The Deaf in Prisons

Every so often a neglected group comes to our attention, a group that deserves our compassion. Imagine being deaf and incarcerated. How would you communicate? Being disabled in prison is difficult and each disability has its own challenges, I was so touched by the challenges of deaf prisoners in this article. Some are essentially condemned to communication solitary confinement.  The TTD system is 50 years old and if the prison has it, the family of the inmate may have switched to a more modern video system, hence they cannot communicate since both the devices of the caller and the receiver must match.  If they can use the TTD system and go through an operator, then there isn’t much that can be said in a 15minutes call, since everything has to be related through the operator. While manufacturers give the devices free, and the calls are paid for by the FCC through a tax on phone bills, they do use the Internet. Prisons officials are concerned not only about the cost of that, but also about security. Say people give each other secret messages during a call, or have non verbal cues such as wearing a bandana? These calls they say must also be monitored. It’s one reason why deaf prisoners are often isolated since prison officials are afraid that if they congregate and even  if one other person can use sign language, they could organize a riot or  some sort of disturbance.  As a result of lengthy litigation some prisons are installing videophones in Virginia, Idaho, Florida, Maryland and Kentucky.  Lawsuits are pending in Michigan, Illinois and Massachusetts. Louisiana however was persuaded to install the phones without going to court. It is not known exactly how many inmates are deaf or hard of hearing, it is  estimated to be about 6%.  Making the technology available however is not enough, technology does not solve the problem of attitudes. Advocates for the deaf say that what matters most is the attitude of correction officials, of guards and other personnel. Without that hardware will not matter enough to make the needed difference.