Disability Rights Michigan

DRM undertook three initiatives to improve access to assistive technology and other conditions faced by individuals with disabilities in Michigan state prisons. In 2019, DRM and co-counsel settled class action litigation involving up to 130 prisoners who are deaf or hard of hearing. The settlement included installation of video relay systems so inmates can communicate with their families. The settlement also required other changes in policy, installation of flashing lights to address emergencies, and provisions for securing sign language interpreters. The court appointed a monitor to oversee implementation of the settlement over a two-year period. In addition, DRM non-attorney advocates are focusing on the mobility needs of prisoners who need wheelchairs or accessible features within prison facilities to get to where they need to go (work, exercise, meals, etc.). DRM succeeded in getting new wheelchairs for at least three inmates in 2019, and the Michigan Department of Corrections has agreed in principle to repair elevators and install ramps to assure accessibility. Finally, in 2020, DRM advocates used case examples to advocate for positive changes in administrative segregation (solitary confinement) conditions faced by prisoners with mental illness in the START program. The changes include therapeutic staffing, de-escalation, an end to withholding personal property as incentives, consistent practices in advancing and moving prisoners in the program, and an end to the “non-progressive” designation often given to prisoners with disabilities.

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