This case, brought by a class of people who are or will be on parole or supervised release in Washington, D.C., challenges the failure of the federal government’s post-conviction supervision system to accommodate individuals with disabilities as required by federal law.

For many, a criminal sentence does not end after leaving custody. Instead, it extends for years—and sometimes a lifetime—in the form of either “parole” or “supervised release.” People subject to these forms of supervision are required to comply with myriad and onerous conditions even after they have returned to their communities. In D.C., failing to follow the most technical conditions can easily land one back in jail or prison—even if no new criminal conduct is alleged. In 2021 and 2022, at least 10% of all alleged supervision violation reports in D.C. were based solely on "technical" violations of release conditions, meaning non-criminal conduct like missing appointments with supervision officers.

People with disabilities, who are over-represented among the supervision population, are set up to fail in the federal government’s supervision system for residents of the District. To meaningfully participate in their supervision, many people with disabilities require reasonable accommodations. For instance, people with disabilities may be unable to fully comprehend the dozens of complex requirements of supervision or to physically move throughout the city to attend the numerous appointments, meetings, and programs that supervision requires. Absent reasonable accommodations, it is exceedingly difficult for many people with disabilities to comply with their supervision requirements. People with disabilities thus face a heightened risk of sanctions—including the imposition of additional and more onerous conditions, the extension of their term of supervision, and even incarceration.

Among all individuals on supervision in D.C., 10% faced violation proceedings for exclusively technical violations in 2021 or 2022; among individuals whom the supervision agency classified as having a mental disability, the proportion was almost twice as high (18%). Those with disabilities are thus denied the same opportunity as others to meet their supervision conditions, and thereby successfully complete supervision. The inability to meaningfully access their supervision, combined with the ever-looming threat of arrest, sanctions, and further imprisonment, leads to severe stress and needless incarceration.

Because of its systematic failure to accommodate individuals with disabilities, the government’s supervision system in D.C. violates Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The Rehabilitation Act requires the government to affirmatively provide reasonable accommodations to ensure that people with disabilities have meaningful access to the benefits of the supervision system—foremost among them, the opportunity to be released from supervision upon successfully completing the supervision term. The United States Parole Commission and the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (“CSOSA”)—the two federal agencies that dictate the conditions of supervision and the consequences of non-compliance for D.C. residents— flout this mandate because they systematically fail to assess people’s accommodation needs and to provide reasonable accommodations. The result is discrimination on the basis of disability at each stage of supervision: when setting conditions of supervision, when enforcing the conditions of supervision, when re-incarcerating people for failing to comply with these conditions, and again when releasing people to the very same conditions that, absent accommodation for their disability, they could not follow to begin with.

Our two named plaintiffs’ experiences on supervision illustrate these systematic violations. Plaintiff W. Mathis is a 70-year-old Black military veteran with congestive heart failure who has been on parole for 18 years. His heart condition makes it difficult for him to travel throughout the city to his multiple supervision appointments each week. His heart condition has also led to numerous hospitalizations and medical appointments at the Veterans Affairs hospital, and Mr. Mathis has been punished—and even incarcerated—for missing supervision appointments on dates when he received medical treatment at the hospital. He was then released on the same supervision conditions he had struggled to meet due to his disability, without any accommodations.

Plaintiff K. Davis is a middle-aged Black man who lives with chronic pain and mobility limitations stemming from third-degree burns, as well as anxiety, depression, and posttraumatic stress disorder. His disabilities make it difficult for him to get to required meetings and otherwise navigate his parole requirements, which include multiple weekly appointments and drug tests. Defendants are aware of Mr. Davis’s disabilities, but nonetheless had him arrested after he did not contact his CSO for a period of less than two weeks, despite the fact that he made it to every single drug testing appointment and tested negative every time. While serving a 12-month prison sentence for technical violations related to his disabilities, Mr. Davis missed a necessary surgery for his burns.

In May 2024, together with the National ACLU, D.C. Public Defender Service. and the law firm Latham & Watkins LLP, we filed this case on behalf of Mr. Mathis, Mr. Davis, and a class of similarly situated people, to require the Commission and CSOSA to implement a system to affirmatively assess people’s accommodation needs and provide the reasonable accommodations they need to have an equal opportunity to succeed on supervision.

Pro Bono Law Firm(s)

Latham & Watkins LLP; Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia

Date filed

May 6, 2024


U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia