Federal Judge: OC Jails Violate Americans With Disabilities Act

Ten years ago, Timothy Conn, a quadriplegic inmate behind bars for "drug-related misdemeanors," sued the Orange County Sheriff's Department for violating the Americans With Disabilites Act (ADA) because he couldn't take a shower by himself.

According to the lawsuit, because other inmates would have to lift his wheelchair into the shower room, Conn frequently went days or weeks without bathing. Now, as reported in yesterday's Orange County Register, a federal judge has ruled in Conn's favor, demanding that the sheriff's department ensure that the jail is fully compliant with the ADA.

As the Reg points out, and as we highlighted awhile back, sheriff's officials are scrambling for ways to cut costs and raise revenue, including housing immigration detainees at the jail, in preparation for what are expected to be massive cuts to its budget thanks to the state's fiscal crisis. So far, it's unclear exactly how the department will pay for the required changes.

John McDonald, a sheriff's spokesperson, said the agency doesn't have an official response to the court ruling. But as the Register reported, the agency has been working for the past year with a court-appointed monitor to install some wheelchair-friendly changes, including "grab bars for toilets and showers" as well as wheelchair ramps.

However, Capt. Dave Nighswonger told the Reg, some of the changes the ruling requires would require an architect to draw up construction plans and would take a year to complete. "Now we have a concrete plan to go forward and make changes," Nighswonger said. "We're at a good stage."


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