Inmate Letter Dated March 15th, 2012

Sadly, the original letter was barely legible. After a struggle, I managed to translate it – roughly – for you here. I tried to maintain the inmate’s voice, while working to make sense of it.



Hello to the peoples.

Thanks for your support of the deaf people who have suffered in prison for 20 up to 25 years in prison. Now, I have fought with this life in prison. Life is sorrowful with other inmates tricking me as inmates wrote a request form to put me in the hole (confinement) while I was not knowing how they tricked me locked me up for nothing.

Because the deaf person want to stay out of trouble or the deaf person can be beat [for] using sign language to communicate. Some other inmates don’t understand what deaf people talk about. Deaf people refuse to cooperate with troublemaker for making money from someone’s eles’s cell property. Then the hearing people took the request form to and wrote my room number on it. The Sergeant officer ordered deaf person to be handcuffed without knowing what happened just that you got to see the Captain in his office. Deaf person could not reach anyone to get an interpreter.

This the life of a deaf person… They are violating our civil rights… I have a problem, that I cannot find a way to write medical to explain I need surgery on my right elbow. Medical paperwork is hard to understand, the vocabulary deaf person cannot understand. It is hard to explain the problem to the doctor. It is tough to explain the power the doctor has.

The doctor knows that deaf person cannot write right and says “Aha!, Well inmate you gonna be alright or I can cut off your arm. It will be good.” So the deaf person say “Arghh, that can’t be, to cut off the arm!” Then deaf person gives up and that is how deaf person has been frustrated all these years. That is not fair for these hearing people com out with beautiful braces on their knee and already had surgery. The deaf people may never have good legs and arms. That is not fair. Also, I cannot afford to pay another person to explain to the doctor, it is hard to tell doctor the right answers. Only God know everything.

I am a little hearing impaired. I understand 10% when I hear a loud one I can hear words sometimes. I have been in prison for 22 years. I will have to go back to court real soon. I never went to the courtroom or communicated with the policeman in the situation.

Also, now I am in AA meetings. There is no interpreter, I will be filing a grievance soon. The medical staff has refused to give me ID card as Deaf and Hearing Impaired. They did give them where I came from.

Anyway, hope you enjoy reading my journey on these pages. Thank you.

Waiting for Trial

For an updated version of this post, please go to


Deaf Prisoners – When Deaf People Are in Prison

Image courtesy of Catboxx ( One of my favorite images of the old Parchman Farm chain gang.

The other day, I posted the DOJ report on prison populations as of Mid-year 2011. I did so, in an effort to respond to a question I was asked by a reader. Quite simply, how many Deaf inmates are there, in American prisons. In numerous searches, including having read the above report, I have not yet been able to find a reliable answer to that question.

One answer bothered me, however. On Yahoo answers, one respondent claimed that Deaf inmates are not sent to conventional prisons, but rather to special halfway houses or dorm facilities. Needless to say, anyone who reads knows this is – sadly – just not true.

This is an article I found on

Deaf Prisoners – When Deaf People Are in Prison.

Injustice: Mistreatment of the Deaf in Prison

Talila Lewis from H.E.A.R.D. sent us this link. The post was actually written by a young intern.

Injustice: Mistreatment of the Deaf in Prison.

Deaf Illinois inmates sue for access to interpreters – Peoria, IL –


Deaf Illinois inmates sue for access to interpreters – Peoria, IL –

I’m looking for an update to this story. Will keep you posted.

Book Review of Katrina Miller’s (2005) book: Deaf Culture Behind Bars: Signs and Stories of a Texas Population. Published by AGO Publications

Unfortunately, this book is out of print but perhaps is available through a library.  After I visited a county jail and a state prison and met with two deaf inmates, I reread Dr. Katrina Miller’s book and found it most relevant and informative so I am submitting a book review for deafinprison readers.

Katrina R. Miller.  (2003) Deaf Culture Behind Bars: Signs and Stories of a Texas Population.  Salem, OR: AGO Publications.

