(Source: Star Tribune)
Minnesota’s Department of Corrections violated the civil rights of disabled prisoners by not granting them opportunities to seek needed modifications to its General Education Development (GED) exams, a U.S. Justice Department investigation has concluded.
The federal probe found that the state’s corrections system discriminated against those with disabilities in multiple ways, leading to failed practice tests or official exams, a denial of access to other prison programs and in some cases prisoners being released without the GED they sought.
The Justice Department’s investigation started after complaints from disabled prisoners. It found that Minnesota’s DOC discriminated against disabled prisoners by failing to notify them about modifications for GED courses, practice tests, and exams; failing to give them extended time and breaks for courses and tests; and preventing them from applying for GED exam accommodations.
In a statement, DOC spokesman Nicholas Kimball said that the department was “committed to collaborating with DOJ, stakeholders, and others to resolve any issues they identified.”
“Education during incarceration, including adult basic education, is critical to a successful transition back to the community for the 95 percent of incarcerated individuals who will eventually be released from prison,” Kimball said. “We worked closely with DOJ as it studied the DOC’s GED programming and are reviewing their findings.”
Anne Raish, acting chief of the Justice Department’s disability rights section, sent a 10-page letter of findings on Friday to Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell, asking that the state prison system take new steps such as changing policies and procedures, putting an Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) coordinator in place, training staff and reporting to the Justice Department.
Raish wrote that the Justice Department interviewed 12 formerly or currently incarcerated people with disabilities and 36 Minnesota Department of Corrections employees at multiple facilities. The DOC also produced documents for review, including files of 24 incarcerated people with disabilities.
“While the MNDOC generally allowed qualified individuals with disabilities to enroll or participate in its GED program, the MNDOC unlawfully denied them an equal opportunity to benefit from the program by failing to provide necessary reasonable modifications,” Raish wrote.