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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Justice Department Reaches Settlement With the County of Erie, New York to Prevent Disability Discrimination at the Erie County Jail

The Justice Department announced today that it reached a settlement agreement with the County of Erie, New York, to ensure equal access to the facilities and services of the Erie County Holding Center and the Erie County Correctional Facility, collectively referred to as the Erie County Jail.  The Erie County Holding Center, located in Buffalo, New York, is primarily a pretrial detention facility and is the second largest detention facility in New York State.  The Erie County Correctional Facility, located in Alden, New York, holds inmates of various classifications and processes more than 20,000 inmates annually.

The Justice Department initiated a compliance review of the Erie County Jail under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 after receiving complaints alleging that, because the Erie County Jail did not have a sufficient number of accessible cells and shower facilities, the jail housed inmates with mobility disabilities in its medical unit even though they did not require medical treatment.  The department determined that the jail’s medical unit also did not have accessible features.  In resolution of the department’s findings, the agreement requires the Erie County Jail to:

  • Complete specified accessibility modifications to its facilities within four years, including providing accessible cells in various classifications and housing units, providing accessible showers and toilet facilities, and providing accessible features in the medical unit.
  • Ensure that a minimum of three percent, but no fewer than one, of the total number of cells in its newly constructed and altered facilities are accessible to inmates with mobility disabilities.
  • Ensure that inmates with disabilities are not housed in designated medical areas unless they are receiving medical care or treatment.
  • Ensure that wheelchairs and other adaptive equipment used by inmates with disabilities are routinely maintained, repaired, and generally kept in safe, operable condition.
  • Provide appropriate devices, such as medical trapezes, hearing aid batteries, or special shoes, as required to meet the needs of inmates with disabilities.
  • Ensure that when inmates who are deaf or have hearing loss are handcuffed or restrained, they are handcuffed or restrained in a manner that permits effective communication (e.g., handcuffing detainees in the front so they can sign) unless legitimate security concerns dictate otherwise. 
  • Ensure that when inmates who are blind or have low vision are handcuffed or restrained, they are handcuffed or restrained in a manner that permits safe mobility, including the use of a cane or sighted guide. 
  • Designate a disabilities coordinator who coordinates ADA access at the Erie County Holding Center and the Erie County Correctional Facility.
  • Develop and implement an ADA grievance policy for resolving inmate ADA complaints.
  • Develop and implement an effective communication policy for inmates who are deaf, have hearing loss, blind or have low vision.

“The ADA prohibits discrimination by public entities on the basis of disability, including the denial by correctional facilities and jails of equal services to individuals with disabilities,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta for the Civil Rights Division.  “With this agreement, the Erie County Jail is taking important steps to ensure that people incarcerated in the jail are not endangered or discriminated against because of their disabilities.” 

To read the settlement agreement or for more information on the ADA, visit the ADA website at www.ada.gov.   Those interested in finding out more about this settlement or the obligations of public entities under the ADA may call the Justice Department’s toll-free ADA information line at 800-514-0301 or 800-514-0383 (TDD), or access its ADA website.  ADA complaints may be filed by email to ada.complaint@usdoj.gov.

14-1457
Updated August 27, 2015