November 10, 2021, TALLAHASSEE
Disability Rights Florida, the state’s designated Protection and Advocacy system for individuals with disabilities, has reached a settlement with the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) requiring the FDOC to improve its treatment of incarcerated people with physical disabilities. The settlement resolves a lawsuit, brought with the assistance of attorneys from the Florida Justice Institute and Morgan & Morgan, P.A., which accused the FDOC of breaching a 2017 agreement that required FDOC to make significant changes to its programs, services, and activities to ensure they were accessible to people with disabilities. The settlement requires the FDOC to come into compliance with many of those provisions, while adding additional requirements.
“This agreement ensures that the thousands of people with physical disabilities incarcerated in Florida’s prisons will receive better access to facilities, programing, communication, and other activities while in prison,” said Dante P. Trevisani, Executive Director of the Florida Justice Institute. “Helping ensure that people can live with dignity and independence is a benefit for the entire community.”
The 39-page Settlement Agreement requires the FDOC to identify, track, and continuously evaluate individuals with disabilities; locate such individuals in accessible facilities and expand such facilities; ensure equal access to work, educational, and vocational programming; provide trained assistants; provide videophones, qualified sign language interpreters, Captioned Telephones, teletypewriters (TTYs), and visual alert systems; provide access to the Talking Book Program; and provide wheelchairs. It also requires the FDOC to make significant long-term architectural changes at dozens of facilities, including paving recreational tracks, to ensure they are accessible to people with disabilities. Finally, the Agreement requires that a monitor inspect FDOC facilities to determine whether they are in compliance.
“The laws guaranteeing equal access are there to ensure that the dignity and independence of people with disabilities are respected regardless of the setting,” said Peter Sleasman, Executive Director of Disability Rights Florida. “When those laws are not followed, not only do they result in a lack of access, but people with disabilities are put at daily risk with little opportunity to gain the skills or training necessary to contribute as productive citizens once their sentence has ended. Our organization is seeking through this Settlement Agreement to enforce those principles for the incarcerated people with disabilities of Florida.”
Disability Rights Florida and its attorneys have been monitoring compliance with the original settlement agreement since 2017, and in the process have reviewed thousands of pages of records and spoken to hundreds of incarcerated people about their mistreatment.
“This agreement could not have been possible without the vital assistance provided by the incarcerated people with disabilities who shared their stories.” said Sharon Caserta, attorney with Morgan and Morgan’s Deaf/Disability Rights Unit. “With this established framework, people with disabilities will have their rights respected in prison and have the opportunity to live in dignity regardless of their situation.”
Disability Rights Florida is represented by attorneys Dante P. Trevisani and Erica A. Selig from the Florida Justice Institute; Curtis Filaroski and Molly Paris from Disability Rights Florida; and Sharon Caserta from Morgan and Morgan, P.A. Deaf/Disability Rights Unit.
The case is Disability Rights Florida v. Florida Department of Corrections, Case No. 2019-CA-2825 in the Second Judicial Circuit in and for Leon County, Florida, before Judge Angela Dempsey.