In November 2021, Judge Claudia Wilken issued an order in the Armstrong case requiring the Court Expert to investigate misconduct against people with disabilities incarcerated at Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison – Corcoran (SATF).  The court’s 2021 order is here.   

As the Court Expert details in a report filed with the court on December 20, 2022 after a one year investigation,  Armstrong class members at SATF are living “diminished and needlessly difficult lives….[and] face harsher prison conditions, and thus greater punishment, than their peers.”  As the Court Expert also wrote:  “Self correction has to be the goal, and our investigation showed it is a long way off.”  The report of the Court Expert is here.  

From the introduction to the Court Expert’s report:

“This report outlines our findings following a year-long investigation into how the Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison – Corcoran (SATF) treats its disabled population.  The findings are troubling. In recent years, SATF has been a difficult place to be an incarcerated person with disabilities. The moment class members arrive at SATF, they encounter a system that can cause them to lose the equipment, supplies, or medications they need to manage their conditions. They face obstacles obtaining durable medical equipment (DME) when their disabilities change or their DME break or need to be replaced. When they ask for basic supplies they need for their conditions, sometimes they are told, incorrectly, that those supplies are not available, and other times that they already have enough supplies. They often must file multiple requests to obtain a medical appointment, sometimes having to resort to the disability accommodation request process just to be seen by medical staff. Their interactions with those staff are frequently more challenging than at other institutions, with medical staff issuing inappropriate rules violation reports against their patients or treating them with impatience or  indifferent to their needs. “

Summary of the ongoing Armstrong v. Newsom class action:

RBGG proved in federal court that California’s prison and parole systems violate the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 by discriminating against prisoners and parolees with mobility, sight, hearing, learning, mental and kidney disabilities. We secured systemwide injunctive relief to end the discrimination, which was upheld on appeal.  See Armstrong v. Wilson, 942 F. Supp. 1252 (N.D. Cal. 1996), aff’d 124 F.3d 1019 (9th Cir. 1997). We also established that the State is responsible for taking steps to ensure the rights of prisoners and parolees with disabilities are accommodated when it chooses to house them in third-party county jail facilities. See Armstrong v. Brown, 857 F. Supp. 2d 919 (N.D. Cal. 2012), aff’d 732 F.3d 955 (9th Cir. 2013), cert denied, 134 S. Ct. 2725 (2014); and 622 F.3d 1058 (9th Cir. 2010).   The Armstrong litigation has resulted in a series of ground-breaking precedents, including rulings that the ADA does not permit state government agencies to avoid compliance by delegating responsibilities to local governments, and that prisoners cannot be held in solitary confinement solely on account of disability. We are currently working to stop staff misconduct targeting people with disabilities at CDCR.  On September 8, 2020 and March 11, 2021 respectively, Judge Claudia Wilken granted in part our February 2020 and June 2020 motions to stop staff misconduct at six prisons in CDCR.  The Court found that the systemic abuses against incarcerated people with disabilities at—R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility (San Diego, CA)), CSP – Los Angeles County (Lancaster, CA), CSP -Corcoran (Corcoran, CA), Kern Valley State Prison (Delano, CA), Substance Abuse Treatment Facility (Corcoran, CA), and California Institution for Women (Corona, CA) —violate the ADA and prior court orders.  As a remedy, the Court required Defendants to develop plans to install security cameras and use body worn-cameras (BWCs) throughout the six prisons, reform the staff investigation and disciplinary process, and increase supervisory staffing on all yards at the six prisons.  Currently, BWCs are in use at all six prisons; security cameras will be in place by the end of the year.  The Court also appointed an expert to oversee implementation of the mandated reforms.  Armstrong v. Newsom, 484 F.Supp.3d 808 (N.D. Cal. 2020); Armstrong v. Newsom, 2021 WL 933106 (N.D. Cal. 2021).  We are in ongoing negotiations with CDCR administrators regarding system-wide reforms to the staff investigation and discipline system. Relatedly, on July 30, 2020, the Court entered a preliminary injunction to protect two people with disabilities from retaliation by prison guards.  Officers attacked and threatened both people because they had previously reported to RBGG lawyers that officers had abused other incarcerated people incarcerated people with disabilities.  The Court ordered that CDCR transfer these two witnesses from the prison where they had faced assault, threats and other retaliation .  Armstrong v. Newsom, 475 F. Supp. 3d 1038 (N.D. Cal. 2020).