Deaf In Prison: How Do Correctional Officers Treat Deaf Inmates?

Posted on June 7, 2012 by

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by BitcoDavid* of DeafInPrison.com

This is a very interesting question, because one of my goals with DeafInPrison.com is to get some interviews with wardens and corrections officers. Going by the stories I’ve gotten in some of our inmate letters – from deaf inmates – the treatment is nothing other than abysmal.

These people are commonly beaten, raped, and confined to solitary. I want desperately to be afforded the opportunity to get the other side of the story, but have been unable to, thus far.

There are obvious cases of violence, intimidation and even murder to protect someone’s job or position. The Deaf are afraid of recriminations if they report the guards. One common form of this is to use the mental health system as a stick / carrot, kind of thing.

Image: CrimeDime.com

On one hand, a prisoner who doesn’t go with the flow can be written up as mentally ill. His complaints and legal filings are then easy to ignore. On the other hand, a cooperative prisoner can be sent to a spa for time with no work detail, lots of feel-good medications, and group therapy. When inside the mental health facility, the inmate will also have access to interpreters – something woefully lacking in Gen-pop.

Traditional health care is also a problem. Many Deaf have special health care needs. Ear infections and Tinnitus are perhaps, the most common of these. Yes, the Deaf can suffer from Tinnitus. Often in prison, such conditions are commonly left un-addressed, and a complaining inmate is branded as a whiner and punished.

I have a story of an inmate who was allowed by one officer to go to an area within the prison that had a TTY Phone – a special phone for the Deaf. When he got there, the officer in charge of that area was not informed that the first officer had given permission. The individual was punished for being in the wrong area. When he offered the defense that he had permission, he was accused of lying. When he told the officer that he had a right – based on the Americans with Disabilities Act – to use the equipment, he was branded a troublemaker.

Many inmates tell me that other inmates are often used to enforce jailhouse law. A simple transfer into a cell with a known abuser can be a powerful intimidation tactic. And remember, the Deaf inmate cannot communicate that he’s being beaten or raped on a nightly basis.

BitcoDavid is a blogger, administrator, and primary contributor to DeafInPrison.com. Originally an a/v and computer engineer, he became interested in Deaf advocacy through his clients at DeafInPrison. DeafInPrison also features Dr. McCay Vernon – a psychologist and author, Pat Bliss – a paralegal that has been active in cases, Joanne Greenberg – an advocate and author, and Jean F. Andrews – a university professor and author.

Editor’s note: The blogosphere is home to many sites that work to educate and reform the criminal justice system. DeafInPrison.com is one outstanding example. Through getting to know the site’s webmaster, CrimeDime took an interest in their work. We asked several questions with the idea of doing an interview, but it turns out there’s so much to discuss on this topic that a series of separate posts made more sense.

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