BEYOND BARS: Pattern of Discrimination Against Disabled Individuals

Hunter Lee Weeks, Paralegal
Sterling, CO

In an attempt by several incarcerated individuals to regain rights they have lost, a pattern of discrimination has emerged, perpetrated by the Colorado Department of Corrections (DOC) at Sterling Correctional Facility (SCF). Several inmates have filed a Title II complaint with the Department of Justice (DOJ) alleging various instances of discriminatory conduct. The ADA specifically prohibits discrimination, stating “No qualified individual with a disability shall, on the basis of disability, be excluded from participation in, or denied the benefits of the services, programs or activities of a public entity” (28 C.F.R. § 35.130 [a]). However, even with this provision in place, the Therapeutic Community (TC) at SCF has made it a common practice to remove individuals with a disability, classify them as “non-program-compliant,” and then refuse them earned time (the benefit) because of that “non-compliance.” This is not a new issue; it is, however, a growing issue. “In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court… stated explicitly that the ADA covers the operations of State prisons” (Pennsylvania DOC  v. Yeskey, 524 US 206 [1998]).

At SCF, disabilities ranging from PTSD to schizoaffective disorder, their side-effects and treatments, have been used as reasons to remove several qualifying individuals from TC. Calls for action and responsibility have led nowhere, as even the Director of TC, Dave Boothe, refuses to remedy this glaring issue within his program. Administrators such as Major Wilson, Mr. Blakely, and Warden Chapdelaine state they acknowledge the problem, but that they are incapable of intervening because, “Drug and Alcohol is a separate entity.” How true that is remains questionable, as Colorado DOC retains the ultimate control over all its contracted operations in that it can dismiss anyone (individual, corporate, or otherwise) that fails to follow, and even breaks, the law (U-tab contract through Union Supply canceled in 2015).

This problem cannot continue unabated; its growth is an abuse by the very system set in place to ensure rehabilitation and successful re-integration into the community, a system that must follow the law like everyone else. That law says, in no uncertain terms, discrimination will not be tolerated.

Important to note is that when I attempted to get a copy of the accreditation audit for 2015, utilizing the State’s Freedom of Information laws (Color, Rev. Stat. Ann §§24-72-201 to 41-72-206 [West 2013], JHLM, 10th Ed. [Rep., Ch. 7, Winter 2015]), I was denied entirely, with the statutory excuse that the Executive Director may decide what documents inmates can receive. No signature from Executive Director Rick Raemisch was attached. Finally, the lawsuits I mentioned previously in “Prisoner Paralegals: Is the ADA Enforceable?” (Guild Notes, Vol. XLII 2/3, Summer/Fall 2016) are inclusive of retaliation for helping disabled individuals enforce their rights. This pattern of discrimination, then, clearly extends to anyone even assisting others in utilizing their Federal statutory rights ([15 CV 02551-CMA-KMT D. Colo. 2015] Weeks v. Claussen, et. al.)

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