A settlement agreement has been reached after five months of mediation between inmates in Florida and the legal team representing them versus the Florida Department of Corrections.
The FDC and the state faced accusations of discrimination against blind, deaf or wheelchair bound inmates in the lawsuit.
More specifically, the lawsuit was filed by Disability Rights Florida accused the state of violating the American with Disabilities Act in Florida prisons because the more than 30 inmates represented in the lawsuit claimed they were unable to access certain programs offered to other inmates.
The lawsuit included complaints from deaf inmates who claimed they missed announcements over speaker systems or orders from correctional officers because there were no translators available. They also claim American Sign Language interpreters were unavailable during medical appointments.
The state was said to have failed to maintain and/or provide wheelchairs for inmates. In cases where wheelchairs were available, inmates were still denied full access to services or the ability to get to specific locations in certain prisons because the facilities were not ADA compliant.
Per the agreed to settlement, the state will provide sign-language interpreters as needed. Also, prisons will become ADA compliant for inmates in wheelchairs.
The state has four years to comply with federal laws for the disabled.
“It will be a game changer for them,” said Randall Berg, an attorney and executive director of the Florida Justice Institute.
The FJI and the Morgan & Morgan law firm represented more than 30 inmates in the lawsuit.
“We are glad that we have reached an agreement. FDC will continue to ensure that all in our custody receive proper care and treatment,” said spokeswoman Michelle Glady.
There are currently 20 prisons in Florida that are ADA compliant. The state has agreed to house disabled inmates in those locations while more become ADA compliant.