HELENA — The Department of Corrections has agreed to provide reasonable accommodations for inmates with physical disabilities to participate in treatment and vocational programs that help prepare inmates to be released from prison, as part of the settlement in a lawsuit over compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act at the Montana State Prison.
"This settlement is consistent with our goal of beginning re-entry planning with inmates from the time they arrive in the state prison system," interim Corrections Director Loraine Wodnik said in a statement. "Whether they have disabilities or not, we want state inmates in our custody to have access to the treatment, mental health services and vocational training they need to become successful citizens."
The state, in an agreement the ACLU of Montana announced Thursday, said prisoners with disabilities will not be disciplined solely for behavior that is due to their mental illness or physical disability.
The state also agreed to make hundreds of architectural changes to the prison, including installing ramps, making accessible paths to outside fields, courts and facilities and lowering water fountains and coat hooks and installing grab bars. Part of the work has been done, but some remains including replacing door and faucet knobs with levers and installing tables and computer stations that can be used by someone in a wheelchair.
The prison has agreed to new versions of about 30 policies, procedures, handbooks and forms and has about six to go, said Corrections spokeswoman Judy Beck. One policy addresses evacuating inmates in wheelchairs in case of a fire.
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ADA compliance was the final issue to be settled in a 1994 lawsuit filed following riots at the prison.
"This agreement reminds us that our prisons contain many people with physical and mental disabilities who are entitled to be treated equally and humanely under the law," said Amy Robertson, co-executive director of the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center, which participated in the settlement negotiations.
The Department of Corrections is denying any wrongdoing, but is settling the case to avoid the expense of litigation, the agreement states.
The proposed settlement was filed on Feb. 15 and must be approved by a judge and then the inmates.