnified in solitary
confinement. Wheelchairs are often too large to fit inside
isolation cells, which are typically no larger than the size
of an average bathroom. Even in cases where a wheelchair
could pass through the front door of an isolation cell, once
inside the cell, a wheelchair user will likely be unable to
maneuver within it.187 Moreover, even where wheelchairs
could fit within isolation cells, prison officials have

Architectural barriers to
access in prisons and jails
are magnified in solitary
confinement.
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banned wheelchairs where they have decided that having
a wheelchair or another assistive device, such as a walker
or cane, poses a security risk. Such security policies can
result in prisoners with physical disabilities who rely on
assistive devices having absolutely no accommodations
that will enable them to move around their cell while held
in solitary. Finally, because prisoners in solitary have such
limited time outside, architectural barriers can keep them
inside of their cells even where they are permitted to leave
for brief shorts or excursions to the “recreation” yard or
cell.
Court cases have captured horrific allegations by prisoners
with mobility-related disabilities in solitary confinement.
In one case, Tony Goodman “claimed that he was confined
for 23–to–24 hours per day in a 12–by–3–foot cell in which
he could not turn his wheelchair around.”188 Goodman also
alleged that he was “unable to use the toilet and shower
without assistance,” “injured himself in attempting to
transfer from his wheelchair to the shower or toilet on his
own,” and as a result, was “forced to sit in his own feces and
urine while prison officials refused to assist him in cleaning
up the waste.”189 In another case, Jerome Crowder, a federal
prisoner, alleged that while in administrative detention, he
was unable to use his wheelchair to ambulate in his cell,
which led to bedsores and muscular discomfort.190 Phillip
Jaros, who used a walking cane to move around, alleged that
he was able to take only four showers per month because
the showers at the facility where he resided did not have
grab bars and he feared injury.191
Even more troubling is that, though contrary to federal
disability law, prisons and jails have placed people with
disabilities into solitary confinement because accessible
cells were not available. As explained in further detail
below, the law requires that accessible cells be provided at
every security classification or custody level.192 In practice,
this means that prison officials may not hold prisoners with
low security classifications in cells that are located in higher
security units simply because those are the only units with
cells that can fit wheelchairs. Despite this mandate, not
all prison facilities have accessible cells to accommodate
prisoners who use wheelchairs at every security level.193
And some corrections officials have placed prisoners with
disabilities into solitary confinement because cells in less
restrictive housing that could safely hold these prisoners
were not readily available.

Prisoners with physical
disabilities are placed into
solitary confinement due to
a lack of accessible cells.
The allegations in a recent court complaint demonstrate
this problem. Due to a spinal cord injury, Richard Trevino
required a wheelchair to move around, along with readily
available diapers to manage his incontinence.194 Trevino
was placed in solitary confinement because the Woodbury
County Jail where he was booked did not have any cells
that could fit his wheelchair.195 The facility also did not

GENERAL PROBLEMS WITH

WHEELCHAIR
ACCESSIBILITY
1. Broken wheelchairs or lengthy
wait times for repair

2. Improper wheelchair size (e.g.,
wheelchair or foot rest is too small,
too large, too heavy, etc.)
3. Architectural barriers (e.g., lack
of ramps or elevators, stairs, high
curbs, etc.)
4. Failure to provide assistants to
push wheelchairs if needed

have any guardrails to allow safe movement around his cell
and did not have any assistive apparatus, such as a hoist
or transfer board, which would allow him to safely transfer
himself into and out of his wheelchair.196 The toilet and
showers in the jail were similarly inaccessible and did not
have guardrails, chairs, or other accommodations to ensure
his safe use.197 Trevino’s cell was also not equipped with an
emergency call button to allow him to communicate with
staff during emergencies.198 In fact, staff largely ignored
Trevino’s request for clean clothes or access to showers,
refusing to provide him with a container to house his soiled
diapers, which caused his cell to reek with a strong odor.199
Prison authorities denied him access to programming and
prevented him from communicating with other prisoners.200 Isolated and mistreated, Trevino became depressed
and started cutting himself.201

2. Self-Care
Certain physical disabilities may limit one’s ability to engage in self-care and tend to personal hygiene needs. For
example, prisoners with ambulatory disabilities may require assistance and support from health care professionals,
or trained corrections staff, to engage in daily tasks, such
as showering, dressing, or relieving oneself. The need for
assistance with self-care may be temporary or long term
depending on the nature of the disability. For instance,
prisoners with quadriplegia or paraplegia may have specific
medical needs that require regular access to clean medical
equipment, such as colostomy and/or urostomy bags that
remove urine and other waste in cases where the colon
or bladder is no longer functional.202 Without accessible
facilities and assistance from health care professionals or
corrections staff, people with disabilities often struggle to
meet these basic needs in prisons and jails.203
In solitary confinement, there are limitations on the number and kinds of property that prisoners may keep in their
cells. In addition, prisoners have limited access to medical
personnel and assistance from correctional staff. These
restrictions are purportedly in place for safety and security
reasons, but they can create considerable challenges for
persons who require regular access to sterile and durable
medical equipment and supplies—catheters, pressure socks,
colostomy bags, soap to cleanse after handling colostomy

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bags—to properly perform self-care. However, in some
cases, access to clean medical equipment has been outright
denied, or the equipment provided has been unsterile,
improperly maintained, or otherwise not suitable for use.

3. Disrupted Medical Therapies
In solitary confinement, prisoners often have limited access
to necessary medical care. To begin with, staffing shortages
and limited budgets across correctional systems have in
some cases resulted in egregious denials of appropriate
medical care.211 Beyond this, medical therapies are often
disrupted in solitary confinement.212 Prisoners with disabilities may also come to prison with specific medications and
schedules for taking those medications, which are necessary
to ensure the efficacy of a particular treatment program.
However, prisoners are usually not permitted to keep prescription drugs with them at all times and may only access
these prescription drugs at certain times. When it is time to
access prescription drugs, medical staff will often come by
and observe the prisoner digest the prescription drug.
Such stiff schedules and regulations can impose barriers to
optimal therapeutic outcomes for prisoners with physical
disabilities. For example, certain prisoners may require
prescription medications to assist with chronic muscle
pain. The optimal time to take those prescription drugs
may be immediately prior to bed time. However, that
particular prison facility may have policies and/or practices
that allow for medication distribution only during normal
business hours—9 a.m. to 5 p.m.—and may not allow the
prisoner a modification to the policy to accommodate that
circumstance.213 Thus, that prisoner would not be allowed
to take their prescription medications at the optimal time.
Without modifying the prisoner’s specific medical regimen
to accommodate the schedule change, prison authorities
can seriously disrupt the prisoner’s treatment program,
which may lead to deleterious health effects.214

4. Limited to No Physical Activity
Exercise is vital for the physical health of all people.216
Limited to no physical activity contributes to a whole host of
adverse health outcomes, including decreased muscle mass

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Prisoner With Disabilities
Denied Proper Prosthetics
and Wheelchair in New York
State Prison

A

ccording to a lawsuit filed in 2014, Mark
Gizewski was born with severe disabilities due
to side effects of the drug Thalidomide, offered
as an antidote to treat morning sickness among
pregnant women.204 The drug left Gizewski with
hands that were missing fingers, deformities in his
limbs, anal abnormalities that caused difficulties
with bowel movement, and a left leg that was seven
inches shorter than the right.205 New York State
correctional officials placed Gizewski into solitary
confinement, where he was denied access to necessary cleaning tools and denied the right to shower
for approximately six days.206 Gizewski complained
that prison staff denied him access to proper pain
medications to handle his chronic pain,207 denied
him an accessible shower and shower brush to
allow him to properly clean himself,208 and refused
to replace his prosthetic leg that was too big.209
Prison authorities also refused to provide Gizewski
with a lightweight wheelchair, and instead placed
him in a heavy wheelchair, which proved difficult
to maneuver due to his missing limbs.210

and strength (deconditioning),217 osteoarthritis in older
adults,218 and increased risk of developing or worsening hypertension, as well as other diseases, such as cardiovascular
disease, heart failure, kidney disease, and even death.219
Prisoners with disabilities require regular exercise to
maintain overall health or prevent a decline in their physical health. For instance, prisoners with mobility-related
disabilities require regular access to physical exercise to
maintain proper physical functioning and prevent muscular atrophy, decubitus ulcers, or other problems.220

My cell is so small that I can only make
four steps forward until I touch the door.
. . . [E]ach time that I sit up off the bed I have to
watch how I stand up because I’ll hit my hip on
the table. It’s just that close. As far as moving
about, there is no movement. I have to wait until
I go in the yard three days a week in order to
stretch my legs out and oil up the joints in my
knees. [I have] arthritis, and that has come from
me being in this cell.”215
—HERMAN WALLACE, FORMERLY INCARCERATED AT LOUISIANA STATE
PENITENTIARY-ANGOLA

However, even though the benefits of regular access to
physical exercise are well known, prisoners held in solitary
confinement have been denied regular access to physical
activity. Prisoners typically have limited time out of their
cells and little access to outdoor recreation, if any. If outdoor recreation is available, it usually takes place in a small
cage located on a yard that offers minimal protection from
baking hot or freezing cold weather and limited access to
seating and water. This may mean that prisoners must spend
one to two hours outside in the freezing cold or unbearably
hot weather—sometimes without access to water, shaded
areas, or benches to sit on.221
These “recreation” cages are often inaccessible to people
with disabilities. Recreational areas may be riddled with
structural deficiencies—potholes in the asphalt, cracks in
the concrete—all of which create barriers to persons who
rely on mobility devices to ambulate. Wheelchairs may not
fit into the small cages, and persons who rely on assistive
devices like walking canes may not be able to navigate the
pathway to and from the recreation cages, particularly where
the ground surface surrounding the recreation spaces is
uneven, cracked, or otherwise creates unnavigable barriers
for people with disabilities. Furthermore, when assistive
devices are confiscated for security reasons, prisoners with
mobility-related disabilities are prevented from engaging in
even therapeutic exercise.222

Recent court victories have resulted in prisoners in solitary
confinement winning access to exercise and recreational
facilities previously denied to them.223 Prisoners with
physical disabilities have also filed lawsuits challenging exclusion from exercise and recreational facilities. In one such
case, Marc Norfleet, a wheelchair user housed in Menard
Correctional Center, filed a lawsuit against the Illinois
Department of Corrections for allegedly denying him
regular access to exercise and recreational facilities, while
at the same time “non-disabled inmates receive[d] five
to seven hours of exercise and recreation time a week.”224
The appeals court reviewing Norfleet’s case found that he
stated a claim for relief and vacated a district court judge’s
decision dismissing the case.225

5. Physical Therapy
Prisoners with mobility-related disabilities may depend on
regular access to physical therapy to maintain proper health
and prevent muscular deconditioning. Routine physical
therapy, ranging from once per week to multiple times per
week, may be needed to prevent deformation of the legs or
back.226 In such cases, proper health care access is needed
in order to prevent debilitation, or “further functional
decline.”227
For example, one advocate reported that her client required
routine physical therapy to rehabilitate muscles damaged
by a gunshot wound and to regain his ability to walk short
distances. Despite requests to prison officials, her client
struggled to obtain proper physical therapy. After he ended
up in segregation, the physical therapy abruptly stopped for
months.228

Prisoners in solitary
confinement are often
denied access to regular
physical activity.

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31

C. REHABILITATIVE HARMS
When held in solitary confinement, prisoners with physical
disabilities are often prohibited from participating in any
rehabilitative programming, including educational and
vocational programs and activities. However, even in those
corrections systems where limited access to rehabilitative
programming is offered to prisoners in solitary confinement, architectural barriers prevent prisoners who rely on
assistive devices from even accessing the physical location
where programs and services are held. Prisoners may also
be effectively excluded from these programs if they are not
provided with assistive devices to allow them to ambulate
in the certain areas of the facility where such programs
are held, with or without the assistance of custodial staff.
Moreover, materials and communications provided in rehabilitative programs are seldom provided in a format that
all persons with sensory disabilities can understand.
By failing to provide people with disabilities with reasonable
accommodations, or by failing to remove the architectural
barriers that may keep them out of designated program
areas, prison authorities have effectively barred them from
participating in rehabilitative programs. As a result, these
prisoners languish behind bars in a state of idleness, unable
to engage in rehabilitative programming designed to offer
mental stimulation and constructive activity. Locked away
and locked out of opportunities to engage in constructive
activity or maintain contact with the outside world, the sensory and social deprivation experienced by these prisoners
is magnified, leaving them in an environment of near-total
isolation. This exclusion is contrary to the purpose and
aims of the ADA and other laws protecting the rights of
people with disabilities.

Prisoners in solitary
confinement are denied
access to programs aimed
at rehabilitation.
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Brian Follmer is a prisoner with neuropathy, which causes
pain and weakness and limits his ability to walk.229 While
incarcerated, he has relied on a cane, wheelchair, and
wheelchair assistant to move around the facility.230 After
being transferred to Santa Rosa Correctional Institution in
Florida, he was placed into solitary confinement and prison
authorities confiscated his wheelchair.231 Over Follmer’s
objections, prison authorities provided him with a walker,
which he claimed worsened his condition.232 Without his
wheelchair, he has had difficulty participating in services
and activities offered by the prison, including mental health
groups offered to prisoners.233

D. SOLITARY CONFINEMENT
INFLICTS ACUTE HARMS ON
PRISONERS WITH SENSORY
DISABILITIES
In solitary confinement there is often little to no access
to natural light. Some solitary confinement cells have no
windows. Artificial lights can be kept on for 24 hours a day.
Most cells have a solid steel door with a narrow viewing
window and small slot. Communication is highly curtailed,
mainly occurring through these small slots designed for
food trays, passing mail or medications, or cuffing prisoners
prior to their exiting their cells. These harsh and isolating
conditions are especially harmful for prisoners with sensory disabilities who experience profound and heightened
isolation due not only to the sensory and social deprivation
experienced by all prisoners subjected to solitary, but also
because they face huge barriers to meaningful communication in correctional environments.

1. Deaf and Hard of Hearing Prisoners
Solitary confinement inflicts acute harms on prisoners who
are deaf or hard of hearing. Deaf and hard of hearing people
make up a significant portion of state prisoners. Research
estimates that “between 35 and 40 percent of all inmates
experience some degree of hearing loss, including 13 to 20
percent with significant hearing loss.”234

Deaf prisoners frequently find themselves isolated and
marginalized in correctional institutions due in part to
misconceptions about Deaf culture and communication
barriers caused by the failure on the part of corrections systems to ensure effective and meaningful communications
between deaf prisoners and corrections staff, health care
providers, and where permitted, visitors, including family
and friends.
Language barriers pose considerable communication challenges. There is a low literacy rate among deaf individuals.
Only “[a]bout 10 percent of the deaf school age population
grows up to be literate adults reading at the tenth grade or
above.”235 Studies indicate that approximately 30 percent of
deaf persons who finish school at age 18 or above read at
a 2.8 grade level or below—or are otherwise functionally
illiterate.236 Moreover, approximately 60 percent of deaf
adults have a third- to fourth-grade reading comprehension level.237
In correctional institutions, these low literacy rates are compounded by other language deficiencies, such as “difficulty
with all or part of language including grammar, syntax,
vocabulary, the social use of language, and using communication effectively.”238 This results in a disproportionately
high rate of people with language deficits in prisons, jails,
and juvenile centers.239
That said, for many Deaf people, American Sign Language
(ASL) is their primary language. ASL is a “visual language”
through which the “brain processes linguistic information
through the eyes,” and where the “shape, placement, and
movement of the hands, as well as facial expressions and
body movements, all play important parts in conveying
that information.”240 Deaf people use their eyes to collect
and process information in the same way hearing people
use their ears.241 Some studies have even found that deaf
people have enhanced vision.242 In this way, sighted Deaf
people rely on vision to communicate with the outside
world. Vision is therefore a vital communication tool for
sighted Deaf people.
The bleak and highly restrictive environment of solitary
confinement strips sighted Deaf prisoners of the opportunity to communicate with other human beings in any
meaningful way. Prisoners who experience hearing loss

Solitary confinement strips
sighted Deaf prisoners
of the opportunity to
communicate with other
human beings in any
meaningful way.
while incarcerated may face particularly harsh conditions
in solitary confinement, as they “may feel even more isolated than other inmates experiencing the same conditions
of confinement, since those in isolated confinement with
[typical] hearing may be able to have informal conversations by yelling, whereas this opportunity may not be
available to those who are [deaf or hard of hearing].”243
Beyond this, Deaf prisoners most likely arrive at prisons already having experienced social isolation. Researchers have
discovered that “[deafness] is . . . a significant contributor to
social isolation,” and “[e]ven mild hearing loss can impair
language processing, negatively affecting health care access
and use and leading to changes in cognitive and emotional
status.”244 Furthermore, in a typical isolation cell, there is

BETWEEN

35% AND 40%
OF ALL PRISONERS
EXPERIENCE SOME
DEGREE OF HEARING LOSS

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their minds, and connect with the outside world. Taken
together, all of these factors can contribute to a heightened
sense of isolation for Deaf prisoners and make it such that
solitary confinement is experienced much more intensely.

Blind or low vision
prisoners are denied the
chance to engage in prison
programming when they
are not provided with
auxiliary aids and services.

Finally, communication barriers pose huge challenges for
Deaf people held in solitary confinement and can further
marginalize them in correctional environments. Without
accommodations like sign language interpreters, deaf
prisoners will be left absolutely isolated, resulting in what
some advocates refer to as a “prison in a prison.”245 Isolation
and communication barriers will severely undermine deaf
prisoners’ ability to adapt and survive the harsh conditions
of prison life. This inability to adapt to the harsh conditions of prison life can lead to tragic results. In one case, a
23-year-old deaf man committed suicide after being held in
solitary confinement for one month during which he was
denied access to a sign language interpreter.246

Photo: Skyward Kick Productions/Shutterstock

almost no visual stimulation. Cell walls are gray, windowless, concrete and steel-enforced spaces with few air vents.
As a result, deaf or hard of hearing persons in solitary are
left without the ability to engage their sense of sight, occupy

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2. Blind and Low Vision Prisoners
Prisoners who are blind or low vision rely mainly on their
sense of hearing to engage with the world around them.
However, in solitary confinement, opportunities to interact
and communicate with the outside world are severely limited. These harsh restrictions are particularly severe for blind
or low vision prisoners who communicate primarily using
hearing and speech. While in solitary confinement, blind or
low vision prisoners are unable to regularly engage in verbal
communications with other prisoners and have limited
meaningful verbal communications with staff—save for
the limited and superficial interactions at cell front. Beyond
this, in solitary confinement the disorienting and jarring
sounds—ranging from prisoners shouting, to industrial
fans, to the loud banging sounds that cell doors make
when opening and closing—are constant. Such exposure
can result in auditory overload, clogging their only means
for obtaining information from their surroundings with
senseless cacophony.
Moreover, in correctional systems where prisoners in solitary confinement are allowed to occupy the day by reading
books, writing, watching television, or participating in
hobby craft, blind or low vision prisoners are denied the
chance to engage in these constructive activities when they
are not provided with auxiliary aids and services, such as
audio books or captioned television, to facilitate meaningful participation. With few opportunities for mental
stimulation, these blind and low vision prisoners face even
harsher conditions in solitary confinement, which can lead
to extreme idleness.
Finally, even for sighted prisoners, the austere conditions
in solitary confinement may have adverse effects. Due to
reduced reliance on eyesight inside the tiny spaces where
prisoners in solitary confinement are held, seeing prisoners
have even reported diminished eyesight after extended
stays in solitary. Uzair Paracha described the experience as
follows:
I had Lasik surgery a few years before my arrest
and it went well. Yet my eyesight deteriorated
threefold in the nine years I was in isolation. We
couldn’t see anything beyond a few feet in front of
our doors and nothing at all from our window. . . .

I met several prisoners who had to get prescription
eyeglasses for the first time in their lives while in
the SHU. I mentioned this to the ophthalmologist
in ADX and he told me that having your entire
world just a few feet away weakens the eyesight.247

3. Communication Barriers
The public needs to know about [the]
limitations Deaf [prisoners] face in
[gaining] access to inmate programs &
psychological services, needs for staff training
for visual communication[,] our need for equal
access to outside communication (TDD & Deaf
Videophone), or difficulty in daily
communication with correctional officers.”248
—DEAF PRISONER, FORMERLY INCARCERATED AT MARYLAND CORRECTIONAL
INSTITUTION-JESSUP

In solitary confinement, prisoners are dependent on staff
to meet a myriad of basic human needs. When issues or
challenges arise, prisoners held in solitary confinement
must have the ability to communicate their needs and
concerns to corrections staff, particularly during critical
encounters such as medical or mental health appointments
and emergencies. Communication barriers can be particularly harmful—and magnified—in solitary confinement if
corrections staff do not follow measures to ensure effective
communications with all prisoners, especially prisoners
with sensory disabilities.
For example, in one case, a deaf prisoner alleged that he
was placed into solitary confinement following an altercation with another prisoner.249 Robin Valdez claimed that
“he was unable to express himself to corrections officers
during these incidents due to the lack of sign language
interpreters.”250 He “testified that he had poor eye sight,”
but required a sign language interpreter to communicate
effectively.251 He alleged that he was sprayed with chemical

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agents on one occasion, was “unable to communicate his
injuries to prison staff,” and as a result, received no medical
attention.252 During the disciplinary hearing, Valdez also
alleged that he was “required to sit in his cell without any
way of knowing what was being said, and without any
method of communicating his version of events to the
hearing officers.”253 Following the hearing he was found
guilty of misconduct.254 In the prison facility where Valdez
was held, Vaughn Correctional Center in Delaware, there
were allegedly “no policies for accommodating the needs of
deaf inmates.”255

MCI-J has an interpreter onsite Mon–Fri.
But when we have appointments (e.g.
medical), there is no interpreter. ‘Sorry! We
forgot.’ So we reschedule for a second
appointment three weeks later, and the
interpreter is there. . . . Often officers and staff
try to use other inmates to interpret for Deaf
inmates.”256
—LETTERS FROM FIVE DEAF PRISONERS, MARYLAND CORRECTIONAL
INSTITUTION-JESSUP

In another case, William Pierce, a deaf person257 held in the
District of Columbia’s Correctional Treatment Facility,258
was awarded $70,000259 in damages after a jury found the
jail liable for not providing Pierce with any accommodation for his hearing disability, denying him the ability to
properly communicate for approximately 51 days. Pierce
had alleged that he was denied access to a sign language interpreter during critical interactions with medical staff, and
rehabilitative programs, including classes on anger management and graphic design, for approximately 51 days.260
After Pierce submitted multiple requests for an interpreter,
he alleged that they retaliated against him by putting him in
solitary confinement for two weeks.261
Prisoners with sensory and communication disabilities also
reported being denied access to services and programs because they were not properly notified. Most—if not all—of

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the services received by prisoners in solitary confinement
take place within the confines of a cell. Services in prisons
are often provided according to rigid schedules, especially
for prisoners who are housed in solitary confinement.
Prisoners are placed on rigid schedules by notifications—
commands from staff, alarms, and other alerts. Failure
to see or hear the alert signaling the start of a particular
activity may mean losing out on the chance to participate.
Given the volume of prisoners that must be served, failure
to respond to a cue, alert, or alarm may mean that a prisoner does not receive the proper dosage of prescription drugs
that day, misses a meal,262 or is denied exercise.
Yet, not all prisons notify prisoners in a manner that takes
into account their sensory disability—especially in solitary
confinement.263 For example, Darren Morris, who is hard
of hearing, sued Wisconsin prison officials for failing to
accommodate his hearing disability. Morris, who was held
in segregation at the Waupun Correctional Institution,
claimed that he missed meals, showers, recreation time, and
medications because he could not hear the audio alerts that
notified prisoners of meals, showers, and other important
daily activities. At the time, Morris had only one functional
hearing aid and so could not always hear the auditory
alerts.264 After several days, DOC officials placed a placard
in front of his door to note his hearing disability, but Morris
still continued to miss meals.265

IV. FAILURES TO PROVIDE ACCOMMODATIONS
AND ASSISTIVE DEVICES

W

hen a person is incarcerated, every activity—every
minute of daily life—is monitored and controlled
by prison authorities. Daily schedules control
when a prisoner may eat, sleep, shower, visit with family,
use the telephone, or attend educational programs. For
prisoners with disabilities, proper accommodations and
staff assistance and support are critical to ensure that they
have the opportunity to participate in all aspects of prison
life. For example, depending on the nature and type of disability, prisoners with mobility-related disabilities will be
unable to engage in the full range of movements required
for daily or routine tasks, such as dressing or showering.
Similarly, blind prisoners will be unable to write and submit grievances,266 or participate in educational programs,
where materials are not provided in Braille or text-to-audio
formats. Without proper accommodations and assistance
from corrections staff, prisoners with disabilities have been
forced to rely on assistance from other prisoners.267 In the
best-case scenario, these prisoners may assist prisoners
with disabilities out of kindness or compassion, or at worst,
another prisoner might use assistance as a mechanism to
later extort from the prisoner with a disability.
Prisoners are even more reliant on corrections staff to meet
their basic human needs in solitary confinement. Each day,
prisoners in solitary rely on corrections staff to escort them
to showers, notify them of meals or medical appointments,
and distribute legal and personal mail. In solitary, most
interactions take place at the front of each prisoner’s cell,
where prisoners receive important items such as meal
trays and dosages for medications. Prisoners are typically
required to get cuffed at the cell front—behind the back
while standing with their hands through the narrow, cellfront slot— before they may be permitted to exit the cell for
programming, outdoor recreation, or showers.268

