Vol. 23 No. 8- Disabled And Segregated Inmates Entitled To Progams And Facilities

March 27, 2008

On March 24, 2008, the Ninth Circuit U. S. Court of Appeals ruled, in the case of Pierce v. County of Orange, that inmates housed in administrative segregation are entitled to “some minimal access to religious services and exercise.”  The Court also ruled that Orange County violated the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), by denying “…disabled inmates access to certain prison facilities (bathrooms, showers, exercise and other common areas), and because of disparate programs and services offered to disabled versus non-disabled inmates….”

The Court stated that “administrative segregation applies to inmates ‘who are determined to be prone to: escape; assault staff or other inmates; disrupt the operations of the jail, or likely to need protection from other inmates’.”  Nonetheless, the Court ruled that a previous court order, issued in a class action lawsuit, entitled inmates in administrative segregation “to constitutionally protected exercise…” and “…access to religious services.”

In 1978, a group of detainees, in the case of Stewart v. Gates, 450 F. Supp. 583, challenged the constitutionality of various practices and conditions of confinement in the Orange County Central Jail, and the district court presiding over the case issued an injunction establishing various standards for pretrial detainees.  There were fourteen (14) orders issued in the Stewart case and the Ninth Circuit, in the instant case, agreed that 12 of them had, in the past, been properly terminated.  However, the Court ruled that the two orders, referred to above, were still to be enforced.


The Court did recognize that some deference must be provided correctional officials when dealing with inmates in administrative segregation.  The Court ruled that, “we hold further that theStewart order requiring exercise for inmates in administrative segregation, subject to that order’s safety-valve provision permitting the County to
curtail or eliminate exercise for inmates that become violent or disruptive, may not be terminated.”

The Court also upheld the Stewart court’s order to allow access to religious opportunities, with limitations.  After articulating that “under the Constitution, ‘reasonable opportunities must be afforded to all prisoners to exercise the religious freedom guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments’,” the Court stated that “…detainees’ rights may be limited or retracted if required to ‘maintain institutional security and preserve internal order and discipline’.”

The Court did, however, point out that “…because we are dealing with pretrial detainees, to satisfy substantive due process requirements the restriction or regulation cannot be intended to serve a punitive interest.”  Therefore, those in administrative segregation are to be “…afforded opportunities for worship, provided the detainees have not become disruptive or violent, implicating legitimate security concerns….”


The Court held that the County violated the ADA, based on its finding that there was disparate treatment of inmates with disabilities.  As such, the Court ruled that “the district court must conduct further fact finding on the current state of physical barriers to adequate access to bathrooms, showers, exercise areas, day rooms, dining rooms, cells and all other areas to which disabled persons should have access and order remedial remedies as required.”

The Court also ordered the district court to “conduct further fact finding as to the programs and activities disabled persons currently have access to and order such remedial measures as required to make the County’s provision of programs and services…accessible to mobility and dexterity-impaired inmates.”


It appears obvious that there will be closer inspection of county jails, as well as city or privately run Type I jails, to ensure compliance with this court’s decision.  The mandate is to provide inmates – and in particular, pretrial detainees – who are separated from the general jail population (such as in administrative segregation), and/or are protected by ADA, with more freedom and access to programs and services than previously required.

Attendance at weekly religious services, access to religious advisors, and access to day rooms and exercise areas, will now be an obligation of the correctional facility, even for those who are housed in segregated areas.  If the correctional supervisors can show that there is a specific reason to withhold such activity or access, such as an inmate becoming violent and/or disruptive, restrictions can then be imposed.  It would appear that merely fearing such behavior will not be sufficient to deny access; it must be actual behavior which would then allow restricting access, as a legitimate, penological, reason.

As to those who suffer with disabilities, access to the same types of services and activities provided to the able bodied inmates, will be required.  In addition, access to areas of the jail, which currently may be unavailable to the disabled, due to architectural barriers, will need to be corrected.

As always, it is imperative that you confer with your agency’s legal counsel for advice and guidance implementing any new court decision.  If you wish to discuss this case in greater detail, please feel free to contact me at (714) 446-1400 or by e-mail at mjm@jones-mayer.com.