Maryland to pay $360,000 to inmates with disabilities who sued over inaccessibility at state prisons

The Maryland Board of Public Works approved Wednesday a $360,000 settlement to a group of six inmates who alleged in a lawsuit that the state prison system failed to provide necessary accommodations to prisoners with disabilities.

The suit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore last year, alleged a culture of noncompliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and a pattern of discrimination impacting inmates with disabilities.

One plaintiff — a single-leg amputee named Karl Rogers — said he was forced to shower without any assistive devices, such as crutches or a handicap bench, at the Maryland Reception, Diagnostic and Classification Center in Baltimore. As a result, he fell and injured his right shoulder, according to the lawsuit.

The suit alleged that some inmates were also prevented from participating in work release programs and obtaining job experience while incarcerated. One inmate, John Fishback, said in the suit that officials at the Dorsey Run Correctional Facility in Jessup told him he couldn’t participate in such a program because he took a prescription painkiller called Tramadol.

Rogers alleged that Dorsey Run, where he was later transferred, was generally not wheelchair accessible, and that officials there distributed faulty wheelchairs. The suit also alleged the correctional facilities didn’t have toilets and cafeteria tables at the proper height for inmates in wheelchairs.

Officials have since taken “substantial measures to address ADA accessibility” at Dorsey Run Correctional Facility, said Latoya Gray, spokesperson for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, in a statement.

The department has tripled the amount of ADA-compliant housing space and reduced the number of bunks in each dormitory, Gray said. In addition, bunks designated for people with disabilities have been fitted with rails.

The department has also made changes to toilets and showers in Dorsey Run to make them ADA-complaint. Plus, ADA-compliant recreation tables have been added to the housing units, dining room and the library, Gray said.

“The ultimate long-term goal is to use this information to create a barrier-free environment for detainees, inmates, visitors and non-custody staff,” Gray said in a statement.

While the plaintiffs were pleased with the changes to Dorsey Run and with the settlement funds they received, they worry that the larger concerns of Maryland inmates with disabilities remain unaddressed, said Allen Honick, an attorney who represented the six inmates.

“It’s a reactive Band-Aid response that addresses these six individuals’ concerns, but does nothing for the state’s correctional institutions wholesale,” Honick said.

The corrections department is undergoing a complete ADA compliance audit, Gray said.

The attorney general’s office, which represented the department, declined to comment on the settlement Wednesday.

While the settlement didn’t include an admission of fault from the state, Honick said the case’s prompt resolution — and the state’s decision to approve capital improvements at Dorsey Run — “speaks for itself.”

“We’re very pleased that we didn’t have to engage in four or five years of protracted litigation,” Honick said.