For prisoners with
disabilities, accommodations
and support are critical to
ensure access to all aspects
of prison life.
Yet, for many persons with ambulatory disabilities, walking
to the cell front door for these routine interactions is no
simple task. Spinal cord injuries may render tasks such as
walking or kneeling for handcuffing at the cell front door
impossible, or nearly impossible, without serious pain or
serious injury.269 Without assistive devices or assistance,
prisoners with disabilities may be hindered in their ability
to move around, care for themselves, or engage in critical
encounters at their cell front.270
The rigid schedules governing life in solitary confinement
will exclude some prisoners with physical disabilities if
facilities do not recognize and respond to their unique
needs. In some cases, an appropriate response will require
modifications to routine procedures and policies governing
the daily activities of the prison to ensure that prisoners
with disabilities are kept safe and have equal access to prison programs, activities, and services. In addition, prisoners
with physical disabilities must have access to assistive devices in order to engage in routine activities such as showering,
dressing, using the toilet, or simply moving around inside
their cells. To ensure that prisoners with physical disabilities

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Prisoners with mobilityrelated disabilities have
brought lawsuits alleging
that they have been forced
to crawl around on the
floor, hop on one leg, or
endure serious pain just
to engage in routine, daily
activities.
are able to participate in these tasks, prison authorities
must provide proper wheelchairs, assistive devices—in
good working condition—or other assistance.
However, not all prisons have provided the assistive devices
and assistance required under law. Consequently, prisoners
with mobility-related disabilities have brought lawsuits
alleging that they have been forced to crawl around on the
floor, hop on one leg, or endure serious pain just to engage
in routine, daily activities.271 Even where assistive devices
have been provided, prison officials have confiscated them
on the grounds that those devices pose a security risk and
could be used as weapons.272
Robert Dinkins sued the Missouri Department of
Corrections, challenging the adequacy of the medical
services provided to him. After he was diagnosed with
pernicious anemia, he alleged that prison officials failed to
prescribe him appropriate treatment for the disease, resulting in paralysis below the waist.273 He alleged that he began
to experience “blackouts, weakness, and difficulty walking,”
and that he did not receive a proper examination for approximately six months.274 Due to his worsening condition,
prison officials transferred Dinkins to the Transitional Care
Unit and placed him in administrative segregation.275 While

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in the Transitional Care Unit, he alleged being denied access to a wheelchair and being forced to crawl on the floor,
where he also ate his meals.276 He claimed that his requests
for assistance with his wheelchair and related accessories,
placement into a wheelchair-accessible cell, physical therapies, and preventive treatment, along with other accommodations, were all ignored by prison officials.277
A prisoner in Washington state prison reported being denied access to a wheelchair for almost two years while held
in segregation.278 The prisoner had been provided with a
wheelchair while at his previous housing unit, but prison
authorities confiscated the device when he was transferred
to solitary confinement. As a result, the prisoner was left
without the means to ambulate, which meant that he had
to “drag[] himself across the floor in order to conduct his
daily activities.”
Randall Jackson alleged that he did not have access to a
wheelchair for over a year while he was in solitary confinement.279 He also alleged that he was held in almost continuous lockdown for 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, and
permitted to leave his cell for only one hour, three times
per week.280 According to his federal complaint, for the year
that he was in solitary confinement, “[h]e was forced to
drag himself across the dirty and abrasive cell floor, where
it was very difficult to transfer to the bed, toilet, and wash
basin.”281 Lloyd Brown claimed that he was denied access to
recreation and showers for over two months after prison
officials confiscated his crutches. Prison officials conceded
to taking Brown’s crutches, but they argued in court that
medical records concluded that his “crutches were not
medically required” once he was transferred to the Special
Housing Unit where he was held for 65 days.282 The appellate court determined that “the medical records [were]
insufficient to show that Brown was ambulatory without
assistance.”283 The court further reasoned that if it were true
that Brown’s need for crutches was obvious and that he was
unable to walk without crutches, prison officials could not
simply confiscate his crutches, but had an obligation to
further investigate Brown’s condition to determine whether
the medical records were correct.284
Following an alleged assault with a correctional officer,
California prison officials placed Onofre Serrano, a partially paralyzed prisoner, into administrative segregation, also

known as the secure housing unit, or the “SHU.” Serrano’s
SHU cell was not accessible for wheelchair users, and prison
officials confiscated Serrano’s wheelchair. Serrano alleged
that he was forced to “crawl into his bunk, hoist himself
onto the toilet by the toilet seat, avoid the shower because
the facility lacked an appropriate shower seat, and sit idle
for outdoor exercise because the outdoor yard was not
handicapped-accessible.”285 Serrano remained in the SHU
cell without access to his wheelchair for approximately two
months.286
Two prisoners with paraplegia, Bobby Simmons and Ricky
Marshall, filed a lawsuit against the Arkansas Department
of Corrections after they were held in solitary confinement
for 32 hours, denied meals, and rendered unable to use
restroom facilities.287 Simmons and Marshall were placed
into segregation pursuant to prison policy after corrections
staff determined that the two men had consumed alcohol.
Prior to placing them into their segregation cells, prison
officials “consulted” with medical staff to “ensure that no
medical reason” prevented their confinement, and then
“inspected the confines of the maximum security area to
ensure that both Simmons and Marshall could be housed
there safely.”288 According to the trial transcript, the nurse
approved placement for Simmons and Marshall on the
condition that they would be provided “access to the hospital for treatments . . . egg crate mattresses, and … other
medical requirements[.]”289

policy required that Stoudemire be quarantined in a segregation unit due to her infection, and she was quarantined
in the segregation unit at Huron Valley Women’s Facility.293
Stoudemire claimed that prison officials managing the
Huron Valley Women’s Facility held her in solitary confinement for two weeks with limited medical assistance
and absolutely no contact with a prison doctor.294 She
alleged that she received “extremely poor medical care
while in segregation,” and that the “cells were not equipped
to accommodate” her disability.295 Specifically, she alleged
that she “was never provided with any assistive devices that
might have allowed her to safely move between her bed,
wheelchair, toilet, and shower,” and that “[t]here was no
call button, so Stoudemire had to shout when she needed
assistance.”296 Stoudemire was “forced to crawl from her
bed to the toilet.”297 On one occasion, she defecated on
herself when staff failed to respond to her requests for assistance.298 During her two weeks in segregation, Stoudemire
“received only one shower . . . and was required to dress her
wounds herself, which put her at risk of infection.”299 The
Michigan Department of Corrections settled the suit with
Stoudemire in May 2016, awarding her over $200,000 for
the harm caused.300

Despite these detailed arrangements, neither Simmons nor
Marshall received their requested accommodations while
in segregation. Both were denied their egg crate mattresses
and missed four consecutive meals because their wheelchairs could not access the area where staff placed food
trays. Simmons and Marshall were also denied “necessary
medical supplies, appropriate access to a handicapped-assistive toilet, and all other necessary assistance in using the
toilet.”290 Simmons and Marshall filed a lawsuit challenging
these actions and were awarded compensatory damages in
the trial court.291
Failure to provide accommodations and assistance to
prisoners with physical disabilities in solitary confinement
may lead to devastating consequences. Following amputation surgery at the end of 2005, Martinique Stoudemire
contracted MRSA, a serious bacterial infection.292 Prison

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V. HOW PRISONERS WITH PHYSICAL
DISABILITIES END UP IN SOLITARY
CONFINEMENT
A. WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT
PRISONERS WITH PHYSICAL
DISABILITIES IN SOLITARY
CONFINEMENT
There is limited research and data301 on the number of
persons with physical disabilities in prisons and jails and
no concrete data on the numbers of persons with physical
disabilities in isolation. In fact, until recently, there was little
by way of data on the numbers of incarcerated people with
disabilities period. In December 2015, the Bureau of Justice
Statistics (BJS) produced a groundbreaking report that
discussed the prevalence rates for six categories of disabilities—hearing, vision, cognitive, ambulatory, self-care, and
independent living—in prison and jail prisoners from 2011
to 2012.302 BJS researchers report that from 2011 to 2012,
“about 3 in 10 state and federal prisoners… reported having
at least one disability.”303 Of this population, approximately
“40 percent of females and 31 percent of males in prison…
reported a disability.”304 This data reveals that prisoners are

40% of females and 31%
of males in prison report
having a disability.
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“nearly three times more likely… than the general population to report having at least one disability.”305
Cognitive disabilities were the most commonly reported
disability.306 Ambulatory disability—defined as difficulty
walking or climbing stairs—was the second most common
disability.307 Older prisoners were most likely to report a
disability in U.S. prisons and jails. Researchers report that 44
percent of prisoners aged 50 or older reported a disability as
compared to 27 percent of prisoners aged 18 to 24.308 As the
numbers indicate, by sheer volume alone, the substantial

3X

PRISONERS ARE

MORE LIKELY THAN THE
GENERAL POPULATION
TO REPORT HAVING A
DISABILITY

numbers of prisoners with disabilities currently held in
prisons and jails warrant greater attention not only to the
challenges they face while incarcerated, but also potential
solutions to address these “complicated . . . health concerns for modern correctional systems.”309	
Given the high incidence rates of people with disabilities in prison and jails, it is very likely that a significant
proportion of those persons in solitary confinement are
disabled. The number of prisoners held in isolation on
a yearly basis is staggering. In 2011-2012, almost one in
five prisoners and 18 percent of detainees in jail were
held in some type of restrictive housing in the previous
12 months or less for those persons who were admitted
to prison less than a year earlier.310 For prisoners under
the age of 30, the rates of persons held in restrictive
housing increase. According to another BJS report, “[a]
mong inmates ages 18 to 19, 31 percent of those in prison
and 25 percent of those in jail had spent some time in
restrictive housing,” and “[a]mong inmates ages 20 to 24,
28 percent of those in prison and 23 percent of those in
jail had been in restrictive housing at some time during
the past year.”311

B. HOW DO PRISONERS
WITH PHYSICAL
DISABILITIES END UP IN
SOLITARY CONFINEMENT?
Although there is no precise data on the number of people
with physical disabilities in isolation, there is information
on how they end up in solitary confinement. Corrections
authorities have justified the use of solitary confinement for
all prisoners based on the following:

1. Administrative Segregation
Prisoners can be placed into administrative segregation for
a variety of reasons, but the most common justification is
that the individual poses some type of threat to the safety
of persons and security of the institution.312 Prisoners can

HOW DO PRISONERS WITH
PHYSICAL DISABILITIES END UP IN

SOLITARY
CONFINEMENT?
1. Administrative Segregation
2. Protective Custody
3. Medical Isolation
4. Disciplinary or Punitive Segregation
5. Lack of Accessible Housing

be held in administrative segregation for a short period of
time (e.g., during an investigation for an alleged offense,313
or while they wait for the corrections facility to find a cell
that is wheelchair accessible), or in some cases, an indefinite
period of time (e.g., due to an alleged gang affiliation).314

2. Protective Custody
Segregating prisoners to protect them from harm is generally
referred to as protective custody.315 Some adult corrections
systems automatically place persons from vulnerable populations—youth,316 elderly,317 and LGBT prisoners318—into
protective custody. Prisoners with physical disabilities are
placed into protective custody due to vulnerabilities, often
as a default solution after being harmed or threatened. In
many state systems, conditions in protective custody are tantamount to placement into solitary confinement—that is,
prisoners are held in small, concrete cells for approximately
22 hours or more per day with little to no access to natural
light and almost total sensory and social deprivation.319 In

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some cases, prisoners in protective custody are held in the
very same units as prisoners held in solitary confinement
for serious disciplinary infractions. For example, a victim
of assault may be placed in the same unit as the person who
assaulted them.

3. Medical Isolation
Prisoners may be placed into isolation for medical reasons.
For example, prisoners experiencing suicidal thoughts may
be placed into medical isolation, where they can be observed, also known as “suicide watch,” until they are healthy
enough to return to less restrictive housing. In addition,
prison officials often place persons who have been diagnosed with contagious diseases, or who may be at risk of
contracting these diseases, into medical isolation to prevent
the spread of the disease.320
As a general matter, corrections authorities may not segregate people with disabilities into medical facilities unless the
prisoner is actually receiving medical care.321 Furthermore,
placement into medical facilities is not permitted simply

De Facto Isolation

S

ometimes, failure to provide proper medical
care and accommodations for prisoners
with disabilities may result in de facto solitary
confinement. Timothy Reaves has quadriplegia
and brought suit against the Massachusetts
Department of Corrections, alleging that the department did not provide him with an adequate
physical or occupational therapy program, and
a comprehensive treatment plan to manage his
bowel movements, and for allegedly failing to prevent a dangerous condition known as autonomic
dysreflexia.323 Reaves claimed that the department
also cut him off from accessing outdoor recreation
spaces and programming.324 He was left in his cell
in a state of virtual isolation and idleness, without
proper treatment therapies to manage his disabilities, and as a result, his condition worsened.

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because accessible housing is not available, or because prison authorities believe that it is more convenient to place
prisoners into those facilities. These policies are not always
followed and prisoners with physical disabilities have been
placed into designated medical areas even when they were
not receiving medical treatment.322

4. Disciplinary or Punitive
Segregation
The primary objective of corrections institutions is to
maintain security and control of their facilities and the
persons they house. As part of the effort to maintain order,
institutions have rules and regulations that govern the behaviors of persons held within their walls. When prisoners
break the rules of the prison, they are given disciplinary
infractions, or tickets. Disciplinary infractions can range
from failing to maintain proper hygiene or sanitary living
conditions to more serious offenses like assault or escape.
Failure to adhere to prison rules and regulations can result
in placement into solitary confinement.325 Prisoners with
physical disabilities, like non-disabled prisoners, can end
up in solitary after being found guilty of disciplinary infractions that violate the institution’s disciplinary policies.326

i. PATHWAYS INTO SOLITARY: UNIQUE CHALLENGES FOR
PERSONS WITH PHYSICAL DISABILITIES
Prisoners with physical disabilities have been punished
because of actions—or inactions—caused by their disabilities.327 For example, prisoners with physical disabilities
that “cause problems such as vomiting or incontinence too
often get disciplined for soiling their clothing instead of
being evaluated by medical care staff.”328 Such treatment is
fundamentally unfair. Maintaining the safety and security
of a prison does not require punishing someone for actions
beyond their control. Rather, punishing someone on this
basis reflects a disregard for the needs of people with disabilities and a lack of sensitivity to their lived experiences.
In addition, prisoners with sensory disabilities have been
charged with failing to obey staff orders they could not hear
or see and subsequently disciplined with segregation.329 For
example, one deaf prisoner reported being held in solitary

Our prison system does very little to
effectuate rehabilitative goals where
prisoners with disabilities are concerned. These
prisoners live in a precarious limbo where they
are punished for disability-related behaviors
often without access to accommodations that
would facilitate adjustment to the demands of
prison life. Placing prisoners with disabilities in
solitary confinement for reasons associated
with their disability is precisely what the ADA
and its regulations seek to protect against.”

Finally, prisoners with sensory disabilities face another
hurdle in that they may not be able to understand the
orientation manual or prisoner handbook that governs
behaviors in the correctional institution. Violations of relatively minor prison rules can lead to placement in solitary.
For example, prisoners may be punished for seemingly
innocuous behaviors like posting on Facebook,332 failing to
make the bed,333 or having expired toothpaste.334 Providing
information in a format that is inaccessible to blind or deaf

Photo: Wavebreak Media Ltd/Bigstock

—WALLIS NADER, ATTORNEY, TEXAS CIVIL RIGHTS PROJECT

confinement for two weeks for “failing to respond to an oral
command spoken behind his back.”330 He reported that he
did not receive a statement of reasons and that no hearing
was held prior to his placement into solitary confinement.
Only when he was provided with an ASL interpreter did
it become clear to prison officials that the charges were
unfounded: “I received a hearing aid two weeks into my
solitary. They had an interpreter. They understood that the
officer made a mistake and I was exonerated and released.”331

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43

Prison officials have
sentenced prisoners
to time in solitary
confinement for alleged
disciplinary violations
even where the prisoner
could not understand
or participate in the
disciplinary hearing to
raise a defense.
prisoners means that they will remain largely unaware of
the rules, processes, and procedures governing life in their
particular prison. As such, deaf and blind prisoners can
violate prison rules—and face solitary confinement—because they lacked full understanding of the prison rules and
regulations. For deaf prisoners, there are additional barriers
to communication. Deaf individuals, on the whole, have
lower literacy rates and educational levels as compared to
hearing individuals.335 Due to low literacy rates and limited
education, deaf prisoners may face serious difficulties in
trying to understand complex disciplinary procedures.

ii. DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDINGS
In some cases, prisoners charged with a disciplinary infraction may have the right to a disciplinary hearing along
with other due process protections. These rights ensure that
prisoners are not further deprived of their liberties—for
example, by placement into punitive segregation and the
accompanying loss of privileges—without appropriate due
process. The precise nature and scope of the procedural

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rights given to prisoners during these disciplinary hearings
will depend on the nature of the disciplinary action or
punishment.336 Generally, in cases involving a loss of good
time credits or property, prisoners will have the right to
(1) receive written notification of the charges against them
at least 24 hours prior to the hearing; (2) obtain information on the evidence brought against them and the basis
for the punishment;338 and (3) call witnesses and present
documentary evidence at a disciplinary hearing, subject to
limitations.339 There is no recognized right to legal counsel
during disciplinary proceedings; however, prisoners who
are illiterate, or who require language or other assistance
because of their disability, may be entitled to assistance.340
Even where prisoners are provided with certain procedural
protections during disciplinary proceedings, prisoners with
physical disabilities will be denied their rights if hearings
are not accessible—either because of structural barriers
for prisoners with ambulatory disabilities or communication barriers for prisoners with sensory disabilities.341 For
instance, persons who use wheelchairs will face significant
obstacles if the location of the disciplinary hearing is not
accessible to them. Moreover, if the evidence presented
during the hearing is not accessible to prisoners who are
blind or low vision, or deaf or hard of hearing, they will
be unable to fully understand the charges against them and
prepare a proper defense.342 For example, only providing
notice of the disciplinary hearing and summary of the
charges against a blind or low vision prisoner in small font,
rather than in a format accessible to the prisoner such as
large font (or Braille, if the prisoner can understand Braille)
will render meaningless any right guaranteeing advance
notice of the hearing and a description of charges.
Similarly, not providing a sign language interpreter or
real-time captioning during a disciplinary hearing will prevent a deaf prisoner from understanding the proceedings
or communicating with the officers conducting the hearing
and investigators.343 Because the failure to provide auxiliary
aids and services to persons with sensory disabilities compromises their ability to successfully defend themselves in a
disciplinary hearing, which could result in placement into
solitary confinement, it is imperative that prisoners with
physical disabilities be afforded necessary accommodations
during the investigatory phase, disciplinary hearing, and
any appeals process.344

Without these accommodations, prisoners with sensory
disabilities will be unable to benefit from any procedural
protections provided during disciplinary hearings. In Dunn
v. Thomas,345 plaintiffs, a class of prisoners held in the custody of the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC)
filed suit against ADOC, challenging constitutionally
inadequate medical care and violations under the ADA due
to ADOC’s failure to provide them with accommodations
and services. The complaint also details stories of prisoners
denied meaningful access to disciplinary hearings due to
the ADOC’s failure to provide interpreters and assistive
devices to facilitate communication.
For example, Plaintiff Daniel Tooley, a deaf prisoner,
alleged that prison officials failed to provide him with a
sign language interpreter despite numerous requests.346
Tooley alleged that “he d[id] not understand certain ADOC
policies,” “[could not] participate in any programs offered
by the prison” because of communication barriers, and that
ADOC “often relie[d] on other prisoners with limited sign
language ability to ‘communicate’” with him.347 Tooley also
alleged that ADOC officials failed to provide him with a sign
language interpreter for a disciplinary hearing.348 Following
a hearing that he did not understand, he was sentenced to a
30-day term in segregation.
Plaintiff Donald Turner raised similar claims, alleging that
he was unable to adequately defend himself in a disciplinary
hearing where he was charged with unauthorized use of a
credit card because ADOC failed to provide him with a sign
language interpreter.349 Turner received 15 days in segregation following the hearing.350
Finally, Tommie Moore alleged that he was sentenced to
10 days in segregation following a disciplinary hearing.351
According to the complaint, corrections staff gave Moore,
a blind prisoner, a disciplinary ticket after he did not stand
up during prison count even though “he did not know that
the correctional officer telling people to stand for count was
speaking to him and the standard practice in the dormitory
was that the prisoners who are blind did not stand for
count.”352 Prison records showed that Moore pled guilty to
the charge, but he alleged that he did not attend the “disciplinary hearing and did not admit to any misconduct or
sign the disciplinary report.”353

5. Placements Into Solitary
Confinement Due to Lack of
Accessible Housing
I have been in and out of solitary
confinement several times while on
transfer to the hospital for treatment or
diagnosis. A [disabled] inmate can be put into
solitary if there is no room in the transfer part
of the prison. While there you will be treated as
if you were there for disciplinary action.”354
—BOB FOSSETT, WALLACE PACK 1 UNIT, TEXAS

Prisoners with physical disabilities may also be placed
into isolation for reasons separate and distinct from the
safety of persons or the security of institutions. Abdul
Malik Muhammad, who is blind, was placed in solitary
confinement at the Wicomico County Detention Center in
Maryland for a little over six weeks. For the majority of his
time in solitary, Muhammad was without “access to showers, phone calls, recreation, [or] a change of clothes, [and
was denied access to] religious services, the commissary,
visitation, or the library.”355 When Muhammad asked a corrections official to explain why he was placed into solitary
confinement, the official responded that prison authorities
were trying to figure out where to house him. The lack of
readily available housing units that could properly serve
the needs of a blind prisoner meant that Muhammad experienced the social and environmental isolation of solitary
confinement simply because of his disability.
Placement decisions similar to Muhammad’s are troubling
because the ADA expressly prohibits prison officials from
segregating prisoners and other detained persons simply
because there are no accessible beds in which to house
them.356 Even so, prisoners with ambulatory and sensory
disabilities are still placed into solitary confinement simply
because there is no accessible housing available.357

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45

Special Challenges for Deaf
Prisoners

D

eaf prisoners are particularly vulnerable to
placement into solitary and are susceptible to
falling into a never-ending cycle of isolated confinement. Deaf prisoners can wind up in solitary
confinement because prison authorities did not
provide them with prison rules and procedures—
commonly referred to as a prisoner manual, or
orientation handbook—in a format that they
could understand. As a result, these prisoners
end up with seemingly non-serious disciplinary
infractions that result in their placement into solitary. For prisoners placed in solitary, getting out
of isolation, where made possible through stepdown programs, will require adhering to strict
guidelines and procedures. If those guidelines are
not in a format that deaf prisoners can understand, they may be denied access to programs that
can shorten their time in solitary.
In addition, deaf prisoners who feel vulnerable or
unsafe in dangerous prison facilities may voluntarily agree to placement into protective custody.
However, without proper communication with
corrections staff, they may do so without fully
understanding what protective custody entails:
lockdown in a highly restrictive isolation cell for
more than 22 hours per day.

6. Trapped in Solitary
State and federal corrections systems may condition release
from solitary confinement on the completion of rehabilitative programs and activities, as well as incident-free
behavior. However, once in solitary confinement, prisoners
with physical disabilities may find themselves unable to
comply with such conditions due to the inaccessibility of
prison programming. As a result, they end up isolated for
extended periods of time. This is because prisoners with
disabilities are excluded from the benefits of “step-down”

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programs that require the successful completion of certain
programming and behavioral goals to “progress” out of
solitary confinement.
Prisoners with physical disabilities may be unable to reap
the benefits of these step-down programs for a variety of
reasons. First, where manuals specifying rules and procedures for progressing out of solitary confinement are not
accessible to persons with sensory disabilities—for example, deaf persons requiring a sign language interpreter, or
blind persons requiring audio text—these prisoners may
not be able to understand what constitutes a violation of
the step-down procedures or what actions are required to
get out of solitary confinement. As a result, they may fail to
progress in the step-down program and lose the opportunity to get out of solitary confinement. Similarly, program
materials may not be provided in a format that prisoners
with sensory disabilities can comprehend. Furthermore,
programming locations may not be accessible to prisoners
with ambulatory disabilities. Holding group programs, like
anger management or hobby craft, in locations that do not
accommodate wheelchairs, or in areas of the facility that
have uneven, jagged floors that make it difficult for blind
or low vision prisoners to navigate, will effectively bar them
from accessing programs that can help reduce their time in
solitary confinement.

VI. LEGAL PROTECTIONS FOR PRISONERS
WITH DISABILITIES IN SOLITARY
CONFINEMENT

R

obust legal protections exist to protect the rights of
prisoners with disabilities. International standards,
U.S. constitutional law, federal statutes and regulations, and state laws prohibit discrimination against people
with disabilities, prevent their unjustified exclusion from
mainstream society, and mandate that they receive equal
access to programs and services offered to all. Prisoners
with disabilities held in solitary confinement should receive
these protections. Although the law as it relates to incarcerated persons with disabilities is largely undeveloped in
court cases, it is an area ripe for litigation and policy reform.
The following section outlines the legal protections afforded prisoners with disabilities in solitary confinement under
the various legal regimes.

important protections for all persons with disabilities that
must be respected in prisons and jails. In particular, the
Convention sets forth basic requirements for the 160 signatories, or Member States, to end systematic discrimination
and to enact appropriate legislation that will protect and
promote the rights of all people with disabilities. The United
States signed the convention in 2009, but disappointingly
has yet to ratify it.359 Specifically, the Convention sets forth
specific measures to ensure equal access to justice, liberty,
and security of the person,360 as well as freedom from torture
or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment
for all people with disabilities.361 In addition, the Convention
mandates that people with disabilities be provided with
reasonable accommodations when they are incarcerated.362

2. Nelson Mandela Rules

A. INTERNATIONAL LAW
International law and standards affirm the human rights of
all people with disabilities and a commitment to protecting
people with disabilities from cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment when they are incarcerated.

