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Rocky Mountain News (CO)

October 4, 2003
Karen Abbott

Colorado has agreed to spend millions of dollars providing equal access and services to disabled state inmates, and an arbiter has ruled that the state should pay more than $1 million to the lawyers who sued on behalf of the prisoners.

The settlement ends 11 years of litigation in Denver U.S. District Court.
Six inmates sued the state in 1992, alleging Colorado prisons didn't comply with the federal Americans With Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act.

The lawsuit later became a class action on behalf of all disabled state inmates.

Alison Morgan, spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Corrections, said officials don't yet know exactly how many disabled inmates are in the state prison system or how much the state will have to spend under the settlement.

“We're still putting the last of it all together,'' Morgan said.

The settlement requires the state to renovate prison facilities - at an expected cost of more than $3 million - and provide disabled inmates assistance such as handicapped-accessible cells, sign language interpreters, Braille and large-print documents, and carefully chosen inmate aides to help them with daily activities if necessary.

For instance, at the Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility in Canon City , a pill-dispensing counter will be lowered and a handicapped-accessible drinking fountain will be installed. Two toilet rooms in the kitchen work area also will be reconfigured and recreational activities have been relocated to handicapped-accessible areas.

As another example, the state will provide a new visiting trailer at the Youth Offender Services facility in Pueblo or modify the existing one.

The state promised that no inmate will be housed in stricter security or denied participation in any program solely because of a disability.

The settlement also lets individual state prisoners collect damages for past violations of the federal Americans With Disabilities Act.

It further requires the state to train prison staff in dealing with disabled inmates and to monitor how the inmates are treated.

Denver U.S. District Judge Edward Nottingham approved the settlement in August. Robbie Barr, special master with the private Judicial Arbiter Group, awarded the fees Thursday to 10 lawyers, 13 paralegals and two law clerks.

The lawyers achieved ''excellent'' results for the disabled inmates, Barr said.

The largest fee, more than $477,000, was awarded to lead attorney Paula Greisen . Barr said Greisen devoted nearly 2,000 hours to the case.

Barr also awarded $48,500 to 21 prisoners.

Their individual awards are either $1,500 or $3,000, except for lead plaintiff Jesse Montez, whose estate was awarded $5,000.

Montez died during the litigation.

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