Tennessee Inmate Claims Discrimination on the Basis of Disability

IS THE TDOC VIOLATING THE AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT?

by Sharon Rondeau

(Apr. 23, 2019) — A letter received last week from an inmate at the Northwest Correctional Complex (NWCX) in Tiptonville, TN reported, as he did last year, that with the arrival of spring, inmates with disabilities were hoping to be able to recreate “outside on the unit yard,” only to be told they must remain “on the big yard with the general population,” where they were relegated over the colder months.

The problem with that scenario, the inmate wrote, is that disabled inmates face “being trampled by other healthier inmates” in the general-population exercise area.

NWCX is a state-run facility operated by the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) reported to house many violent and gang-related offenders.

Last summer, he reported that “Many of these inmates are suffering from chronic illness such as hypertension and diabetes, and is encouraged by health officials to exercise regularly. Many of the inmates are now Complaining of stiffness of muscles and pain in their joints some has complained of encrecreased blood pressure, and severe cramps…Other inmate who are younger and healthier are being allowed to go out on the yard and exercise on a daily basis. To Participate in all sports events to lift weights, play basketball and baseball ect. It is the assumption that this cruel practice by officials is to lead to the demise of these older Inmates to avoid giving medical furloughs for which applications have been filled out.” [sic]

“Your response to this caused the staff to stop that practice, and inmates with disabilities were able to exercise like other inmates,” he informed us.

Further, he wrote, “This discrimination is a clear violation of the American with disability Act, but the staff is become embolden, because no lawsuits have been filed and recently the previous recreation specialist, who was in charge of making the schedule for inmates has retired his position being replace by a member of the security, who advocated against inmates with disabilities using the unit yard area for purpose of recreation.” [sic]

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) states that prisons must comply with the stipulated accessibility requirements of the 1991 law as a result of a 2004 addendum, including “mobility” and “communication” accessibility in cells containing disabled prisoners.  Inmates must also have an “Accessible Route to Exercise Machines and Equipment,” according to the 2004 addendum.

In addition to his typewritten letter, a handwritten addendum stated that the issue was addressed at an inmate council meeting on April 11 to include Warden Shawn Phillips and “other senior staff official.” [sic]

“The issue of unit yard recreation was raised and approved,” the handwritten note continues, and “it was stated that the same schedule from last year would apply.” [sic]

Despite reaching an apparent agreement, the inmate wrote that “some staff member’s decided to implement their own schedule” apparently combining disabled inmates with non-disabled inmates per the status quo.  “Jeff Mills, Lt. Lynch and Capt. Lovell is insisting on inmate’s with disabilities go to the gym when general population goes to the gym, and go to unit yard, when general population goes to Big yard.”

Finally, he wrote, “and since that meeting Lt. Lynch, Capt. Lovell refuse to allow inmate’s with a disability to go out on unit yard until they see something in writing,” presumably from Phillips or another prison official.

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