1. UN Convention on the Rights of
Persons with Disabilities
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons
with Disabilities (“Convention”) affirms the basic human
rights of all people with disabilities.358 The guidelines provide

In December 2015, the United Nations General Assembly
adopted an updated version of its Standard Minimum
Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (known as the “Nelson
Mandela Rules”). The Nelson Mandela Rules363 establish
basic principles and minimum standards for the treatment
of prisoners in order to ensure that the human rights of all
incarcerated persons are respected, providing standards for
such aspects of prison management as medical care, mental
health treatment, solitary confinement, and classification.
The Nelson Mandela Rules also recognize the special challenges faced by prisoners with disabilities and set in place
standards protecting them from mistreatment and inhumane conditions of confinement. Specifically, as relates to
prisoners with physical disabilities in solitary confinement
the Nelson Mandela Rules:

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47

Prohibit indefinite solitary confinement and
prolonged solitary confinement.364 The Mandela
Rules defines solitary confinement as “confinement of prisoners for 22 hours or more a
day without meaningful human contact.”365
Prolonged solitary confinement is confinement
lasting beyond 15 days.366
Mandate that solitary confinement may only be
used in “exceptional circumstances as a last resort,
for as short a time as possible and subject to independent review” by a competent authority.367
Recommend that prison officials avoid imposing
solitary confinement where doing so would
worsen the health conditions of people with
disabilities.368
Require that medical professionals have the power to review and recommend decisions to place
prisoners with physical disabilities into solitary
confinement to ensure that their disability is not
worsened due to that placement.369
Encourage effective and meaningful communications with prisoners with sensory disabilities.370

Subjecting prisoners with disabilities to solitary confinement may conflict with the standards set forth in the Nelson
Mandela Rules. To begin with, the U.N. Special Rapporteur
Against Torture has determined that, beyond 15 days, solitary confinement can amount to torture.371 Thus, after this

The Americans with
Disabilities Act provides
comprehensive protections
for people with disabilities
held in state prisons
and jails.
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time period, holding prisoners with disabilities in solitary
confinement can violate their fundament human right to
be free from cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment
under the U.N. Convention Against Torture. Similarly,
placing prisoners with physical disabilities into solitary
confinement where such placement exacerbates existing
disabilities, or holding prisoners with sensory disabilities
in solitary confinement without providing them with the
means to effectively and meaningfully communicate, would
be inconsistent with the Nelson Mandela Rules.

B. CONSTITUTIONAL
PROTECTIONS: THE EIGHTH
AMENDMENT
The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution “prohibits
the infliction of ‘cruel and unusual punishments’ on those
convicted of crimes.”372 Stated differently, it provides a limitation on the extent to which the government can punish
its prisoners. Punishments that are barbaric or torturous,373
“involve the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain,”374
or that are “grossly disproportionate to the severity of the
crime”375 violate the Eighth Amendment. In addition, prison
authorities violate the Eighth Amendment when they deny
prisoners medical care,376 deprive them of their basic human
needs,377 or “deprive inmates of the minimal civilized measure of life’s necessities.”378 In short, the Eighth Amendment
mandates that corrections officials provide humane living
conditions for prisoners.379
Although few courts have determined that solitary confinement as a practice on its own violates the Eighth Amendment,
several courts have found that placing people with serious
mental illness into solitary confinement is cruel and unusual
punishment.380 As one court reasoned, placing prisoners
with mental illness into solitary confinement exposed them
to risk of serious psychological harm and deterioration. The
court emphasized that continued placement for prisoners
with psychiatric disabilities in solitary confinement would
expose them to “conditions that are ‘very likely’ . . . to inflict
a serious mental illness or seriously exacerbate an existing
mental illness[, and] cannot be squared with evolving

standards of humanity or decency[.]”381 Due to these prisoners’ vulnerabilities to further psychological harm, the court
reasoned that placing them into solitary confinement violated the Eighth Amendment.382 As with prisoners who have
psychiatric disabilities, prisoners with physical disabilities are
susceptible to serious harms in solitary confinement. These
harms, as noted, include not only psychological damage,
but also physical deterioration and deconditioning. Where
placing a prisoner with a physical disability into solitary
confinement makes it “very likely” for these harms to occur,
the Eighth Amendment will likely bar such placement.

C. THE AMERICANS WITH
DISABILITIES ACT
The passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
was a watershed moment in the movement for equal rights
for all people with disabilities.383 The landmark civil rights
legislation was the result of decades-long advocacy by people with disabilities and, in particular, a fervent disability
rights movement that sprang up in the 1970s.384 Following
the “culmination of 25 years of methodical congressional
study, measured legislative steps, and finely tuned negotiation regarding the problem of ” disability discrimination,385

A Closer Look: The ADA and
Individual Consideration

P

ublic entities, including prisons and jails,
are required to give “primary consideration”
to the individual’s choice for a particular aid or
service that serves to accommodate a communication disability. According to guidelines set forth
by the U.S. Department of Justice, a public entity
must “honor the person’s choice, unless it can
demonstrate that another equally effective means
of communication is available, or that the use of
the means chosen would result in a fundamental
alteration or in an undue burden[.]”395

Congress enacted the ADA to address the historic exclusion,
segregation, and discrimination386 experienced by people
with disabilities.
Under the ADA, “no qualified individual with a disability387
shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of services, programs,
or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity.”388 A plaintiff seeking to establish
a claim under the ADA in court must show that (1) they
are a person with a disability389 according to the statutory
definition; (2) they are otherwise qualified for the benefit
in question; and (3) they were excluded from the benefit
of a program, service, or activity due to disability-based
discrimination.390 These sweeping protections aimed at
ensuring equal access to public services, programs, or activities for all people with disabilities did not stop at the prison
gates. Six years after the passage of the ADA, the Supreme
Court ruled in Pennsylvania Department of Corrections v.
Yeskey that the “benefits” from “services, programs, or activities” included prisoners, who even though incarcerated,
rely on the state to meet their basic needs and provide them
with rehabilitation.391 	

1. Reasonable Accommodations
The ADA requires public entities to “make reasonable modifications in policies, practices, or procedures[.]”392 Reasonable
accommodations help prevent discrimination against people
with disabilities by providing them with the opportunity to
“fully and equally participate in a program, service, or benefit.”393 Reasonable modifications—also known as reasonable
accommodations—can vary considerably based on the
specific needs of persons with a disability.394
For example, if a prisoner with quadriplegia requires a
motorized wheelchair (or a personal assistant to help with
pushing a manual wheelchair) in order to access the dining
hall, showers, recreational areas, and library in the facility,
then under the ADA, prison officials would be required to
provide a reasonable accommodation so that the prisoner
can participate fully and equally in these benefits offered at
the facility. By way of another example, say that a facility
permits prisoners to use the telephone for only 30 minutes
per day. Deaf or hard of hearing prisoners who rely on

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49

telecommunication devices like video phones, TTDs, or relay services may in practice receive less time for phone calls
due to the additional time it takes to set up these devices,
as well as delays in transmitting and receiving messages. A
reasonable accommodation could be one that would allot
additional time for telephone calls by deaf prisoners to
ensure that they have the same time for telephone calls as
hearing prisoners.

2. Effective Communications
Under the ADA, corrections officials are required to provide communications to people with disabilities that are
as effective as the communications provided to persons
who do not have disabilities.396 To meet this requirement,
corrections officials must provide blind, low vision, deaf,
and/or hard of hearing persons with auxiliary aids and
services to facilitate effective and meaningful communications during critical encounters—prison orientation, educational classes, job training, work assignments, meetings
with counselors, medical appointments, religious services,
grievance proceedings, vocational classes, etc.—unless
doing so would cause an undue burden or fundamentally
alter the nature of a program.397
To ensure meaningful and effective communications with
blind, low vision, deaf, and/or hard of hearing prisoners,
prison officials must provide auxiliary aids and services,
such as hearing aids, sign language interpreters, text-toaudio devices, vibrating alerts, and real-time captioning.
When provided, the auxiliary aids and services must also
be tailored to the specific needs of the individual. Public
entities are required to give primary consideration to the
particular assistive device or aid that the person with the
communication disability requests. Corrections officials
must provide these persons with the requested accommodation “unless it can demonstrate that another equally
effective means of communication is available,” or that the
requested accommodation “would result in a fundamental
alteration or in an undue burden.”398 Even where the requested accommodation “would result in an undue burden
or a fundamental alteration,” prisons must still “provide an
alternative aid or service that provides effective communication if one is available.”399

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Furthermore, the auxiliary aids provided must properly
function to be effective. Hearing aids that are broken400
or that do not fit well will not provide effective communications. Similarly, effective communication requires that
auxiliary services such as sign language interpreters be
qualified to complete the job. A qualified interpreter is one
“who is able to interpret effectively, accurately, and impartially both receptively and expressively, using any necessary
specialized vocabulary.”401 Permitting other prisoners to
serve as sign language interpreters places deaf prisoners at
risk by infringing upon their privacy, particularly during
confidential medical visits, and creating a reliance on other
prisoners, which can lead to exploitation.402 If interpreting
services are not available, video remote interpreting services
may be used, particularly in emergency situations.403

3. Limits to the ADA
The comprehensive protections and guarantees provided
to people with disabilities are not without limitation. Even
where an individual can establish that they have a disability
as defined by the statute, are otherwise qualified, and were
excluded from the benefit of a program, service, or activity
provided by a public entity, the public entity is not required
to provide an accommodation where doing so constitutes
an undue burden.404 Specifically, a prison can defend against
a lawsuit alleging a violation under the ADA for failing to
provide a reasonable accommodation where providing the

Corrections officials must
provide communications
to people with sensory
disabilities that are as
effective as those provided
to people who do not have
disabilities.

requested accommodation “would result in a fundamental
alteration in the nature of a service, program or activity, or
in undue financial and administrative burdens.” The ADA
defines “undue burden” as an “action requiring significant
difficulty or expense[.]”405 Moreover, prison authorities are
not required to provide reasonable accommodations where
doing so would pose a “direct threat” or a “significant risk to
the health or safety of others that cannot be eliminated by a
modification of policies, practices or procedures, or by the
provision of auxiliary aids or services.”406 Additionally, “[a]
public entity may impose legitimate safety requirements
necessary for the safe operation of its services, programs,
or activities.”407 Although this provision may limit the
extent to which the public entity must provide reasonable
modifications, the provision also calls for assessments
based on actual risks rather than speculation, stereotypes,
or generalizations, which suggests that public entity must
offer written justifications or actual evidence before alleging safety risks.408

D. PRISON LITIGATION
REFORM ACT
The Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) applies to all lawsuits filed pursuant to federal law by prisoners, including
prisoners with disabilities. Under the PLRA, prisoners are
prohibited from filing a lawsuit in federal court until they
have attempted to resolve their dispute using the administrative procedures for the particular prison in which they
are held.409 In other words, prisoners must demonstrate
that they have complied with and received no relief from
the prison’s own grievance system prior to filing a lawsuit
in court. Failure to do so will result in the prisoner’s complaint, even a meritorious one, being dismissed from court.
For example, if a blind prisoner brings a lawsuit under the
ADA alleging that prison officials failed to provide them
with any accommodations so that they could participate
in vocational classes, religious services, and recreation, and
there is no evidence that they submitted a request to prison
authorities for these accommodations, their complaint
will be dismissed. Thus, where administrative remedial
procedures are not strictly followed, prisoners with physical disabilities in solitary confinement may not be able to

obtain relief in court even where constitutional, ADA, or
other violations of federal law have occurred.410

E. PROTECTION & ADVOCACY
MONITORING AND OVERSIGHT
Protection & Advocacy (P&A) organizations “provide legal
representation and other advocacy services to all people
with disabilities (based on a system of priorities for services).”411 Federal statutes allow P&A organizations a right
of access to records and related information during their
investigations.412 P&A organizations have the authority
under federal and state laws to provide legal representation
and other advocacy services to individuals with physical,
mental, developmental, and intellectual disabilities living in
correctional institutions, among other facilities. These P&A
agencies maintain a presence in both public and private
facilities that house individuals with disabilities, and these
agencies are responsible for investigating and monitoring
institutions for violations of disability laws and pursuing
remedial action to address violations when found.413 In
recent years, several P&A organizations have filed lawsuits
on behalf of prisoners with physical disabilities challenging
their mistreatment while held in solitary confinement.414

F. STATE LAW
In addition to federal law and regulations, state laws and
regulations provide protections to people with disabilities,
including incarcerated persons. Though state laws prohibit
discrimination on the basis of disability and offer protections similar to the ADA,415 each state court’s interpretation
of that state’s disability laws controls. A review of the specific state laws and cases is necessary to determine the nature
and scope of protections offered under these state statutes.

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VII. RECOMMENDATIONS FOR ENDING
SOLITARY CONFINEMENT OF PRISONERS
WITH DISABILITIES

S

solitary due to lack of accessible cells, miscommunication
leading to disciplinary charges, or for their own protection.
These prisoners with disabilities languish in highly restrictive conditions where they are deprived of meaningful social
interaction and almost all constructive activity with little
to no actual justification for their continued placement. As
noted, there is no evidence that long-term isolation makes
prisons and jails safer. Indeed, most of the evidence suggests

Photo: Skyward Kick Productions/Shutterstock

olitary confinement is an overused, ineffective, and
harmful practice. Despite the claims that solitary
confinement is used only when necessary, the research
detailed in this report shows how some prisoners with
physical disabilities are held in conditions amounting to
extreme and, in some cases, prolonged isolation for reasons
that are unrelated to maintaining the safety and security of
the facility. Prisoners with disabilities may be placed into

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the opposite effect—that solitary confinement can increase
the incidence of violence and contributes to increased recidivism amongst persons subjected to its use.416 Prolonged
isolation for persons with physical disabilities, such as persons with quadriplegia, other spinal cord injuries, or stroke
survivors coping with paralysis, may result in physical
deterioration, especially where regular physical therapy is
not provided. Moreover, failing to accommodate prisoners
who use wheelchairs, or other assistive devices like walking
canes or walkers, may mean the denial of access to even the
limited programming that is sometimes available to prisoners in solitary confinement. Without accommodations
to permit effective communication for deaf and hard of
hearing prisoners, and access to accessible reading materials
for blind and low vision prisoners, the extreme conditions
of social isolation in solitary are compounded.
This report highlights a set of guiding principles and
specific reforms that generally address the challenges faced
by incarcerated persons with physical disabilities, and that
specifically address the challenges of those in solitary confinement.417 These principles and recommendations build
on the guiding principles set forth in the Department of
Justice’s Report and Recommendation Concerning the Use of
Restrictive Housing released in January 2016.418 The report
was produced in response to a directive by President Obama
calling on the Department of Justice to review the overuse
of solitary confinement in federal prisons nationwide and
identify potential alternatives to its use. The DOJ report and
its recommendations set forth over 50 guiding principles
for solitary reform writ large and a host of specific policy
changes for the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and other
detention agencies within the DOJ, including banning
youth in solitary, diverting those with serious mental illness
out of solitary, reforming protective custody, prohibiting
the use of solitary confinement for low-level disciplinary
infractions, and shortening mandatory lengths of stay in
solitary confinement units. While the department’s guiding
principles are a move in the right direction, they did not address the unique issues prisoners with physical disabilities
face in solitary confinement. Accordingly, more rigorous requirements are still necessary to make correctional systems
safer and more humane.

A. RECOMMENDED ACTION
The recommendations below are offered to serve as guidance to corrections and state officials legally obligated to
follow the ADA and to federal officials tasked with enforcing the ADA’s mandates in prisons and jails nationwide.
The recommendations provide potential reforms for
common challenges encountered by incarcerated persons
with physical disabilities. In practice, implementing the
ADA for individual prisoners with physical disabilities
may require case-by-case assessments into their needs, as
well as the needs and resources of each correctional entity.
The proposed reforms are aimed at reducing the overuse
of solitary confinement and ensuring that in those systems
where solitary confinement continues to be used, the rights
of persons with physical disabilities are respected.

1. Correctional Systems
Recommended actions for federal, state, and local correctional systems:
■■

Amend existing, or adopt new, administrative
policies to reflect the recommendations made in
the model policies section discussed below.

■■

Establish data procedures to improve tracking
and monitoring of incarcerated persons with
physical disabilities. This will include adopting
formal definitions of types of disabilities, as well as
collecting data on people with disabilities within
the corrections system on an annual basis. The
data systems should be designed to ensure ease in
searching for key terms and filtering data.

■■

Create policies, procedures, and systems to permit
both medical and security/custody to be apprised
of all relevant information related to a prisoner’s
disability or reasonable accommodation.

■■

Complete a systemwide self-evaluation of
each facility to determine whether facilities are
compliant with the ADA.419 Buildings should be
assessed to see whether they comply with the
2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design.420
Assign a competent and knowledgeable ADA
Coordinator to each facility in the jurisdiction.

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The ADA Coordinator should be responsible for
serving as the facility expert on the ADA, leading
training programs for corrections staff on ADA
compliance, coordinating with medical and mental
health professionals to understand the needs of
people with disabilities, managing all requests for
accommodations from people with disabilities,
and working with the appropriate officials to
establish the budget for ADA-related compliance,
accommodations, and other measures. The ADA
Coordinator should be a full-time staff member
and be provided with the autonomy, time, and
authority to complete their required duties. To
the extent feasible, corrections institutions should
seek to hire people with disabilities to fill these
roles to provide an opportunity for those who have
personal knowledge and a deep understanding of
the issues facing this group.
■■

■■

■■

54

Establish an ADA Committee to be comprised of
corrections officials and staff from all aspects of
prison services and management (e.g., custody,
programming, visiting, classification, medical and
mental health, etc.), as well as prisoners. The ADA
Committee is responsible for addressing existing
disability-related challenges, identifying policies
to prevent ongoing and future ADA violations,
and handling all other issues related to managing
and accommodating prisoners with disabilities,
particularly those held in solitary confinement
systemwide.
Provide training and support for medical
personnel and custody staff on working with
people with disabilities (e.g., Deaf culture and
sensitivity training, etc.). Where feasible, training
sessions should be led by, or in partnership
with, people with disabilities, or individuals and
organizations with expertise in working with
people with disabilities.
Develop robust systems to gather information on
incarcerated persons with disabilities to ensure
that medications and accommodations remain
with the person even following a transfer within
the corrections system and despite security
classification.

AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION

■■

Develop a clear and comprehensive process by
which prisoners may request accommodations or
seek review of any decision denying a request for
an accommodation. The procedure for requesting
accommodations should be available in formats
accessible to prisoners who are blind, low vision,
and/or deaf or hard of hearing.

2. Federal

At some point or
another, the federal
government is going to
have to abide by [its] own
law. When will the Deaf
community receive . . .
justice? The Deaf
community is continuously
overlooked.”
—SCOTT HUFFMAN, DEAF ACCESS TO JUSTICE ACTIVIST

CONGRESS
■■

Pass the Solitary Confinement Reform Act
(S. 3432) introduced by Senator Dick Durbin
(D-Il) to reduce the use of solitary confinement,
improve conditions of confinement, and provide
protections that limit time spent in solitary
confinement for prisoners held in the custody
of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. This bill also
prohibits BOP officials from placing prisoners
with physical disabilities into solitary confinement,
unless certain conditions are met, in cases where a
licensed medical professional has determined that

solitary confinement would exacerbate existing
disabilities.
■■

■■

■■

Congress should enact appropriate legislation
to ban the placement of prisoners with physical
disabilities into solitary confinement, except in
rare and exceptional cases, for a short duration,
and only where the prisoner “poses a credible
continuing and serious threat to the security of
others or to the prisoner’s own safety[.]”421
Congress should enact legislation requiring the
BOP, state, and local jurisdictions to collect data
on the number of incarcerated persons with
disabilities, as well as those in solitary confinement
or other forms of restrictive housing, reasons for
placement in solitary confinement, and average
length of stay.

■■

■■

State legislatures and municipal bodies should:
■■

Ban the placement of incarcerated persons with
physical disabilities in solitary confinement, except
in rare and exceptional cases, for a short duration,
and only where the prisoner “poses a credible
continuing and serious threat to the security of
others or to the prisoner’s own safety.”422

■■

Require state corrections entities to report on the
numbers of incarcerated persons with physical
disabilities held in solitary in each facility within
the state and the nature of their disabilities.

■■

Collect and monitor data on the provision
of accommodations to persons with physical
disabilities in solitary confinement, including
but not limited to the rates of removal/refusal of
accommodations, use of uncertified interpreters
or other prisoners, and the rates of denial for
accommodations due to cost, etc.

Congress should appropriate additional funding
for Protection & Advocacy organizations to
increase their capacity to engage in monitoring and
oversight of corrections institutions and to increase
their capacity to advocate on behalf of incarcerated
persons with physical disabilities more broadly.

DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE
■■

3. State and Local

The Office of the Inspector General of the
Department of Justice should investigate the
conditions of confinement for incarcerated persons
with disabilities held in BOP facilities.
The Department of Justice should audit state and
federal prisons on an annual or biannual basis
to evaluate whether corrections facilities have
completed self-evaluation plans or are otherwise in
compliance with the regulations governing public
entities under Title II of the ADA.
The Department of Justice should augment its
existing guidelines on the treatment of prisoners
in solitary confinement or restrictive housing in
the DOJ Report and Recommendations Concerning
the Use of Restrictive Housing to include prisoners
with physical disabilities consistent with the
recommendations in this report.

B. MODEL POLICIES AND
PROCEDURES
1. General Principles
■■

Placements into solitary confinement must not last
longer than 15 days at a time.423

■■

Solitary confinement must only be used in rare and
exceptional cases, for a short duration, and only
where the prisoner “poses a credible continuing
and serious threat to the security of others or
to the prisoner’s own safety[.]”424 All placement
decisions must be reviewed by an independent
authority within 48 hours of placement.

■■

Vulnerable populations must be expressly
excluded from solitary confinement, including
youth, pregnant women, persons with psychiatric
disabilities, and persons whose mental or physical

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55

Notice of the reasons for placement into
solitary confinement, including the evidence
used in making the placement decision. Notice
should be written and provided in a format
that is accessible to all persons, including
those with sensory disabilities. Ensuring that
decisions are accessible includes providing
qualified sign language interpreters to deaf
persons who sign and who are placed into
solitary, or require providing materials in
Braille, large text, or audio formats.

disabilities will be exacerbated by placement into
solitary. If placed in solitary confinement, these
vulnerable populations should be consistently
monitored for deterioration in physical and mental
health, and diverted from solitary confinement
and provided with appropriate medical or mental
health treatment where deterioration occurs.
■■

All placement decisions must be supported
with specific and concrete justifications that are
supported by objective evidence.

A hearing before a neutral arbiter whereby the
prisoner can offer evidence, as well as present
and confront witnesses, where doing so would
not pose a substantial threat to the safety
and security of the prisoner, other prisoners,
or the facility. The hearing must include
accommodations (i.e., auxiliary aids and
services) to ensure effective communications
with prisoners with sensory disabilities and
must be housed in a location that can be
accessed by prisoners with mobility-related
disabilities.

2. General Principles Regarding
Incarcerated Persons With Physical
Disabilities
■■

■■

Solitary confinement must be “prohibited in
the case of prisoners with mental or physical
disabilities when their conditions would be
exacerbated by such placement.”425 Incarcerated
persons with physical disabilities should never
be placed into solitary confinement because
the facility lacks accessible cells for people with
physical disabilities, or for protective custody
purposes, such as after reporting sexual assault.

An opportunity to appeal all placement
decisions to a neutral arbiter. The appeals
process must be provided in a format that is
accessible to prisoners with sensory disabilities.

Reasonable accommodations must be provided to
all incarcerated persons with physical disabilities
who are held in solitary confinement. These
accommodations are necessary to ensure equal
access to all programs, services, and activities that
are available to non-disabled prisoners.

Periodic review of all placement decisions
by the warden, or a designated official, with
recommendations from the multidisciplinary
team, for all placements that exceed the 15-day
limit. Review should occur every 14 days. The
purpose of periodic review is to ensure that the
reasons justifying placement remain, and that
housing the prisoner in a less restrictive setting
would not avoid the risks to the prisoner’s
personal safety, and the safety and security of
other prisoners, staff, and the facility.

3. Process Prior to Placement
■■

56

All prisoners must receive adequate and
meaningful process prior to placement into solitary
confinement. All placement decisions should
be evaluated by a multidisciplinary team that
includes custody staff, medical personnel, mental
health professionals, and the warden or deputy
warden. Officials in charge of reviewing placement
decisions must have objective, written evidence
of reasons justifying placements into solitary.
Adequate and meaningful process includes:

AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION

■■

Prisoners must be afforded a process to progress
out of solitary confinement and acquire access
to programming and increased privileges. This
process should include clear and specific criteria
for progressing to less restrictive housing. Prisoners
should be afforded increased privileges as they
progress from solitary and into less restrictive

housing. The policies governing progression out of
solitary must be provided in accessible formats to
all persons with sensory disabilities.

5. Protective Custody
■■

Prisoners who are separated from general
population for protective reasons must not be
placed into solitary confinement. At a minimum,
these prisoners should be held in the least
restrictive conditions possible to ensure their
safety while also maximizing their out-of-cell time,
and access to meaningful social interaction and
constructive activity.

■■

Privileges such as telephone use, visitation, and
commissary access must not be removed for
prisoners placed in protective custody.

4. Disciplinary Segregation
■■

■■

Prisoners should be placed into solitary
confinement only where the prisoner “poses a
credible continuing and serious threat”426 to safety
and security, and only where other sanctions
(including the removal of certain privileges for a
limited period of time) are not appropriate.
Prisoners must be afforded the opportunity to
appeal all convictions to a neutral arbiter. The
appeals process must be provided in a format that
is accessible to prisoners with sensory disabilities.

■■

Disciplinary segregation should not extend
beyond a brief period—i.e., not more than 15
days. Segregation beyond a brief period should be
imposed only in cases where the prisoner “poses a
credible continuing and serious threat.”427

■■

Placement into disciplinary segregation should
occur only after a disciplinary hearing whereby
the prisoner is presented with the nature of and
evidence supporting the charges, is permitted to
offer evidence, and is permitted to present and
confront witnesses, where doing so would not
pose a substantial threat to the safety and security
of the prisoner, other prisoners, or the facility. All
information provided at the disciplinary hearing
must be in an accessible format.

■■

Under no circumstances should a prisoner with
sensory disabilities (hearing, sight, speech) be
disciplined for failure to respond to a command
that the prisoner is unable to comprehend via
the communication method used. For example,
disciplining a deaf or hard of hearing prisoner
for failing to respond to an audio alarm or alert,
disciplining a blind or low vision prisoner for
failing to respond to a visual alarm or alert, or
disciplining persons with speech disabilities for
failing to orally respond to a command, should not
be permitted.

6. Conditions
■■

Accessible cells must be provided in housing
units for all security levels. At a minimum, the
law requests that 3 percent—but no fewer than
one cell—must be designed to accommodate
wheelchair users.428

■■

Under no circumstances should a prisoner with a
physical disability be denied access to reasonable
accommodations as a form of punishment.

■■

No prisoner should be denied access to durable
medical equipment or assistive devices while in
isolation for an indefinite period of time. If the
removal of durable medical equipment or an
assistive device would exacerbate the prisoner’s
disability, then the assistive device is necessary and
removal should be avoided unless in exceptional
circumstances and then only for a limited period
of time. Corrections staff should presume that a

We are not asking for
additional services, we are
asking for equal access.”
—TALILA A. LEWIS, FOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, HEARD

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57

prisoner can safely possess their assistive device
unless the prisoner has misused the assistive
device in the past. If there is a reason to believe
that the prisoner will pose a threat to themself or
others with the assistive device, then the prisoner
should be placed under continuous watch when
the device is in their possession.429 Absent specific,
concrete, and objective evidence that providing
such a device would pose a credible and serious
risk to the prisoner’s own safety, other prisoners,
staff, or the safety and security of the institution,
assistive devices should be provided to prisoners in
solitary confinement where requested. The denial
of accommodations for security reasons should last
no longer than necessary to prevent the threats to
safety and security that justify the placement into
solitary confinement, and must be supported by
specific and concrete evidence. Any denials must
be approved in writing by the warden or another
high-level official of the facility.
■■

■■

The prisoner’s custody level;
The specific circumstances justifying
placement into solitary confinement;
The likelihood that the prisoner may use the
assistive device to cause physical harm; and
Whether a temporary removal of the device
would address the safety and security
concerns.
■■

Decisions denying requests for accommodations,
or removing accommodations previously provided,
must be in writing, in accessible formats, and must
be made with input from medical professionals
and ADA Coordinators, where necessary, and
submitted to the warden or another ranking
official for final approval.

Accessible programming means removing
structural barriers that obstruct physical access
to locations where programs and services
are housed (e.g., uneven floors, narrow
doorways, uneven pavement, etc.) or moving
programming to an accessible location. It
also includes providing accommodations
to facilitate effective communications (e.g.,
videophones, video relay services, sign
language interpreters, audio text for blind or
low vision prisoners, visual alerts for deaf and
hard of hearing prisoners, etc.) so that persons
with physical disabilities can participate in
programs and services offered at the facility.

Factors to consider when determining whether the
requested assistive device or medical equipment
poses a threat to the safety of persons and the
security of the facility:
The need for the accommodation;
Whether the accommodation is necessary;
Whether the prisoner’s disability would be
exacerbated by the removal of the assistive
device;
Whether the prison accommodation was
previously provided to the prisoner in general
population or less restrictive housing;
Whether the prisoner’s accommodation was
previously determined to be appropriate by
staff at another correctional facility within the
state’s jurisdiction;

58

AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION

Prisoners must be afforded out-of-cell time
and access to individual programming; group
programming; recreation time; outdoor exercise
time; face-to-face interaction with corrections,
medical, and mental health staff; visitation;
telephone calls; radio; correspondence; reading
materials; and commissary. Where these privileges
are provided, accommodations must be made
for persons with physical disabilities to ensure
that access is at least commensurate with that of
non-disabled persons.

■■

Prisoners should not be subjected to extreme
isolation and total sensory deprivation. Prisoners
should not be placed in housing that subjects them
to complete auditory isolation (e.g., soundproof
cells) and a total lack of visual stimuli (e.g.,
complete darkness, limited access to natural light,
and/or 24-hour access to white light, etc.).

VIII. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

T

he author would first like to thank the Arthur Liman
Public Interest Program at the Yale Law School for
its generous support of this fellowship and research
project. The author would also like to thank the courageous currently and formerly incarcerated individuals
who agreed to share their stories for this report, and the
following individuals for contributing valuable information, helpful guidance, and useful feedback for the report:

Hope Amezquita, Dara Baldwin, Sharon Boye, Lydia X. Z.
Brown, Claudia Center, Rebecca Cokley, David Fathi, Amy
Fettig, Megan French-Marcelin, Erica Gammill, Marina
Golan-Vilella, Keir Harris, Scott Huffman, Lauren Kuhlik,
Talila A. Lewis, Ada Lin, Susan Mizner, Tamandra Morgan,
Wallis Nader, Jeffrey Robinson, Diane Smith Howard,
Miranda Tait, Vilissa Thompson, Dean Westwood, and Kiah
J. Williams.

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IX. APPENDICES
I.	

List of Resources for Advocates

		A. 	 List of Organizations (National Disability Rights Organizations and P&As)
		B. 	 A Quick Guide to the ADA Regulations
II.	 Know Your Rights: Legal Rights of Prisoners With Disabilities	
III.	 The Time for Change Is Now: Reflections From Advocates

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AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION

ENDNOTES
1. 	 Custody population data was obtained from the Bureau
of Justice Statistics. See E. Ann Carson, Prisoners in 2014,
U.S. Dep’t of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau
of Justice Statistics (2015), available at http://www
.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/p14.pdf [hereinafter Prisoners in
2014].
2. 	 The Rhode Island DOC’s response includes only
mobility devices.
3. 	 The Florida DOC reported that as of March 23, 2016,
41 grievances remained pending. The Florida DOC records
did not provide an explanation for what happened to the
remaining 751 grievances that were neither resolved nor
remained pending as of March 23, 2016.
4. 	 The Ohio DOC reported that from January 2015 to
January 2016, 43 accommodations were approved by Ohio
DOC officials, 10 were partially approved, and 30 were
denied. This response from the Ohio DOC does not specify if
the requests for these accommodations were filed separately
from the grievances process.
5. 	 Dinkins v. Corr. Med. Servs., 743 F.3d 633, 634 (8th
Cir. 2014); see also Compl. for Declaratory & Injunctive
Relief ¶ 370, Disability Rights Florida v. Jones, Civil Action
No. 4:16-cv-00047-WS-CAS (Jan. 26, 2016), available
at http://www.floridajusticeinstitute.org/wp-content/
uploads/2016/01/drf-complaint.pdf [hereinafter Disability
Rights Florida Complaint] (“From October 2012 through
December 2013, Mr. Jackson was not permitted to have his
wheelchair in his CM cell. He was forced to drag himself
across the dirty and abrasive cell floor, where it was very
difficult to transfer to the bed, toilet, and wash basin.”).
6. 	 Wheeler v. Butler, No. 04-1834-pr, 2006 WL 3770830,
at **1 (2d Cir. Dec. 13, 2006).
7. 	 Compl. ¶ 20, Muhammad v. Wicomico Cnty. Dep’t of
Corr., Civ. Action No. 15-cv-02679 (D. Md. Sept. 10, 2015)
[hereinafter Wicomico Cnty. Compl.].
8. 	 Id. ¶ 2.
9. 	

J.M. did not provide his full name.

10. 	 Survey Responses from Five Deaf Prisoners, Maryland
Correctional Institution-Jessup, to author 7 (Apr. 22, 2016)

[hereinafter Survey Responses from Five Deaf Prisoners] (on
file with author).
11. 	 See Special Rapporteur of the Human Rights Council
on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading
Treatment or Punishment, Interim Report of the Special
Rapporteur of the Human Rights Council on Torture
and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or
Punishment, ¶ 76-78, U.N. Doc. A/66/268 (Aug. 5, 2011),
available at http://solitaryconfinement.org/uploads/
SpecRapTortureAug2011.pdf.
12. 	 See discussion infra Part III.A-B.
13. 	 The Liman Program, Yale Law School, Ass’n of
State Corr. Adm’rs, Time-In-Cell: The ASCA-Liman
2014 National Survey of Administrative Segregation
in Prison 3 (2015), available at https://www.law.yale.
edu/system/files/area/center/liman/document/asca-liman_
administrativesegregationreport.pdf. The data collected does
not include those prisoners who are “held awaiting trial or in
military or immigration detention.” Id. at 3.
14. 	 See, e.g., Matt Pearce, Last “Angola 3” Prisoner Is
Freed After Decades in Solitary Confinement, L.A. Times,
(Feb. 19, 2016, 7:01 p.m.), http://www.latimes.com/local/
lanow/la-na-last-angola-3-prison-released-20160219-story.
html (discussing case of Albert Woodfox, who was released
in February 2016 after being held for over three decades in
solitary confinement in the Louisiana State Penitentiary at
Angola).
15. 	 See generally Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
4 (2010) (observing that “mass incarceration in the United
States had, in fact, emerged as a stunningly comprehensive
and well-disguised system of racialized social control that
functions in a manner strikingly similar to Jim Crow.”).
16. 	 Loïc Wacquant, Class, Race & Hyper-incarceration in
Revanchist America, Dædalus 78 (2010), available at http://
loicwacquant.net/assets/Papers/CLASS
RACEHYPERINCARCERATION-pub.pdf (arguing that
incarceration is concentrated in, and targeted against, certain
classes, races, and geographic locales, with its primary target
being low-income Black men in urban settings).
17. 	 In his historic op-ed for the Washington Post on this

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61

issue, President Obama remarked, “[h]ow can we subject
prisoners to unnecessary solitary confinement, knowing its
effects, and then expect them to return to our communities as
whole people? It doesn’t make us safer. It’s an affront to our
common humanity.” Barack Obama, Why We Must Rethink
Solitary Confinement, Wash. Post (Jan. 25, 2016), https://
www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/barack-obama-why-wemust-rethink-solitary-confinement/2016/01/25/29a361f2c384-11e5-8965-0607e0e265ce_story.html. In the summer
of 2015, the president ordered then-Attorney General
Eric Holder to conduct an audit of the overuse of solitary
confinement in federal prisons. The outcome of the review
was an extensive report along with a set of recommendations
and guiding principles—that the president adopted—that
will inform the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ ongoing efforts to
reform solitary confinement. See U.S. Dep’t of Justice, U.S.
Dep’t of Justice Report & Recommendations Concerning
the Use of Restrictive Housing (2016), available at http://
www.justice.gov/dag/file/815551/download [hereinafter DOJ
Report & Recommendations].
18. 	 Davis v. Ayala, 135 S. Ct. 2187, 2210 (2015) (Kennedy,
J., concurring) (“[R]esearch still confirms what this Court
suggested over a century ago: Years on end of near-total
isolation exact a terrible price. . . . In a case that presented
the issue, the judiciary may be required, within its proper
jurisdiction and authority, to determine whether workable
alternative systems for long-term confinement exist, and, if
so, whether a correctional system should be required to adopt
them.”).
19. 	 See, e.g., Settlement Agreement, Ashker v. Brown, Civ.
Action No. 4:09-5796-CW (Aug. 31, 2015), available at
http://ccrjustice.org/sites/default/files/attach/2015/09/201509-01-ashker-Settlement_Agreement.pdf.
20. 	 See, e.g., Settlement Agreement, Peoples v. Fischer, et
al., Civil Action No. 1:11-cv-02694-SAS (Dec. 16, 2015),
available at http://www.nyclu.org/files/releases/20151216
_settlementagreement_filed.pdf [hereinafter Peoples
Settlement Agreement].
21. 	 See, e.g., The Bronx Defenders, Voices from the Box:
Solitary Confinement at Rikers Island (2014), available at
http://www.bronxdefenders.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/
Voices-From-the-Box.pdf; New York Civil Liberties Union,
Boxed In: The True Cost of Extreme Isolation in New
York’s Prisons (2012), available at http://www.nyclu.org/
files/publications/nyclu_boxedin_FINAL.pdf.
22. 	 See Erica Goode, Senators Start a Review of Solitary
Confinement, N.Y. Times (June 19, 2012), http://www.
nytimes.com/2012/06/20/us/senators-start-a-review-ofsolitary-confinement.html?_r=0.
23. 	 Ashker v. Governor of California: Case Timeline, Ctr.
Constitutional Rights, https://ccrjustice.org/home/what-

for

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AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION

we-do/our-cases/ashker-v-brown (last visited Oct. 6, 2016);
see also Sal Rodriguez, One Year Anniversary of Pelican
Bay Hunger Strike Against Solitary Confinement, Solitary
Watch (July 3, 2012), http://solitarywatch.com/2012/07/03/
one-year-anniversary-of-pelican-bay-hunger-strike-againstsolitary-confinement/.
24. 	 Email from Dean Westwood, formerly incarcerated,
Diversity and Inclusion Consultant, to author (July 29, 2016,
9:38 p.m.) (on file with author).
25. 	 See, e.g., Class Action Compl. ¶ 93, Lewis, et al., v.
Cain, et al., Civ. Action No. 3:15-cv-00318-BAJ-RLB (May
20, 2015), available at http://www.clearinghouse.net/chDocs/
public/PC-LA-0015-0001.pdf (alleging failures by Louisiana
DOC to provide assistance to prisoners unable to feed
themselves, engage in self-care, or perform personal hygiene
tasks without assistance from staff).
26. 	 Although Title II specifically mentions reasonable
modifications, see 42 U.S.C.A. § 12131(2) (West 2016), this
report will use the more commonly known term “reasonable
accommodations.”
27. 	 42 U.S.C.A. §§ 12101-213 (West 2016).
28. 	 See, e.g., 2d Amend. Compl. ¶¶15, 25-26, 41-45,
Wilson v. Livingston, Civ. Action No. 4:14-cv-01188 (Jan.
26, 2015) (alleging that the Texas Department of Criminal
Justice assigned only one specialist trained in serving
prisoners with disabilities to handle the entire Estelle facility
and required Blind prisoners to reside in transitory housing
because there were no accessible beds available in permanent
housing units). To see a video of the Estelle Unit, visit here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lyEkTbqIpxw.
29. 	 See, e.g., Amend. Compl. ¶¶ 2, 11-25, Williams v.
Baldwin, Civ. Action No. 3:16-50055 (N.D. Ill. Apr. 19,
2016).
30. 	 See, e.g., Disability Rights Florida, supra note 5, at
¶ 21(c).
31. 	 Jennifer Bronson, et al., U.S. Dep’t of Justice,
Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics,
Disabilities Among Prison and Jail Inmates, 2011-12, 1
(2015), http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/dpji1112.pdf
[hereinafter BJS Disability Report]. The report defines
disability to include “hearing, vision, cognitive, ambulatory,
self-care, and independent living, which refers to the ability
to navigate daily life schedules, activities, and events without
assistance.” Id.
32. 	 Id. at 3. According to the BJS Disability Report,
prisoners were about two times more likely than persons
in the general population to report independent living,
ambulatory, and hearing disabilities; about three times more
likely to report a visual disability; and four times more likely

to report a cognitive disability. Forty percent of jail inmates,
compared to 9 percent of those in the general population,
reported having a disability (table 2). When compared to
the general population, jail inmates were about 2.5 times
more likely to report an ambulatory and independent living
disability, more than three times more likely to report a visual
and hearing disability, and 6.5 times more likely to report a
cognitive disability[.]
33. 	 See, e.g., Andrew Cohen, One of the Darkest Periods
in the History of American Prisons, The Atlantic (Jun. 9,
2013), http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/06/
one-of-the-darkest-periods-in-the-history-of-americanprisons/276684/.
34. 	 See, e.g., Press Release, Am. Civ. Liberties Union,
Civil Rights Groups File Lawsuit Alleging Massive Civil
Rights Violation at Mississippi Prison (May 30, 2013),
https://www.aclu.org/news/civil-rights-groups-file-lawsuitalleging-massive-human-rights-violations-mississippiprison?redirect=prisoners-rights/civil-rights-groups-filelawsuit-alleging-massive-human-rights-violations.
35. 	 See, e.g., Eyal Press, Madness, The New Yorker (May
2, 2016), http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/05/02/
the-torturing-of-mentally-ill-prisoners; Danny Robbins,
Women’s Deaths Add to Concerns About Georgia
Prison Doctor, Atl. J. Constit. (Mar. 28, 2015), http://
investigations.myajc.com/prison-medicine/womens-deathsadd-concerns/; Brian Joseph, Jailhouse Medicine - A Private
Contractor Flourishes Despite Controversy Over Prisoner
Deaths, Prison Legal News (Apr. 1, 2016), https://www.
prisonlegalnews.org/news/2016/apr/1/jailhouse-medicineprivate-contractor-flourishes-despite-controversy-overprisoner-deaths/.
36. 	 See, e.g., National Prison Rape Elimination Comm’n,
National Prison Rape Elimination Commission Report 3-5
(2009), available at https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/226680.
pdf.
37. 	 Eyal Press, Madness, The New Yorker (May 2, 2016),
http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/05/02/thetorturing-of-mentally-ill-prisoners.
38. 	 See, e.g., Julie K. Brown, Disabled Inmate Sues
Florida Over Bathroom Ban, The Miami Herald (Apr. 6,
2016, 1:30 p.m.), http://www.miamiherald.com/news/specialreports/florida-prisons/article70290622.html (describing
allegations by a prisoner, a wheelchair user, who reported
being denied access to a restroom and then being ridiculed by
corrections staff after he urinated on himself).
39. 	 See, e.g., California Office of the Inspector General,
2015 Special Review: High Desert State Prison, Susanville,
CA 42 (2015), available at https://www.prisonlegalnews.
org/media/publications/Special%20Review%20-%20

High%20Desert%20State%20Prison,%20Office%20of%20
the%20Inspector%20General,%202015.pdf (describing
case involving a prisoner with mobility-related disabilities
who was picked up from out of his wheelchair and thrown
into his cell after he “resisted being placed in a cell”);
Benjamin Weiser & Michael Schwirtz, U.S. Inquiry Finds
a ‘Culture of Violence’ Against Teenage Inmates at Rikers
Island, N.Y. Times (Aug. 4, 2014), http://www.nytimes.
com/2014/08/05/nyregion/us-attorneys-office-reveals-civilrights-investigation-at-rikers-island.html; Joe Coscarelli,
8 Appalling Stories of Inmate Abuse from Rikers Island’s
Teen Jails, New York Mag. (Aug. 1, 2014; 3:19 p.m.),
http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2014/08/8-appallingstories-of-abuse-from-rikers-island.html; David M. Reutter,
Abuse and Assaults Continue at Pennsylvania Jail, Prison
Legal News (Feb. 15, 2011), https://www.prisonlegalnews.
org/news/2011/feb/15/abuse-and-assaults-continue-atpennsylvania-jail/.
40. 	 See, e.g., Kenneth Lipp, Alabama Prisoners Use Secret
Cell Phones to Protest—and Riot, The Daily Beast (Mar. 21,
2016), http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/03/21/
alabama-prisoners-use-secret-cell-phones-to-protest-andriot.html; Matthew Teague, DOJ to Investigate Alabama
Prisons in “Possibly Unprecedented” Move, The Guardian
(Oct. 6, 2016, 5:17 p.m.), https://www.theguardian.com/usnews/2016/oct/06/alabama-prison-doj-investigation.
41. 	 AP, DOC: Arizona Prison Inmate Found Unresponsive
in Cell Dies, The Wash. Times (July 20, 2016), http://
www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/jul/20/doc-arizonaprison-inmate-found-unresponsive-in-ce/; Hillel Aron,
Why Are So Many Inmates Attempting Suicide at the
California Institution for Women?, LA Weekly (July 20,
2016), http://www.laweekly.com/news/why-are-so-manyinmates-attempting-suicide-at-the-california-institution-forwomen-7156615; Ames Alexander, NC Prisons Hit with
Year’s 5th Inmate Suicide, The Charlotte Observer (July 6,
2016, 11:58 a.m.), http://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/
local/article87947232.html.
42. 	 Rebecca Boone, Private Prison Company CCA to Face
Trial in Violence Lawsuit, U.S. News (July 7, 2016, 5:22
p.m.), http://www.usnews.com/news/us/articles/2016-07-07/
private-prison-company-cca-to-face-trial-in-violence-lawsuit;
Stephanie Stokes, Gang Violence Prompts Georgia State
Prison Lockdowns, WABE.org (July 6, 2016), http://news.
wabe.org/post/gang-violence-prompts-georgia-state-prisonlockdowns; What We Know About Violence in America’s
Prisons, Mother Jones (July/August 2016), http://www.
motherjones.com/politics/2016/06/attacks-and-assaultsbehind-bars-cca-private-prisons; C1 Staff, CO Union
Calls on DOC to Address Violence at Auburn Correctional
Facility, CorrectionsOne.com (Mar. 18, 2015), http://
www.correctionsone.com/officer-safety/articles/8466463-

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CO-union-calls-on-DOC-to-address-violence-at-AuburnCorrectional-Facility/; Ohio’s Prisons Grow Less Violent
Despite More Assaults on Guards, Prison Legal News (June
11, 2015), https://www.prisonlegalnews.org/news/2015/
jun/11/ohios-prisons-grow-less-violent-despite-moreassaults-guards/.
43. 	 See, e.g., Disability Rights Florida Complaint, supra
note 5, ¶¶ 368-372 (alleging assault by a corrections officer
on a prisoner, a wheelchair user, in retaliation for that
prisoner’s pro se lawsuit naming other corrections officers as
defendants).
44. 	 See infra note 82 and accompanying text.
45. 	 See, e.g., Nancy Wolff & Jing Shi, Contextualization
of Physical and Sexual Assault in Male Prisons: Incidents
and Their Aftermath, J. of Corr. Health Care, Jan. 2009,
at 1, 9 (“Sexual orientation and mental illness/disability
of the victim were identified as motivating the sexual
assault of one-quarter of victims who were assaulted by
other inmates.”). Indeed, the Prison Rape Elimination Act
(PREA) includes affirmative obligations on the part of prison
officials to make sure that prisoners with disabilities are
protected from sexual abuse and harassment. Specifically,
PREA regulations require that information relating to
sexual abuse resources and services be made accessible to
people with disabilities. 28 C.F.R. § 115.16 (2016); see also
Sandra Harrell et al., Making PREA and Victim Services
Accessible for Incarcerated People with Disabilities: An
Implementation Guide for Practitioners on the Adult &
Juvenile Standards, Nat’l PREA Resource Center 6-9
(2015), http://www.vera.org/sites/default/files/resources/
downloads/prea-victim-services-incarcerated-peopledisabilities-guide.pdf [hereinafter Guide on Making PREA
Accessible].
46. 	 Talila A. Lewis, #DeafInPrison Campaign Fact Sheet,
Heard 3 (June 26, 2014), http://www.behearddc.org/images/
pdf/deafinprison%20fact%20sheet%20.pdf (discussing
reported abuses of deaf prisoners).
47. 	 See, e.g., Guide on Making PREA Accessible, supra
note 46, at 5-6 (“[P]eople with disabilities were three times
more likely to be the victims of violent crimes than their
counterparts without disabilities, and those with multiple
disabilities experienced higher rates of violent victimization
than those with one disability.”).
48. 	 James Ridgeway & Jean Casella, Deaf Prisoners in
Florida Face Abuse and Solitary Confinement, Solitary
Watch (May 21, 2013), available at http://solitarywatch.
com/2013/05/21/deaf-prisoners-in-florida-face-brutality-andsolitary-confinement/ (quoting HEARD, Report on Tomoka
Correctional Institution in Daytona Beach, Florida
(2013), available at http://www.behearddc.org/images/pdf/
heard%20report%20on%20abuse%20and%20retaliation%20

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2013%20.pdf.
49. 	 See, e.g., Compl. ¶¶ 73-77, Gizewski v. New York
State Dep’t of Corr. & Cmty. Supervision, Civ. Action
No. 9:14-cv-124-GTS-DJS (N.D.N.Y. Feb. 4, 2014)
(describing allegations by New York state prisoner that a
corrections officer pushed him out of his wheelchair and
kicked him in his abdomen, resulting in the prisoner losing
consciousness); Cruel Confinement: Abuse, Discrimination
and Death Within Alabama’s Prisons, Southern Poverty
Law Center 18 (2014), https://www.splcenter.org/sites/
default/files/d6_legacy_files/downloads/publication/
cruel_confinement.pdf [hereinafter Cruel Confinement] (“A
hearing-impaired prisoner reports being hit by a corrections
officer for not responding to an order he couldn’t hear.”);
Maurice Chammah, Report: Blind, Deaf, Disabled Inmates
Abused in Prison, The Texas Tribune (Jan. 27, 2015),
https://www.texastribune.org/2015/01/27/report-blinddeaf-disabled-inmates-abused-prison/ (describing letters
written by prisoners alleging attacks by corrections staff
resulting in “serious injuries, including missing teeth, busted
skulls, broken bones, ruptured eyeballs and prolonged
hospitalizations.”).
50. 	 Relying on data gleaned from a survey to prisoners
at the facility, the Prison Justice League concluded that
46 percent of prisoners who identified as deaf, blind, or as
possessing a physical disability have been victims of assault
at the hands of other prisoners and corrections staff. Erica
Gammill & Kate Spear, Cruel & Unusual Punishment:
Excessive Use of Force at the Estelle Unit, Prison Justice
League 6 (2015), available at https://static.texastribune.org/
media/documents/Cruel__Usual_Punishment_-_PJL_Final.
pdf.
51. 	 Id. at 9-10.
52. 	 See, e.g., Casey v. Lewis, 834 F. Supp. 1569, 1581 (D.
Ariz. 1993) (describing legally blind prisoner who reported
incidents where urine and feces were thrown into his cell).
53. 	 By the end of 2014, Alabama prisons were at 192.7
percent of the design capacity for which those prisons were
designed. Prisoners in 2014, supra note 1, at 12. Design
capacity refers to the “number of beds that the facility was
originally designed to hold.” Id. at 11.
54. 	 By the end of 2014, California operated it prisons at
136.6 percent of the capacity for which those prisons were
designed. Id. at 12.
55. 	 Colorado operated it prisons at 115.1 percent of
the design and operational capacity by year-end 2014. Id.
Operational capacity is “based on the ability of the staff,
programs, and services to accommodate a certain size

population[.]” Id. at 11.

capacity in 2014. Id.

