There are approximately 42.5 million Americans living with disabilities. Although there are many different types of disabilities, the most common involves mobility and independent living. According to the CDC, disabilities include conditions with vision, thinking, movement, hearing, mental health, and social relationships, among others. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, people with disabilities are protected from discrimination in everyday activities. “The ADA guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to enjoy employment opportunities, purchase goods and services, and participate in state and local government programs.” Rights for those with disabilities extend to inmates in jails and prisons as well.

inmates with a disability

There are over 1.9 million Americans in the prison system, whether it is local, federal, or state. Of those inmates, some studies indicate that 4% of the prison population are autistic, and 25% have some sort of cognitive impairment, reports US News. 40% of inmates were reported with non-psychiatric disabilities, according to Health Affairs. The American Disabilities Act protects those incarcerated from discrimination on the basis of their disability. Under Title II of the Act, it states that no person who is incarcerated may be excluded or denied participation in services, programs, or activities of a “public entity.” Incarcerated people are further protected by section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which states that it “prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in programs that receive federal financial assistance, including prisoners.”

In accordance with this act, prison administrators must provide proper communication means, which include Braille documents, audio documents, sign language interpreters, videophones, and captioned TV. They must also give inmates with disabilities access to programs, benefits, and services that are available to those without disabilities. The only exception is when an inmate could pose a threat to themselves or others by participating. They must also create accommodations to those with disabilities so they may also have equal access.



However, protection gets murky when diagnosing disabilities, and when prisons are unable to or have limited access to these accommodations. In cases where mobility is an issue for an inmate, some prisons only have housing in medical units, even though the inmate is not sick. Exercise for those with disabilities can also be difficult to accommodate in current facilities, and under the act, it is a violation to segregate prisoners with disabilities from prisoners without.

Prisoners with developmental disabilities are severely underserved because diagnosing them is either ineffectively done, or not done at all, reports The Giving Compass. Understanding rules, getting medications, and receiving services they are entitled to are difficult for those with developmental disabilities, and within a facility of noise, bright lights, unpredictable behaviors, and sometimes violence, it could be impossible to address.


Santa Rita Jail in Alameda County

In 2021, the Santa Rita Jail in Alameda County, California was in violation of the ADA for not providing appropriate accommodations to their prisoners. The prison was in violation of “unnecessarily institutionalizing” individuals from a nearby hospital and then not providing them with the correct services for their conditions, reports Prison Legal News. Because of this, the prison found they were “recycling” inmates due to lack of help within the system, releasing them, and then incarcerating them yet again.

The American Disabilities Act provides a documented law for jails and prisons to follow, however, the process to fulfill the appropriate programs and services may take much longer.


Jail Inmates Seriously Harmed or Died Due to Non-ADA Compliance

Has someone you loved died or been seriously injured due to non-ADA compliance while in custody or jail in California? Please contact our Civil Rights Law firm today. You don’t want to wait due to the statute of limitations in California. We want to help bring your family justice.