The Civil Rights Division and U.S Attorney’s Office for the District of Vermont today announced a settlement agreement with the Vermont Department of Corrections (VDOC) to ensure that inmates with disabilities have equal access to Vermont’s correctional facilities, programs, services, and activities. The agreement resolves the Department’s investigation into complaints that VDOC does not provide accessible facilities for inmates with mobility disabilities, and does not ensure effective communication for inmates with hearing disabilities, as required under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The settlement agreement protects the rights of inmates with disabilities to equal access to educational, counseling, and recreational programs, as well as to prison facilities such as visitation areas, libraries, medical facilities, intake processing, accessible cells, and routes to and through prison buildings. The agreement also requires VDOC to ensure that inmates with hearing disabilities receive appropriate auxiliary aids and services, such as sign language interpreters, video telephones, and hearing aids when necessary to ensure effective communication. Under the settlement agreement, VDOC must also make reasonable modifications to its policies, practices, and procedures to accommodate inmates with disabilities.
“The Americans with Disabilities Act mandates that individuals with disabilities have equal access to state-provided programs, services, facilities, and activities,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The Civil Rights Division is committed to ensuring that correctional institutions eliminate physical and communication barriers that prevent inmates with disabilities from participating fully in prison programs.”
“People with disabilities in Vermont deserve equal access, and that does not change when they are incarcerated,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Jonathan A. Ophardt for the District of Vermont. “The Vermont Department of Corrections has now committed to removing barriers to participation for inmates with disabilities in VDOC facilities, including inmates who have physical and communication disabilities. Our office remains dedicated to supporting efforts to improve access and inclusion for everyone in Vermont.”
Title II of the ADA requires state government entities like VDOC to provide inmates with disabilities, including inmates with mobility and hearing disabilities, with an equal opportunity to participate in their programs, services, and activities. The ADA also requires public entities to make reasonable modifications to policies for inmates with disabilities when needed.
As a result of the agreement announced today, VDOC will:
• Make structural changes to prison buildings and facilities to comply with the ADA Standards for Accessible Design;
• Implement a process that begins at intake, and continues throughout incarceration, to identify and accommodate inmates with disabilities;
• Develop individualized communication assessments and plans setting out the auxiliary aids and services necessary to ensure effective communication for inmates with hearing disabilities;
• Identify and remediate physical barriers to access for inmates with mobility disabilities to ensure access to accessible prison cells and work assignments;
• Provide training on Title II of the ADA to correctional staff and management responsible for evaluating or making decisions about inmate requests for accommodations;
• Engage in compliance reporting and monitoring with the DOJ; and
• Pay $80,000 to compensate current and former inmates who were harmed.
This matter was handled jointly by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jules Torti of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Vermont and the Disability Rights Section of the department’s Civil Rights Division. July 26, 2021 marked the 31st Anniversary of the ADA. The Justice Department plays a central role in advancing the nation’s goal of equal opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for people with disabilities. For more information on the Civil Rights Division, please visit http://www.justice.gov/crt. For more information on the ADA, please call the department’s toll-free ADA Information Line at 800-514-0301 (TDD 800-514-0383) or visit www.ada.gov. ADA complaints may be filed online at http://www.ada.gov/complaint. Additional information about the U.S. Attorney’s Office Civil Rights Program is available at http://www.justice.gov/usao-vt.