The jail and prison environment is an isolating and cruel existence for the culturally Deaf as well as hard of hearing inmates because of lack of access to communication, services and programming with correctional officers and fellow inmates. Dr. Katrina Miller’s pages spill out compelling life stories of Deaf inmates who find themselves behind bars and without services that are typically given to hearing inmates.  Written for sign language interpreters, social workers, police, correctional officers and the Deaf Community, Dr. Miller’s book will be informative to attorneys working on cases involving Deaf clients who are in jail or prison. Dr. Miller’s book is based on her doctoral dissertation published in 2001 where she described the background and crimes of 99 deaf inmates in the Estelle Unit in Huntsville State Prison in Huntsville Texas. (Forensic Issues of Deaf Offenders, Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Lamar University, Beaumont, Texas). Much of the book includes many interviews Dr. Miller conducted with the Deaf inmates. Dr. Miller provides statistics on the kinds of crimes Deaf inmates committed as well as information on services they need and barriers they face in the prison environment.  There is also a section on deaf signs used in prison that are linguistically different than signs used outside the prison walls. The book presents many interviews of deaf inmates and the reader can learn from the inmates “first-hand” how it feels to be Deaf and in prison—all of which riveted this reader to the page.

The Secret World of Deaf Prisoners | Mother Jones

Here’s another article from Mother Jones, by James Ridgeway.


The Secret World of Deaf Prisoners | Mother Jones.

Two Md. inmates worthy of mercy – The Washington Post

Two Md. inmates worthy of mercy – The Washington Post.

A Quick Poll on How We’re Doing

How are we doing, so far?

A NYT Article on Conditions in Latin American Prisons

This doesn’t really concern the American Deaf – behind bars, here – but it is pertinent, nonetheless.


NYT Article

Flash Slide Show

A commentary to “Police Arrest Armed Deaf Man”: Challenges Deaf Inmates Face

Appeared in Beaumont Enterprise, March 11, 2012, Sunday. Opinions.

Deaf Suspects and Inmates: Barriers in the Criminal Justice System

On February 29, 2012, a Beaumont Enterprise reporter wrote: “Trying to arrest an armed and apparently intoxicated man took an unusual turn Monday in Orange when police found out he was deaf.”  What happened in Orange, Texas was not an “unusual turn.” In fact, many deaf suspects who are arrested and incarcerated face these same barriers.

Being deaf is not just about hearing loss. Indeed, Deaf Americans make up a unique minority who much like other ethnic groups in the US, have their own language, culture, beliefs, mores, organizations, literature and art.  Signing deaf adults constitute about 500,000 to 1 million deaf persons in the U.S. who primarily use American Sign Language (ASL).  About 10 percent of the deaf population earn university degrees and are bilingual in English (reading and writing) and ASL taking on jobs as teachers, college professors, lawyers, businessmen and other profession.  About 30 percent are semi-lingual, having impoverished skills in both English and ASL. These “linguistically incompetent” deaf adults are most vulnerable in obtaining fair treatment in the criminal justice system.

Typically during an arrest, police rely on lipreading, speech and writing—all ineffective modes of communication. Police may handcuff the suspect with his hands behind his back thus cutting off communication through gestures and signs. This is analogous to putting duct tape on a hearing person’s mouth. When police show the deaf suspect a small card with the Miranda Warning written on it and ask them to read it, many cannot.  In fact, many deaf adults read on the average of the 3rd grade reading level.  The Miranda is written between the 7th  to the 9th grade reading grade level. Even if an interpreter signs the Miranda, research has shown many deaf adults do not have the conceptual knowledge about their Constitutional Rights to fully comprehend it. There have been six reported cases that resulted in motions to suppress the Miranda statements because police had failed to administer the Miranda correctly. In fact, research shows that deaf suspects have only been administered the Miranda fairly only about 30 percent of the time.

The Beaumont Enterprise reporter commented about a news release said, “It was difficult to get statements after they arrested him.”  It would be difficult for the police if there was no certified sign language interpreter present.

Similarly, jail bookings, including the medical and psychological intakes are seldom done with an interpreter present so the deaf suspect does not understand what is happening to him or her.  Deaf inmates’ stay in jail or prison is filled with fear, anxiety and horror according to Dr. McCay Vernon, a forensic psychologist who wrote a compelling article for the American Annals of the Deaf titled, The Horror of Being Deaf and in Prison.  Because deaf inmates cannot communicate with other inmates or the correctional officers their stay in prison is as if they were placed in isolation.  The majority of deaf adults read at the 3rd grade level or below so speaking, lipreading and writing English are not effective means of communication. Messages sent across the loudspeakers and memos posted on bulletin boards are not accessible to prison inmates.

Research shows that jail and prison handbooks are written at the 11th grade or above reading level. Thus, deaf inmates with low reading levels cannot read them nor do they have someone to explain the rules of the jail or prison. In addition, educational and rehabilitation programs that are offered to hearing inmates such as GED classes, substance abuse classes, sexual and violent abuse programs, religious services and vocational training are not accessible to deaf inmates because no interpreters are provided and course written materials are written above the 7th grade reading level.

