Joe’s blog – #87 – who have willfully chosen to ignore the law

Once again I am confounded by the depth of ignorance exhibited by key prison administrators at Deerfield when it comes to matters relevant to the Americans with Disabilities Act. More so, given the level of ignorance as it pertains to their own written policy concerning the same I am hard pressed to draw a conclusion that does not indicate either; 1) incompetence; or, 2) intentional neglect or malfeasance. My latest encounter involves a DOC school teacher and another of Deerfield’s rational zombies, Ms. Hewett, the Disciplinary Hearings Officer.

In my last posting I introduced you to Righteous Shabazz, a fellow prisoner who suffers from “normal pressure glaucoma”. I’ve been assisting him with trying to secure his rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The disease is chronic. If proactive steps are taken one can halt its progression, but the damage that has already occurred can not be undone. To look at Righteous you would think that he is poster guy for good health, but looks can be deceiving. He is not blind, he can see, but his vision is measurably impaired, e.g., he will never be permitted to drive a car; his vision loss cannot be corrected with glasses/contacts; and, if he doesn’t take proactive steps to reduce the pressure on his eyes, i.e., the optic nerve, his vision will worsen with an end result of blindness. The upside, if there is an upside, is that he can take steps that will halt the progression. He can use magnifiers to enlarge what he reads, so that he reduces stress on his eyes, i.e., reduces pressure on the optic nerve. He can watch TV’s that come with specialized vision impairment functions. Eat foods that are medically proven to help reduce pressure on the optic nerve. Rest his eyes often, etc., etc.

But even with taking all the steps to reduce the pressure, he will still experience debilitating symptoms such as severe headaches, blurred vision, dizziness, nausea that can be incapacitating. Some days he is just not going to be able to function as he normally would.

It is beyond dispute the Righteous has a disability that qualifies him for purposes of the ADA. That essential element has been determined by qualified medical professionals. DOC Operating Procedure #801.3, “Managing Offenders With Disabilities”, governs and, proscribes, how prison officials interact act with their disables prisoners. The policy is very clear on two, of many other, points, i.e.;
“….prior to taking any action regarding chronically ill, physically disabled, geriatric, seriously mentally ill, or developmentally disabled offenders in the following areas…(c) Disciplinary measures …[There is a consultation between the Facility Unit Head and the responsible Medical Practitioner…](e) When immediate action is required, consultation to review the appropriateness of the action occurs as soon as possible, but no later than 72 hours…C. Reasonable Accommodations for Offenders with Disabilities…1. Offenders are essentially dependent on the physical conditions of and services provided by their facilities. (a) The Facility shall make reasonable accommodations for physically challenged and mentally I’ll offenders, consistent with and required by the [ADA]…(c) Health Care, security, and other staff shall avoid disciplining offenders for their disabilities…”

Righteous has repeatedly requested reasonable accommodations that would enable him to attend school to obtain his GED. Both his assigned teacher and the schools principle have been made aware of his disability and his requests for reasonable accommodation, i.e., that he be excused from attending class on those odd days when the symptoms stemming from his disability make it too difficult for him to function properly.

A little over a week ago Righteous was unable to attend class. The teacher called his unit supervisor to determine the reason. The unit supervisor informed the teacher of the reason, i.e., due to severe headache and dizziness (vertigo). That teacher, clear policy notwithstanding, filed a disciplinary report stating the Righteous “refused to attend class”. To add insult to injury, the esteemed disciplinary hearings officer, in a decision reminiscent of Judge Roy Bean, (evidence and policy be damned), determined him to be guilty of the crime because he could not provide medical documentation to prove that he had been medically exempted from having to attend school altogether. A finding that is odd in and of itself because Righteous has never sought medical exemption from school because he wants to earn his GED, and regularly attends classes.

He has repeatedly requested a reasonable accommodation that would enable him to continue classes, except on those days when due to his disability, he was unable to do so.

The response from the teacher, the principle, and the hearings officer is – no matter how they attempt to spin it – to punish Righteous due to his disability, and not because of any willful disobedience. If there has been any willful disobedience it has been due to the actions of the aforementioned prison staff who have willfully chosen to ignore the law and their own clearly written policies.

I have no doubt that the hearings officer will disagree, but that will be for a real judge to decide, and not left in the hands of a petty functionary of the DOC.

Peace, Joe G.
Deerfield 12-15-16

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