Americans with Disabilities Act
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) is of supreme importance for employees, and criminal justice organizations are not excluded (Peak, 2011; Stojkovic, Kalinich, & Klofas, 2011). Basically, the Act is created to provide people with disabilities with opportunities that are comparable to those of the people without disabilities. Stojkovic et al. (2011) insist that ADA is a very helpful tool that does not only include requirements that protect the rights and dignity of the people with disabilities; it is also capable of guiding the employees’ efforts in improving their policies. Since the legislation is relatively new, the process of the change requires such guidelines given the lack of an appropriate number of the best practices for the time being.
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In particular, criminal justice organizations are supposed to change their job designs in order to remove the barriers that hinder the access of disabled people to employment and services. First of all, criminal justice organizations are required to avoid discrimination at the point of recruitment, which may affect job design. For example, the introduction of job requirements that are not necessary for the work and create barriers for people with disabilities violates ADA requirements.
Stojkovic et al. (2011) suggest creating broader requirements specifically to avoid discrimination on any basis (including disability). Apart from that, the job design should include the benefits that will facilitate the working process for the disabled, thus providing them with opportunities that are equal to those of the people without disabilities. This aspect of ADA compliance is termed as the “reasonable accommodation” for disabled employees.
For example, a flexible schedule may be introduced to provide the employee with the opportunity of receiving the necessary treatment while also ensuring that he or she does not have to miss shifts. Moreover, criminal justice organizations are expected to provide an accessible environment, which is also a part of the duty to accommodate, and non-discriminatory workplace (Stojkovic et al., 2011). From the point of view of job design, these aspects can affect the location of the work or the skills that are required from a recruit or would later be developed.
In particular, the requirements for diversity training, which grants diversity awareness and empowers the employees to manage diversity or coexist in a diverse environment, are at least partially the result of ADA introduction. Similarly, additional training may be provided to improve the ability of the employee to perform well enough to qualify for the job. The means of accommodation should be implemented unless they cause an “undue hardship” (for example, excessive expenses) to the organization or prove to be useless.
In general, the accommodation of people with disabilities is a challenging issue, but criminal justice organizations (as well as other employers) are supposed to seek ways of ensuring it. The duty to accommodate is not optional; it is a requirement and obligation that is stated in ADA (Stojkovic et al., 2011). Still, as pointed out by Stojkovic et al. (2011), the attitude of the criminal justice organizations personnel is very often rather conservative, and they find it close to impossible to accommodate people with the majority of disabilities, especially if they intend to become officers. Such prejudice is likely to hinder the active and creative development of accommodation patterns and programs.
Moreover, since the terms “reasonable accommodation” and “undue hardship” are relatively vague, they may be interpreted in various ways, which creates opportunities for unethical conduct. All these aspects further complicate the process of the accommodation of people with disabilities and hinder the development of an inclusive and non-discriminatory environment within criminal justice organizations.
To sum up, the job design in criminal justice is supposed to include thought-out accommodations for people with disabilities, which should grant them opportunities that are comparable to those of the people without disabilities. The current state of events (the lack of inclusive environment, prejudice, and discrimination) complicate the accommodation processes and slow down the development of best practices in the area. Unfortunately, the vagueness of some of the ADA terms does not improve the situation. Still, ADA is being enforced in the U.S., and this fact can be illustrated with the help of the Tennessee v. Lane (2004) case.
Tennessee v. Lane
In 1998, George Lane and Beverly Jones (persons with disabilities who were both using wheelchairs) could not access the services of the state court since it did not provide an accessible environment. In particular, Lane had to crawl up the stairs during his first visit and refused to do so during the second one. As a result, he was jailed for his failure to appear. Jones, on the other hand, worked at the court, and she lost her job as a result of its failure to accommodate.
The two people filed a complaint, claimed that they had been excluded from the use of a service, which violated the Title II of ADA, and sought money damages. Tennessee’s defense claim was that the Eleventh Amendment barred the suit, but the U.S. defended Title II. In response, Tennessee claimed that the Title II of ADA violated the Eleventh Amendment (in other words, it violated the immunity of the state). As a result, the Tennessee v. Lane (2004) case was aimed at finding out “whether Title II exceeds Congress’ power under § 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment” (p. 513).
The opinion of the majority that included Stevens as well as O’Connor, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer, consisted in the affirmative response to the question. The rationale behind it runs down to the fact that the Title (as well as ADA) is aimed at eliminating the existing disparities, which are truly widespread among state services in the U.S. This prevalence of inaccessible service is, naturally, a form of discrimination that deprives people with disabilities of their Constitutional rights.
The majority found that the aim of rectifying the situation is proportional to the Congress decision to act under Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment to enforce the compliance with the said Amendment. Souter (joined by Ginsburg) concurred and pointed out that the history of the judiciary practice involves inhumane, discriminatory laws and cases that deprived people with disabilities of their fundamental rights and dignity.
As a result, Souter asserted, the decision to defend Title II would be “a welcome step away from the judiciary’s prior endorsement of blunt instruments imposing legal handicaps” (p. 535). Ginsburg, who was joined by Souter and Breyer, concurred and also dwelled on the need to accommodate as opposed to “blindfolded equality” (p. 536) as well as the requirement of pushing the governmental bodies and actors to respect the rights and dignity of the people with disabilities.
A dissenting opinion came from Rehnquist, who criticized the majority’s approach to the issue, which was done in the form of the “as-applied” inquiry rather than the congruence-and-proportionality one and insisted that there is no evidence to systematic constitutional discrimination of the constitutional rights of the disabled. Scalia also dissented and, in turn, criticized the congruence-and-proportionality test.
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Instead, Scalia suggested checking if the remedy could help the Congers to “enforce” the Fourteen Amendment and found that the increasing vagueness of the prohibitions that resulted from the case would be incapable of “enforcing” anything. Finally, Thomas also dissented and basically joined Rehnquist with minor specifications.
It is noticeable that the dissenting opinions are mostly attempting to indicate a fault in the majority’s reasoning. While such an approach is understandable both from the point of view of the debate and the precedents that the Supreme Court is going to make, it also shows that the majority’s opinion is indeed valid. Rehnquist attempts to demonstrate that there is no systematic violation of the constitutional rights of the disabled, but these arguments stand against those of the majority, which consistently prove the existence of discriminatory practices in the U.S.
In the end, the majority defended Title II and the right of Congress to enforce it under Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment. It is noteworthy that the ADA asserts that the violation of the Title will not leave a state immune from action. As stated by Stojkovic et al. (2011), ADA has radically changed the way people with disabilities are treated and even viewed (p. 181), and the Tennessee v. Lane (2004) case serves as an illustration to it being an effective tool in ensuring the protection of people with disabilities despite the ambiguous term of the “reasonable” accommodation.
Peak, K. (2011). Justice administration (7th ed.). Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.
Stojkovic, S., Kalinich, D., & Klofas, J. (2011). Criminal justice organizations (5th ed.). Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning.
Tennessee v. Lane, 541 U.S. 509 (U.S. 2004).