Deaf individuals are entitled to basic rights granted by the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and by state statutes, and state constitutions. To ignore these communication barriers that deaf suspects and inmates face violates the American with Disabilities Act.  And to not remove these barriers deaf suspects in the criminal justice system may result in costly lawsuits as other states have found.


[Thank you Jean, for taking the time to reformat this article for us.

- BitcoDavid]


Another Inmate Letter

The letter in essence is saying, there have been no interpreters since he last wrote on 2/20 and he is still grieving that issue. The inmate said there are no deaf  in any programs like the faith dorm, GED class, PRIDE Ind., etc.  That he  was attacked, and – defending himself – got a cut on the arm. The assailant was speaking but the inmate only understood the words, “stop filing” and “not interpreters“. He also tells of his daughter coming up to see him.

That same day two other Deaf were attacked. A man was sent to the inmate’s dorm to rape ****. Another deaf inmate saw what was going to happen and prevented the rape. He went into the bathroom where one Black man nicknamed ****, weighing about 300 pounds, was hiding in the mop closet, nude. Yet another Black inmate was trying to get ****  near the bathroom. The individual who prevented the rape was punched in the face.
The person who was going to rape **** doesn’t even live in the dorm, and had to have cooperation to get through so many locked doors from across the compound.  The deaf feel the act was deliberate, by administration, as retribution for the filing of grievances.
The author of the letter was grabbed from behind and choked. He passed out. Upon waking up, he saw several inmates standing around him who did not live in his dorm. Not a word was said, they all left when he came to. Also another inmate – 74 years old, blind in one eye, wheelchair bound with one leg – was choked from behind with a broom handle, and given a warning to stop filing, or be sent to medical. This inmate has been ill, throws up with white foam on his mouth. Deaf inmates are convinced he is being poisoned. Administration has threatened to move them into 2-man rooms. That hides abusive behavior, and scares the Deaf. The inmate also writes that the TTY/TDD phones have been cut off for 3 weeks.
[Editor's Note: The above letter mentions two attorneys from the Justice Department. According to the inmate, upon seeing the cut on his arm, these two attorneys chose to take no action. He states that in his belief, they simply don't care. That is not true. Sadly, there are limits to what an attorney, or anyone else, for that matter, can do under these circumstances. The two attorneys in question are known to DeafInPrison, and are devoted and conscientious advocates. It is not surprising however, that with no one to explain to the inmate, what is being done on his behalf, it would appear to him as though nothing were being done at all.]

Cultural and Linguistic Challenges and Comprehending the Inmate Handbook

Ed: This article was was written by Jean Andrews Ph.D and originally published in Corrections Compendium Magazine, Vol. 36 Issue 11, Spring 2011. It was scanned into PDF format, and is reproduced here exactly as I received it. If you have trouble making out the text, try clicking the page as a link. When the JPEG opens, your mouse should give you a zoom option that will allow for easier reading of the text.

Can’t Talk Can’t Listen

There are deaf people in prison who shouldn’t be there, some who should, but for all deaf people, there are the additional problems in communication no matter how sophisticated and well educated they are. These may be the simplest things, like announcements over the intercom that the deaf inmate doesn’t hear – mail call, sick call, changes in schedule, new or abridged rules that if not obeyed are likely to get the inmate in deep trouble – not of his making.

There are customs in prison that deaf people are not aware of, and that they will not be told. It is well known that deaf people are extraordinarily sensitive to physical, gestural and facial cues. They have to depend on these, but in the specialized culture of prison life, staring and the intense gaze that’s normal to deaf people may result in a shiv in the guts.

Forget about the highly touted gift of lip-reading. Many people speak without moving their lips much. Many have idiosyncratic ways of forming their words. Beards, mustaches and mouth forms change the shapes of words, and sometimes make them unreadable. Beyond all this, the English language has too many sounds made back in the mouth, behind the teeth. Too many other sounds are similar on the lips. Married and buried look the same. Vacuum looks like fuck you. Get a mirror and try it yourself. Bid, bad, bed, med, mad, milk, and beer can all be confused with one another. Turn down your TV sound and see how much you get of the motivations in the drama or sit-com.

The Horror of Being Deaf and in Prison

[Ed. The following article was written by Dr. McCay Vernon, and appeared originally in the American Annals of the Deaf while Dr. Donald Moores was editor. The current editor is Peter V. Paul, Ph.D.The business and editorial offices for the publication are at Gallaudet University.]

