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 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE March 2, 2017 CONTACT: ACLU of Montana, 406-203-3374, media@aclumontana.org Amy Robertson, Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center, 303-551-5156, arobertson@creeclaw.org Alexandra Ringe, national ACLU, 212-549-2582, aringe@aclu.org 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...

Prison Outdoor Exercise Settlement Gets Final Approval and Some Good Press

Last Wednesday, Judge William Martínez granted final approval to the class action settlement in Decoteau v. Raemisch following a half-day hearing at which two named plaintiffs and several objectors spoke.  (The Judge also indicated that a written opinion would be forthcoming.)  This settlement, the culmination of two cases litigated over six years, ensures that inmates in solitary conditions at the Colorado State Penitentiary (CSP) will receive outdoor exercise for the first time since the facility was built in the early 1990s.   The case was settled late last year, and the settlement approved at last Wednesday’s hearing. Additional background is below; you can view some of the pleadings on either the Anderson case page or the Decoteau case page.  We got some good coverage in The Colorado Independent today, too! CSP is a supermax prison that was built in the early 1990s as an “urban” style prison, that is, the outer wall of the building is intended to constitute the outer security perimeter.  As a result, CSP has no outdoor yards for inmates to exercise.  Instead, for over twenty years, the Ad Seg inmates who were housed at CSP were only permitted to exercise in a cell similar to their living cell, with a narrow slit of a window covered by a metal grate that opened to the outdoors. In 2010, student attorneys from the University of Denver Civil Rights Clinic, their wonderful supervising professors, and co-counsel at CREEC filed suit on behalf of Troy Anderson, an inmate who had been in Ad Seg for 10 years (at that time), alleging, among other things, that this lack of outdoor exercise violated the Eighth Amendment. ...

DU Civil Rights Clinic and CREEC receive Award for Excellence in a Public Interest Project.

We are very excited to announce that the Clinical Legal Education Association today presented the Civil Rights Clinic at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and CREEC with an award for the recent settlement in Decoteau v. Raemisch.  The Decoteau case was a follow-on to Anderson v. Colorado Department of Corrections, both cases challenging the lack of outdoor exercise for inmates in solitary confinement at the Colorado State Penitentiary.  Both cases were litigated with extensive work by eight generations of students at the Civil Rights Clinic, their supervising professors and fellows, and co-counsel at CREEC. Troy Anderson, then an inmate in Administrative Segregation (“Ad Seg,” essentially solitary confinement) at the Colorado State Penitentiary, filed suit in 2010 challenging, among other things, the fact that inmates in Ad Seg at CSP did not receive outdoor exercise.  We tried the case to the court in May 2012 — with students taking the lead — and prevailed on the outdoor exercise claim in August 2012.  In response, the Colorado Department of Corrections simply moved Mr. Anderson to a different facility, but did not provide outdoor exercise to the remaining inmates in Ad Seg at CSP. The student lawyers and professors at the CRC, again co-counseling with CREEC, brought a class action in December 2013 — the Decoteau case — challenging the lack of outdoor exercise on behalf of all inmates at CSP.  A class was certified in July 2014 and, with trial set for November 2015, the case settled with a commitment from the Colorado Department of Corrections to construct three new outdoor exercise yards at CSP, and to ensure...

Good Press Regarding the Decoteau Case

Our Decoteau case challenging the lack of outdoor exercise for inmates in solitary confinement at the Colorado State Penitentiary was the focus of an article on clinical legal education in The National Jurist.  We love working with Civil Rights Clinic students and appreciate the shout-out to CREEC. (Note: The link leads to an inaccessible copy of the article.  A word version is available here). Here’s a sneak peek from the article: The recent victory over the Colorado prison system was no overnight success. It was the culmination of years of work by the clinic and the advocacy organization Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center. The students coming in know this can be a long slog, [Clinic Director Laura] Rovner said. They fight the good fight and then hand it off to the next group of students. However, the work resonates long after they leave. When the recent settlement was announced, Rovner got emails from former students who worked on the case, telling her how rewarding it was to hear the news. The students also learn a lot about themselves. They may have preconceived notions about prison, about inmates, about whether they deserve sympathy or help. Best Schools for Practical...

Outdoor Exercise Settlement Article in Westword!

This morning, Westword’s Alan Prendergast published an article about the settlement that the University of Denver’s Civil Rights Clinic and CREEC reached with the Colorado Department of Corrections last week. The online article focuses on the history of Colorado State Penitentiary, and how, in light of this lawsuit, the Colorado Department of Corrections has committed to build outdoor recreation areas for high-security prisoners. Thank you to Westword for writing about our case and bringing more attention to the issue of prisoners’ rights! Read the entirety of Prendergast’s article here: Colorado Supermax Will Build Rec Yards to Settle Prisoners’...

University of Denver Civil Rights Clinic and CREEC Reach Groundbreaking Settlement with Department of Corrections

Prisoners in restrictive housing and close custody at the Colorado State Penitentiary (CSP) have reached a settlement with Colorado prison officials that will provide outdoor exercise for those inmates for the first time since the prison’s construction in 1993. The class action lawsuit, Decoteau v. Raemisch, filed by student attorneys in the Civil Rights Clinic at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and co-counsel from the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center, asserted that the denial of outdoor exercise to inmates at CSP constituted cruel and unusual punishment. This settlement is the culmination of years of litigation by the Civil Rights Clinic and CREEC, starting with Anderson v. Colorado, a lawsuit brought by inmate Troy Anderson in which a federal judge first ruled that the denial of outdoor exercise at CSP was unconstitutional. Student attorneys in the Civil Rights Clinic and attorneys at CREEC have represented the plaintiffs in this case and in Anderson over the past seven years. As a result of this settlement and the Anderson lawsuit, the Colorado Department of Corrections (CDOC) will build three outdoor exercise yards at CSP, and inmates housed at the prison will be permitted to use them. CDOC is moving its highest security level inmates from CSP to Sterling Correctional Facility, where they will also be permitted to exercise outdoors for the first time. A federal judge in Colorado has granted preliminary approval for the settlement, and the parties anticipate final approval in mid-2016. For more information about the case and the settlement, please contact: Lindsey Web (Denver Law) – 303-871-6586 – lwebb@law.du.edu Amy Robertson (CREEC) – 303-757-7901...
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