11 June 2020 — A federal judge ruled that the Illinois Department of Corrections [IDOC] did not comply with the terms of a 2018 settlement agreement that include a requirement for incarcerated Deaf persons to receive follow-up auditory exams after a failed hearing test. As of Monday, June 8, 2020, the IDOC was ordered to pay the attorney fees for the class action suit of 11 Deaf and hard of hearing incarcerated persons and complete all audiological evaluations for all incarcerated persons within 90 calendar days of having failed the screening test for hearing (Mansur, 2020).

Nine years ago, the Uptown People’s Law Center filed a lawsuit against the Illinois Department of Corrections [IDOC] on behalf of 11 Deaf and hard of hearing persons who were incarcerated because the IDOC systematically failed to provide critical accommodations as required under federal law. Incarcerated persons were denied American Sign Language interpreters, hearing aids, access to phone calls, and other means of communication (Gilna, 2019). If you want to read the formal complaints in the Holmes v. Baldwin case, you can check it out online or download the PDF file here.

It was only two years ago in July that the IDOC finally agreed to a settlement agreement with the Uptown People’s Law Center. The settlement would require the IDOC to provide the following: (1) screenings to identify which prisoners are Deaf and hard of hearing; (2) specialists to develop a communication plan with necessary accommodations; (3) hearing aids, sign language interpreters, and at least one videophone, two TTYs, and two amplified telephones; and (4) notifications about fires, emergencies, evacuations, meals, showers, yard time, doctor or counselor appointments, and visitors (Gilna, 2019). Be aware that this is a concise summary of the settlement and if you want to read it in full, go here or download the PDF file here.

Further review of the settlement shows that the IDOC was required to have incarcerated persons who failed the hearing screening test be referred to a licensed audiologist within 60 days. The plaintiffs, however, asserted that the IDOC was violating two aspects of the settlement agreement. The first violation was “excessive delays” up to eight consecutive months in between the failed hearing screening tests and audiological exams were happening (Mansur, 2020). The second violation was the use of “licensed hearing instrument dispensers” instead of licensed audiologists for the evaluations (Mansur, 2020). The IDOC did admit that they were having licensed hearing instrument dispensers conduct the evaluations instead of a licensed audiologist (Mansur, 2020).

The settlement agreement is now being enforced under supervision for another year, until July 2021.