Being disabled doesn’t automatically make anyone immune to the legal system of the country. You commit a crime, you pay for it. That being said, disabled people are at a disadvantage (mental or physical) and hence must be compensated for the same. Prisons today are being equipped with workers and caretakers who can help the disabled inmates live a normal life, at least as normal a life as one can in prison. Here are some of the things you should be aware of if you have a loved one suffering from some disability who’s been convicted.
Before we even begin to list the rights that disabled inmates should get, let us start on a simpler note and try to define what disability entails. According to the ADA or the American with Disabilities Act, disability is “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual”. These impairments include hearing disabilities, vision impairments, mental illness, chronic diseases or any other condition that would hamper your normal daily activities of moving about, sleeping, eating, communicating and other bodily functions. Furthermore, the prisoner must show ample medical proof of his disability and have witnesses testifying his condition.
The ADA has included a wide number of disabilities, irrespective of whether they can be regulated or not using medication, therapy or external devices. Similarly, people who have medical conditions like cancer or AIDS are considered disabled even though their impairments sparsely show or are under remission. A prisoner with multiple health problems may also be considered disabled if his condition actively disrupts and limits his “major life activity”.
Protecting Disabled Prisoners
There are two main statutes formulated under the law to protect the rights of disabled inmates. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act state the regulations and rights of mentally and physically handicapped prisoners and their conduct in jail. The Rehabilitation Act pertains to prison facilities which fall under federal agencies or local facilities that are funded by these federal agencies. The ADA, on the other hand, applies to facilities both on local and state-levels irrespective of whether they’re federally funded or not. The ADA is relatively newer, though it provides the same rights as the Rehabilitation Act and is treated the same way under the court of law.
Title II of ADA protects the disabled’s basic right of a dignified existence. It states that no individual with a disability would either be excluded or discriminated from a “service program or activity of a public entity” because of his handicap. To avail the benefits of this act and file a lawsuit, the prisoner must reveal his disability (within the meaning prescribed by the statutes), the fact that he’s qualified for the service and then give proof of the discrimination he’s being subjected to. Disabled prisoners may appeal to the court for injunctive relief or a change in prison policies or monetary compensations. The Rehabilitation Act usually governs the monetary relief granted to disabled inmates as a result of being wronged either by their peers or by prison authorities.
Other than the ADA and Regulations Act, the disabled prisoner can also appeal to court citing the Eighth Amendment of the US Constitution which prohibits cruelty or unusual, inhumane punishment measures like dismemberment, flaying, beheading etc. The Eight Amendment can also be used against officials who deliberately contribute to aggravating the disabled inmate’s physical or mental condition. The Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments protect a citizen’s life, liberty, and property by providing equal and lawful protection to all.
The Enforceable Legal Rights
Disabled prisoners are entitled to the same rights and services given out to other inmates. In fact, failure to comply with this law and being biased in prison facilities is punishable under court, the disabled convict can sue the prison authorities to court. Disabled prisoners, under the ADA, are also liable to medical and psychiatric treatment and therapy. However, the medical facilities might not be top-notch or the best available, a standard, basic healthcare is enough as per law. People with physical disabilities have the right to demand medication, wheelchairs and external devices required for living a normal life.
Furthermore, disabled prisoners can challenge solitary confinement and jail conditions if they hamper their treatment or limit them from serving their sentence. The ADA regulations also require prisons to have special cells for disabled people whoare suited to their needs. Failure to meet any one or all of this enforcement can lead to legal consequences for the jail authorities. You can check the living conditions and other details of your loved ones in jail on PrisonFinder to see if all these regulations are properly met with or not.
The Limitations Involved
Like everything else, even these prison laws pertaining to disabled inmates have their fair share of limitations. For instance, the prison facilities are not entitled to provide the best or the most expensive medical services to the disabled inmates. As per law, authorities are to provide only the basic or reasonable accommodation and facilities to its prisoners. Also, the prison authorities can cut down on the prison facilities that would put undue financial pressure on the state. Furthermore, officials are allowed to exempt a disabled inmate from participating in any prison program if he poses significant risks (health or otherwise) to the other prisoners.
The Bottom Line
Yes, some rights of a prisoner are curtailed by law, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have access to the basic human rights. Dignity is one such fundamental right that every citizen has a claim to. Disability, be it mental or physical, is always seen more like a drawback and less as a medical condition that needs assistance. Thankfully, the laws are changing and becoming more accommodating for the disabled inmates serving their sentence in prison, without compromising on their security and dignity.