Adam X., et al., v. New Jersey Department of Corrections, et al.
Disability Rights Advocates filed this lawsuit against New Jersey Department of Corrections (“NJDOC”) and New Jersey Department of Education (“NJDOE”), alleging that adult prisons in New Jersey routinely violate the rights of high school students with disabilities by denying them education. Some students in these prisons receive no education whatsoever, while for others, education consists of receiving worksheets while they sit in a cage in the center of a solitary confinement unit.
The lawsuit is brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey and three incarcerated students, referred to in the lawsuit as Adam X., Brian Y., and Casey Z., who have been denied special education services by NJDOC. Each individual has spent significant amounts of time in solitary confinement, where they have received virtually no education services, let alone special education. DRA is co-counseling the case with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey and Proskauer LLP.
The lawsuit also charges that the NJDOE has failed to monitor and ensure that the NJDOC was providing special education and related services in compliance with federal and state law.
Experts estimate that as many as 70% of young people in adult prisons require special education services, and federal and state laws are clear: students with disabilities incarcerated in adult prisons are entitled to special education through the age of 21. About 800 young people in NJDOC custody are currently 21 and under, but NJDOC ignores its obligation to provide special education services to those who are eligible.
“Whether in a cage or a classroom, NJDOC has failed and continues to fail youth with disabilities, utterly ignoring a key component of rehabilitation: a meaningful education,” said Mary-Lee Smith, Director of Litigation at Disability Rights Advocates. “Youth with disabilities do not check their civil rights at the door of adult prison facilities.”
“Students with disabilities in adult prison facilities are legally entitled to educational services, including special education,” said Seth Packrone, DRA Fellowship Attorney. “NJDOC fails to provide this education, offering instead worksheets to be completed in a cage with other students. ”
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey and three incarcerated students, referred to in the lawsuit as Adam X., Brian Y. and Casey Z., who have been denied special education services by NJDOC:
- Adam X. has spent over 150 days in solitary confinement receiving virtually no education services, let alone special education. He entered NJDOC custody at age 18 and has a diagnosis of ADHD, but NJDOC has never investigated whether solitary confinement exacerbates his ADHD or whether his behavior resulted from his disability.
- Brian Y. has spent 180 days in solitary confinement – at first he received no education services, but eventually NJDOC gave him worksheets to complete while in a cage in the middle of the unit. He entered NJDOC custody before he turned 18 and has been diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder, impulse control disorder, and ADHD, but NJDOC has never tested him for special education, despite being legally obligated to do so. Now at the age of 19, Brian Y. has missed out on years of special education services while locked in adult correctional facilities. As with Adam X., NJDOC has never investigated whether administrative segregation worsens Brian’s disabilities or whether his prior behavior resulted from his disabilities.
- Casey Z. has been in special education for most of his life but has received no special education services at all since entering NJDOC custody 17 months ago at age 19. NJDOC officials tried to excuse this failure by claming Casey’s sentence is “too long” for him to receive special education services, but federal law makes no such exceptions.
“It is shocking that a state prison system would ignore the needs of students with disabilities, a group that is disproportionately represented in the prison system and could benefit so dramatically from the services the law entitles them to,” said Jeanne LoCicero, Deputy Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey. “We estimate that hundreds of incarcerated students are being denied their right to an education.”
“This lawsuit seeks to vindicate the rights of an incredibly vulnerable population: youth with disabilities in adult prison facilities,” said Bill Silverman, a former federal prosecutor and the partner at Proskauer responsible for leading pro bono efforts. “We intend to enforce the law.”
“There is no system in place at New Jersey’s adult correctional facilities to provide students with disabilities the services they need,” said Rebecca Livengood, ACLU-NJ Skadden Fellow. “Youth with disabilities in adult prison facilities can no longer be overlooked; this lawsuit will ensure that.”
The lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey.
A copy of the Complaint is available below.