Published June, 1998

Pennsylvania Department of Corrections v. Yeskey, 524 U.S. 206 (1998)

In Yeskey, the Supreme Court unanimously held that Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits a “public entity” from discriminating against an individual on account of disability, applies to state prisons. The Court rejected the Department of Corrections’ argument that prisons do not provide inmates with “benefits” of “programs, services, or activities” as described in the ADA. The Court held that the fact that prisoners are held against their will does not diminish their right to protection from discrimination in the context of prison “benefits” such as recreational activities, medical services, and educational and vocational programs. In the context of HIV, the same year this decision was issued, the Supreme Court held in Bragdon v Abbott, 526 U.S. 624 (1998) that HIV is an impairment under the ADA; taken together, these holdings allow inmates with HIV to seek protection under the ADA if they are denied benefits due to their HIV status.

While this opinion only discusses the ADA’s application to prisons, federal courts of appeals interpreting the decision have held that its reasoning extends to the Rehabilitation Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs conducted by federal agencies and programs receiving federal financial assistance. These courts have either explicitly held or assumed that the Rehabilitation Act also prohibits discrimination in prisons under Yeskey. See, e.g., Daniel v. Levin, 172 Fed. Appx. 147 (9th Cir. 2006); Roary v. Freeman, 3 Fed. Appx. 114 (4th Cir. 2001); Bartolomeo v. Plymouth County House of Corrections, 229 F.3d 1133 (1st Cir. 2000); Stanley v. Litscher, 213 F.3d 340 (7th Cir. 2000); Onishea v. Hopper, 171 F.3d 1289 (11th Cir. 1999); Key v. Grayson, 179 F.3d 996 (6th Cir. 1999); Gorman v. Burton, 152 F.3d 907 (8th Cir. 1998).