56. 	 Delaware prisons were at 161.7 percent of design
capacity for the state’s prison facilities by the end of 2014.
Id. at 12.

76. 	 Washington prisons ran at 102.6 percent of operational
capacity in 2014. Id.

57. 	 By the end of 2014, prisons in Hawaii were at 159.2
percent of design capacity. Id.
58. 	 Idaho prisons were at 109.3 percent of operational and
design capacity at the end of 2014. Id.
59. 	 In 2014, Illinois prisons operated at 171.1 percent of
their design capacity. Id.
60. 	 Iowa prisons in 2014 operated at 112.8 percent of
design and operational capacity. Id.
61. 	 Kansas prisons were at 104.1 percent of that state’s
design capacity in 2014. Id.
62. 	 Kentucky prisons in 2014 operated at 104.5 percent of
operational capacity. Id.
63. 	 Louisiana prisons in 2014 operated at 119.3 percent of
operational capacity. Id.
64. 	 Maine prisons in 2014 operated at 103.1 percent of
operational capacity. Id.
65. 	 Massachusetts prisons in 2014 operated at 130.1
percent of design capacity. Id.
66. 	 Minnesota prisons ran at 101.3 percent of operational
capacity in 2014. Id.
67. 	 Missouri prisons ran at 100.7 percent of operational
capacity in 2014. Id.
68. 	 Nebraska prisons in 2014 operated at 159.6 percent of
design capacity. Id.
69. 	 New Hampshire prisons in 2014 operated at 124.3
percent of design capacity. Id.
70. 	 In 2014, New York prisons operated at 102.8 percent of
design capacity. Id.
71. 	 In 2014, Ohio prisons operated at 131.9 percent of
rated capacity. Id. Rated capacity “measures the number of
beds assigned by a rating official to each facility[.]” Id. at 11.
72. 	 Oklahoma prisons operated at 115.7 percent of design
capacity in 2014. Id. at 12.
73. 	 Pennsylvania operated it prisons at 101.2 percent of the
design and operational capacity by year-end 2014. Id.
74. 	 Vermont prisons operated at 117 percent of the design
capacity in 2014. Id.
75. 	 Virginia prisons operated at 117.6 percent of the design

77. 	 In 2014, West Virginia prisons operated at 126.3
percent of rated capacity. Id.
78. 	 In 2014, Wisconsin prisons operated at 131.4 percent
of design capacity. Id.
79. 	 The Federal Bureau of Prisons operated at 128 percent
of rated capacity. Id.
80. 	 See, e.g., Coleman v. Schwarzenegger, 922 F. Supp. 2d
882, 931 (E.D. Cal. 2009) (“Crowding generates unsanitary
conditions, overwhelms the infrastructure of existing prisons,
and increases the risk that infectious diseases will spread.”);
Cruel Confinement, supra note 49, at 10 (“The conditions
within the state’s prisons, which are grossly overcrowded,
make spread of disease nearly inevitable. Prisoners in
every facility report the presence of vermin, especially
rats and spiders. At the Fountain Correctional Facility in
Atmore, there were large amounts of what appeared to be
rat droppings on cans of food in the kitchen. At Holman,
the SPLC was informed that a bird had been flying around
in the kitchen for several weeks. What appeared to be bird
droppings were found on a bed in a prison dorm.”).
81. 	 See, e.g., Dealing with California’s Overcrowded
Prisons, National public radio (May 26, 2011), http://www.
npr.org/2011/05/26/136685989/dealing-with-californiasovercrowded-prisons.
82. 	 See, e.g., Bureau of Prisons: Growing Inmate
Crowding Negatively Affects Inmates, Staff, and
Infrastructure, U.S. Gov’t Accountability Office (2012),
available at http://www.gao.gov/assets/650/648123.pdf
(noting that overcrowding contributes to “increased inmate
misconduct, which negatively affects the safety and security
of inmates and staff”); see also Handbook on Prisoners with
Special Needs, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
45 (2009) [hereinafter Handbook on Prisoners with Special
Needs] (“[P]risoners with disabilities are easy targets for
abuse and violence from other prisoners and prison staff.”).
83. 	 See, e.g., Jeffrey L. Metzner & Jamie Fellner,
Solitary Confinement and Mental Illness in U.S. Prisons: A
Challenge for Medical Ethics, 38 J. Am. Acad. Psychiatry
L. 105 (2010), available at http://www.jaapl.org/
content/38/1/104.full.pdf+html (“Persons with mental illness
are often impaired in their ability to handle the stresses of
incarceration and to conform to a highly regimented routine.
They may exhibit bizarre, annoying, or dangerous behavior
and have higher rates of disciplinary infractions than other
prisoners. Prison officials generally respond to them as
they do to other prisoners who break the rules. When lesser

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65

sanctions do not curb the behavior, they isolate the prisoners
in the segregation units, despite the likely negative mental
health impact. Once in segregation, continued misconduct,
often connected to mental illness, can keep the inmates there
indefinitely.”).

factors, including sentencing changes with more lifetime or
effectively lifetime sentences, along with denial of parole for
repeat offenders or offenders with more serious crimes, also
has presented correctional officials with many more disabled
prisoners.”).

84. 	 Grant Schulte, Nebraska Prison Funding a Priority
Despite Budget Shortfall, The Washington Times, (Sept. 18,
2016), http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/sep/18/
nebraska-prison-funding-a-priority-despite-budget-/.

88. 	 Old Behind Bars, supra note 87, at 75-77.

85. 	 See, e.g., Michael Dresser, Maryland has severe
shortage of correctional officers, union says, The Baltimore
Sun (Jun. 30, 2016, 7:28 p.m.), http://www.baltimoresun.
com/news/maryland/bs-md-afscme-prisons-20160630story.html; Patrick Marley & Jason Stein, Facing Staffing
Shortage, Wisconsin Raises Prison Workers’ Wages,
Governing (May 9, 2016), http://www.governing.com/topics/
public-justice-safety/tns-wisconsin-prison-workers.html;
Mark Peters, Prison Guards Are Hard to Capture as Jobless
Rates Fall, Wall St. J. (March 19, 2016, 6:01 p.m.), http://
www.wsj.com/articles/prison-guards-are-hard-to-capture-asjobless-rates-fall-1458597678; Jen Fifield, Many States Face
Dire Shortage of Prison Guards, The Pew Charitable Trusts
(Mar. 1, 2016), http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-andanalysis/blogs/stateline/2016/03/01/many-states-face-direshortage-of-prison-guards.
86. 	 In Michigan, prison overcrowding is one of the factors
limiting the ability of staff at Huron Valley Correctional
Facility to meet the health care needs for women, contributing
to shocking accounts of neglect and substandard care for
people with physical disabilities. See Riyah Basha, At
Huron Valley Correctional Facility, Reflections of Statewide
Prison Woes, The Mich. Daily (June 1, 2016, 8:40 p.m.),
https://www.michigandaily.com/section/news/huron-valleycorrectional-facility-reflections-statewide-prison-woes.
87. 	 See Human Rights Watch, Old Behind Bars: The
Aging Prison Population in the United States 73-75
(2012), available at https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/
reports/usprisons0112webwcover_0.pdf [hereinafter Old
Behind Bars]; see also At America’s Expense: The Mass
Incarceration of the Elderly, Am. Civil Liberties Union
(2012), available at https://www.aclu.org/sites/default/
files/field_document/elderlyprisonreport_20120613_1.pdf.
The population of elderly prisoners is expected to increase
significantly. From 1995 to 2010, “the number of state
and federal prisoners age 55 or older nearly quadrupled
(increasing 282 percent), while the number of all prisoners
grew by less than half (increasing 42 percent).” Old Behind
Bars at 6; see also Accommodation of Wheelchair-Bound
Prisoners, 10 Americans for Effective Law Enforcement
Monthly L. J. 301, 301 (2009), available at http://www.
aele.org/law/2009all10/2009-10MLJ301.pdf (“A growing
population of aging prisoners, as a result of a number of

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89. 	 According to Human Rights Watch, “[e]leven percent
of federal prisoners age 51 or older are serving sentencing
ranging from 30 years to life.” Old Behind Bars, supra note
87, at 6.
90. 	 Old Behind Bars, supra note 87, at 72-79.
91. 	 For example, under the ADA, “[t]he term ‘disability’
means, with respect to an individual--(A) a physical or
mental impairment that substantially limits one or more
major life activities of such individual; (B) a record of
such an impairment; or (C) being regarded as having such
an impairment (as described in paragraph (3)).” 42 U.S.C.
§ 12102(1). The term “major life activities include, but
are not limited to, caring for oneself, performing manual
tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing,
lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading,
concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working.” 42
U.S.C. § 12102(2)(A).
92. 	 BJS Disability Report, supra note 31, at 2.
93. 	 Johns Hopkins Univ., Homewood Student Affairs,
Student Disability Servs., http://studentaffairs.jhu.edu/
disabilities/about/types-of-disabilities/ (last visited Sept. 27,
2016).
94. 	 How are the terms deaf, deafened, hard of hearing,
and hearing impaired typically used? Wash. Univ. (Aug. 24,
2015), http://www.washington.edu/doit/how-are-terms-deafdeafened-hard-hearing-and-hearing-impaired-typically-used
[hereinafter Deaf Terminology].
95. 	 Community and Culture—Frequently Asked Questions,
National Ass’n. of the Deaf, http://nad.org/issues/americansign-language/community-and-culture-faq (last visited Sept.
27, 2016).
96. 	 Deaf Terminology, supra note 94.
97. 	 Glossary of Eye Conditions, Am. Found. for the Blind
(last visited Sept. 27, 2016), http://www.afb.org/info/livingwith-vision-loss/eye-conditions/12.
98. 	 Id. Low vision “cannot be fully corrected by
eyeglasses, contact lenses, or surgery. However, a person
with low vision may benefit from any of a variety of
available optical devices, such as electronic magnifying
glasses or eyeglass-mounted telescopes. In addition, special
software developed for computer users with low vision can

display type in large size or read text aloud.” Id.
99. 	 Definitions of deafblindness, Sense, https://www.sense.
org.uk/content/definitions-deafblindness (last visited Sept.
27, 2016).
100. 	 Assistive devices and technologies, World Health
Org., http://www.who.int/disabilities/technology/en/ (last
visited Sept. 27, 2016).
101. 	 Jessie L. Krienert, et al., Inmates with Physical
Disabilities: Establishing a Knowledge Base, 1 Southwest
J. of Crim. Justice 20 (2003), available at http://www.
swacj.org/swjcj/archives/1.1/Krienert_et_al.pdf [hereinafter
Inmates with Physical Disabilities].
102. 	 Id.
103. 	 Id. at 19.
104. 	 Id. at 20.
105. 	 People First Language, Nat’l Black Disability
Coalition, http://blackdisability.org/content/people-firstlanguage-0 (last visited Sept. 27, 2016).
106. 	 Id.
107. 	 See Lydia X. Z. Brown, Identity-First Language,
Autistic Self Advocacy Network, http://autisticadvocacy.
org/home/about-asan/identity-first-language/ (last visited
Sept. 27, 2016) (providing a comprehensive overview of the
arguments supporting and opposing people-first language);
Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, Becoming Disabled, N.Y.
Times (Aug. 19, 2016), http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/21/
opinion/sunday/becoming-disabled.html (discussing debate
around the “politics of self-naming”).
108. 	 Portrayal of People with Disabilities, Ass’n of Univ.
Ctr. on Disabilities, https://www.aucd.org/template/page.
cfm?id=605 (last visited Sept. 27, 2016).
109. 	 Id. At the same time, simply asking people for their
preferences for terminology is also recommended. Id.
110. 	 See, e.g., Jane Campbell & Mike Oliver, Disability
Politics: Understanding Our Past, Changing Our Future
105 (1996); Phil Smith, There Is No Treatment Here:
Disability and Health Needs in A State Prison System, 25
Disability Studies Quarterly (2005), available at http://
dsq-sds.org/article/view/571/748 [hereinafter Disability &
Health Needs in a State Prison System]; see also Subini Ancy
Annamma, et al., Dis/ability Critical Race Studies (DisCrit):
Theorizing at the intersection of race and dis/ability, 16 Race
Ethnicity & Education 1, 12-13 (2013).
111. 	 See, e.g., Vilissa Thompson & Alice Wong,
#GetWokeADA26: Disabled People of Color Speak Out, Part
Two, Ramp Your Voice!/Disability Visibility Project (July

26, 2016), https://disabilityvisibilityproject.com/2016/07/26/
getwokeada26-disabled-people-of-color-speak-out-part-two/
(capturing perspectives of disabled people of color).
112. 	 See Carol Gill & William Cross, Jr., Disability
Identity and Racial-Cultural Identity Development:
Points of Convergence, in Race, Culture, and Disability:
Rehabilitation Science and Practice 49 (Fabricio E.
Balcazar et al. eds., 2010) (“Disability status intersects with
multiple axes of diversity and marginalization, including
race, gender, sexuality, class/caste, and age. Moreover,
varieties of impairment—physical, sensory, learning,
psychiatric—contribute to disabled people’s diversity of
experience and perspectives.”); Subini Ancy Annamma et al.,
supra note 110, at 12 (“DisCrit emphasizes multidimensional
identities . . . rather than singular notions of identity, such as
dis/ability, social class, or gender.”).
113. 	 See generally Ashley Nellis, The Color of Justice:
Racial & Ethnic Disparity in State Prisons, The Sentencing
Project (2016), available at http://www.sentencingproject.
org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/The-Color-of-JusticeRacial-and-Ethnic-Disparity-in-State-Prisons.pdf; The War
on Marijuana in Black & White: Billions of Dollars
Wasted on Racially Biased Arrests, Am. Civ. Liberties
Union (2013), available at https://www.aclu.org/report/
report-war-marijuana-black-and-white.
114. 	 Matthew W. Brault, Americans with Disabilities:
2010, Household Economic Studies, U.S. Census Bureau 6
(2012), available at http://www.census.gov/prod/2012pubs/
p70-131.pdf (listing age-adjusted and unadjusted disability
rates by gender and race).
115. 	 Karen I. Fredriksen-Goldsen et al., Disability Among
Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Adults: Disparities in Prevalence
and Risk, 102 Am. J. of Pub. Health e16 (2012), available
at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3490559/
(finding higher rate of disability among lesbian, gay, and
bisexual adults); Tracy Garza, Why out community should
fight for disability rights, too, Transgender Law Ctr. (Dec.
28, 2012), available at http://transgenderlawcenter.org/
archives/2923.
116. 	 Doris J. James & Lauren E. Glaze, Mental Health
Problems of Prison and Jail Inmates, U.S. Dep’t of Justice,
Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics,
1 (2006), http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/mhppji.pdf
[Mental Health Problems of Prison and Jail Inmates].
117. 	 Blind Prisoner Dies After Confrontation with the
Guards, Prison Legal News (Feb 15, 2011), https://www.
prisonlegalnews.org/news/2011/feb/15/blind-texas-prisonerdies-after-confrontation-with-guards/.
118. 	 Out of the 10 public records requests sent to the
targeted jurisdictions, only three produced the requested data

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on the number of persons with physical disabilities in solitary
confinement or restrictive housing. The Nevada Department
of Corrections reported that 3 blind or low vision prisoners,
5 deaf or hard of hearing prisoners, and 23 prisoners with
mobility-related disabilities were held in some form of
restrictive housing. See Letter from Brooke Keast, Public
Information Officer, Nev. Dep’t of Corr. to author (Aug. 26,
2016) (on file with author). Georgia reported that between
15 and 21 prisoners with a hearing disability, 703 and 731
prisoners with a visual disability, and 5 and 7 prisoners
listed as having another type of “impairment” are held in
some form of restrictive housing, with conditions similar
to solitary confinement, as of the date of the response. See
Email from Jason Mitchell, Assistant Counsel, Georgia Dep’t
of Corrections, Office of Legal Services (Sept. 27, 2016,
11:58 a.m.). The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections
reported 56 prisoners with vision disabilities, 12 prisoners
with hearing disabilities, and 28 prisoners with mobility
disabilities. See Email from Andrew Filkosky, Agency
Open Records Officer, Office of Chief Counsel, Pa. Dep’t
of Corr., to author (Oct. 31, 2016). The remaining states
did not possess or maintain records with that information.
See, e.g., Email from Dianne Houpt, Public Information
Specialist, Florida Dep’t of Corr. (Aug. 15, 2016, 3:17 p.m.)
(on file with author); Email from Trina Hirsig, Assistant
Gen. Counsel, Class Actions, California Dep’t of Corr. &
Rehabilitation to author (Aug. 12, 2016, 6:43 p.m.) (on
file with author); Email from Kathleen Kelly, Chief Legal
Counsel, Rhode Island Dep’t of Corr. (July 28, 2016, 10:05
a.m.) (on file with author) (noting that there were no records
related to the request and that Rhode Island DOC did not
identify any prisoners having the disabilities in some form of
solitary confinement); Letter from Susan Wall Griffin, Atty.
for the Secretary, Louisiana Dep’t of Public Safety & Corr.
to author 2 (July 25, 2016) (“The Department does not track
the housing locations of these categories of offenders beyond
to which institution the offender is assigned.”); Email from
Roger Wilson, Chief Inspector, Ohio Dep’t of Rehabilitation
and Corr. (Jun. 10, 2016) (on file with author); Letter from
Lisa Weitekamp, FOIA Officer, Illinois Dep’t of Corr. to
author (Feb. 2, 2016) (on file with author); Email from
Michele S. Howell, Legal Issues Coordinator, Virginia Dep’t
of Corr. (Oct. 24, 2016) (on file with author).
119. 	 Inmates with Physical Disabilities, supra note 101, at
13.
120. 	 BJS Disability Report, supra note 31, at 1.
121. 	 Mental Health Problems of Prison and Jail Inmates,
supra note, at 1.
122. 	 Lewis Kraus, 2015 Disability Statistics Annual
Report, Institute on disability/uced 3 (2015), available
at http://www.disabilitycompendium.org/docs/default-

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source/2015-compendium/annualreport_2015_final.pdf.
123. 	 See, e.g., Brief in Supp. of Pl.’s Mot. for Specific
Performance at 8, Langford, et al., v. Bullock, et al., Civ.
Action No. 6:93-cv-00046-DWM-JCL (D. Mont. June 24,
2013), available at https://www.aclumontana.org/sites/
default/files/field_documents/1494_brief_in_support.pdf
[hereinafter Langford Brief] (“MSP does not track disabled
prisoners. . . . Accordingly, even if a disabled individual is
properly identified, it is unlikely he will receive the necessary
accommodation.” (citing Program Access Assessment &
Facility Accessibility Survey Report at 11, Langford, et al.,
v. Bullock, et al., Civ. Action No. 6:93-cv-00046-DWM-JCL
(D. Mont. June 27, 2013))); see also id. at 11 (“[Montana
State Prison] has failed to establish a comprehensive
screening process to identify prisoners with . . . mobility,
vision, speech and hearing disabilities, as the ADA requires.
. . . As a result, Defendants fail to accommodate disabled
prisoners in programs and facilities[.]”).
124. 	 Jurisdictions were asked to report on data from January
2013 through the present (or the date of the public records
requests).
125. 	 Custody population data was obtained from the Bureau
of Justice Statistics. See Prisoners in 2014, supra note 1, at 3.
126. 	 Rhode Island DOC’s response includes mobility
devices only. Letter from Susan Lamkins, Programming
Services Officer, Rhode Island Dep’t of Corr. to author (Apr.
26, 2016) (on file with author).
127. 	 See, e.g., State of Iowa, Department of Corr. Offender
Grievance Compl., Univ. of Mich. Law School, available at
https://www.law.umich.edu/special/policyclearinghouse/
Documents/Iowa_Sample_Grievance_Form.pdf (last visited
Oct. 13, 2016).
128. 	 See, e.g., Prison and Jail Grievance Policies,
Univ. of Mich. Law School, available at https://www.
law.umich.edu/facultyhome/margoschlanger/Pages/
PrisonGrievanceProceduresandSamples.aspx (last visited
Oct. 13, 2016) (listing sample grievance policies and
procedures for state prisons and local jails).
129. 	 See, e.g., Administrative Policies & Procedures, Tenn.
Dep’t of Corr., Index # 501.01 at 2-3 (May 1, 2004), Univ.
of Mich. Law School, available at https://www.law.umich.
edu/facultyhome/margoschlanger/Documents/Resources/
Prison_and_Jail_Grievance_Policies/Tennessee_Policy.pdf
(last visited Oct. 13, 2016).
130. 	 See, e.g., Administrative Regulation, Colo. Dep’t
of Corr., Regulation No. 850-01 at 3-4 (Dec. 15, 2015),
available at https://www.law.umich.edu/facultyhome/
margoschlanger/Documents/Resources/Prison_and_Jail_
Grievance_Policies/Colorado_Policy.pdf (last visited Sept.

27, 2016).

with author).

131. 	 See, e.g., Administrative Directive, Inmate Grievance
Procedure, Ark. Dep’t of Corr., No. 04-01 2 at 2-3 (Feb. 1,
2004), available at https://www.law.umich.edu/facultyhome/
margoschlanger/Documents/Resources/Prison_and_Jail_
Grievance_Policies/Arkansas_Policy.pdf (list visited Sept.
27, 2016) (listing types of complaints by prisoners that are
prohibited).

140. 	 The records submitted from Ohio are from January
2015 to 2016 only. The Ohio DOC reported that it was
unable to query the data using the precise terms of the public
records request (e.g., “disabilities”), but after using the
search term “handicapped facilities,” the search returned a
total of three grievances filed. Email from Roger Wilson,
Chief Inspector, Ohio Dep’t of Rehabilitation & Corr. to
author (June 10, 2016) (on file with author).

132. 	 For example, a study of five prison handbooks
determined that each handbook included text at or above
an eleventh grade English reading level, which is well
above the reading level for the average deaf person. Jean F.
Andrews, Deaf Inmates: Cultural and Linguistic Challenges
and Comprehending the Inmate Handbook, 36 Corr.
Compendium 14 (2011), available at https://deafinprison.
com/2012/03/09/136/.
133. 	 See, e.g., Press Release, Virginia Dep’t of Corr.,
Virginia’s Restrictive Housing Reforms Highlighted by
the U.S. Department of Justice: Few Offenders Remain
in Restrictive Housing in Virginia Prisons (Mar. 3,
2016), available at http://vadoc.virginia.gov/news/pressreleases/16mar3_DOJ.shtm (noting 71 percent reduction in
prisoner grievances since reforms to reduce population in
restrictive housing at Red Onion State Prison).
134. 	 The Florida Department of Corrections reported that
as of March 23, 2016, 41 grievances remained pending. The
records did not specify what happened to the remaining 751
grievances that were neither resolved nor remain pending
from January 2013 through March 23, 2016. See Email from
Donna Beard, Office of General Counsel, Florida Dep’t of
Corr. to author (Mar. 24, 2016) (on file with author).
135. 	 Ohio reported that from January 2015 to January
2016, 43 accommodations requests were approved by DOC
officials, 10 were partially approved, and 30 were denied.
See Email from Roger Wilson, Chief Inspector, Ohio Dep’t
of Rehabilitation & Corr. to author (June 21, 2016) (on file
with author). It is not clear whether the requests for these
accommodations were filed separately from the grievances.
136. 	Grievances that are noted as “pending” are marked from
the date listed on the state Department of Corrections’ letter
responding to the public records request.
137. 	 As of March 23, 2016.
138. 	 As of March 17, 2016.
139. 	 According to the Louisiana Department of Corrections,
the total number “includes accommodations requested or
recommended through medical call outs in additional to
formal grievances during the relevant time period.” Letter
from Susan W. Griffin, Att’y for the Sec’y, Louisiana Dep’t
of Public Safety & Corr. to author 2 (Mar. 17, 2016) (on file

141. 	 The records submitted from Ohio are only from
January 2015 to January 2016.
142. 	 The Ohio Department of Corrections did not have
data on the number of grievances filed by prisoners with
disabilities. A public records official from Ohio stated that
“[a]ll grievances are resolved within 14 days of receipt by
the inspector unless there is an extension of an additional
14 days. There are no pending grievances from 2015.”
Email from Roger Wilson, Chief Inspector, Ohio Dep’t of
Rehabilitation & Corr., to author (June 10, 2016) (on file
with author). However, the Ohio Department of Corrections
did report that from January 2015 to January 2016, there
were 43 accommodations that were approved, 10 that were
partially approved, and 30 that were denied. Email from
Roger Wilson, Chief Inspector, Ohio Dep’t of Rehabilitation
& Corr., to author (June 21, 2016) (on file with author).
143. 	As of May 4, 2016.
144. 	 Rhode Island Department of Corrections reported
only one complaint that was formally processed through the
Governor’s Commission on Disabilities. Letter from Susan
Lamkins, Programming Services Officer to author 1 (Apr. 26,
2016) (on file with author).
145. 	 See Metzner & Fellner, supra note 83, at 104-05; Stuart
Grassian, Psychiatric Effects of Solitary Confinement, 22
Wash. U. J.L. & Pol’y 325, 333-338 (2006), available at
http://openscholarship.wustl.edu/law_journal_law_policy/
vol22/iss1/24/.
146. 	 Expert Report of Brie Williams 8-13, Parsons v. Ryan,
No. 2:12-cv-00601-NVW (MEA) (D. Ariz. Nov. 8, 2013),
available at https://www.aclu.org/legal-document/parsonsv-ryan-expert-report-brie-williams-md-ms [hereinafter Dr.
Brie Williams Expert Report]; see also Class Action Compl.
¶ 75(c), Lewis v. Cain, Civil Action No. 3:15-cv-00318BAJ-RLB (May 20, 2015), available at https://www.laaclu.
org/resources/2015/lewis/052015Lewis_FiledComplaint.pdf
(describing prisoner who is quadriplegic who alleges he did
not receive physical therapy for years).
147. 	 Timothy Hughes & Doris J. Wilson, Reentry Trends
in the United States: Inmates Returning to the Community
after Serving Time in Prison, Bureau of Justice Statistics