For any human being, imprisonment is a devastating experience (No Escape, 2001). Sadistic, malicious violence is pervasive in this setting and the number one fear of inmates is that they will either be raped and/or murdered (Lockwood, 1980; and Ross & Richards, 2002).

Evidence proves that these fears are justified (Beck & Harrison, 2007; & Kuper, 1996). Part of the problem, especially with regard to rape, is that correctional officers often do little to prevent it and, on occasion, even encourage it or participate in it (Beck & Harrison, 2007;  No Escape, 2001). Despite the fact that rape is both illegal and pervasive in prisons, these facilities rarely take such cases to court and prosecute the guilty party (Gilligan, 1997). Obviously this failure encourages more rapes.

When gangs are dominant in prisons, which is often the case, the problems can be even worse. These gangs go by names such as “The Aryian Brotherhood,” “Latin Kinds,” “Mexican Mafia,” “The Black Gorilla Family,” etc. (Hogshire, 1999). As their names indicate, most are comprised of racial groups with strong ethnic biases. In many cases, inmates are forced to join one gang in order to get protection from the other gangs. If they do not join they are defenseless and have no one but themselves for protection (Hogshire, 1999).

Young inmates and those who are new to prisons are especially vulnerable to rape and other violence because they are seen as highly desirable in a sexual sense, they are more naïve, and are easier to rape (Hogshire, 1999). If they are also Deaf, they are exponentially more defenseless.

Compounding the problem of such in-prison attacks is the fact that in these times jails and prisons face decreased funding and severe overcrowding (Ross & Richards, 2002). For example, gyms, dayrooms, and similar facilities that normally provide space for educational classes, vocational programs, group therapy and other services are being converted to makeshift dormitories. The author witnessed this in a Maryland prison where a large gym was converted to a dormitory filled with double bunk beds spaced so closely together that inmates could reach over and touch inmates on either side. In a large room arranged like this, visibility to most of the beds is severely constricted, making supervision extremely difficult and often impossible. Under such conditions, violence and rape are far more pervasive (Kupor, 1996).

Health problems such as HIV/AIDs, Hepatitis C, Tuberculosis, mental illness and suicide also occur to a disproportionate extent in jails and prisons (Anon, 1998). The problem is further compounded by the poor medical care available in most correctional facilities (Ross & Richards, 2002).

To be deaf and thrust into a prison to face these kinds of dangers circumstances is terrifying. Making the situation even worse is that the basic rights set forth by the Americans with Disabilities Act, the United States Constitution, and related legislation designed to protect disabled inmates are routinely ignored by jail and prison officials and not enforced by state and federal police and courts, leaving inmates who are Deaf essentially defenseless (Miller, 2001; Thomas &Gaston, 2009; AND, 2004; Musumeci, 2006; and Vernon, 2009).

These conditions compound the vulnerability of inmates who are Deaf because most cannot speak very intelligibly nor read well enough to understand jail and prison rules and procedures that they are expected to follow (Miller, 2001). In addition, they are unable to understand what their fellow inmates and the correctional officers say to them due to the limitations of lipreading (Vernon & Andrews, 1990). Nor can they hear the prisons’ public address systems that provide critical information to hearing inmates and to correctional officers.

In addition the lack of qualified sign language interpreters in almost all U.S. jails and prisons leaves most inmates who are Deaf unaware of much of the information needed for safety and survival in prison (Miller, 2001; Vernon, 2009). These problems are made worse by the fact that in most prisons TTYs and videophones are in very limited supply, if available at all, making communication with family members, friends, attorneys and others severely limited, furthering the isolation inherent in deafness. It also means that access to educational programs, vocational training, religious services, faith-based programs, mental health programs for addiction, etc. are not available to the inmate who is Deaf. These types of programs are critical to most prisoners’ hopes for coping in life when they are eventually released.

Characteristics of Prison Inmates Who Are Deaf

To understand the full implication of incarceration for a person who is Deaf, it is necessary to know some of the characteristics of these individuals. A few such characteristics were described in the opening section of this paper. However, the most comprehensive study of this population was done by Katrina Miller (2001).

Miller’s research included a study of 99 such individuals, 92 of whom were males in the Estelle Unit of a prison near Huntsville, Texas. The seven women were in the Murray Unit in Gatesville, Texas. Of these prisoners, 76 percent lost their hearing prior to learning to speak or to use English language. Consequently, none of them were able to talk intelligibly (Miller, 2001). The reason for their inability to communicate in English is equivalent to the problem hearing persons would have trying to speak Russian if they could not hear it.

