People who are Deaf or hard of hearing and who are in prison continue to want for sign language interpreters, despite federal law requiring all prisons to provide them.Samantha Michaels, “Without Interpreters, California’s Deaf Prisoners Are Getting Stuck Behind Bars,” Mother Jones, June 7, 2018. A long-running class action lawsuit in California, Armstrong v. Brown, contends that people incarcerated in the state are regularly denied access to qualified interpreters, which hinders their communication with corrections officials and limits their ability to participate in prison programs.Armstrong v. Brown, No. 4:94-cv-02307-CW (N.D. Cal., June 29, 1994).
This involuntary exclusion can have a significant impact on an incarcerated person’s well-being and result in more prison time because of their inability to meet programming requirements for parole.Michaels, “Deaf Prisoners Are Stuck Behind Bars,” 2018.
A series of rulings in Armstrong over the past 20 years have declared that California's denial of interpreters and other accommodations violates the Americans with Disabilities Act, and a status report filed in May by both parties shows ongoing issues; the state’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation says it is struggling to meet the demand.Armstrong v. Brown, No. 4:94-cv-02307-CW (N.D. Cal. May 14, 2018) (joint case status statement).
The South Carolina Department of Corrections settled a similar case with the U.S. Department of Justice in early 2018, agreeing to more effectively provide communication aid to people in its state prisons who are Deaf or hard of hearing.U.S. Department of Justice, “Justice Department Reaches Agreement with the South Carolina Department of Corrections to Provide Effective Communication to Inmates with Hearing Disabilities,” press release (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, March 29, 2018). And in Michigan, partial summary judgment was granted in March on a lawsuit establishing that the Department of Corrections had failed to meet the standard of reasonable accommodation for Deaf and hard of hearing people in its custody; the lawsuit is expected to settle but was ongoing as of the end of the year.McBride v. Michigan Department of Corrections, No. 2:15-cv-11222 (E.D. Mich., March 31, 2015).