Most of ACLU’s lawsuit against Nebraska prisons advances

January 17, 2018

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A federal judge has dismissed portions of a lawsuit that says Nebraska’s overcrowded prisons give inadequate health care, overuse solitary confinement and discriminate against disabled inmates.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska filed the lawsuit in August on behalf of disabled inmates against the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services, the State Board of Parole and leaders in those agencies. The lawsuit alleges that the parole board’s evaluation of prisoners at parole hearings disproportionately screens out inmates with disabilities, and that the board lacks policy for providing disabled inmates services.

The state filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit in November, arguing that the 11 inmates named in the suit lacked legal standing and hadn’t incurred injuries.

“Being denied parole due to criteria that improperly discriminate against those with disabilities would be an actual injury,” said U.S. District Judge Robert Rossiter.

Rossiter on Tuesday ruled that while the lawsuit can move forward, the state agencies can’t be sued directly. Claims alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act will move forward, as will civil-rights claims against prisons director Scott Frakes, parole administrator Julie Micek and the prisons director of health services Harbans Deol.

“This is a complete victory for us. All of our claims survive, all of our claims go forward,” said David Fathi, who directs the ACLU’s national effort to ensure civil rights of prison inmates.

However, the state doesn’t view the decision as a loss.

“We appreciate the court’s partial dismissal of this lawsuit and look forward to defending the remainder of this case,” Attorney General Doug Peterson said in an emailed statement.

The ACLU of Nebraska said it hopes to work with officials to improve prison conditions and avoid going to trial.

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