Badge_of_the_Sheriff_of_Los_Angeles_County,_CaliforniaLos Angeles County inmates with mobility impairments will see much greater access to jail facilities now that there’s a settlement of a six-year old class action lawsuit with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

“The suit is groundbreaking because it extends the protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act to individuals with disabilities in custodial settings,” said Kathryn Tucker, executive director of Disability Rights Legal Center.

In 2008, the ACLU, Disability Rights California, Disability Rights Legal Center, and the law firm of Winston & Strawn filed suit against the sheriff’s department on behalf of inmates who were unable to access cells, bathrooms, showers and other facilities. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors settled the suit in October after being in mediation for the past three years.

The lawsuit provides important improvements for wheelchair using inmates. It provides access to educational and vocational programs, access to physical therapy services and a system for processing disability-related complaints through an ADA coordinator. Accessible housing will be constructed in the Twin Towers Correctional Facility along with the modification of several showers and toilets throughout the jail.

Inmates surrender their personal wheelchairs during their sentence and they are given jail issued chairs. When there weren’t enough wheelchairs, inmates were ordered out of theirs to provide it to others. Many of these wheelchairs were in poor working condition. The settlement requires all wheelchairs to be well maintained with functioning brakes.

Jessica Price, an attorney with the ACLU of Southern California, praised the significance of the settlement. “The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department has come a long way, but this settlement is just the beginning,” she says. “The agreement provides the plaintiffs a mechanism for court intervention if there are any violations.”