Court Approves Significant Settlement for Disabled Prisoners

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York has approved a Private Settlement Agreement in a lawsuit on behalf of a class of blind and severely visually impaired prisoners at two correctional facilities run by the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS). The agreement requires DOCCS to provide assistance and assistive devices to meet the needs of legally blind and severely visually impaired prisoners, and contains more than 100 substantive terms addressing nearly all aspects of prison life that implicate a prisoner’s visual impairment.

The settlement is a significant victory for the rights of disabled prisoners. It will help visually disabled prisoners participate in activities, services, and programs ranging from reading and writing to legal research, from GED programs to vocational training, and from safe recreation and showering to safe transportation between facilities. Among other things, it requires that DOCCS provide additional computers, equipped with adaptive software, and additional adaptive reading devices for blind and severely visually impaired inmates. The settlement includes periodic reporting over the next two years so that plaintiffs’ counsel may confirm DOCCS’s compliance with its obligations.

The case is Medina, et al. v. Fischer, et al., and was brought as a class action by a group of visually impaired prisoners at Sullivan Correctional Facility in Fallsburg and Wende Correctional Facility in Alden. The settlement affects legally blind and severely visually impaired inmates at those two facilities.

The plaintiffs were represented by attorneys from the Prisoners’ Rights Project of The Legal Aid Society and Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP.

“Visually disabled prisoners face considerable difficulties in prison,” said Milton Zelermyer, an attorney at the Prisoners' Rights Project of The Legal Aid Society. “They need accommodations to assist in even their most basic needs, and they risk abuse and discrimination. Our clients believe that this settlement will significantly help them and their fellow disabled inmates overcome these problems. This is a proud day for equality.”

“This settlement will help ensure that legally blind and severely visually impaired prisoners can navigate through prison life, can access printed and recorded materials to assist in their legal cases and to communicate with the outside world, and can participate more fully in prison life,” added Eric Alan Stone, who led the representation at Paul, Weiss along with fellow partner Daniel J. Kramer.

The Legal Aid Society Prisoners’ Rights Project protects and enforces the legal rights of New York City and New York State prisoners through class action litigation, along with administrative advocacy and advice for individual prisoners. In addition to Mr. Zelermyer, the Prisoners’ Rights Project attorneys working on the Medina case included Veronica Vela and John Boston.

Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP has, for decades, represented prisoners in challenging the conditions of their confinement. In addition to Mr. Kramer and Mr. Stone, the Paul, Weiss team included associate Katherine Kelly, visiting lawyer Machteld Jansen, and former associates Marisa Lenok and Asad Kudiya.