This class action sought basic and special education services for youth under age 22 who were incarcerated in adult prisons operated by the Washington Department of Corrections. The case was filed on November 21, 1997, in Thurston County Superior Court and named as defendants the Department of Corrections and the school districts in Washington State where major prisons were located.
Plaintiffs, represented by attorneys with the Columbia Legal Services Institutions Project, specifically alleged violations of Article IX of the Washington Constitution, the Washington Basic Education Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20U.S.C.§ 1400,et seq.; § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794; and the due process and equal protection clauses of the Washington and United States Constitutions.
At the heart of the case was the issue of whether the State had a duty to provide basic or special educational programs to juveniles who were tried, convicted and sentenced as adults, just as the State provides to children in the public school system. A companion issue was whether any such duty existed as to criminal offenders between the ages of 18 and 22 incarcerated in the state prisons.
Shortly after its filing, the trial court certified the case as a class action. The class was defined as including: "All individuals who are now, or who will in the future be, committed to the custody of the Washington Department of Corrections, who are allegedly denied access to basic or special education during that custody, and who are, during that custody, under the age of 21, or disabled and under the age of 22."
During the course of the litigation, the Washington Legislature passed legislation which provided some DOC prisoners under the age of 18 the opportunity to earn a high school diploma. (Later codified at RCW 28A.193). No such provision was created for inmates between the ages of 18 and 22, except that inmates who pursued their diploma before they turned 18 were allowed to finish the necessary course work.
To streamline the issues, the court appointed a Special Master who worked with the parties to develop a set of stipulated facts. The parties then filed cross-motions for summary judgment.
In October 1998, the trial court issued its ruling on the summary judgment motions, finding that the DOC had a duty to provide basic education to incarcerated youth under 21, and to provide special education to disabled incarcerated youth under 22. The trial court also found that the newly enacted legislation directed at inmate education was unconstitutional. A direct appeal was taken the Washington Supreme Court.
The Washington Supreme Court held that state inmates under age 18 had a constitutional right to public education and that their right was satisfied by the newly enacted legislation directed at inmate education. (RCW 28A.193). The Court found that inmates between the ages of 18 to 22 had no rights to education and declined to address the issue of whether disabled inmates aged 18 and 22 had any constitutional right to special education. Tunstall v. Bergeson, 5 P.3d 91(Wash. 2000). The U.S. Supreme Court denied certiorari in the case. Tunstall, 532 U.S. 920 (2001).Dan Dalton - 09/14/2007