A blind parole violator was assigned to an upper bunk in a San Bernardino County, Ca., jail cell at the top of a tall staircase. One day, he missed a step and, flailing for a handrail, tumbled down the steel staircase. When he returned from the hospital in a wheelchair, deputies confiscated it. California Watch says the blind prisoner's account is one of dozens of complaints cited in a federal lawsuit alleging that the state violated the rights of disabled prisoners by not ensuring they would receive adequate care in county jails.
The debate over the state's responsibility for disabled prisoners has taken on increasing importance as the state shifts the burden of housing many thousands of inmates onto the counties in a policy euphemistically known as “realignment.” For county governments reeling from budget cutbacks, the cost of upgrading jails and caring for disabled prisoners could be huge. “I'm crossing my fingers that we can accommodate some of those needs here in our county,” said Undersheriff Dahl Cleek, of Tulare County. “But it's not like we have a built-in hospital inside these jails. Those could bankrupt a county pretty quick.”