Are Inmates Entitled to Access Under the ADA?

ada compliant jails

Recently, two inmates in the Cook County Jail in Illinois filed separate federal lawsuits alleging the jail has not provided appropriate disabled access. Does the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protect the rights of inmates? Yes. In fact, the Supreme Court specifically ruled on June 15, 1998 that the ADA covers inmates in state prisons and local jails.

The Specifics of This Case

The first plaintiff in the case alleges his doctor ordered that he be provided a wheelchair and a cell with disabled access back in 2012. While he did receive the wheelchair, a special cell was not provided, making it difficult for him to use the bathroom, shower, get in and out of bed, and access common areas. Last August he fell in the shower, breaking his wrist. He also alleges violations occurred while in the Cook County Criminal Court. He was forced to roll his wheelchair up a very steep ramp and was held in a detention cell without an accessible toilet.

The second plaintiff has similar claims. He too has not been given a wheelchair accessible cell since entering the system in 2012. He was hurt when he fell out of his wheelchair during a transport last year.

Previous Case Sets Precedent 

The 1998 case that resulted in a Supreme Court ruling was the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections v. Yeskey. Ronald Yeskey was sentenced to 18 to 36 months in a correctional facility. The state allows for first-time offenders to be placed in a Motivational Boot Camp, resulting in a release in six months. However, Yeskey was denied that opportunity because he had a medical history of high blood pressure. He sued and won, arguing that his exclusion from the program violated his rights under the ADA. The court explained, “No qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity.” The court went on to explain the ruling includes state prisons and prisoners.

Access Advocates is dedicated to equal access for all. Whether it’s access in a prison, restaurant, park, school, government office, airport or any other public place, the ADA protects the rights of the disabled. Contact us if you have been denied access because of a disability.