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A former inmate who claimed prison employees failed to accommodate his "diminished intellectual functioning," leaving him ineligible for parole for years, has settled a lawsuit against the Utah Department of Corrections.
Richard Ramirez a sex offender who spent 16 years in prison before being paroled was paid $60,000, with a portion of the money going to expert witnesses in the case, his lawyers said.
Ramirez sued the department in 2011, claiming he was unable to complete a therapy program as required for parole because of his inability to comprehend and understand the paperwork involved. That violated his right to equal protection and due process, as well as his rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the lawsuit claimed.
Ramierz has an IQ of 68 and disabilities that include difficulty reading and writing and had trouble understanding and completing assignments within the required time frame, even with the help of a tutor, according to the suit.
Ramirez filed the lawsuit on his own in 2011, and in 2013 the law firm of Manning Curtis Bradshaw & Bednar in Salt Lake City was appointed to the case by a federal judge.
The firm represented Ramirez for free and settled the lawsuit earlier this month.
The case was dismissed Wednesday by U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups at the request of both parties.
Brooke Adams, a corrections spokeswoman, said the department is pleased it was able to reach a settlement. She said the department regularly reviews its policies and procedures to ensure compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Adams also noted the settlement does not require any policy changes but said the Department of Corrections will continue to provide treatment services and work with community groups, including the Disability Law Center, to ensure it meets the needs of prisoners with disabilities.
"In addition, the department has agreed as part of the settlement to meet with Mr. Ramirez's attorneys so they can present concerns about access to treatment raised in the case," Adams said. "While the ability to offer sex offender treatment is limited by funding, the department expects these ongoing efforts will allow it to continue to improve the services it provides inmates."
Ramirez, now 57, was sentenced in 1996 to concurrent terms of five years to life for forcible sodomy and zero to five years for dealing in harmful material to a minor. The sentence required him to serve at least five years before being eligible to ask for parole.
The suit says Ramirez's eligibility for parole was conditioned on his successful completion of the Sex Offender Therapy Program (SOTP), which includes group therapy and requires participants to complete workbooks.
The suit says Ramirez was discharged from SOTP and refused both accommodations and re-admittance to the program. He "remained in prison for years longer than if his disabilities had been accommodated and he had been given a chance to complete the SOTP," court papers say.
Ramirez was paroled to a halfway house six months after filing the lawsuit, even though he had not completed SOTP,
The halfway house provided individual therapy and adjustments to the SOTP curriculum, according to court documents, and Ramirez successfully completed the program.