Conditions in prisons are brutal for a hearing person, imagine what people would have to deal with when they are unable to interact with others in prisons. As a new prisoner, people are often unaware of the rules they need to learn because of the way they are established with prisoners, verbally. Prisoners learn to follow rules through experience and often it’s best to learn through observation and while people have the ability to pay more attention when their lives are at risk, being unable to pick up vocal cues does a lot of harm. When rules are not understood, they are often violated which leads to brutal force by the police or other prisoners. This is not an uncommon practice for people that ignore or don’t follow rules but in many of these cases, the person does not know they are breaking a rule.
As the conditions of prisons are becoming more open to the community and families of individuals, interpreters, and allies; people rallying all over the country for rights of their community members in prisons. This may mean lawsuits or rallying at the Capital. On March 25, 2014 in Tallahassee Florida, there was a rally that occurred at the Capital for legislation (SB1304
). They were advocating for the legislation which would require licensing of sign language interpreters and restoring funds. The funds were for coordination of the state policies for people that live in Florida. The Florida Coordinating Council for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing had been funded for years but for some reason it was de-funded three years ago.
These policies are extremely important when discussing the corrections system especially because of cases that happen today throughout America. Prisoners have been denied interpreting services for years and there are people like Felix Garcia
, who didn’t have an interpreter back in 1983, that have been wrongfully convicted because of lack of understanding or ability to communicate with the police. This case occurred after the Rehabilitation act of 1973 but before the ADA law which was passed in 1990.
“As difficult as conditions can be for any prisoner, life in prison is much harsher for those who are deaf or hard of hearing in all parts of prison life, from entry to exit.” Nation Inside
One of the more recent cases that has been resolved between a returned citizen (someone that has been in prison and was released) and the prison system in Oregon. The returned citizen was seeking $600,000 due to the denial of interpreters during his time in prison. He also shared that he was not given desired jobs because they attributed those jobs with the need to be able to speak.
This case has been described as a “landmark disability discrimination case that forces the prison system to improve conditions for all inmates with disabilities by following the Americans with Disabilities Act and Oregon law.” by Dennis Steinman, a Portland attorney for Merle Baldridge
A commentary was made at the end of an article about this specific case by Aimee Green a reporter for The Oregonian:
“This case changes how Oregon prisons work with deaf prisoners so that they are integrated into the general prison population, rather than being further isolated,” Steinman said in a news release. “State agencies and departments should be leading by example. This settlement is just the beginning of sustainable and meaningful change for not just one deaf inmate, but all deaf and disabled inmates across the state.” — Aimee Green
There are several other cases that have been prosecuted against the correction system in various states and they are:
HAWAII – Bernard v. State of Hawaii filed in 2002 by Varady law firm, Davis Levin Livingston, and the NAD, and settled in 2004;
INDIANA David v. Indiana Department of Correction filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in 2012 for lack of telephone access;
VIRGINIA Minnis v. Virginia Department of Corrections filed by Winston & Strawn LLP and Washington Lawyers’ Committee and settled in 2010 with video¬phones installed in one prison;
WASHINGTON STATE Duffy v. Riveland filed by Heller, Ehrman, White and McAuliffe and joined by Columbia Legal Services in 1998 and settled to require interpreters and TTY access; and
FEDERAL PRISON IN NORTH CAROLINA /-/eye/- v. United States Bureau of Prisons filed by Washington Lawyers’ Committee and Arnold & Porter LLP in 2011.
“Although there seems to be more prison lawsuits on behalf of deaf and hard of hearing prisoners, filing lawsuits on behalf of any prisoner requires significant preparation and exhaustion of the grievance process within the prison system pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA). The PLRA is a federal law passed in 1996 that requires prisoners to first file grievances and go through the full internal grievance process before they can file a lawsuit in court.” Nation Inside
The rally in Tallahassee reminds the community and country out there that just because a right has been given by the government, you aren’t automatically granted it. Prisoners are not forgotten. The community is so small that when somebody gets put away, they are a missing piece of the community. It also reminds Americans that while this is the land of the free, there are services out there that are needed to open a line of communication. This is true for somebody that is trying to go to the doctor and needs a qualified interpreter. It is equally true for somebody that’s meeting with their attorney to discuss their appeal process during their prison stay.