FJI, Representing Disability Rights Florida, Sues Florida Department of Corrections for Breach of Settlement Agreement Protecting Incarcerated People with Disabilities

TALLAHASSEE, DECEMBER 4, 2019– Disability Rights Florida, Florida’s federally funded Protection and Advocacy organization for individuals with disabilities, has brought suit against the Florida Department of Corrections (FDC) over its systemic failure to comply with a settlement agreement signed by both parties in July 2017.  DRF is represented by the Florida Justice Institute and Morgan & Morgan, P.A.

The settlement agreement, which DRF and its counsel have been actively monitoring, was intended to protect individuals with physical disabilities incarcerated throughout Florida’s prisons, and to bring FDC into compliance with federal laws protecting individuals with disabilities, specifically the Americans with Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act, as well as the Eighth Amendment and Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. However, FDC has failed to meet its obligations and, in response, Disability Rights Florida has brought suit for breach of the terms of the settlement agreement. Disability Rights Florida would like to thank all of the incarcerated people with disabilities who shared their stories and provided crucial information that led to the filing of this lawsuit.

“Despite our years-long monitoring efforts, people with physical disabilities who are incarcerated in Florida prisons are still not receiving the accommodations, aids, and services they are entitled to,” said Dante P. Trevisani, Executive Director of the Florida Justice Institute. “It’s time for the Department of Corrections to follow through on its promises made in the settlement agreement.”

The 43-page settlement agreement allowed the FDC up to several years in some cases to remedy the problems causing the suffering of incarcerated people with disabilities. For example, the settlement agreement required the FDC to provide qualified sign language interpreters and other auxiliary aids and services during critical interactions such as medical appointments, disciplinary hearings, and educational programs, and to provide meaningful telecommunications access to deaf prisoners so they can remain in touch with loved ones. Additionally, the settlement agreement required the removal of architectural barriers in many prisons for prisoners with mobility disabilities.

The parties hammered out the settlement agreement after several mediation sessions which spanned over five months, in an effort to avoid a lengthy trial and an appeal, had the case not settled. However, after two and half years of monitoring FDC’s compliance with the settlement agreement by touring prisons, interviewing people, and reviewing documents provided by FDC, it has become apparent that the deadlines and requirements outlined in the settlement agreement are not being met.

“Federal laws guarantee that individuals who are incarcerated have the right to be protected from discrimination.  These protections are crucial for maintaining the independence and dignity of these individuals,” said Peter Sleasman, Legal Director of Disability Rights Florida. “The settlement agreement was intended to bring FDC in compliance with these laws, which have long been in place on the federal level. However, FDC has failed to live up to their end of the bargain, and it is long past time that the rights of individuals with disabilities are upheld in Florida’s prisons.”

The case is Disability Rights Florida v. Florida Department of Corrections, Case No. XXXXX filed in the Second Judicial Circuit Court in Leon County, Florida.

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