On September 8, 2020 and March 11, 2021, in Armstrong v. Newsom, 94-2304 (N.D. Cal.), Judge Claudia Wilken issued two orders intended to stop officers in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (“CDCR”) from abusing and discriminating against people with disabilities. On February 2, 2023, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed these orders almost in their entirety, and affirmed CDCR’s obligation to hold prison staff accountable for ongoing discrimination, abuse, and retaliation against incarcerated people with disabilities.
Judge Wilken’s orders found that systemic abuses against incarcerated people with disabilities at six prisons—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)—violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and prior court orders. As a remedy, the Court required CDCR to develop plans to install security cameras and use body worn-cameras (BWCs), reform the staff investigation and disciplinary process, and increase supervisory staffing on all yards. BWCs and fixed security cameras are now operational and the additional sergeants have been staffed at all six prisons. 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).
In March 2022, after eighteen months of negotiations with CDCR and the Court ruling in Plaintiffs’ favor on two sets of objections to CDCR’s proposal, CDCR finalized the remedial plans to comply with the Court’s orders. As part of the remedial plans, CDCR must overhaul its staff misconduct investigation and discipline process to better hold staff accountable for violating the rights of incarcerated people with disabilities. These reforms began to be implemented at the six prisons in 2022.
The Ninth Circuit’s February 2023 opinion affirmed almost all of the remedies in the district court’s orders. The court vacated only two remedies—additional staff and reforms to pepper-spray policies—and did so only at five of the six prisons addressed in the orders on appeal. Of note, CDCR has already implemented and embraced both of those remedies at the five impacted prisons.
CDCR must also produce to us and to the Court Expert staff misconduct investigation files so that we can monitor if CDCR is complying with the remedial plans and if the changes to the system will result in increased transparency and accountability. Plaintiffs’ counsel will post redacted versions of our monitoring reports on our website.
In addition, in response to our litigation, CDCR has plans to install fixed surveillance cameras at all of its prisons and has begun implementing body-worn cameras at four additional prisons (California Correctional Women’s Facility (Chowchilla), CSP – Sacramento (Folsom), Salinas Valley State Prison (Soledad), California Correctional Institution (Tehachapi).