Settlement Requires Major Improvements in Conditions for Prisoners With Disabilities at Montana State Prison
ACLU, CREEC, and the Montana Department of Corrections Resolve Americans with Disabilities Act Claims Remaining from 1994 Class-Action Lawsuit Over Prison Conditions
MISSOULA, Mont. — Attorneys for prisoners with disabilities at the Montana State Prison and the state of Montana today filed a proposed settlement agreement that will bring the prison into greater compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. This agreement guarantees that prisoners with physical disabilities will have greater access to facilities and programs at the prison that are available to the rest of the population, like vocational training programs and prison jobs. In addition, the agreement requires that prisoners with mental disabilities shall be given reasonable accommodations when needed, such as in disciplinary hearings and education programs. Prisoners with disabilities will not be disciplined for behavior that is a product of a mental illness or physical disability. They will also be ensured the accommodations they need to participate in work assignments.
“The Montana Department of Corrections is to be congratulated for working with the plaintiffs to reach this settlement,” said Jon Ellingson, lead local counsel and staff attorney for the ACLU of Montana. “The department’s actions demonstrate a commitment to prison reform that both helps prisoners rehabilitate and benefits the public when these prisoners reenter society after serving their terms.”
The class-action lawsuit, Langford v. Bullock, originated 23 years ago following riots at the Montana State Prison. The parties reached a settlement long ago, and the prison complied with all provisions with one exception: compliance with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The agreement filed today finally resolves that issue. The ACLU National Prison Project, the ACLU of Montana, and the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center of Denver, Colorado (CREEC) participated in the final negotiations with the state.
“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. This agreement helps us reach that goal,” observed Amy Robertson, CREEC’s co-executive director.
“Without the appropriate accommodations and programs, people with physical and mental disabilities can suffer terribly in prison, and can be denied paths to earn their release by completing programs they need to be paroled,” said Eric Balaban, senior staff attorney with the ACLU National Prison Project. “This settlement will help ensure that prisoners with disabilities at the Montana State Prison can work their way to freedom like prisoners who don’t have disabilities.”
“The ACLU of Montana is proud to have participated in this lawsuit, the result of which brings substantial prison reform to the state of Montana,” said Caitlin Borgmann, executive director of the ACLU of Montana. “It needs to be emphasized that reform inside our prisons benefits the public by better preparing the prisoners for life outside of prison.”
The parties have jointly filed a motion with the court requesting preliminary approval of this class action settlement. If the court approves, a notice will go out to prisoners at Montana State Prison, and the court will schedule a final fairness hearing for later in the year.
For the settlement and more information about Langford v. Bullock:
ACLU of Montana:
ACLU National Prison Project: