A number of current and former Vermont prisoners with disabilities will receive $80,000 in compensation under a recent settlement, The Associated Press reports.
The settlement between the U.S. Department of Justice and the Vermont Department of Corrections stems from a federal investigation into claims that Vermont didn’t provide accessible facilities for those with mobility and hearing disabilities.
“People with disabilities in Vermont deserve equal access, and that does not change when they are incarcerated,” Acting Vermont U.S. Attorney Jonathan A. Ophardt said in a statement.
The suit also alleged the prison did not provide effective communication for incarcerated people with hearing disabilities, according to the Oct. 29, 2021 AP article.
“The Vermont Department of Corrections has now committed to removing barriers to participation for prisoners with disabilities in (Vermont prison) facilities, including prisoners who have physical and communication disabilities.”
An email response from Corrections Commissioner Jim Baker acknowledged that there are facilities with shortcomings, and that the department is always looking for ways to improve its system.
“DOC was a willing partner in this, has always been at the table, and has already implemented a number of items outlined — many of which were in place before Thursday’s agreement finalization,” Baker said.
Defender General Matt Valerio is an attorney from the state’s Prisoners’ Rights Office. He says Vermont facilities have had accommodation issues for years. He also said that the U.S. attorney’s office became involved with these issues several years ago, due to many cases filed alleging inadequate facilities, according to the article.
“They struggle with the fact that our prisons are old and our ability to accommodate these things on a technical level are difficult given the infrastructure that really needs to be updated,” Valerio said.
“That’s one of the really important parts of the settlement, is that the department will pursue funding to improve the infrastructure.”
In the settlement, the Department of Justice agreement protects the rights of incarcerated people with disabilities and allots them equal access to counseling, education and recreational programs.
It requires that Vermont prisons provide incarcerated people with hearing disabilities appropriate assistance with hearing aids and video phones as well as sign language.
The settlement also requires that incarcerated people with disabilities have access to all facilities, such as medical facilities, libraries, accessible cells, visitation and routes through prison buildings, said the article.