Case: SDNY's ADA Investigation of the NYC Department of Correction

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Filed Date: July 6, 2016

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Case Summary

On July 6, 2016, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York sent a report to the New York City Department of Corrections (DOC) detailing their investigation into the DOC’s compliance with the American Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. A prior investigation in 2004 had led to a Voluntary Compliance Agreement and the designation of an employee responsible for responding to requests from inmates and ensuring ADA-compliant living accommodation and training for staff. This invest…

On July 6, 2016, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York sent a report to the New York City Department of Corrections (DOC) detailing their investigation into the DOC’s compliance with the American Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. A prior investigation in 2004 had led to a Voluntary Compliance Agreement and the designation of an employee responsible for responding to requests from inmates and ensuring ADA-compliant living accommodation and training for staff. This investigation focused on the accessibility of the Rose M. Singer Center (RMSC), which housed female inmates with mobility impairments. The report also detailed DOC’s manner in responding to inmate’s accommodation requests.

An architect that was an expert in ADA-accessibility inspected RMSC, comparing its layout and infrastructure with the 1991 standards set forth by the ADA. The investigation concluded that the DOC failed to place inmates with mobility and visual impairments in accessible housing, to provide inmates with mobility impairments with appropriate mobility devices, and to ensure that inmates with hearing impairments had access to telecommunication services. The investigation revealed that the DOC did not consistently assess the needs of inmates with disabilities and often failed to place them in the limited accessible housing available. Canes and wheelchairs that were medically prescribed and intended to help alleviate symptoms from degenerative diseases were often confiscated and not returned, despite multiple requests.

The U.S. Attorney’s office reviewed the DOC’s policies and practices in receiving and responding to accommodation requests. The investigation also established that the DOC failed to respond to accommodation requests in an adequate and timely manner. Contrary to their policy, the investigation found that the DOC maintained no set system for recording or responding to inmate accessibility requests. While inmates had a right to file grievances, the complaints of disability discrimination were considered “non-grievable” there was no clear recourse for an inmate whose accessibility request was denied.

The investigation concluded that the DOC violated the ADA by denying inmates with disabilities an equal opportunity to participate in, and benefit in the provided services, programs and activities. As a remedy for these violations, the U.S. Attorney General’s office recommended an eight-step plan to meet minimum ADA requirements. These included staff training, the creation and implementation of a tracking system for responding to accessibility requests—which would provide prompt and equitable resolutions for inmates with disabilities—a prompt medical evaluation of each inmate’s needs upon admission, placement of inmates in accessible housing, and provision of support aids and devices for inmates with hearing disabilities to effectively communicate with their family, friends, and counsel.

On August 20, 2018, the U.S. Attorney’s office reached an out-of-court settlement and a new Voluntary Compliance Agreement with the city of New York and the DOC. In this agreement, the DOC agreed to correct its many violations of the ADA and to submit bi-annual compliance reports to the U.S. Attorney’s office. Correcting these ADA violations included: completing hundreds of modifications to the existing physical infrastructure under the supervision of an independent architect to make RMSC ADA-compliant; the implementation of a new policy regarding how, and when, accommodation requests are received and responded to, including a computerized system that tracks all accommodation requests and their response; and the prompt furnishment of all reasonable support devices to ensure that inmates with disabilities have equal access to facilities, activities, and services available to non-disabled inmates.

The majority of the provisions of the agreement are set to terminate five years after the effective date, provided that the DOC is in substantial compliance with its provisions. The architectural changes and implementation and enforcement of the policy changes will terminate in seven years.

Summary Authors

Mary Book (4/16/2019)

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Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Berman, Geoffrey S. (New York)

Eshkenazi, Lara K. (New York)

Powell, Jeffrey K. (New York)

Attorneys(s) for Defendant

Bowe, Martin John (New York)

Carter, Zachary W. (New York)

Grossman, Heidi (New York)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Berman, Geoffrey S. (New York)

Eshkenazi, Lara K. (New York)

Powell, Jeffrey K. (New York)

Attorneys(s) for Defendant

Bowe, Martin John (New York)

Carter, Zachary W. (New York)

Grossman, Heidi (New York)

Documents in the Clearinghouse

Document

Findings Letter

July 6, 2016

July 6, 2016

Findings Letter/Report

Settlement Agreement

Aug. 16, 2018

Aug. 16, 2018

Settlement Agreement

Resources

Docket

Last updated May 11, 2022, 8 p.m.

Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.

Case Details