A settlement has been approved by a federal court in a 2018 lawsuit aimed at improving the way the Washington State Penitentiary handles inmates with mental health needs.

Disability Rights Washington and its co-counsel Paukert & Troppman, a Spokane law firm, sued the state to challenge the Department of Corrections’ practice of housing people in the penitentiary’s mental health units at close custody, regardless of their actual assigned custody, according to an announcement.

The lawsuit alleged the penitentiary was violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by keeping medium- or minimum-risk inmates in cells for 16 hours a day and limiting their recreational activities just so they could receive mental-health treatment, according to a Union-Bulletin story last year when the case was filed.

Twenty years ago last month, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that unnecessary segregation of people with disabilities is a discriminatory civil rights violation.

The settlement, signed last week, requires the Department of Corrections to spend $5 million —already appropriated by the Legislature — to retrofit more than 70 cells to make them lower custody cells, a spokesman for the state DOC confirmed this morning.

The Disability Rights Washington stated in its release that the prison has also agreed to increase the amount of therapeutic programming offered to inmates in that unit.

The new unit will be substantially similar to the medium/minimum custody units at the Special Offender Unit at the Monroe Correctional Complex in Western Washington.

Washington State Department of Corrections Communications Manager Karen Takacs told the Union-Bulletin last year when the lawsuit was first filed that DOC values its collaboration with Disability Rights Washington.

“Both Corrections and DRW actively seek positive change in the lives of Washingtonians and strive to improve conditions, treatment, and services for those re-entering our communities,” Takacs said.