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69

(last visited Oct. 14, 2016), available at https://www.bjs.gov/
content/pub/pdf/reentry.pdf.
148. 	 See, e.g., Lawson v. Dallas Cnty., 286 F.3d 257, 260
(5th Cir. 2002) (“Lawson was in good health when he entered
the jail. However, without proper medical care paraplegics
such as Lawson are at risk of developing decubitus ulcers,
caused by unrelieved pressure on the body, which can be
life-threatening. Various medical equipment and personal
assistance used to prevent decubitus ulcers are part of basic
medical training for doctors and nurses and are standard
medical procedure in caring for paraplegics.”).
149. 	 Letter from D.R., prisoner at Louisiana State
Penitentiary at Angola, to author (Jan. 26, 2016) (on file with
author).
150. 	 Frank Rundle, The Roots of Violence at Soledad, in
The Politics of Punishment: A Critical Analysis of Prisons
in America 167 (Erik Olin Wright, ed., 1973), available at
https://www.ssc.wisc.edu/~wright/Published%20writing/pop.
c8.pdf.
151. 	 See Peter Scharff Smith, The Effects of Solitary
Confinement on Prison Inmates: A Brief History of
the Literature, 34 Crime & Justice 441, 476-81 (2006)
(summarizing literature discussing harms of solitary
confinement).
152. 	 See, e.g., National Commission on Correctional Health
Care, Solitary Confinement (Isolation) (2016), available
at http://www.ncchc.org/solitary-confinement [hereinafter
NCCHC Statement]; The National Alliance on Mental
Illness, Public Policy Platform, available at https://www.
nami.org/NAMI/media/NAMI-Media/downloads/PublicPolicy-Platform_9-22-14.pdf; American Public Health
Association, Solitary Confinement as a Public Health
Issue (2013), available at http://www.apha.org/policiesand-advocacy/public-health-policy-statements/policydatabase/2014/07/14/13/30/solitary-confinement-as-a-publichealth-issue; Society of Correctional Physicians, Position
Statement, Restricted Housing of Mentally Ill Inmates
(2013), available at http://societyofcorrectionalphysicians.
org/resources/position-statements/restricted-housing-ofmentally-ill-inmates; American Psychiatric Association,
Position Statement on Segregation of Prisoners with Mental
Illness (2013), available at http://www.dhcs.ca.gov/services/
MH/Documents/2013_04_AC_06c_APA_ps2012_PrizSeg.
pdf; Mental Health America, Policy Position Statement
24: Seclusion and Restraints (2015), http://www.nmha.org/
positions/seclusion-restraints.
153. 	 See, e.g., Stuart Grassian, Psychopathological Effects
of Solitary Confinement, 140 Am. J. of Psychiatry 1450,
1451-1453 (1983); Craig Haney, Mental Health Issues
in Long-Term Solitary and “Supermax” Confinement, 49
Crime & Delinquency 124, 130-145 (2003), available at

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http://www.supermaxed.com/NewSupermaxMaterials/
Haney-MentalHealthIssues.pdf; Richard Korn, The Effects
of Confinement in the High Security Unit at Lexington,
15 Social Justice 14-16 (1988), available at http://www.
jstor.org/stable/29766384?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents;
Holly A. Miller & Glenn R. Young, Prison Segregation:
Administrative Detention Remedy or Mental Health
Problem?, 7 Criminal Behaviour and Mental Health 85,
89-93 (1997).
154. 	 See, e.g., Michael Bauer et al., Long-Term Mental
Sequelae of Political Imprisonment in East Germany, 181 J.
Nervous & Mental Disease 257, 258-61 (1993); Korn, supra
note 153, at 8-19; Miller & Young, supra note 153, at 85-94;
Peter Suedfeld et al., Reactions and Attributes of Prisoners
in Solitary Confinement, 9 Criminal Justice & Behavior 303,
315-318 (1982).
155. 	 See, e.g., Bauer et al., supra note 154, at 259.
156. 	 See, e.g., Henrik Andersen et al., A Longitudinal
Study of Prisoners on Remand: Repeated Measures of
Psychopathology in the Initial Phase of Solitary Versus
Nonsolitary Confinement, Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica
19, 20-25 (2000); Stuart Grassian & N. Friedman, Effects of
Sensory Deprivation in Psychiatric Seclusion and Solitary
Confinement, 8 Int’l J. L. & Psychiatry 49, 54 (1986);
Grassian, supra note 153, at 1452; Haney, supra note 153, at
133.
157. 	 See, e.g., Grassian, supra note 145, at 335.
158. 	 See, e.g., Haney, supra note 153, at 134; Miller &
Young, supra note 153, at 93.
159. 	 See, e.g., Grassian, supra note 153, at 1452; Haney,
supra note 153, at 134.
160. 	 See Haney, supra note 153, at 134; Miller & Young,
supra note 153, at 89-91.
161. 	 See, e.g., Grassian, supra note 153, at 1452-53; Haney,
supra note 153, at 133-34; Korn, supra note 153, at 15;
Miller & Young, supra note 153, at 90.
162. 	 See, e.g., Grassian, supra note 153, at 1451-53; Haney,
supra note 153, at 134; Korn, supra note 153, at 15.
163. 	 See, e.g., Grassian, supra note 153, at 1453; Haney,
supra note 153, at 138-39.
164. 	 See, e.g., Bauer et al., supra note 154, at 259-60;
Grassian, supra note 153, at 1453; Haney, supra note 153, at

134; Miller & Young, supra note 153, at 90-91.

(3201),%2010-30-08,%20OCR.PDF.

165. 	 See, e.g., Grassian, supra note 153, at 1453.

176. 	 Jennifer Gonnerman, Kalief Browder, 1995-2015, The
New Yorker (June 7, 2015), http://www.newyorker.com/
news/news-desk/kalief-browder-1993-2015. In July 2016, the
New York State Legislature passed “Kalief’s Law” to reduce
the time spent in jail pre-trial and to ensure a speedy trial.
See Stephon Johnson, State Assembly Passes ‘Kalief’s Law’
to Reform Pretrial Detention, N.Y. Amsterdam News (June
9, 2016, 12:18 p.m.), http://amsterdamnews.com/news/2016/
jun/09/state-assembly-passes-kaliefs-law-reform-pretrial-/.

166. 	 See Haney, supra note 153, at 139.
167. 	 See, e.g., id.
168. 	 See, e.g., Andersen et al., supra note 156, at 22; Haney,
supra note 153, at 134; Korn, supra note 153, at 14-15.
169. 	 See, e.g., Grassian, supra note 153, at 1453.
170. 	 See, e.g., Grassian, supra note 153, at 1453; Haney,
supra note 153, at 134.
171. 	 Paul Gendreau, et al., Changes in EEG Alpha
Frequency and Evoked Response Latency During Solitary
Confinement, 79 J. of Abnormal Psychology 54, 57-58
(1972).
172. 	 Id.
173. 	 This figure is based on the findings from the ASCA/
Liman Time in Cell Report, which estimates approximately
80,000-100,000 prisoners are held in solitary confinement.
See Time In Cell, supra note 13, at 3. Data on the total
numbers of persons held in state and federal prisons in the
United States (1,561,500) was taken from the 2014 Bureau
of Justice Statistics Report. See Danielle Kaeble, et al.,
Correctional Populations in the United States, 2014 at 5
(Jan. 21, 2016), available at http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/
pdf/cpus14.pdf.
174. 	 Stuart Grassian & Terry Kupers, The Colorado
Study vs. the Reality of Supermax Confinement, 13 Corr.
Mental Health Report 1, 11 (2011), available at https://
www.probono.net/prisoners/stopsol-reports/416638.
The_Colorado_Study_vs_the_Reality_of_Supermax_
Confinement; see also Jennifer R. Wynn & Alisa Szatrowski,
Hidden Prisons: Twenty-Three-Hour Lockdown Units in
New York State Correctional Facilities, 24 Pace L. Rev. 497,
516 (2004), available at http://digitalcommons.pace.edu/cgi/
viewcontent.cgi?article=1202&context=plr (“More than half
of prison suicides in New York take place in twenty-threehour lockdown units, although less than 10 percent of the
inmate population is housed in them.”).
175. 	 See, e.g., Homer Venters et al., Solitary Confinement
and Risk of Self-Harm Among Jail Inmates, 104 Am. J.
Public Health, 442, 445-446 (2014), available at http://ajph.
aphapublications.org/doi/pdf/10.2105/AJPH.2013.301742.
Similarly, in California prisons in 2004, 73 percent of all
suicides occurred in isolation units, even though these units
make up approximately 6 percent of the state’s total prison
population. Expert Report of Professor Craig Haney at
45-46 n.119, Coleman v. Schwarzenegger, No. CIV S-900520 LKK JFM P (E.D. Cal. 2010), available at http://rbgg.
com/wp-content/uploads/_Haney,%20Dr.%20Craig%20

177. 	 See, e.g., Wicomico Cnty. Compl., supra note 7, ¶
27 (noting that plaintiff was in an “extremely emotionally
fragile state during his five and a half week stay in solitary
confinement” due to the recent death of his 12-year-old son);
Bruce A. Arrigo & Jennifer L. Bullock, The Psychological
Effects of Solitary Confinement on Prisoners in Supermax
Units: Reviewing What We Know and Recommending What
Should Change, 52 Internat’l J. of Offender Therapy &
Comparative Criminology, 622, 627-29 (2008) (discussing
negative psychological consequences of long-term solitary
confinement).
178. 	 Handbook on Prisoners with Special Needs, supra
note 82, at 46 (“Increased mental health care needs have
been noted for example among prisoners who have sensory
disabilities—conditions which are isolating in themselves
and more so in prisons, where the special needs of such
persons are rarely taken into account and where they can be
victims of psychological abuse and bullying.”).
179. 	 See, e.g., Maurice Chammah, Do You Age Faster
in Prison?, The Marshall Project (Aug. 24, 2015, 7:15
a.m.), https://www.themarshallproject.org/2015/08/24/doyou-age-faster-in-prison#.0dguWhdbC; see also Handbook
on Prisoners with Special Needs, supra note 82, at 44
(“The difficulties people with disabilities face in society
are magnified in prisons, given the nature of the closed
and restrictive environment and violence resulting from
overcrowding, lack of proper prisoner differentiation and
supervision, among others. Prison overcrowding accelerates
the disabling process, with the neglect, psychological
stress and lack of adequate medical care, characteristic of
overcrowded prisons.”).
180. 	 See, e.g., Compl. ¶¶ 6-8, Fox v. Peters, Civil Action
No. 6:16-cv-01602-MC, ECF No. 1 (Aug. 8, 2016)
(“Plaintiff entered the Oregon Department of Corrections
in late 2010. On July 11, 2015, Plaintiff collapsed in his
segregation cell at Two Rivers Correctional Unit. As a result
he went into spinal shock, and suffers from a central cervical
cord injury. Plaintiff is now physically paralyzed and uses
a wheelchair for mobility. He has very limited use of his
upper extremities, and no use of his lower extremities.”);
see also Order 2, Fox v. Peters, Civil Action No. 6:16-cv-

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01602-MC, ECF No. 14 (Aug. 11, 2016), available at
https://docs.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/oregon/
ordce/6:2016cv01602/128326/14 (“Upon beginning his
prison term in 2010, Fox was an able-bodied individual. . . .
Due to the neglect of prison officials, Fox sustained injuries
in July 2015. . . . While the cause of Fox’s injuries is likely
disputed, no one disputes that Fox has severe limitations with
mobility.”).
181. 	 Handbook on Prisoners with Special Needs, supra
note 82, at 46; see also Mem. Order on Pl.’s Mot. for Prelim.
Inj. at 5, Reaves v. Dep’t of Corr., Civil Action No. 4:15-cv40100-TSH (D. Mass. Jul. 15, 2016) (“Reaves’s condition
has significantly deteriorated during his twenty years of
incarceration. When he was in rehabilitation shortly after his
injury, he was able to shave the left side of his face, brush
his teeth, and feed himself. He could sit in a wheelchair and
take a shower on a shower stretcher. Now, he is unable to do
any of those things. His hip and knee joints are frozen and
can no longer be bent to sit in a wheelchair, while his elbows
cannot be unlocked from a bent position. He cannot open
his hands and fingers from clenched fists. The skin on his
legs is susceptible to long-lasting open wounds and requires
daily care and bandaging. He is underweight. He testified
that his condition continued to worsen during his most
recent stay at SBCC, during which he lost weight, muscle
tone, and flexibility in his lower extremities, and incurred
increased tightness in his arms and left wrist. He testified
that he does not understand what it means to be ‘healthy’ as a
quadriplegic.”).
182. 	 See, e.g., Letter from A.C., prisoner, to author (Jun. 22,
2016) (on file with author) (reporting that he was not offered
any physical therapy after he had a stroke on Aug. 29, 2015).
A.C. has not provided permission to be identified.
183. 	 National Commission on Correctional Health Care,
supra note 152.
184. 	 For example, people with quadriplegia may be at risk
of death due to a condition known as autonomic dysreflexia,
particularly if they are rough handled, placed into tight
clothing, or subjected to other mistreatment that leads to
overstimulation in the area of the body that is below the
spinal cord injury. Autonomic dysreflexia is a common and
dangerous side effect of spinal cord injuries:
Autonomic dysreflexia means an over-activity
of the Autonomic Nervous System. It can occur
when an irritating stimulus is introduced to the
body below the level of spinal cord injury, such
as an overfull bladder. The stimulus sends nerve
impulses to the spinal cord, where they travel
upward until they are blocked by the lesion at
the level of injury. Since the impulses cannot
reach the brain, a reflex is activated that increases

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activity of the sympathetic portion of autonomic
nervous system. This results in spasms and a
narrowing of the blood vessels, which causes a
rise in the blood pressure. Nerve receptors in the
heart and blood vessels detect this rise in blood
pressure and send a message to the brain. The
brain sends a message to the heart, causing the
heartbeat to slow down and the blood vessels
above the level of injury to dilate. However, the
brain cannot send messages below the level of
injury, due to the spinal cord lesion, and therefore
the blood pressure cannot be regulated.
Other Complications of Spinal Cord Injury: Autonomic
Dysreflexia (Hyperreflexia), Louis Calder Mem’l Library,
Univ. of Miami/Jackson Mem’l Med. Ctr., http://calder.
med.miami.edu/pointis/automatic.html (last visited Oct. 17,
2016).
185. 	 Telephone Interview with Dean Westwood, formerly
incarcerated, Diversity and Inclusion Consultant (July 20,
2016).
186. 	 Architectural barriers include things like narrow
hallways or doorways; stairs not equipped with handrails;
showers, toilets, or cells that do not include grab bars;
uneven or jagged floor surfaces; protruding objects on
walls or floors; high food counters or sinks; and door
knobs that require full-fisted twisting, pushing, or pulling.
Architectural barriers may make it difficult for prisoners to
access prison cells, recreation yards, showers, and sleeping
areas, particularly when no other accommodations, such
as assistive devices or staff support, are provided to the
prisoner to facilitate access through other means. See, e.g.,
Disability & Health Needs in a State Prison System, supra
note 110 (describing prisoner in Northwest State Correctional
Facility—St. Albans who reported that, following a stroke
that rendered him partially paralyzed, he was not provided
with access to grab bars in the shower). These barriers have
exposed prisoners with physical disabilities to a heightened
risk of physical harm and some have sustained serious
injuries.
A review of reports, court cases, and stories from advocates
reveal that many prison facilities remain inaccessible to
wheelchair users. See, e.g., Phipps v. Sheriff of Cook Cnty.,
681 F. Supp. 2d 899, 904 (N.D. Ill. 2009) (noting allegations
by plaintiffs who were wheelchair users and were denied
access to showers, toilets, and sinks, and as a result were
unable to maintain proper hygiene, developing bed sores
and rashes); Casey, 834 F. Supp. 1569 at 1575 (noting that
the cell door was too narrow to fit a wheelchair in the units
in Florence’s Central Unit in Arizona); ADA/Section 504
Design Guide: Accessible Cells in Correctional Facilities,
U.S. Dep’t of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Disability
Rights Section 1 (last visited Sept. 27, 2016), http://www.

ada.gov/accessible_cells_prt.pdf [hereinafter ADA/Section
504 Design Guide] (“[M]any correctional facilities do
not have enough cells that are accessible to inmates with
disabilities.”). The Design Guide also notes that security is
not compromised by making cells accessible to wheelchair
users: “Accessible cells do not compromise the security of
prison personnel. In fact, having accessible cells increases
security because they allow inmates with mobility disabilities
to function independently, minimizing the need for assistance
from guards.” ADA/Section 504 Design Guide, supra, at 1.
The lack of physical access to prison facilities poses a real
danger and raises the risk of potentially serious injuries
to prisoners with physical disabilities. See, e.g., Johnson
v. Hardin Cnty., 908 F.2d 1280, 1282-84 (6th Cir. 1990)
(alleging injury due to fall from elevated and inaccessible
shower). In Texas, blind and low vision prisoners at the
Estelle Unit brought suit against the Texas Department of
Criminal Justice after several prisoners alleged suffering
injuries on account of their cells being improperly suited to
house persons with visual disabilities. See Compl. ¶¶ 33, 47,
58-60, 66, Wilson v. Livingston, Civil Action No. 4:14-1188
(Jan. 26, 2015). Inaccessible features, such as overhead
lockers, made it such that blind or low vision prisoners were
forced to climb up to reach important legal documents or
medications, predictably leading to injury. Id. ¶¶ 27-34.
Such injuries likely could have been avoided if blind and
low vision prisoners had been placed in units with proper
accommodations, such as units with lockers located on the
ground, and provided with other assistance.
187. 	 See, e.g., Rachael Seevers, Making Hard Time
Harder: Programmatic Accommodations for Inmates with
Disabilities Under the Americans with Disabilities Act,
Disability Rights Washington 16-17 (2016), available at
http://www.disabilityrightswa.org/making-hard-time-harder.
188. 	 See, e.g., United States v. Georgia, 546 U.S. 151, 155
(2006).
189. 	 Id.; see also Bradley v. Puckett, 157 F.3d 1022, 1024
(5th Cir. 1998) (alleging that prison officials denied prisoner
access to a shower for months, forcing him to wash up with
toilet water, which led to a fungal infection).
190. 	 Crowder v. True, No. 91 C 7427, 1993 WL 532455, *1
(N.D. Ill. Dec. 21, 1993).
191. 	 Jaros v. Illinois Dep’t of Corr., 684 F.3d 667, 669 (7th
Cir. 2012).
192. 	 28 C.F.R. § 35.152(b).
193. 	 See, e.g., Crayton v. Hedgpeth, No. C 08-00621 WHA
(PR), 2013 WL 4496714, *2 (E.D. Cal. Aug. 22, 2013)
(alleging that plaintiff fell multiple times while in his cell in
solitary confinement because it was not equipped with grab

bars).
194. 	 Trevino v. Woodbury Cty. Jail, No. C14-4051-MWB,
2015 WL 300267, at *1, *2 (N.D. Iowa Jan. 22, 2015), report
and recommendation adopted, No. C14-4051-MWB, 2015
WL 2254931 (N.D. Iowa May 13, 2015), aff’d per curiam,
No. 15-2179 (8th Cir. Dec. 1, 2015).
195. 	 Id. at *1.
196. 	 Id.
197. 	 Id.
198. 	 Id. at *2.
199. 	 Id.
200. 	 Id.
201. 	 Id.
202. 	 See generally Noland v. Wheatley, 835 F. Supp. 476
(N.D. Ind. 1993) (denying defendant’s motion to dismiss
detainee’s ADA claims where he alleged jail officials denied
him access to sufficient water to take his medications to
sustain his kidney functioning and refused to provide him
with any soap and enough water to clean his hands when he
changed his colostomy and urostomy bags).
203. 	 See, e.g., Bradley, 157 F.3d at 1024 (“[Prisoner
Mondric Bradley] testified that, because of his disability,
he needs assistance to dress and undress himself and that
he needs a shower chair to prevent him from falling in
the shower. He stated that after he was locked down, he
complained about his inability to clean himself, but that the
prison officials ignored his complaint. Bradley testified that
in order to clean himself he used the toilet in his cell, which
ultimately gave him a fungal infection and blisters. He stated
that after he came down with the infection and after several
complaints, his infection was treated and officials began to
take him to the medical clinic to use the bathtub and special
shower facilities. Bradley testified that he had gone several
months without being able to clean himself before he was
provided with the opportunity to bathe.”).
204. 	 Compl. ¶ 12, Gizweski v. New York State Dep’t of
Corr. & Cmty. Supervision, Civ. Action No. 9:14-cv-124
(N.D.N.Y. Feb. 4, 2014) [hereinafter Gizweski Complaint];
see also James Ridgeway, Severely Disabled Man Sues New
York State Prisons for Neglect, Abuse, Solitary Watch (Mar.
27, 2014), http://solitarywatch.com/2014/03/27/severely-

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disabled-man-sues-new-york-state-prisons-neglect-abuse/.
205. 	 Gizweski Complaint ¶ 13.
206. 	 Id. ¶¶ 67-70.
207. 	 Id. ¶ 23.
208. 	 Id. ¶ 15.
209. 	 Id. ¶¶ 24-25.
210. 	 Id. ¶¶ 16, 38, 50.
211. 	 See, e.g., Danny Robbins, Women’s deaths add to
concerns about Georgia prison doctor, Atlantic J. Constit.,
http://investigations.myajc.com/prison-medicine/womensdeaths-add-concerns/ (last visited Oct. 17, 2016).
212. 	 See, e.g., Hightower v. Tilton, No. C08-1129MJP, 2012 WL 1194720, at *2 (E.D. Cal. Apr. 10, 2012)
(“Following his assignment to Ad–Seg, his seizure, heart,
pain, and stomach medications were confiscated; no
replacement medications were issued for several days. A
month later, his medications were confiscated again.”);
Torres v. Doe, No. 2377 C.D. 2010, 2011 WL 10858421,
*1 (Pa. Commw. Ct. Aug. 2, 2011) (prisoner alleged being
denied access to asthma medications while in the restricted
housing unit).
213. 	 For example, a detainee in county jail raised a similar
type of claim, alleging that even though he took his “pain
medications at least four times per day to treat nerve damage
in his back,” the jail where he was housed failed to provide
him with the pain medications at the appropriate times. Civ.
Class Action Compl. for Declaratory & Injunctive Relief ¶
97, Hernandez v. Cnty. of Monterrey, Civil Action 13-02354
(May 23, 2013), available at http://www.clearinghouse.net/
chDocs/public/JC-CA-0107-0001.pdf [hereinafter Hernandez
Compl.].
214. 	 Interview with Dean Westwood, formerly incarcerated,
Diversity and Inclusion Consultant (Feb. 26, 2016).
215. 	 Hell is a Very Small Place 94 (Jean Casella et al.,
eds., 2016). Herman Wallace spent 41 years in solitary
confinement. He died three days after his release from prison.
John Schwartz, Herman Wallace, Freed After 41 Years in
Solitary, Dies at 71, N.Y. Times (Oct. 4, 2013), http://www.
nytimes.com/2013/10/05/us/herman-wallace-held-41-yearsin-solitary-dies-at-71.html?_r=0.
216. 	 Courts have recognized that regular physical exercise
is vital for physical health. See, e.g., Patterson v. Mintzes,
717 F.2d 284, 289 (6th Cir. 1983) (“Inmates require
regular exercise to maintain reasonably good physical and
psychological health.”). Denying prisoners access to physical
exercise can violate the Eighth Amendment. See, e.g., Ruiz v.
Estelle, 679 F.2d 1115, 1152 (5th Cir. 1982) (“[C]onfinement

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of inmates for long periods of time without opportunity
for regular physical exercise constitutes cruel and unusual
punishment.”).
217. 	 Dr. Brie Williams Expert Report, supra note 146, at 4
(“Leading causing of deconditioning include prolonged bedrest and the absence of regular physical activity.”).
218. 	 Dr. Brie Williams Expert Report, supra note 146, at 9
(“Physical inactivity exacerbates disability in osteoarthritis
patients.”).
219. 	 Dr. Brie Williams Expert Report, supra note 146, at
9-10.
220. 	 See, e.g., Lawson, 286 F.3d at 260 (“Lawson is a
paraplegic who is paralyzed from the chest down…. Lawson
was in good health when he entered the jail. However,
without proper medical care paraplegics such as Lawson are
at risk of developing decubitus ulcers, caused by unrelieved
pressure on the body, which can be life-threatening. Various
medical equipment and personal assistance used to prevent
decubitus ulcers are part of basic medical training for doctors
and nurses and are standard medical procedure in caring for
paraplegics.”).
221. 	 See, e.g., Suppl. Expert Report of Brie Williams,
M.D., M.S. 2-3, Parsons v. Ryan, No. 2:12-cv-00601NVM (MEA) (D. Ariz. Sept. 8, 2014), available at http://
www.clearinghouse.net/chDocs/public/PC-AZ-0018-0026.
pdf (opining that exercise cages in the isolation units at
the Arizona DOC were too small and provided no chairs
or benches for sitting, no source of drinking water, and
ventilation or cooling).
222. 	 See, e.g., Bane v. Virginia Dep’t of Corr., No. 7:12CV-159, 2012 WL 6738274, at *1 (W.D. Va. Dec. 28, 2012)
(“Because these items were confiscated, Bane allegedly had
great difficulty maneuvering around the cell and could not
perform the therapeutic walking exercises that eased the pain
in his legs and prevented deterioration of his condition.”).
223. 	 See, e.g., Susan Greene, Legal Settlement Ends
Colorado’s Practice of Denying Inmates Fresh Air, Colo.
Indep. (July 5, 2016), http://www.coloradoindependent.
com/160085/colorado-settlement-inmates-fresh-air
(describing settlement with Colorado DOC that requires the
state to provide prisoners at Colorado State Penitentiary and
Sterling Correctional Facility with access to outdoor exercise
facilities); Peoples Settlement Agreement, supra note 20, at
21 (“DOCCS will ensure that even under the most restrictive
form of disciplinary housing, 16 and 17 year-old inmates
shall, 5 days per week (excluding holidays), be offered
out-of-cell programming and outdoor exercise, limiting
time in their cells to 19 hours a day, except in exceptional

circumstances referred to Central Office.”).
224. 	 Norfleet v. Walker, No. 3:09-cv-00347-JPG-PMF, 2011
WL 55772834, at *1 (S.D. Ill. Nov. 16, 2011).
225. 	 Norfleet v. Walker, 684 F.3d 688, 691 (7th Cir. 2012).
226. 	 See, e.g., Hilde Haualand, Punished and Isolated:
Disabled Prisoners in Norway, 17 Scandanavian J. of
Disability Research 74, 78 (2015), available at https://www.
researchgate.net/publication/265914027_Punished_and_
isolated_disabled_prisoners_in_Norway (describing story
of prisoner who required regular physical therapy to prevent
deformation but did not receive physical therapy for the first
five months of incarceration and received treatment only
once every several weeks after that).

non-Portuguese-speaker to try to understand a Portuguesespeaker by lip reading, it will also be impossible for a deaf
person who does not understand English to try to use lip
reading to understand an English-speaker. Lip reading,
which is a challenging task even for individuals who speak
the same language, is therefore a highly ineffective way of
communicating with deaf prisoners.
241. 	 Interview with Talila A. Lewis, Founder and Executive
Director of HEARD (Nov. 18, 2015) (on file with author).
242. 	 See, e.g., Laura Sanders, Being Deaf Can Enhance
Sight, Wired (Oct. 11, 2010, 12:10 p.m.), http://www.wired.
com/2010/10/deaf-sight-enhancement/.
243. 	 Dr. Brie Williams Expert Report, supra note 146, at 11.

