The Justice Department announced today that it filed a complaint and proposed consent decree with the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota to resolve allegations that the Minnesota Department of Corrections (MNDOC) violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
According to a report, the department previously found that the MNDOC discriminated against incarcerated individuals with disabilities enrolled in its General Educational Development (GED) program by denying individuals with disabilities opportunities to apply for or receive needed modifications on the GED exam, courses or practice tests, such as extended time and frequent breaks. The proposed consent decree will provide damages to harmed individuals and requires the MNDOC to make changes to end this discrimination.
“Prisons and jails have an obligation to meet the needs of people with disabilities. This settlement agreement stands to impact hundreds of incarcerated people with disabilities, opening doors to higher education and other opportunities that have been unjustly closed to them for far too long,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “MNDOC is now firmly on a path to providing accommodations to students with disabilities on standardized exams and preparation courses, actions that will help promote rehabilitation and increase prospects for reentry.”
“We are pleased to reach a resolution with MNDOC that will help ensure incarcerated individuals with disabilities have equal opportunities to benefit from critical education programs in its facilities,” said U.S. Attorney Andrew M. Luger for the District of Minnesota.
The department’s complaint alleges that the MNDOC discriminates against individuals with disabilities in multiple ways: (1) failing to notify them about reasonable modifications for GED courses, practice tests and exams; (2) preventing them from applying for GED exam accommodations and (3) failing to give them reasonable modifications, such as extended time and breaks, in GED courses and on practice tests. Without reasonable modifications, many incarcerated individuals with disabilities repeatedly failed their practice tests or official exams, were denied access to other prison programs, and were released from incarceration without a GED.
Under the terms of the consent decree, which requires court approval, the MNDOC will revise its policies and procedures, train relevant personnel and educate incarcerated individuals on these revised policies and the ADA, hire an agency-wide ADA Compliance Officer and designate facility-level ADA and education coordinators, conduct a corrective action review to determine appropriate relief for currently-incarcerated individuals with disabilities and provide regular reports to the department. The MNDOC will also pay over $70,000 in compensatory damages to aggrieved individuals with disabilities.