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FRANKLIN v. DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

April 16, 1997

ROBERT FRANKLIN, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: GREEN

 The plaintiffs represent a class of Hispanic prisoners who are or who will be incarcerated in District of Columbia correctional institutions. In this suit, they seek injunctive and a declaratory relief for alleged violations of the First, Fifth and Eighth Amendments to the Constitution under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, of 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000d, 2000bb, and of D.C. law pendent to the constitutional violations. *fn1"

 The plaintiffs allege that the defendant's failure to provide Spanish-speaking staff, interpreters and translators has violated their constitutional rights, because it effectively denies them adequate medical and mental health care and interferes with their right to privacy, obstructs their constitutional right to practice their religion, undermines their right to fair hearings and denies them access to vocational, educational and drug treatment programs. They also aver that the defendant has violated their rights by failing to offer religious, vocational and educational programs in the Spanish-language. And, the plaintiffs contend that the District of Columbia has discriminated against Hispanic prisoners by failing to protect them from racial violence and a racially hostile environment. *fn2"

 I. Introduction

 The five-day bench trial in this matter involved approximately 30 hours of trial time, evenly divided between both sides. *fn4" In its case-in-chief, the plaintiffs presented five Limited-English-Proficient ("LEP") Hispanic inmate witnesses (William Alexander Lazo, Jose Mejia, Jose Bonilla, Martin Nunez, and Jose el Carmen Sandoval); Sister Maria Lapazaran (a Carmelite nun serving as a full-time volunteer with the Department of Corrections); Ottoniel Perez (a pastoral volunteer of the Catholic Archdiocese); Rosalyn Overstreet-Gonzalez (a staff attorney with the D.C. Public Defenders Service Prisoners' Rights Program); E. Eugene Miller (an expert on correctional issues); Sonia Oquendo, M.D. (an expert on correctional mental health issues); Joseph Fowlkes, M.D. (an expert on correctional medical issues); Vilma Iraheta-Oliva ("Iraheta") (a bilingual case manager with the Department of Corrections); and Laura Colon (the coordinator for the Limited-English-Proficient Program at the Department of Corrections). The plaintiffs also offered deposition designations and counterdesignations pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 32, *fn5" and they introduced 296 exhibits at trial. *fn6"

 In its case, the defendants offered trial testimony from three fact witnesses and from one expert: Bernard Braxton (Deputy Director of the Department of Corrections); Laura Colon (see supra); Michael Green (Director for the Division of Parole Determination Services); and Dr. John Clark (expert witness). *fn7" The defendant offered deposition designations and counterdesignations, *fn8" and it offered 381 exhibits. *fn9"

 II. Findings of Fact

 The District of Columbia Department of Corrections currently operates eight correctional facilities which house approximately 9,000 inmates. *fn10" These institutions are:

 
D.C. Detention Facility ("D.C. Jail") - a high security facility that primarily holds inmates awaiting trial or transfer to one of the defendant's other correctional facilities. At the time of trial, there were 63 Hispanic inmates at the D.C. Jail.
 
Correctional Treatment Facility ("CTF") - a reception, diagnostic and treatment assessment center that is immediately adjacent to the D.C. Jail. At the time of trial, there were nine Hispanic inmates at CTF.
 
Central Facility ("Central") - a medium-security facility, which typically houses inmates within five years of release. At the time of trial, Central had 16 Hispanic inmates.
 
Maximum Facility ("Maximum") - a maximum-security facility. At the time of trial, Maximum held nine Hispanic inmates.
 
Medium Facility ("Medium") - a medium-security facility that normally houses inmates within five years of their release. At the time of trial, Medium had approximately 700 inmates, ten of which were Hispanic.
 
Minimum Facility ("Minimum") - the least restrictive of the facilities at Lorton, which at the time of trial, had seven Hispanic inmates.
 
Occoquan Facility ("Occoquan") - a high/medium-security facility. At the time of trial, Occoquan held 43 Hispanic inmates.
 
The Youth Center ("Youth Center") - a facility for Youth Rehabilitation Act offenders and other less violent young adults. At the time of trial, 30 Hispanic inmates were incarcerated at the Youth Center.

 Through the testimony of the plaintiffs' correctional expert, Mr. Eugene Miller, *fn11" the plaintiffs established that, as of the date of trial, 188 Hispanic prisoners were incarcerated in the various institutions of the Department of Corrections, and that the number of Hispanic inmates was expected to increase in future years. *fn12" See Miller Direct Testimony ("Miller Test.") at 4-6. While this number represents approximately 2% of all inmates, it also represents a 33% increase in Hispanic inmates incarcerated within DCDC institutions since 1994. The majority of these Hispanic inmates are from Central America, which the evidence at trial established as significant: Unlike Hispanics from Puerto Rico, Hispanics from Central America typically have little or no exposure to English or the way of life in the United States. *fn13" Even more problematic, of the Hispanic inmates in the D.C. Department of Corrections institutions, approximately eighty (80) percent do not speak English sufficient to function effectively on a daily basis. *fn14" Miller Test. at 4 & 35; see also TR at 772 & 814 (testimony of Laura Colon).

 The defendant's awareness of issues in the Hispanic community generally and of Hispanic issues in its correctional institutions in particular was substantially heightened in May of 1991 as a result of a civil disturbance in the Adams Morgan and Mount Pleasant areas of the District of Columbia. Shortly thereafter, the Department of Corrections organized its Task Force on Ethnic Minority Population to address the services to the Latino population within the D.C. correctional institutions. On July 15, 1991, the DCDC Task Force issued its report, finding:

 
Recognizing the potential increase in the population that may exist, it is important to insure that programs are either expanded or new ones developed to meet the basic health, mental health, and educational needs.
 
Effective communications with each ethnic minority group, especially Latinos, is necessary to facilitate a rehabilitation process. The need for comprehensive and standardized language and cultural programming opportunities is evident. Appropriate programming will enhance staff and inmate sensitivity and minimize misrepresentation and the risk of confrontation based on misinterpretation. Thus, greater focus will be given to this group.

 DCDC Task Force Report at 2 (emphasis added).

 The Task Force recognized that "limited English speaking inmates are not afforded the opportunity to participate because of the language barrier and the lack of sensitivity to their needs by the system." Id. at 3. The major operational concerns identified in the DCDC Task Force Report included:

 
.the ability to fully participate in the Department's orientation program;
 
.the ability to identify the specific needs of the limited-English proficient inmate;
 
.the ability of the LEP inmate to seek appropriate mental health services because of the lack of bilingual psychiatric staff;
 
.the ability of the LEP to seek medical appropriate medical services because of the lack of bilingual medical personnel;
 
.the ability of the LEP inmate to participate in educational and vocational programs because of the lack of ...

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