Justice Department Finds that Arizona Prisons Discriminate Against People with Vision Disabilities

The Justice Department announced on Wednesday its finding that the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry (ADCRR) violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by discriminating against individuals with vision disabilities, including those who are blind or have low vision. In a public letter issued to ADCRR, the department detailed its findings following its investigation of multiple complaints by incarcerated individuals and asked ADCRR to work with the department to resolve the civil rights violations identified.

The department’s investigation found that ADCRR violated the ADA in several ways. First, ADCRR failed to reasonably modify its policies or provide auxiliary aids and services, such as brailled materials and displays, audio recordings and screen reader software, to ensure that people with vision disabilities could communicate effectively while incarcerated. Second, ADCRR failed to provide accessible processes for people with vision disabilities to request accommodations or file disability-related complaints. Third, ADCRR over relied on other incarcerated people to help individuals with vision disabilities without properly training or supervising those providing help. Based on these findings, the department determined that ADCRR denied individuals with vision disabilities an equal opportunity to participate in and benefit from its services, programs and activities.

“People with disabilities do not surrender their civil rights at the prison gate,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department is committed to ensuring that people with disabilities held in jails and prisons, including those with vision impairments, have an equal opportunity to participate in and benefit from prison programs and to work towards rehabilitation. Ensuring that our jails and prisons are accessible for people with disabilities is part of our overall work to address the conditions of confinement in our country.”

“Incarcerated Arizonans with disabilities are entitled to the same rights as all other inmates,” said U.S. Attorney Gary M. Restaino for the District of Arizona. “This is important. Access to services and programming while incarcerated helps one succeed upon reentry into society. We appreciate the dialogue to date with the Arizona Department of Corrections and look forward to collaborative solutions to overcome barriers to equality.”

The department’s letter provides ADCRR with written notice of its findings and details the minimum remedial measures necessary to address them.

This matter is being handled by the Civil Rights Division’s Disability Rights Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona.

The letter can be viewed here.