Treatment of Disabled Inmates Violates ADA Regulations: Judge

The CDCR has 30 days to respond to the court order.

Using segregated cells for disabled inmates at Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility has been deemed a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act Tuesday.

Between January and November 2014, Donovan was home to 134 disabled inmates that were housed in isolation - more than all other California prisons combined.

Susan Thornton-Zetino, a former teacher from Donovan, said the segregated housing is meant as a punishment and is being imposed on inmates not being punished.

Guards are instead using the segregated cells for inmates with disabilities because they offer more room for the use of wheelchairs and canes.

Those inmates, though, said they spend most of their time in their cells with limited access to exercise.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said the officers at Donovan also failed to report the number of disabled inmates being housed for more than 72 hours to headquarters.

The CDCR said the segregation unit policy has been effective at its 33 other facilities, and that 90 percent of disabled inmates are moved into new housing within a day.

"If it's only that institution, then it needs to be looked at," Thornton-Zetino said. "What else is going on at that institution?"

Pink and Black Prisoner Organization member Cathy Mendonca said the situation is both concerning and heartbreaking.

"It raises a concern for the county of San Diego," Mendonca said. "Is this how they're treating folks with a disability?"

The CDCR is now requiring specialized training, enhanced monitoring and daily reports on disabled inmates placed at Donovan, as they wait to build a 700-bed facility to treat disabled and mentally ill inmates.

"I almost feel in a way, it's their way of perhaps justifying the expansion," said Thornton-Zetino of the disabled inmates' treatment.

The CDCR would not grant an interview, but said they're reviewing the court order and have 30 days to respond.

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