DOJ, San Luis Obispo County Jail Reach Settlement over Americans with Disabilities Act Violations

By Hetva Joshi, Savannah Dewberry, Jeramie Gutierrez

SAN LUIS OBISPO, CA— The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) this week detailed the agreement reached with San Luis Obispo County (SLO) Jail after its failure to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The DOJ opened an investigation into the SLO Jail after a former inmate with a mobility disability alleged that he was not provided with an accessible cell or shower, which resulted in him falling repeatedly and breaking his leg.

The same inmate also maintained that the SLO jail kept him from certain recreational activities and programs due to his disability, isolating him from other inmates.

The ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities, including with regards to access to such local government programs and services.

“People with mobility disabilities are entitled to have access to cells and showers they can safely use while incarcerated,” said Acting U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California Tracy L. Wilkison.

The settlement was reached after the DOJ’s investigation found deep flaws in SLO Jail’s compliance with the ADA. Primarily, the agreement requires that SLO Jail make architectural changes which allow inmates with disabilities to better access wheelchairs, holding cells, and visitation rooms.

The SLO Jail also committed to training staff on the ADA, designating an ADA coordinator, and implementing an ADA complaint procedure. A payment of $175,000 will be made to the complainant in compensation for his pain and suffering.

Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Civil Rights Division said that the agreement was important to maintaining equality in prisons.

“Compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act ensures that inmates with disabilities have equal access to basic necessities, such as showers and sleeping areas, and to all activities that are offered to inmates without disabilities,” she said in the statement released by the DoJ.

Complaints regarding the lack of sufficient medical care at SLO Jail are not new.

In 2017, SLO inmate Andrew Holland died of a pulmonary embolism after being placed in an isolation cell for 10 days and then in a chair restraint for 46 hours. Though a court had explicitly ordered that proper psychiatric treatment be administered to treat his schizophrenia, the jail failed to administer the appropriate medication.

Later that year, inmate Kevin McLaughlin died of a heart attack after a lapse in SLO jail’s medical care even after he clarified that he needed to go to the hospital.

The settlement points to a broader need for jails to reform.

In a 2012 national study, the Bureau of Justice Statistics wrote that 40 percent of jail inmates report having at least one disability, making them four times as likely to have a disability compared to the general population.

Jails nationwide have failed to provide equal and sufficient treatment, despite the prevalence of disabilities. Multiple other jails, including the Santa Rita Jail, Donovan Correctional Facility, and Shasta County Jail, have been involved in similar violations.

Hetva is a senior at Henry M. Gunn High School in Palo Alto, California. She aspires to use her voice to advocate for justice in the legal and business fields.

Savannah Dewberry is a student at the University of San Francisco. She is pursuing a Media Studies major with a minor in Journalism. Savannah Dewberry is an East Bay native and currently lives in San Francisco.

Jeramie Gutierrez is a fourth year French Studies major and Legal Studies and Sociology minor at the University of San Francisco with a growing interest in law.

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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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