OAKLAND -- A disability advocacy group sued Alameda County's sheriff's department Thursday claiming its main jail lacks the amenities necessary to properly care for inmates with disabilities.
The lawsuit, filed in Alameda County Superior Court, claims that inmates with disabilities do not have proper access to toilets, showers or visiting areas. In addition, the lawsuit claims, some inmates with disabilities are discriminated against because they are housed in the jail's infirmary, which is equivalent to them being placed in solitary confinement.
Legal Services for Prisoners with Children filed the lawsuit with help from Disability Rights Advocates, a Berkeley-based not-for-profit organization. The groups seek monetary damages and for the county to make Santa Rita Jail accessible to the disabled.
J.D. Nelson, spokesman for the Alameda County Sheriff's Department, did not return calls seeking comment.
The lawsuit describes numerous issues with Santa Rita Jail ranging from basic accessibility to protocols that prevent inmates with disabilities from participating in various programs and services.
The accessibility issues have made it difficult for disabled inmates to use the bathroom or take a shower, the lawsuit states, because the jail has not constructed enough facilities with hold bars. As a result, the suit claims, many disabled inmates have been forced to soil themselves and have been denied access to daily showers.
"Without access to an accessible toilet, individuals with disabilities may have no choice but to soil themselves," the lawsuit states. "Defendants routinely house men and women who use wheelchairs in cells that lack features, such as grab bars, that allow disabled inmates to independently and safely transfer themselves from a wheelchair to the toilet."
Furthermore, the lawsuit claims, the jail's protocols in handling disabled inmates violates their rights as those with certain disabilities are housed in the jail's infirmary even though they do not require 24-hour care.
As a result, the lawsuit states, inmates housed in the infirmary are basically held in solitary confinement as they are denied access to programs, the lawsuit states.
"They are unable to go outside to exercise, attend rehabilitative classes, programs or religious services or socialize with each other," the lawsuit states. "The sole reason given to them for their lack of access to all programs and activities offered within the jail is an alleged shortage of staff available to escort them to outdoor areas and areas where classes and religious services are held."
A shortage of staff is also cited to inmates with disabilities who are denied access to the jail's visiting area, the lawsuit claims. Many inmates with disabilities need assistance moving from their cell to the jail's visiting area, but sheriff's deputies working at the jail routinely deny to assist because of a lack of staff, the lawsuit claims.
The lawsuit said visitors with disabilities also have trouble entering the jail since it lacks required accessibility infrastructure.
"What is happening at Santa Rita is wrong on so many levels," said Michelle Uzeta, legal director for Disability Rights Legal Center, a group which is also assisting in the lawsuit. "Civil rights are routinely violated, and the jail's correctional rehabilitation model is rendered effectively unavailable for an entire population."