227. 	 Id.

244. 	 Dr. Brie Williams Expert Report, supra note 146, at 10.

228. 	 Telephone Interview with Maggie Filler, Staff Attorney,
Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts (October 15,
2015).

245. 	 Talila A. Lewis, #DeafInPrison Campaign Fact Sheet,
Heard 1 (June 26, 2014), http://www.behearddc.org/images/
pdf/deafinprison%20fact%20sheet%20.pdf.

229. 	 Disability Rights Florida Complaint, supra note 5,
¶ 340.

246. 	 See 2d Amend. Compl., Ulibarri et al. v. City &
Cnty. of Denver, 07-cv-01814-WDM-MJW (D. Colo.
Feb. 25, 2008), available at http://www.clearinghouse.net/
chDocs/public/DR-CO-0008-0006.pdf; see also Philip A.
Janquart, Judge Orders Relief for Deaf California Prisoners,
Courthouse News Serv. (Jun. 7, 2013, 9:34 a.m.), http://
www.courthousenews.com/2013/06/07/58332.htm (noting
order by federal district court to California Department of
Corrections and Rehabilitation to provide sign language
interpreters to deaf prisoners in solitary confinement).

230. 	 Id.
231. 	 Id. ¶ 341.
232. 	 Id. ¶ 342.
233. 	 Id. ¶ 344.
234. 	 Inmates with Physical Disabilities, supra note 187, at
15.
235. 	 Jean Andrews et al., The Bill of Rights, Due Process
and the Deaf Suspect/Defendant, J. of Interpretation
9, 12 (2007), available at http://njdc.info/wp-content/
uploads/2014/10/Bill-of-Rights-Due-Process-and-the-DeafSuspect-Defendents-JOI-2007.pdf.
236. 	 Id.

247. 	 Hell is a Very Small Place, supra note 215, at
48-49; see also Joseph Stromberg, The Science of Solitary
Confinement, Smithsonian (Feb. 19, 2014), http://www.
smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/science-solitaryconfinement-180949793/?no-ist (“His eyesight also
deteriorated to the point where he was nearly blind, though
it’s gradually improved since he was released.”).
248. 	 Survey Responses from Five Deaf Prisoners, supra
note 10, at 13.

237. 	 Id.
238. 	 Michele LaVigne & Gregory J. Van Rybroek,
Breakdown in the Language Zone: The Prevalence of
Language Impairments Among Juvenile and Adult Offenders
and Why It Matters, 15 U.C. Davis J. of Juvenile Law &
Policy 37, 48 (2011), available at http://jjlp.law.ucdavis.edu/
archives/vol-15-no-1/LaVigne%20and%20Rybroek.pdf.
239. 	 Id. at 96-97.
240. 	 What is American Sign Language?, Nat’l Ass’n of
the Deaf (last visited Oct. 17, 2016), https://nad.org/issues/
american-sign-language/what-is-asl. It is also important
to recognize that American Sign Language is a language
distinct from English. Just as it would be impossible for a

249. 	 Valdez v. Danberg, No. 13-4259, *98 (3d Cir. filed
Aug. 4, 2014).
250. 	 Id. at 99.
251. 	 Id.
252. 	 Id.
253. 	 Id.
254. 	 Id.
255. 	 Id.
256. 	 Survey Responses from Five Deaf Prisoners, supra

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note 10, at 5.
257. 	 The federal district court described Pierce’s disability
as follows:
Pierce can make sounds that are audible, but
he cannot speak words, and American Sign
Language (“ASL”) is his native language. Pierce
relies on ASL to communicate with others—either
by interacting directly with other persons who
are using ASL themselves, or through the use
of a video conferencing device that involves a
remote interpreter. Pierce cannot, and does not,
use a traditional telephone; instead, he ordinarily
uses ASL via videophone to communicate with
hearing individuals. Moreover, because Pierce’s
proficiency in reading and writing English is far
below that of a hearing person, he rarely writes
notes and only uses cellphone texting to convey
simple, short messages. Also, as with many deaf
individuals, Pierce has limited lip-reading ability.
Mem. Op. 4-5, Pierce v. Dist. of Columbia, Civil Action
No. 13-0134 (KBJ) (D.D.C. Sept. 11, 2015), available at
http://law.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/districtof-columbia/dcdce/1:2013cv00134/158123/90/ [hereinafter
Pierce Memorandum Opinion].
258. 	 The Correctional Treatment Facility (CTF) is a subset
of the D.C. Jail and is managed by a private entity, the
Corrections Corporation of America. Only low to medium
security detainees can be held at CTF.
259. 	 Press Release, Am. Civ. Liberties Union of the Nation’s
Capital, ACLU Victory in Deaf Rights Case (May 12, 2016),
http://aclu-nca.org/news/aclu-victory-in-deaf-rights-case;
Spencer S. Hsu, U.S. Jury Orders D.C. Corrections to Pay
$70,000 to Deaf Inmate in ADA Claim, Wash. Post (May
11, 2016), https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/publicsafety/us-jury-orders-dc-corrections-to-pay-70000-to-deafinmate-in-ada-claim/2016/05/11/6bf30a0a-1797-11e6-9e162e5a123aac62_story.html.
260. 	 Compl. ¶¶ 15, 27, 46, Pierce v. Dist. of Columbia,
Civil Action No. 13-0134 (KBJ) (D.D.C. Feb. 1, 2013),
available at http://aclu-nca.org/sites/default/files/docs/
Pierce.1.Complaint.pdf.
261. 	 Id. ¶¶ 30, 45. The federal judge presiding over the
case found that the D.C. Jail was aware that Pierce was
deaf, but made no attempt whatsoever to assess the nature
and scope of Pierce’s disability. Specifically, the court
found that “no staff person ever assessed Pierce’s need for
accommodation or otherwise undertook to determine the type
of assistance that he would need to communicate effectively
with others during his incarceration.” Pierce Memorandum
Opinion, supra note 257, at 1. The court was emphatic in its

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conclusion that such conduct violated the ADA:
[T]he District’s employees and contractors
did nothing to evaluate Pierce’s need for
accommodation, despite their knowledge that he
was disabled. They did not ask Pierce what type
of auxiliary aids he needed. They did not hire an
expert to assess Pierce’s ability to communicate
through written notes or lipreading as opposed
to sign language. They did not even consult
the Department of Corrections’ own policies to
figure out what types of accommodations are
ordinarily provided to inmates with hearing
disabilities. Instead, they figuratively shrugged
and effectively sat on their hands with respect
to this plainly hearing-disabled person in their
custody, presumably content to rely on their own
uninformed beliefs about how best to handle him
and certainly failing to engage in any meaningful
assessment of his needs. This Court finds that, in
so doing, the District denied Pierce meaningful
access to prison services and intentionally
discriminated against him on the basis of his
disability in violation of Title II of the Americans
with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the
Rehabilitation Act.
Pierce Memorandum Opinion, supra note 257, at 2.
262. 	 See, e.g., Jaros, 684 F.3d at 669, 671 (noting that
prisoner missed meals due not being able to move fast
enough to the cafeteria); Rainey v. County of Delaware, No.
00-548, 2000 WL 10564556, at *2 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 1, 2000)
(prisoner alleged that he missed meals on 15 occasions
because his cell was the farthest distance from the cafeteria
on the cell block and because he was unable to reach the
cafeteria in time for meals).
263. 	 For example, prisoners held in prisons run by the
Illinois DOC brought suit challenging the department’s
failure to provide even emergency alarms in an accessible
manner. See Class Action Compl. for Declaratory &
Injunctive Relief ¶¶ 3, 5, Holmes v. Godinez, Civil Action
No. 11-02961 (N.D. Ill. May 4, 2011) (alleging that deaf and
hard of hearing persons missed emergency alarms and other
alerts for meals and visits due to Illinois DOC’s failing to
accommodate deaf prisoners).
264. 	 Morris v. Kingston, No. 09-3226, *1 (7th Cir. Mar. 10,
2010).
265. 	 Id.
266. 	 See, e.g., Amend. Compl. ¶¶ 32-47, Blue v. Dep’t of
Public Safety & Corr. Servs., Civil Action No. 1:16-cv00945-RDB (Sept. 6, 2016) (describing claims brought
by class of blind prisoners who alleged that they were not

provided with materials for grievance forms and procedures
in an accessible format).
267. 	 For example, a blind or low vision prisoner may be
forced to pay another prisoner to help write letters to family
members, or complete grievance forms. In solitary, blind
or low vision prisoners may not even have that option, as
interaction with other prisoners can be limited or completely
prohibited.
268. 	 George Curly sued the Arizona DOC for failing
to provide handrails that would ensure his safety while
showering. See Casey, 834 F. Supp. at 1575. Curly had an
amputation below his knee and used a prosthetic device and
crutches to move around. Id. The Echo Unit in Tucson where
Curly was held did not have any handrails in the shower
stalls. Id. As a result, on several occasions, Curly fell while
showering and suffered injury. Id. The Echo Unit eventually
installed handrails. Id.
269. 	 See, e.g., Bane, 2012 WL 6738274, at *1 (“Another
effect of the increased security in Ad Seg is that whenever
a prisoner is allowed to leave the cell—for example, for
showers or recreation—he must kneel, with hands behind his
back, facing away from the cell door so that prison staff can
place him in restraints. Staff forced Plaintiff’s compliance
with this requirement, despite Plaintiff’s protests that he had
been exempted from kneeling by the VDOC Health Services
Director. The kneeling allegedly caused Plaintiff great pain;
in addition to the nerve damage in his legs, he suffers from
osteoarthritis in the hips and knees.”).
270. 	 See, e.g., Lawson, 286 F.3d at 260 (noting that detainee
often missed dressing changes for his ulcer wounds because
he did not make it to the cell front door in time to receive
care from the jail nurses).
271. 	 See, e.g., Hernandez Compl., supra note 213, ¶¶ 18488 (alleging that Monterrey County Jail failed to provide
assistive devices such as walkers and canes to prisoners with
ambulatory disabilities). The case settled on May 7, 2015.
The settlement agreement includes provisions that require
Monterrey County Jail to provide persons with ambulatory
disabilities with access to programming, including but
not limited to outdoor recreation, religious services, and
educational classes. Settlement Agreement ¶ 31(l)(vi),
Hernandez v. Cnty. of Monterrey, Civ. Action No. 13-2354
(May 7, 2015), available at http://rbgg.com/wp-content/
uploads/2015-05-11-Settlement-Agreement-Executed-byAll-Parties-in-Counterpart.pdf.
272. 	 See, e.g., Defreitas v. Montgomery Cnty. Corr. Facility,
No. 12-3305, 2013 WL 1878842, at *1 (3d Cir. filed May
7, 2013) (prohibiting prisoner from bringing crutches to
the general population yard, gym, and weight room when
other prisoners were present); Johnson v. Snyder, 444 F.3d
579, 582 (7th Cir. 2006), overruled on other grounds by

Hill v. Tangherlini, 724 F.3d 965 (7th Cir. 2013) (permitting
prisoner to use a crutch but only if he agreed to be housed in
administrative segregation); Kiman v. New Hampshire Dep’t
of Corr., 451 F.3d 274, 285-86 (1st Cir. 2006) (confiscating
cane during stay in maximum security facility); Serrano v.
Francis, 345 F.3d 1071, 1078 (9th Cir. 2003) (denying use of
wheelchair in administrative segregation); Evans v. Dugger,
908 F.2d 801, 802 (11th Cir. 1990) (confiscating prisoner’s
braces, crutches, orthopedic shoes, and other personal items,
but permitted only the use of a wheelchair); Bane, 2012
WL 6738274, at *1 (W.D. Va. Dec. 28, 2012) (“In light of
the increased security in Administrative Segregation (“Ad
Seg”), staff confiscated [Bane’s] Canadian crutch and the
leg sleeves he wore underneath the rigid leg braces. The
leg sleeves, nothing more than socks with the toes cut off,
protected his skin from the intense rubbing caused by the leg
braces. Staff also denied Bane use of a wheelchair while his
sleeves and crutch were confiscated.”).
273. 	 Dinkins, 743 F.3d at 634.
274. 	 Id.
275. 	 Id.
276. 	 Id.
277. 	 Id. On appeal, the Eighth Circuit held that Dinkins’
allegations that he was denied meals and adequate housing
due to his disability amounted to “viable” claims under the
Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act.
Id. The court reversed the district court’s dismissal of claims
for injunctive relief against defendants on these grounds. Id.
at 635.
278. 	 Making Hard Time Harder, supra note 187, at 16-17.
279. 	 Disability Rights Florida Compl., supra note 5, ¶ 368.
280. 	 Id. ¶ 370.
281. 	 Id.
282. 	 Brown v. Lamanna, No. 08-6840, 2008 WL 5396507,
at *2 (4th Cir. Dec. 29, 2008); see also Weeks v. Chaboudy,
984 F.2d 185, 187 (6th Cir. 1993) (finding that prison
officials were deliberately indifferent to prisoner’s serious
medical needs stemming from paraplegia by placing him
in “administrative control,” “security control,” or “local
control” areas in the facility that did not permit wheelchairs).
283. 	 Brown, 2008 WL 5396507, at *2.
284. 	 Lamanna, 2008 WL 5396507, at *2. The Fourth Circuit
remanded the case for further proceedings to determine if
in fact it was medically necessary for Brown to have access
to crutches or a wheelchair in order to move around, take
showers, and participate in recreation activities without pain

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and without further harm. Id. at *5.

situation of prisoners with disabilities.”).

285. 	 Serrano v. Francis, 345 F.3d 1071, 1074 (9th Cir.
2003).

302. 	 See generally BJS Disability Report, supra note 31.

286. 	 Id. at 1078. What is notable about this case is the
Ninth Circuit’s finding of a protected liberty interest given
Serrano’s status as a prisoner with a physical disability.
Although the Ninth Circuit found that the defendants were
entitled to qualified immunity with respect to Serrano’s due
process claim, the court concluded as follows: “Serrano’s
disability—coupled with administrative segregation in a
SHU that was not designed for disabled persons—gives rise
to a protected liberty interest. That is, the conditions imposed
on Serrano in the SHU, by virtue of his disability, constituted
an atypical and significant hardship on him.” Id. at 1079.
287. 	 Simmons v. Cook, 154 F.3d 805, 806 (8th Cir. 1998).
288. 	 Id.
289. 	 Id. at 807.
290. 	 Id.
291. 	 The Eighth Circuit upheld the jury award on appeal
and held that Simmons and Marshall had presented sufficient
evidence to show a violation of the Eighth Amendment. Id. at
809.
292. 	 Stoudemire v. Mich. Dep’t. of Corr., No. 14-1742, *799
(6th Cir. May 22, 2015).
293. 	 Id.
294. 	 Id. at 800.
295. 	 Id.
296. 	 Id.
297. 	 Id.
298. 	 Id.
299. 	 Id.
300. 	 Paul Egan, Double-amputee Who Had to Crawl to
Toilet Settles Suit, Detroit Free Press (May 12, 2016, 10:33
p.m.), http://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/
detroit/2016/05/12/michigan-pays-200000-settle-lawsuit-exprisoner/84284926/.
301. 	 Data collection can be a useful tool for assessing
the quality of programs and services provided to prisoners
with disabilities. See e.g., Handbook on Prisoners with
Special Needs, supra note 82, at 49 (“Data collection
and assessments should be undertaken on a regular basis,
bearing in mind especially the scarcity of information and
record keeping on prisoners with disabilities, to identify
shortcomings and good practices, and to improve the

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303. 	 BJS Disability Report, supra note 31, at 1.
304. 	 Id.
305. 	 Id.
306. 	 Id. at 3.
307. 	 Id.
308. 	 Id. at 4.
309. 	 Disability & Health Needs in a State Prison System,
supra note 110.
310. 	 Allen Beck, Use of Restrictive Housing in U.S.
Prisons and Jails 2011-12, U.S. Dep’t of Justice, Office
of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics 1
(2015), available at http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/
urhuspj1112.pdf.
311. 	 Id. at 4.
312. 	 See, e.g., Northern Correctional Institution,
Administrative Segregation Program, available at http://
www.ct.gov/doc/lib/doc/pdf/northernascc.pdf (“Placement
of an inmate on a Restrictive Housing Status that results in a
segregation of the inmates whose behavior while incarcerated
poses a threat to the security of the facility or a risk to the
safety of staff or other inmates. This inmate has demonstrated
through his behavior that he is not appropriate for continued
placement in general population and that he can no longer be
safely managed in general population.”).
313. 	 See, e.g., Bane, 2012 WL 6738274, at *1 (“To protect
Bane from the assaulting prisoner while they investigated
the attack, PSCC staff transferred Bane to Administrative
Segregation.”).
314. 	 See, e.g., Rios v. Tilton, No. 2:07-CV-0790 WBS
KJN, 2013 WL 4541825, at *6 (E.D. Cal. Aug. 27, 2013),
report and recommendation adopted, No. 07-CV-0790
WBS KJN P, 2013 WL 6053815 (E.D. Cal. Nov. 15, 2013)
(prisoner placed into administrative segregation due to
gang affiliation); Pl.’s 2d Amend. Compl. ¶¶1-8, Ashker v.
Brown, 4:09-cv-05796-CW (May 31, 2012), available at
http://ccrjustice.org/sites/default/files/assets/Ruiz-AmendedComplaint-May-31-2012.pdf (describing prisoners who had
been held in solitary confinement for 11-22 years due to their
alleged gang affiliation).
315. 	 See, e.g., Herron v. Meyer, 820 F.3d 860, 862 (7th Cir.
2016) (describing case of federal prisoner being placed into
solitary confinement for protective reasons due to threats to

his personal safety).
316. 	 See, e.g., Human Rights Watch/Am. Civ. Liberties
Union, Growing Up Locked Down: Youth in Solitary
Confinement in Jails and Prisons Across the United
States 53-57 (2012), https://www.aclu.org/files/assets/
us1012webwcover.pdf [hereinafter Growing Up Locked
Down] (describing policies requiring youth be placed into
protective custody in adult facilities).
317. 	 Adelyn Baxter, Ninety Years Old, Deaf, and in the Hole
in a Florida Prison, Prison Legal News (July 10, 2014),
http://solitarywatch.com/2014/07/10/ninety-years-old-deafhole-florida-prison/ (describing prisoner who was placed
into solitary for protective reasons after corrections staff
“observed injuries suggesting that he had been assaulted”).
318. 	 Jason Lydon et al., Coming Out of Concrete
Closets: A Report on Black & Pink’s National LGBTQ
Prisoner Survey, Black & Pink 5, 35 (2015), http://www.
blackandpink.org/wp-content/upLoads/Coming-Out-ofConcrete-Closets.-Black-and-Pink.-October-21-2015..pdf
(reporting that over 85 percent of 1,118 respondents had
spent time in solitary confinement and that protective custody
is a common reason for placement).
319. 	 See Haney, supra note 153, at 135 (“Conditions of
confinement for protective custody prisoners are in many
ways similar to those in supermax confinement. That is,
they are typically segregated from the rest of the prison
population, restricted or prohibited from participating in
prison programs and activities, and often housed indefinitely
under what amount to oppressive and isolation conditions.
Unlike supermax prisoners per se, however, many have some
control over their status as protective custody (PC) prisoners
(e.g., many have ‘volunteered’ for this status) and, although
they live under the stigma of being PC prisoners, they are
technically housed in these units for protection rather than
for punishment.”).
320. 	 Segregation for infectious diseases is permissible
if there is a direct threat to the safety of others. However,
prison officials cannot simply segregate based on stereotypes
or unfounded fears. Prisoners with infectious diseases have
successfully sued Departments of Corrections challenging
automatic placement into segregation on account of their
health condition. In these cases, the perceived health risk to
other prisoners was not substantiated and, in large part, was
based on fear, stereotypes, and other irrational concerns.
See, e.g., Henderson v. Thomas, 913 F. Supp. 2d 1267, 1295
(M.D. Ala. 2012) (“[T]he ADOC is currently violating the
rights of the HIV-positive prisoners within its custody by
categorically segregating them because of their HIV status
and excluding them from the integrated housing for which
they may be qualified.”). To be lawful, prison officials must
base their decision to segregate for medical reasons on

“reasonable medical judgments given the state of medical
knowledge,” about “the nature of the risk (how the disease
is transmitted),” “the duration of the risk (how long is the
carrier infectious),” “the severity of the risk (what is the
potential harm to third parties),” and “the probabilities the
disease will be transmitted and will cause varying degrees of
harm.” Sch. Bd. of Nassau Cty., Fla. v. Arline, 480 U.S. 273,
288 (1987).
321. 	 28 C.F.R. § 35.152(b)(2)(ii); see also Report on
Inspection of the Sacramento County Jail: Executive
Summary, Disability Rights Ca. 15 (Aug. 4, 2015), available
at http://www.disabilityrightsca.org/pubs/702701.pdf.
322. 	 See id. (“In the Sacramento Jail, it is policy to place
prisoners with physical disabilities and mobility impairments
in single cells in the medical area . . . in which prisoners
have no regular access to a day room or outdoor recreation.
Housing prisoners in the infirmary solely because they use
assistive devices, as the jail appears to do, is not an effective
use of medical resources.”).
323. 	 See generally Reaves v. Mass. Dep’t of Correction, et
al., No. 4:15-CV-40100-TSH, 2016 WL 4124301 (D. Mass.
July 15, 2016).
324. 	 Id. at *27-*31.
325. 	 For more serious offenses, such as escape or murder, a
prisoner may also face criminal charges.
326. 	 See, e.g., Administrative Directive No. 9.5, Code of
Penal Discipline, State of Conn. Dep’t of Corr. (Feb. 1,
2016), available at http://www.ct.gov/doc/LIB/doc/PDF/AD/
ad0905.pdf.
327. 	 See, e.g., Parms v. Pennsylvania Dep’t of Corr., No.
CA 14-84, 2015 WL 1326323, at *3 (W.D. Pa. Mar. 25,
2015) (“Here, Plaintiff alleges, among other things, that he
was repeatedly issued misconducts and received disciplinary
confinement for failing to obey orders he could not hear or
comprehend, because no reasonable accommodations for
his disability were provided by Defendant. In particular,
Plaintiff alleges that he was housed on F block at SCIAlbion, where inmates were alerted of the time for meals and
count by audible means only, such as a bell or loudspeaker,
while other housing blocks at SCI-Albion have flashing
lights accompanying the bell and/or moving message boards
that announce movement times. . . . Because Plaintiff
was unable to hear the audible announcements, he often
failed to move for meals or stand for count on time, which
resulted in disciplinary sanctions. Thus, Plaintiff asserts
that he was essentially ‘punished for his deafness.’ . . . This
claim falls within the ambit of Title II’s general prohibition
against discrimination on account of one’s disability, to
which Plaintiff’s allegations regarding the misconducts and
discipline he received as a result of his failure to respond to

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79

verbal orders are particularly relevant. Thus, Defendant’s
motion to dismiss such allegations will be denied.” (citations
omitted)).
328. 	 Robert B. Greifinger, Commentary: Disabled Prisoners
and ‘Reasonable Accommodation,’ 25 Crim. Justice Ethics
2 (2010), available at http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/
abs/10.1080/0731129X.2006.9992190?journalCode=rcre20#.
VxfRaNUrKUk (noting that prisoners “face an increased risk
of injury in difficult and dangerous prison environments”).
329. 	 See, e.g., Clarkson v. Coughlin, 898 F. Supp. 1019,
1030 (S.D.N.Y. 1995) (describing prisoner who was
disciplined for disobeying orders from corrections staff
that he did not understand); Shoshana Walter, Disabled
Prisoners’ Rights Scrutinized in California County Jails,
The Huffington Post (Oct. 8, 2012, 12:35 p.m.), http://
www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/08/disabled-prisonersrights_n_1948542.html (“At Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, an
inmate with 80 percent hearing loss was denied a hearing
aid and then disciplined for failing to listen to deputies’
directions.”).
330. 	 Survey Responses from Five Deaf Prisoners, supra
note 10, at 7.
331. 	 Id.
332. 	 Dave Mass, Hundreds of South Carolina Inmates
Sent to Solitary Confinement Over Facebook, Electronic
Frontier Found. (Feb. 12, 2015), available at https://www.
eff.org/deeplinks/2015/02/hundreds-south-carolina-inmatessent-solitary-confinement-over-facebook.
333. 	 Growing Up Locked Down, supra note 316, at 52.
334. 	 Conor Friedersdorf, The Persecution of Chelsea
Manning, The Atlantic (Aug. 13, 2015), http://www.
theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/08/the-ongoingpersecution-of-chelsea-manning/401195/.
335. 	 Only about 10 percent of deaf children are born to
deaf parents. Melissa Peck, Deaf Americans in the Criminal
Justice System: An Overview of the Issues, N.W. Mo. State
Univ. 1 (2014) (on file with author).
336. 	 Where a prisoner faces possible punishment involving
the loss of good time credits, the due process protections
provided in Wolff v. McDonnell apply. Wolff v. McDonnell,
418 U.S. 539, 563-72 (1974). Where the loss of good time
credits is not a potential punishment, due process protections
are only required where the punishment imposed amounts
to a deprivation of liberty that is an “atypical and significant
hardship . . . in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison
life.” Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 484 (1995); see also
Sims v. Artuz, 230 F.3d 14, 22 (2d Cir. 2000) (“A prisoner
asserting that he was denied due process in connection with
prison disciplinary hearings that resulted in segregative