Besides having a profound impact on speech intelligibility, early onset deafness drastically impairs the learning of the English language (Andrews, Leigh & Weiner, 2004). For example, children born deaf who do not receive preschool education enter first grade not knowing the names of the foods they eat, the clothes they wear, their own names, etc. Along with having little or no vocabulary, they lack the knowledge of English syntax needed to connect words and form sentences (Vernon & Andrews, 1990).

Those who do get preschool education or have parents who are Deaf or who know sign language do better linguistically, but they still do not do nearly as well as children who can hear. For example, thirty percent of students who are Deaf leave school at age 18 or above functionally illiterate and reading at grade level 2.8 or below. Sixty percent are reading at third and fourth grade level (LaVigne & Vernon, 2003; Traxler, 2000).

This background information makes understandable the findings Miller (2001) obtained regarding the 99 inmates in her sample, all of whom were Deaf. As a group, they had an average educational level of second grade, fourth month when they entered prison. Thee data were based on scores obtained on the Test of Basic Education, a standardized educational achievement test used nationally (Miller, 2001). This is despite the fact that an extensive review of the literature on people who are Deaf indicates their IQs are distributed essentially the same as IQs in the hearing population (Vernon, 2005/1965).

In sum, most of the inmates in Miller’s study were functionally illiterate, meaning they could barely read and they also had unintelligible speech. Thus they were limited to an extremely primitive level of communication with prison correctional officers and other prison authorities, as well as with fellow inmates.

The significance of the impact of early onset deafness on educational achievement becomes especially critical when one considers that the IQ levels of the inmates who were Deaf ranged from 60 to 137, with a mean of 92, which is the same mean obtained on the hearing inmates. All IQs were based on results from the Test of Basic Education
(TABE). Miller’s sample is as representative of prisoners who are Deaf as any sample in the literature.

It is critical in understanding what the prison experience is like for an inmate who is Deaf to keep as a frame of reference the educational and linguistic level of the sample in Miller’s study (2001). The primary focus of this paper will be on prisoners who are Deaf and are at the same educational level as described in the Texas sample (Miller, 2001). They are representative of prisoners who are Deaf nationally. These individuals have huge a disadvantage within the criminal justice system, primarily in courts, interacting with the police, and in correctional facilities.

By contrast, well-educated people who are Deaf, while still very disadvantaged in coping with the court system, arrest procedures, and imprisonment, are far more able to assert their rights and argue for justice. As a result, those who are Deaf and well educated rarely go to prison, as contrasted with the individuals who are Deaf and function at the level Miller (2001) describes in her research.

The Ladder: from Arrest to Jail, to Trial, to Prison, and Parole or Probation


Individuals who are Deaf and get caught up in the criminal justice system face a high probability that at each step in the process their legal rights will be violated, often with serious, tragic consequences (Geer, 2003; Vernon, 2009). For example, these violations at and before the time of arrest increase the odds that later at trial they will be found guilty and sentenced to jail or prison (Vernon & Raifman, 1997; Vernon Raifman, Greenberg and Monteiro, 2001).

To illustrate, when first stopped and questioned by police, many suspects who are Deaf are unable to explain to the police officer the circumstances surrounding the alleged crime. This is due to their unintelligible speech and limited command of English. Also, the police rarely have a sign language interpreter present during these initial stages of arrest and interrogation. This is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and other civil rights legislation (Terhune, 2004-2005). Later, when more in-depth interrogation takes place, it is usually done in jail or at the police station. These sessions should always have a competent sign language interpreter present and be video taped and audio taped. This is not done in many cases even though it is the only way to assure that the suspect who is Deaf understood what transpired during the interrogation and to have a complete record of the process (Vernon, Raifman, Greenberg & Montiero, 1998). These interrogations frequently last four to eight hours and are often coercive (Rogers, 2008). This results in a defendant who is likely to be scared, confused and exhausted as the procedure goes on. In this state, the suspect who is Deaf is likely to agree with most anything the interrogators suggest in the naïve hopes that he will be released and permitted to go home (Miranda v. Arizona, 384.U.S. 436 (1966); Rogers, 2008; and Vernon & Raifman, 1997). Most are unlikely to know that they have the right to remain silent nor are many of them apt to understand what an attorney is or what he does (Seaborn, 2004). Quite often the defendant will have already signed a Miranda Waiver and other documents far more complex than the Miranda Waiver, such as the Waiver of Search, permission for Polygraph Test, or Blood and Breath Test, all of which require reading levels beyond those of a high school graduate (Andrews, Vernon & LaVigne, 2007). For example, in an interview, a Texas prisoner (Miller, 2003) revealed:

“In court I had no interpreter. I asked for one, but they told me you don’t need one for this. I could not understand the paperwork they gave me, but I had to sign it. They made me sign it without an interpreter to explain it to me.”  

