On Tuesday, a federal judge approved a settlement of the last remaining claims from a 24-year-old lawsuit over unconstitutional conditions at the Montana State Prison.
The agreement in Langford v. Bullock requires the State of Montana to bring the prison into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, including in its educational and vocational programs. The prisoners are represented by the ACLU’s National Prison Project, the ACLU of Montana, and the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center (CREEC).
“With this agreement and its extensive reforms, the Montana Department of Corrections has shown its commitment to the wellbeing of prisoners with disabilities,” said Alex Rate, legal director for the ACLU of Montana. “The improvements ahead will give these prisoners greater access to the services and programs they need to prepare to return to society.”
The agreement contains the following guarantees:
- Prisoners with physical disabilities will be ensured access to vocational training, prison jobs, and other Montana State Prison programs available to the rest of the population. They will receive the accommodations they need to participate in these programs.
- Prisoners with mental disabilities will be ensured reasonable accommodations to participate fully in activities like education programs as well as disciplinary hearings.
- Prisoners with disabilities will not be disciplined solely for behavior that is a product of a mental illness or physical disability.
“As the agreement’s reforms become reality, prisoners with disabilities will face far fewer obstacles as they navigate prison life and work on rehabilitation. Among other critical changes, prisoners with physical disabilities will be ensured the accommodations they need to participate in work assignments and classes,” said Amy Robertson, CREEC’s Co-Executive Director. “The law requires equal and humane treatment for prisoners with disabilities, and this agreement brings Montana State Prison much closer to that goal.”
Langford was filed in 1994 over conditions at Montana State Prison that violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments, including inadequate medical care, dangerous security practices, and failure to follow the Americans with Disabilities Act. A settlement was reached in 1995, and by 2005, the department of corrections had made all of the required improvements except those necessary to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“When people with disabilities are held in this country’s jails and prisons, they are often punished for their disabilities. This agreement addresses that injustice,” said Eric Balaban, Senior Staff Attorney with the ACLU National Prison Project. “For instance, prisoners who are deaf won’t be punished for not responding to orders they can’t hear. People with mental disabilities won’t be punished for behaviors that stem from their disabilities. These guarantees and similar reforms at the Montana State Prison will reduce the extra, unjust burdens people with disabilities face while working towards release.”
For the settlement and more information about Langford v. Bullock, read more at this link.