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confinement or a loss of privileges must make a threshold
showing that the deprivation of which he complains imposed
an “atypical and significant hardship on [him] in relation
to the ordinary incidents of prison life.” (quoting Sandin v.
Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 484 (1995))).
Prisoners are not afforded the full range of rights in
disciplinary hearings that are provided in their criminal case.
Prison systems have some discretion in deciding what rights
will be given to prisoners during disciplinary hearings. Wolff,
418 U.S. at 556 (“Prison disciplinary proceedings are not part
of a criminal prosecution, and the full panoply of rights due
a defendant in such proceedings does not apply. . . . In sum,
there must be mutual accommodation between institutional
needs and objectives and the provisions of the Constitution
that are of general application.” (citations omitted)).
337. 	 Wolff, 418 U.S. at 564.
338. 	 Id.
339. 	 Id. at 566. Prisoners may call witnesses and present
documentary evidence where doing so “will not be unduly
hazardous to institutional safety or correctional goals.” Id.
There is no explicit right to confront and cross examine
witnesses in a disciplinary hearing. Id. at 567.
340. 	 Id. at 570.
341. 	 Hernandez Compl., supra note 213, ¶ 155 (alleging
that plaintiff was not provided with a sign language
interpreter during his disciplinary hearing).
342. 	 See, e.g., Langford Brief, supra note 123, at 12-13
(“[Montana State Prison] regularly fails to take the necessary
and appropriate steps to ensure effective communication
by disabled prisoners during classification and disciplinary
hearings in violation of the ADA.” (citation omitted)).
343. 	 See generally Clarkson, 898 F. Supp. 1019 at 1031
(describing prisoner who received 15 days in restrictive
housing after corrections officials at Attica Corrections
Facility failed to provide him with a sign language
interpreter); Duffy v. Riveland, 98 F.3d 447, 450-52 (9th Cir.
1996) (noting that no qualified sign language interpreter was
provided and that “[t]he disciplinary hearing ultimately went
forward without him, and he was sentenced to 15 days of
disciplinary segregation, with eight days of time served.”).
344. 	 Hernandez Compl., supra note 213, ¶ 174 (alleging
that plaintiff lost visitation, canteen, and recreation privileges
after he was charged with a disciplinary infraction, denied
a sign language interpreter in the disciplinary hearing, and,
subsequently, found guilty).
345. 	 See generally 1st Amend. Compl., Dunn v. Thomas,
Civil Action No. 2:14-cv-00601 (M.D. Al. July 25, 2014),
available at https://www.splcenter.org/sites/default/files/

d6_legacy_files/downloads/case/first_amended_complaint.
pdf [hereinafter Dunn Complaint]. Plaintiffs achieved an
historic settlement in this case wherein the Alabama DOC
agreed to comprehensive reforms that make sure prisoners
receive accommodations and services to which they are
entitled under the ADA. Press Release, Southern Poverty
Law Center, Alabama Agrees to Improve Conditions for
Inmates with Disabilities Following SPLC Lawsuit (Mar. 16,
2016), https://www.splcenter.org/news/2016/03/16/alabamaagrees-improve-conditions-inmates-disabilities-followingsplc-lawsuit.

under federal law).
359. 	 Human Rights Watch, U.S.: Senate Misses an
Opportunity on Disability Convention (Dec. 5, 2012, 11:11
a.m.), The World Post, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/
human-rights-watch/us-senate-misses-opportun_b_2244885.
html.
360. 	 Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities,
G.A. Res. 61/106, 76th plen. mtg., U.N. Doc A/RES/61/106
(Dec. 13, 2006), available at http://www.un.org/disabilities/
documents/convention/convoptprot-e.pdf.

349. 	 Id. ¶ 364.

361. 	 Id. at art. 15. Article 15 sets forth strict standards that
no persons shall “be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman
or degrading treatment or punishment[,]” and that Member
States adopt “measures to prevent people with disabilities, on
an equal basis with others, from being subjected to torture or
cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” Id.

350. 	 Id.

362. 	 Id. at art. 14(2).

351. 	 Id. ¶ 367.
352. 	 Id.

363. 	 Economic and Social Council Res. 2015/20 (Sept.
29, 2015), http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.
asp?symbol=E/RES/2015/20 [hereinafter Mandela Rules].

353. 	 Id.

364. 	 Nelson Mandela Rule 43(1).

354. 	 Letter from Bob Fossett, prisoner at Wallace Pack 1
Unit, to author 1 (June 22, 2016) (on file with author).

365. 	 Id. at Rule 44.

346. 	 Dunn Compl. ¶ 359.
347. 	 Id.
348. 	 Id.

355. 	 Wicomico Cnty. Compl. ¶ 2. The complaint also alleges
that defendants also “denied Mr. Muhammad a job that
would have shortened his time at the Detention Center and
excluded him from recreational activities because of his
blindness.” Id. ¶ 3. “In addition, the DOC refused to provide
Mr. Muhammad with a slate and stylus that would have
allowed him to write independently in Braille and it failed to
make the modifications necessary to provide Mr. Muhammad
with access to its law library.” Id.
356. 	 28 C.F.R. § 35.152(b).
357. 	 See, e.g., Armstrong v. Brown, 103 F. Supp. 3d 1070,
1072 (N.D. Cal. 2015); Trevino, 2015 WL 300267, *1.
In 2015, the judge in Armstrong found that the California
Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation had placed
persons with mobility disabilities into administrative
segregation for extended periods of time due to a lack of
accessible housing—in direct violation of the court’s prior
orders. Armstrong, 103 F. Supp. 3d 1070 at 1072.
358. 	 The United States has not signed the Convention and
so the guidelines contained there are not binding. Treaties
negotiated by the Executive Branch must be approved by the
Senate by a two-thirds vote. U.S. Constit. art. II, sec. 2, cl.
2; see also Medellin v. Texas, 552 U.S. 491, 504-05 (2008)
(noting that not all international law obligations are binding

366. 	 Id.
367. 	 Id. at Rule 45.
368. 	 Rule 45 states that “[t]he imposition of solitary
confinement should be prohibited in the case of prisoners
with mental or physical disabilities when their conditions
would be exacerbated by such measures.” Rule 45(2).
369. 	 Mandela Rule 46(3) (“Health-care personnel shall
have the authority to review and recommend changes to the
involuntary separation of a prisoner in order to ensure that
such separation does not exacerbate the medical condition or
mental or physical disability of the prisoner.”).
370. 	 This Rule states that “[p]risoners with sensory
disabilities should be provided with information in a
manner appropriate to their needs[,]” and that “[t]he prison
administration shall prominently display summaries of the
information in common areas of the prison.” Mandela Rule
55.
371. 	 See supra note 11.
372. 	 Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 296-97 (1991) (internal
quotation marks omitted). Prisoners who seek to show an
Eighth Amendment violation must show both an objectively
serious harm and demonstrate that prison officials had
knowledge of the serious harm and intentionally disregarded
the risk of harm. Specifically, prisoners must show deliberate

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374. 	 Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153, 173 (1976).

1995) (finding that the California Department of Corrections
and Rehabilitation was in violation of the Eighth Amendment
due to systemwide failure to provide adequate mental health
care, and due to the deliberate indifference of prison officials
to the needs of prisoners with mental illness); Madrid v.
Gomez, 889 F. Supp. 1146, 1265-66 (N.D. Cal. 1995)
(holding keeping prisoners with mental illness or those at a
high risk for suffering injury to mental health in Pelican Bay
isolation unit unconstitutional); Casey, 834 F. Supp. at 154950 (condemning placement and retention of prisoners with
mental illness on lockdown; H.B. v. Lewis, 803 F. Supp. 246,
257 (D. Ariz. 1992) (finding Eighth Amendment violation in
part because of the lack of an adequate system for referring
prisoners with behavioral problems to psychiatric staff);
Langley v. Coughlin, 715 F. Supp. 522, 540 (S.D.N.Y. 1988)
(holding that evidence of prison officials’ failure to screen
out from SHU “those individuals who, by virtue of their
mental condition, are likely to be severely and adversely
affected by placement there” states an Eighth Amendment
claim).

375. 	 Rummel v. Estelle, 445 U.S. 263, 271 (1980).

381. 	 Madrid, 889 F. Supp. at 1266.

376. 	 Estelle, 429 U.S. at 103-04.

382. 	 Id. at 1267.

377. 	 Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1981).

383. 	 The ADA was not the first federal disability rights law.
Congress passed the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to protect
persons with physical disabilities from discrimination in
federal programs and any other programs receiving federal
funding, including state and local governments. See, e.g.,
U.S. Mem. of Law as Amicus Curiae on Issues Under the
Americans With Disabilities Act & Rehabilitation Act That
are Likely to Arise on Summ. J. or at Trial at 3 n.4, Miller
v. Smith, Civ. Action No. 6:98-cv-109-JEG (S.D. Ga. Jun.
21, 2010), available at https://www.ada.gov/briefs/miller_
amicus.doc [hereinafter Miller Amicus Brief]. In addition,
the law protects people with disabilities from discrimination
by federal employers, including those entities that contract
with the federal government. Specifically, the Rehabilitation
Act provides that “[n]o otherwise qualified individual with a
disability” may because of their disability “be excluded from
the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected
to discrimination” by “any program or activity receiving
Federal financial assistance or under any program or activity
conducted by any Executive agency or by the United States
Postal Service.” 29 U.S.C. § 794(a). The Rehabilitation
Act was an important precursor to the Americans with
Disabilities Act, providing a “regulatory foundation” and
“enabl[ing] the ADA to withstand Congressional scrutiny.”
Equality of Opportunity: The Making of the Americans
with Disabilities Act, The National Council on Disability
xvii (2010), available at http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/
ED512697.pdf [hereinafter Equality of Opportunity].

indifference on the part of corrections officials to “a
substantial risk of serious harm[.]” Farmer v. Brennan, 511
U.S. 825, 828 (1994); accord Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97,
106 (1976) (holding that deliberate indifference to prisoner’s
serious medical needs constitutes cruel and unusual
punishment). In Farmer v. Brennan, the Supreme Court held
that deliberate indifference meant that the “[prison] official
knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or
safety . . . [and] the official . . . [is] aware of facts from which
the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious
harm exists, and . . . draw[s] the inference.” Farmer, 511 U.S.
at 837.
Prior to conviction, persons who are held pending trial may
seek relief under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S.
Constitution. See generally Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520
(1979).
373. 	 In re Kemmler, 136 U.S. 436, 933 (1890).

378. 	 Id.
379. 	 “The [Eighth] Amendment . . . imposes duties on
these officials, who must provide humane conditions of
confinement; prison officials must ensure that inmates
receive adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care,
and must “take reasonable measures to guarantee the safety
of the inmates[.]” Farmer, 511 U.S. at 832.
380. 	 See, e.g., T.R. et al. v. South Carolina Dep’t of
Corrections, C/A No. 2005-CP-40-2925 (S.C. Ct. Comm.
Pleas 5th J. Cir. Jan. 8, 2014) (finding major deficiencies
in the DOC’s treatment of prisoners with mental illness,
including solitary confinement, and ordering defendants to
submit a remedial plan); Ind. Protect. & Advocacy Servs.
Comm’n v. Comm’r, 2012 WL 6738517 (S.D. Ind., Dec.
31, 2012) (holding that the Indiana DOC’s practice of
placing prisoners with serious mental illness in segregation
constituted cruel and unusual treatment in violation of the
Eighth Amendment); Jones ’El v. Berge, 164 F. Supp. 2d
1096, 1101-02 (W.D. Wis. 2001) (granting a preliminary
injunction requiring the removal of prisoners with serious
mental illness from “supermax” custody); Ruiz v. Johnson,
37 F. Supp. 2d 855, 915 (S.D. Tex. 1999), rev’d on other
grounds, 243 F.3d 941 (5th Cir. 2001), adhered to on remand,
154 F. Supp. 2d 975 (S.D. Tex. 2001) (“Conditions in
TDCJ-ID’s administrative segregation units clearly violate
constitutional standards when imposed on the subgroup
of the plaintiffs’ class made up of mentally-ill prisoners”);
Coleman v. Wilson, 912 F. Supp. 1282, 1320-21 (E.D. Cal.

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In substance, the Rehabilitation Act and the ADA are similar
and effectively provide the same legal protections for people

with disabilities. The ADA states that the related federal
regulations, which implement the statute’s requirements,
do not apply a “lesser standard” than the protections under
the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. 42 U.S.C.A. § 12201 (West
2016) (“Except as otherwise provided in this chapter, nothing
in this chapter shall be construed to apply a lesser standard
than the standards applied under title V of the Rehabilitation
Act of 1973 (29 U.S.C. 790 et seq.) or the regulations issued
by Federal agencies pursuant to such title.”). In other words,
protections under the ADA must be as comprehensive as
those afforded to persons with physical disabilities under
the Rehabilitation Act. See Elaine Gardner, The Legal
Rights of Inmates with Physical Disabilities, 14 St. Louis
U. Pub. L. Rev. 175, 192 (1994) (“Because Title II of the
ADA essentially extends the antidiscrimination prohibition
embodied in Section 504 to all actions of State and local
governments, the standards adopted in this part are generally
the same as those required under Section 504 for federally
assisted programs.” (internal quotation marks omitted)).
384. 	 Equality of Opportunity, supra note 383, at xvii.
385. 	 Brief Amicus Curiae of the Nat’l Council on Disability
in Support of Respondents, Garrett v. Board of Trustees
Univ. of Ala., 531 U.S. 356 (2001) (No. 99-1240) (2000),
available at http://www.ncd.gov/publications/2000/Aug2000
[hereinafter NCD Amicus Brief] (discussing support for
findings regarding “nature and extent of discrimination”).
386. 	 Congress collected extensive evidence of societal
discrimination against people with disabilities. See NCD
Amicus Brief ¶ I(B).
387. 	 “The term ‘qualified individual with a disability’
means an individual with a disability who, with or without
reasonable modifications to rules, policies, or practices, the
removal of architectural, communication, or transportation
barriers, or the provision of auxiliary aids and services,
meets the essential eligibility requirements for the receipt
of services or the participation in programs or activities
provided by a public entity.” 42 U.S.C.A. § 12131(2) (West
2016).
388. 	 42 U.S.C.A. § 12132 (West 2016).
389. 	 Under the ADA,

life activities include, but are not limited to, caring
for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing,
hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting,
bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading,
concentrating, thinking, communicating, and
working.” Id. ¶ 2(a). “[A] major life activity also
includes the operation of a major bodily function,
including but not limited to, functions of the
immune system, normal cell growth, digestive,
bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory,
circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions.”
Id. ¶ 2(b).
390. 	 42 U.S.C.A. § 12132 (West 2016); Randolph v.
Rodgers, 170 F.3d 850, 858 (8th Cir. 1999). For claims
brought under the Rehabilitative Act, plaintiffs must also
show that the “program or activity from which he is excluded
receives federal financial assistance.” Id.
391. 	 524 U.S. 206, 210 (1998) (“Modern prisons provide
inmates with many recreational ‘activities,’ medical
‘services,’ and educational and vocational ‘programs,’ all of
which at least theoretically ‘benefit’ the prisoners[.]”).
392. 	 28 C.F.R. § 35.130(b)(7).
393. 	 The Americans with Disabilities Act in Jail &
Prison, Equip for Equality 3 (Apr. 5, 2016), http://www.
equipforequality.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/PrisonerRights-Under-the-ADA.pdf.
394. 	 A modification or accommodation is reasonable if it
does not fundamentally alter a program, service, or activity,
or result in an undue burden. See infra Part VII.C.3 (“Limits
to the ADA”).
395. 	 Effective Communication, U.S. Dep’t of Justice, Civil
Rights Div., Disability Rights Section 6 (2014), http://www.
ada.gov/effective-comm.pdf [hereinafter ADA Requirements:
Effective Communication].
396. 	 28 C.F.R. § 35.160 (a)(1) (“A public entity shall
take appropriate steps to ensure that communications
with applicants, participants, members of the public,
and companions with disabilities are as effective as
communications with others.”).

The term “disability” means, with respect to an
individual—

397. 	 See generally ADA Requirements: Effective
Communication, supra note 395.

(A) a physical or mental impairment that
substantially limits one or more major life
activities of such individual;

398. 	 ADA Requirements: Effective Communication, U.S.
Dep’t of Justice, Civil Rights Div. Disability Rights
Section (2014), https://www.ada.gov/effective-comm.htm.

(B) a record of such an impairment; or

399. 	 Id. The Department of Justice also advises public
entities that

(C) being regarded as having such an impairment[.]
42 U.S.C.A. § 12102 (1) (West 2016). “[M]ajor

[I]n determining whether a particular aid or
service would result in undue financial and

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83

administrative burdens, a title II entity should take
into consideration the cost of the particular aid or
service in light of all resources available to fund
the program, service, or activity and the effect on
other expenses or operations. The decision that a
particular aid or service would result in an undue
burden must be made by a high level official, no
lower than a Department head, and must include a
written statement of the reasons for reaching that
conclusion.
Id.
400. 	 See generally Gilmore v. Hodges, 738 F.3d 266 (11th
Cir. 2013) (challenging failure to provide batteries for
hearing aids); see also Press Release, Am. Civ. Liberties
Union, ACLU Sues On Behalf of Prisoner at Lake Erie
Correctional Who Was Denied Hearing Aid (Apr. 7, 2016),
available at http://www.acluohio.org/archives/press-releases/
aclu-sues-on-behalf-of-prisoner-at-lake-erie-correctionalwho-was-denied-hearing-aid.
401. 	 28 C.F.R. § 35.104.
402. 	 See, e.g., Armstrong v. Brown, 857 F. Supp. 2d 919,
933 (N.D. Cal. 2012) (“Reliance on other prisoners for
access to basic services, such as food, mail, showers and
toilets by prisoners with disabilities leaves them vulnerable
to exploitation and is a dangerous correctional practice.”);
Pressure Mounts for Oregon to Use “Qualified” Interpreters
for Deaf Inmates, Or. Public Broadcasting (Sept. 22,
2014), www.opb.org/radio/programs/thinkoutloud/segment/
pressure-mounts-for-oregon-to-use-qualified-interpreters-fordeaf-inmates/ (Interview with Talila A. Lewis, Founder and
Executive Director, HEARD).
403. 	 Video remote interpreting (VRI) uses
“videoconferencing technology, equipment, and a high speed
Internet connection with sufficient bandwidth to provide
the services of a qualified interpreter, usually located at a
call center, to people at a different location.” Video Remote
Interpreting, Nat’l Ass’n of the Deaf, https://nad.org/
issues/technology/vri (last visited Oct. 18, 2016). A public
entity that chooses to provide qualified interpreters via VRI
services shall ensure that it provides—
(1) Real-time, full-motion video and audio over
a dedicated high-speed, wide-bandwidth video
connection or wireless connection that delivers
high-quality video images that do not produce
lags, choppy, blurry, or grainy images, or irregular
pauses in communication;
(2) A sharply delineated image that is large
enough to display the interpreter’s face, arms,
hands, and fingers, and the participating
individual’s face, arms, hands, and fingers,

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regardless of his or her body position;
(3) A clear, audible transmission of voices; and
(4) Adequate training to users of the technology
and other involved individuals so that they may
quickly and efficiently set up and operate the VRI.
28 C.F.R. § 35.160(d).
404. 	 Randolph, 170 F.3d at 858.
405. 	 42 U.S.C.A. § 12111(A) (West 2016). Prison officials
have the burden of proving in court that the requested
accommodation would fundamentally alter the nature of
the service, program, or activity. 28 C.F.R. § 35.130(b)
(7). Courts have adopted a list of factors to consider in
determining whether an accommodation is reasonable or
unduly burdensome. One court discussed the fact-intensive
inquiry as follows:
Whether a requested accommodation is
reasonable is highly fact-specific, and determined
on a case-by-case basis by balancing the cost
to the defendant and the benefit to the plaintiff.
Whether the requested accommodation is
necessary requires a showing that the desired
accommodation will affirmatively enhance a
disabled plaintiff’s quality of life by ameliorating
the effects of the disability. The overall focus
should be on whether waiver of the rule in the
particular case at hand would be so at odds with
the purposes behind the rule that it would be a
fundamental and unreasonable change.
Dadian v. Village of Wilmette, 269 F.3d 831, 838–39 (7th
Cir. 2001) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).
In general, determining whether a particular accommodation
that is requested by a prisoner is reasonable requires caseby-case analysis into the prisoner’s disability, the specific
accommodation requested, and its benefits to the prisoner,
as well as the institutional interests (e.g., cost, security,
administration, etc.).
406. 	 28 C.F.R. § 35.104(4).
407. 	 Id. § 35.130(h).
408. 	 See, e.g., Wheeler v. Tinsman, No. 2:11-CV-02002,
2014 WL 1053738, at *2 (W.D. Ark. Mar. 18, 2014).
409. 	 42 U.S.C.A. § 1997e (a) (West 2016) (“No action shall
be brought with respect to prison conditions under section
1983 of this title, or any other Federal law, by a prisoner
confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility
until such administrative remedies as are available are
exhausted.”).
410. 	 See, e.g., No Equal Justice: The Prison Litigation

Reform Act in the United States, Human Rights Watch
16-17 (2009), available at https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/
files/reports/us0609web.pdf (describing attempts by prisoners
to establish good cause for failing to exhaust grievance
procedures that have been rejected by courts).
411. 	 P&A/CAP Network, Nat’l Disability Rights Network,
http://www.ndrn.org/about/paacap-network.html (last visited
Oct. 18, 2016).
412. 	 42 U.S.C.A. §§ 10805(a)(4), 15043(a)(2)(I) (West
2016).
413. 	 42 U.S.C.A. §§ 10805(a)(1), 15043(a)(2)(A)-(B) (West
2016).
414. 	 Making Hard Time Harder, supra note 187, at 16-17,
18.

420. 	 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design, U.S. Dep’t
of Justice (Sept. 15, 2010), available at https://www.ada.
gov/regs2010/2010ADAStandards/2010ADAstandards.htm
[hereinafter 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design]
421. 	 ABA Standards for Criminal Justice (Third Edition)
Treatment of Prisoners, Rule 23.2.9, available at http://
www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/publications/
criminal_justice_standards/Treatment_of_Prisoners.
authcheckdam.pdf [hereinafter ABA Standards].
422. 	 Id.
423. 	 Placement into solitary confinement should last no
longer than 15 days. See, e.g., Nelson Mandela Rule 44
(“Prolonged solitary confinement shall refer to solitary
confinement for a time period in excess of 15 consecutive
days.”).

415. 	 See, e.g., Cal. Civ. Code § 51 (West 2016); La. Stat.
Ann. § 46:2254 (West 2016); Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. ch. 93,
§ 103 (West 2016).

424. 	 ABA Standards Rule 23.2.9.

416. 	 Am. Civ. Liberties Union, The Dangerous Overuse of
Solitary Confinement 9 (2014), available at https://www.
aclu.org/sites/default/files/assets/stop_solitary_briefing_
paper_updated_august_2014.pdf (“A 2006 study found
that opening a supermax prison had no effect on prisoner
on prisoner violence in Arizona, Illinois and Minnesota.
The same study found that creating a supermax had only
limited impact on prisoner on staff violence in Illinois, none
in Minnesota and actually increased violence in Arizona.
Moreover, limiting the use of solitary confinement has been
shown to decrease violence in prison. A reduction in the
number of prisoners in segregation in Michigan has resulted
in a decline in violence and other misconduct. Similarly,
Mississippi saw a 70 percent reduction in violence levels
when it closed an entire solitary confinement unit.”); see
also Legislative Program Review and Investigations
Comm, Recidivism in Connecticut 41-42 (2001), available
at http://www.ct.gov/opm/lib/opm/cjppd/cjresearch/
recidivismstudy/2001recidivisminconnecticut.pdf
(discussing recidivism rates of prisoners who spent time in
administrative or disciplinary segregation).

426. 	 ABA Standards Rule 23-2.9.

425. 	 Mandela Rule 45(2).
427. 	 Id.
428. 	 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design, supra note
420.
429. 	 The author is indebted to Miranda Tait for her ideas on
this policy formulation.

417. 	 These guiding principles are in no way limited to
persons with physical disabilities, but should apply generally
to all prisoners.
418. 	 DOJ Report & Recommendations, supra note 17, at 14,
46, 59-62, 86-87, 102, 106.
419. 	 For guidance on what should be included in a selfevaluation plan, see The Americans with Disabilities Act:
Title II Technical Assistance Manual, U.S. Dep’t of Justice,
Civil Rights Div., available at https://www.ada.gov/taman2.
html (last visited Oct. 18, 2016).

CAGED IN: SOLITARY CONFINEMENT’S DEVASTATING HARM ON PRISONERS WITH PHYSICAL DISABILITIES

85

 

 

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