Take No Deaf Prisoners (Unfairly)

Sitting in Prison.jpgNot In My Backyard: “Prison fully accessible (in ASL and English) to Deaf inmates” finished at the bottom of this week’s Laurent, South Dakota, poll. The poll invited readers to rank their preferences for community services and businesses they would want to see in the planned Deaf town, before they would actually move there. An ASL- and English-friendly mental health center fell somewhere in the middle of the list, between a farmer’s market and a restaurant with an international menu. The prison, probably to no one’s great surprise, ended up as the least desired facility.

The Fate of Deaf Prisoners: As deserving of their punishment that some Deaf criminals might be, none of them deserve the cruel and unusual punishment of inaccessible communication during their prison time. Even with the ADA and constitutional guarantees, too many Deaf prisoners have their rights violated every day. They are denied access to certified sign language interpreters for court hearings, disciplinary meetings, and educational classes. Deaf prisoners have been punished unfairly for not following guards’ orders because the guards did not know they were Deaf or were unable to communicate with them. Many prisons lack flashing light systems, TTYs, videophones, and captioned televisions. Deaf prisoners also face dangers of physical abuse and isolation.

Why Should We Care?: From a humanistic viewpoint, Deaf prisoners deserve the same opportunities for rehabilitation as do hearing prisoners. As members of the Deaf community, we should be concerned about Deaf prisoners. If they were members of our community before they were imprisoned, there’s a good chance they will be back when their sentences are complete.

Everyone is better served if Deaf prisoners have access to psychotherapy during imprisonment. They can benefit from to dealing with whatever it was that led them to become involved in crime in the first place, and hopefully, learn more effective coping skills. If they are given opportunities to learn a new trade or develop new skills that will help them gain employment later, Deaf prisoners may be less likely to resort to criminal behavior in the future.

While some people may fear having a prison in their backyard, in all likelihood, an ASL-accessible prison could potentially be a bonus for a Deaf community. Such a prison could offer a number of job opportunities for Deaf people (think cafeteria, guards, social workers, educators). With accessible programs in place, Deaf prisoners might have a better chance of straightening out their lives and returning to society in a better position to contribute. And last, if it was your child, your family member, or your best friend who ended up in prison, for whatever reason, what kind of treatment would you hope the prison offers Deaf people?

  1. Carl Schroeder September 23, 2006

    During my late teen years in early 1970’s I used to visit my Deaf friends who were in prison. I couldn’t describe how they felt when I stopped by for some 30 minutes. Every time when I was about to leave, I would be asked to come back, and I did from time to time. I thought it was very good for their psychology that I came as an individual who happens to be Deaf and loves good life, healthy laughter and great fun. They told me horrible stories of loneliness as well as communication void they faced in the prison. To a degree, I believe, we all must be humane toward the world around us, good or bad. Yes, Laurent, South Dakota will house some Deaf criminals.

  2. Rachel September 23, 2006

    We have to think about this…oppressed people are more likely to resort to crimes. Look at Black people and other minority groups. They are over-represented in our jails.

  3. Michael September 25, 2006

    I totally agree with above deaf prisoners should be treat equally as hearing inmates not worse but again police or guard’s attitude is not very good either – look at police these days at speeding tickets or accidents! No matter what They NEED TO BE EDUCATED and follow ADA LAWS!

  4. Rachel September 25, 2006

    If you want to see a perfect example of elitism, visit(http://www.laurentsd.com/laurentblog/2006/9/25/prison-no-way-wait-a-minute-why-not-nah.html). Deaf prisoners are not good enough for Laurent, South Dakota? Deaf people specializing in criminology can’t survive in Marvin’s town.

  5. Michael September 25, 2006


    I did look it up but the journal blog said it is not found.

  6. Betty Colonomos October 3, 2006

    As someone who has seen a number of Deaf people imprisoned for several years before being re-tried and found “not guilty”, it is heartbreaking to see the devastating results of having no one to communicate with for a long period. Many of these Deaf people lose their ASL/signing skills and may never get them back.

    Sure there are Deaf people who commit crimes. It is also true that most Deaf people are represented in court by overworked and underpaid Public Defenders who haven’t got a clue about Deaf people and Sign Language.

  7. Dianrez October 22, 2006

    This is worthy of consideration…perhaps not in a planned new community, at least not in the beginning…bringing in special needs groups that could affect the community’s residents in unexpected ways.

    What should be considered is why wait? Why not form a coalition to bring together deaf prisoners in the Federal system in one location? This facility could be made accessible, be a training site for deaf criminologists and psychologists, given tools and equipment to train prisoners in skills that they will need outside, and provide jobs for specialized personnel. Waiting for places such as Laurent to become established and to become a mature community will do a disservice to today’s prisoners.

    Once the Federal system is in gear, then we can work on states one by one to consolidate their deaf prisoners.

  8. Susan April 26, 2007

    It is disgusting that people want death penalty for Daphne. People do not realize deaf inmates need help!

  9. Mary January 25, 2009

    I do believe in capital punishment for both deaf and hearing. It is the label I am concerned because Daphne is sort of mentally ill and should not be executed because of her being mentally ill, not because she is deaf. The articles I read…deaf people should be executed on Daphne’s article…THAT IS NOT RIGHT…BRINGS UP BAD LABEL.

    It sounds like deaf people are mentally ill and should not be executed…I just noticed that in the article and disagree that ALL deaf murderers should not be executed. Just the rights of deaf people should be applied in the prison systems. It sounds like to me we deaf people are mentally ill which I know that is not true. I just want to see justice in the prison systems, not who is deaf or hearing.

    Daphne is mentally ill who should not be executed but what she did is inhumane. Totally grosses me out when I read her articles. My advise to the prison systems…TEST THE DEAF INMATES FIRST BEFORE APPLYING THE DEATH PENALTY AND THE LENGTH OF SENTENCE TO DETERMINE ANY MENTAL ILLNESSES SAME AS HEARING INMATES. NO EXCUSE.

    That is my opinion and what I see in the article of Daphne Wright. I do believe in capital punishment as a good reason after testing and no sign of mental illness no matter deaf or hearing.

  10. Julie February 16, 2009

    Has there been an article about Daphne Wright advocating that she be given the death penalty? If so, where is this article so I can read it too, please!

  11. ASCDEAF February 18, 2009

    Julie – To my knowledge there has been no recent article advocating the death penalty for Daphne Wright. You may want to do a google search and see what you come up with.

  12. Lp R July 25, 2010

    Will Deaf People In Prison Same As Hearing People???
    If Yeahh So … ill angry and fite them for my life cos they dont unstander about deaf people its seem wrong but i think there should deaf prison without hearing people …??? bescuse hearing people would said to me deaf twat or stupied things u dont like that then u will not listen to them but i cant ill stand fite them n i dont care if they big or small i just want fite to death if they want to them cos its wrong for called that or be nasty to deaf people its seem not fair on deaf people same as prsion with hearing people so i need unstander plasese help me unstander cos i got fanily waring red card so i got last chance … and thank

  13. Roslyn Meyers November 5, 2011

    I am a student in Charlotte North Carolina and will be writing my thesis on being Deaf in Prison. I can’t believe that there isn’t much to read about and I am dissapointed that I am having a difficuult time. If you can assist me with any information on where to look and who I need to contact for this article I would appreciate it.


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