ARIZONA NEWS

DOJ finds Arizona prison system violated rights of people with visual disabilities

Jul 20, 2023, 7:50 AM

United States Department of Justice...

The Justice Department in Washington, Friday, Nov. 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

PHOENIX — The Arizona prison system was found to have discriminated against inmates with vision disabilities, the U.S. Department of Justice announced Wednesday.

The determination was the result of a Justice Department investigation into violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act by the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry.

The DOJ detailed its findings in a letter to the state corrections department following an investigation of multiple complaints by incarcerated individuals.

“We hope to work cooperatively with you to resolve the Department’s findings. If ADCRR declines to enter into voluntary compliance negotiations, or if our negotiations are unsuccessful, the United States may take appropriate action, including initiating a lawsuit,” the letter says.

Arizona Corrections Director Ryan Thornell, who was appointed to his position by Gov. Katie Hobbs in January, said his adminisration was unaware of the investigation until earlier this month.

He said he’s reviewing the letter and is committed to complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“I take these findings and conclusions seriously and will take any and all actions necessary to ensure compliance with the act moving forward,” he said in a statement.

How did Arizona prison system violate disability rights?

ADCRR violated and continued to violate Title II, which protects qualified individuals with disabilities from discrimination on the basis of disability in services, programs and activities provided by state and local government entities, according to the letter.

The DOJ said the state prison system violated the ADA in three ways.

  • Failing to reasonably modify policies or provide auxiliary aids and services like Brailled materials and displays, audio recordings and screen reader software to ensure incarcerated people with disabilities could communicate effectively.
  • Failing to provide accessible processes for people with vision disabilities to request accommodations or file disability-related complaints.
  • Denying inmates with vision disabilities an equal opportunity to participate in and benefit from its services, programs and activities.

The investigation was handled by the DOJ Civil Rights Division’s Disability Rights Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona.

Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Civil Rights Division said people with disabilities do not surrender their civil rights at the prison gate.

“The Justice Department is committed to ensuring that people with disabilities held in jails and prisons, including those with vision impairments, have an equal opportunity to participate in and benefit from prison programs and to work towards rehabilitation,” Clarke said in a press release.

“Ensuring that our jails and prisons are accessible for people with disabilities is part of our overall work to address the conditions of confinement in our country.”

DOJ gives details on how to address the issue

In the letter, the Justice Department provided ADCRR with its findings and detailed the following minimum remedial measures to protect people with disabilities:

  • Adopt, revise and implement relevant policies, practices and procedures to ensure ADCRR provides people with vision disabilities with effective communication and equal opportunity to participate in and benefit from department services, programs and activities.
  • Reasonably modify ADCRR policies, practices and procedures to ensure people with vision disabilities have equal access to services, programs and activities.
  • Train all employees on and ensure they comply with the requirements of Title II, its implementing regulation and ADCRR’s non-discrimination policies.
  • Designate and train employees to coordinate ADCRR’s overall efforts to comply with Title II, and employees at each ADCRR facility to coordinate that facility’s ADA compliance efforts. Staff responsibilities include coordinating appropriate and timely responses to disability-related requests and investigating and resolving ADA complaints and grievances.
  • Provide the U.S. with written status reports and information including access to facilities and files, delineating all steps taken to comply with the requirements, including dates on which each step was taken and information sufficient to demonstrate compliance.

Arizona corrections director responds to DOJ investigation

Here is state Corrections Director Thornell’s full statement in response to the Justice Department investigation:

On July 7, 2023, U.S. Department of Justice staff notified ADCRR that it had completed its nearly 2.5-year investigation into complaints from incarcerated persons with vision disabilities. This was the first time my administration was made aware of this investigation occurring. On July 19, 2023, the U.S. D.O.J. Civil Division staff met with and notified ADCRR of its conclusion that certain ADCRR policies and practices were found to not be in compliance with Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. During that meeting, I expressed the Department’s commitment to review and comply with necessary actions and to work diligently to address the outlined concerns. Following the July 19 meeting, the U.S. D.O.J. Civil Division staff provided ADCRR with a letter detailing the findings and conclusions about the non-compliance that occurred under the past administration at ADCRR.

I am currently reviewing the letter and the results of the investigation, and have communicated to the U.S.D.O.J. our agency’s commitment to ensure all current ADCRR policies and practices are in full compliance with the Act. I take these findings and conclusions seriously and will take any and all actions necessary to ensure compliance with the Act moving forward.

Since I assumed my role as Director in January 2023, I have implemented a bold, new vision to rebuild the Department that places heavy emphasis on the health and well-being of each individual in our custody or on community supervision. In addition, I have been reviewing and updating our policies, many of which stem from the last ADCRR administration, to improve the overall care and services available to our population.

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Pass it along to the KTAR News team here.

Arizona News

Seven-year-old Israel Maldonado was last seen in Phoenix on April 17, 2024, with his father. (Arizo...

KTAR.com

Police looking for boy last seen with father, who allegedly assaulted child’s mother in Phoenix

Authorities are searching for a 7-year-old boy who was last seen with his father Wednesday after the man allegedly assaulted the child's mother.

60 minutes ago

Split image with a band playing in front of a Mesa mural on the left and an aerial view of the Mesa...

Kevin Stone

7th annual Mesa Music Festival gives emerging artists their turn in spotlight

Dozens of emerging musical artists will show off their chops this week during the seventh annual Mesa Music Festival.

3 hours ago

The Arizona Department of Transportation asked the public for input on Wednesday. (File photo by Da...

KTAR.com

ADOT seeking public input to update Arizona’s highway safety strategic plans

The Arizona Department of Transportation wants the public to share their thoughts on the future of the state's highways.

3 hours ago

Fans participate in the NCAA Men's Final Four Dribble at Fan Fest on April 7, 2024 in Phoenix, Ariz...

Damon Allred

Phoenix’s Final Four Fan Fest achieves Zero Waste mark

Final Four Fan Fest was a success at the Phoenix Convention Center, as it reached a Zero Waste mark determined by waste diversion.

3 hours ago

Ernie the tamandua is the Phoenix Zoo's newest animal...

KTAR.com

Phoenix Zoo welcomes newest resident, a tamandua named Ernie

The Phoenix Zoo invited the public to come and visit its newest resident, a young tamandua named Ernie, in a Wednesday announcement.

3 hours ago

Phoenix was awarded a $1.2 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration. (Valley Metro Pho...

KTAR.com

Phoenix receives $1.2 million grant to help with transportation development projects

Phoenix has received a $1.2 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration intended for projects that boost transportation options and access in the city.

11 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...

COLLINS COMFORT MASTERS

Here are 5 things Arizona residents need to know about their HVAC system

It's warming back up in the Valley, which means it's time to think about your air conditioning system's preparedness for summer.

...

Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Day & Night is looking for the oldest AC in the Valley

Does your air conditioner make weird noises or a burning smell when it starts? If so, you may be due for an AC unit replacement.

...

Collins Comfort Masters

Avoid a potential emergency and get your home’s heating and furnace safety checked

With the weather getting colder throughout the Valley, the best time to make sure your heating is all up to date is now. 

DOJ finds Arizona prison system violated rights of people with visual disabilities