Settlement reached on prisoner education services

April 08, 1993|By Holly Selby | Holly Selby,Staff Writer

A settlement aimed at improving special education services for young prison inmates with learning disabilities was reached yesterday between the state and lawyers for a group of inmates.

The agreement, approved by the state Board of Public Works in Annapolis, could extend such services to perhaps 300 inmates but does not specify additional funding.

Currently, there are about 1,200 inmates under the age of 22 in Maryland prisons. Of those, 80 to 100 receive special education, according to the state Division of Correction.

Under the agreement, the state will pay about $61,000 in legal fees.

A class-action suit was filed in February 1991 against individuals in the state Department of Education, which runs prison education, and Bishop L. Robinson, secretary of Public Safety and Correctional Services, by the Public Justice Center on behalf of four anonymous inmates.

The Baltimore-based center is a nonprofit corporation that matches indigent clients and volunteer attorneys. The suit was filed in U.S. District Court.

According to the center, federal law states that anyone under 22 with a learning disability, physical impairment or emotional problems is entitled to special education classes.

In the settlement, the state agreed to these points:

* To screen all potentially eligible inmates within 21 days of their incarceration. The screening process must include a face-to-face interview, testing and review of previous school records.

* To establish a review committee in each institution and prepare an individual education plan for each eligible inmate.

* To include parents in the educational process -- and, if necessary, to appoint surrogate parents.

* To give in-service training to correctional staff so they can more readily recognize inmates who need special education.

There will also be an arbitrator for disagreements over compliance, said Michael A. Millemann, one of six attorneys who filed the suit.

"We are really hoping that this settlement will expand special education," said Mr. Millemann, a University of Maryland law professor. "If the state provides more careful screening, the state will identify more people eligible for the program."

But prison officials said they did not believe the number of inmates receiving special education would increase significantly.

"I would not expect a dramatic increase," said Dr. David Jenkins, an overseer of prison education. "We have been screening for at least five years, but certainly the suit brings more attention to it and you probably would get a marginal increase."

And no new funding has been provided for the program.

"The settlement doesn't call for any specific additional expenditures in that program -- it's more designed within the existing program to enhance it," said Lawrence Fletcher-Hill, assistant attorney general.

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