Can Blind Prisoners Sue Their Way to Better Treatment?
Why you should care
Locked up or free, disabled people have rights.
Charles Grossman already had cataracts when he entered the Florida prison system in his mid-50s in 2009 to serve a 15-year sentence for assault and battery. Quickly, his vision deteriorated to the point where he was legally blind in his left eye and totally blind in his right. As he bounced around correctional facilities, he learned to fend for himself — and to tolerate suspicious guards who let him walk into doors to see if he was faking it. What hurt more was the lack of access to vocational and educational services that might have shortened his sentence or helped him adjust to civilian life after his release.
Now, a small but resolute group of lawyers has filed major legal cases on behalf of blind state prisoners like Grossman, calling for damages and reform. In Illinois, for example, prisoners must pass a written proficiency exam to qualify for training and educational programs. When a legally blind prisoner named Ulysses Williams was denied an audio version of the test, he satisfied the PLRA requirements and then filed a federal lawsuit in April, all with the help of an Illinois advocacy group for the disabled, Equip for Equality. According to the lawsuit, “For two years [Williams] has been continuously denied any ability to work, take educational classes, or obtain his GED.” Now, they are waiting on the summary judgment ruling before proceeding. …
Guide prisoners often charge for their services and sometimes refuse to escort blind prisoners.