In cases where it was determined that the waivers were not administered in a manner accessible and understandable to the defendant, the evidence discovered as a result of the waivers should not be admissible in court. If it is not admitted, the suspect often goes free (Vernon & Coley, 1978; and Vernon & Raifman, 1997).

Following arrest and awaiting trial and/or transfer to prison, the person who is Deaf is often confined to jail. Most jails are crowded and often filthy, especially in smaller towns and cities in the South (Hogshire, 1999). Inmates are usually segregated or grouped based on their having been convicted or charged with similar offenses. Most jails, especially small ones, lack the accommodations required to assure deaf inmates receive the rights ADA and other civil rights legislation requires (Vernon, 2009). Police and correctional authorities can get by with this because ADA is not well enforced (Vernon, 2009). Unless the jail is a large one, there usually is no other inmate who is Deaf in the jail. To be the only individual who is Deaf in this kind of dangerous setting is to be relatively defenseless and almost totally isolated.

Once defendants who are Deaf are assigned a trial date, or before, they will either be provided a public defender, as is usually the case, or else they hire a private attorney. In trial preparation, the courts rarely agree to pay a sign language interpreter to enable a defendant who is Deaf to communicate with his lawyer. Consequently, most defendants who are Deaf are unable to adequately inform their attorney about the circumstances surrounding their case. This severely limits the effectiveness of the attorney and weakens the defendant’s case.

Another problem has to do with the plea bargain: If one is offered, the plea usually involves a lot of complex legal language addressing critical issues involving the defendant (Andrews, Vernon & LaVigne, 2007). The decision made regarding a pleas is an extremely important one with profound effects on the defendant’s future.

Under these circumstances, for some attorneys pleading a case and collecting the fee is preferable to going to trial (Hogshire, 1999). This is especially true if the lawyer does not have an interpreter and the defendant who is Deaf has unintelligible speech and writing that is only semi-comprehensible, as if often the case.

Such defendants are sometimes described as semi-lingual and comprise approximately 30 percent of the overall population of those who are Deaf (Aramburo, 2007), but they constitute about 90 percent of jailed or imprisoned criminal defendants who are Deaf.

In most trials of defendants who are Deaf, the only interpreter the court pays is the one who interprets what is said officially during the trial, meaning that conversation which the court stenographer transcribes. In rare cases, the court pays to have another interpreter to facilitate communication between the defendant and his attorney during the trial. Consequently, in most cases the defendant who is Deaf does not comprehend much of what is going on in his own trial. This is a gross violation of ADA and the rights of defendants who are Deaf (LaVigne & Vernon, 2003). If the defendant cannot afford an interpreter and neither the court nor the defendant’s lawyer will agree to pay for one, both the attorney and the defendant are at great disadvantage regarding important attorney-client communication during the trial and breaks taken during the course of the trial (LaVigne & Vernon, 2003).

There are some critically important aspects of sign language interpreting basic to trials of people who are Deaf. Most attorneys, judges and defendants are unaware of these issues involving defendants who are Deaf. For example, the largest commercially available dictionary of American Sign Language (ASL) has a vocabulary of only 5,600 signs (LaVigne & Vernon, 2003). By contrast, the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary has over half a million words (Brown, 2002). This means there are literally hundreds of thousands of words in English for which there is no sign. If the person who is Deaf is well educated, the interpreter can fingerspell the English words for which there are no signs. However, because the overwhelming number of criminal defendants who are Deaf are semilingual, they lack adequate vocabulary of English words and command of English syntax to understand words and sentences even if the interpreter fingerspells them. For what is said in court to be made understandable to semilingual defendants who are Deaf, the interpreter must do extensive expansion, using examples, pictures, mime, etc. This requires a lot of time and, in many cases, is not even possible. Furthermore, by the time the interpreter has finished doing the expansion, the speaker has usually said several hundred words or more. In order for the interpreter to catch up with the speaker, these additional comments will never get interpreted. Thus the defendant misses out on a significant part of his own trial, which is a denial of his basic legal rights (LaVigne & Vernon, 2003).

The problem could be solved by using consecutive interpreting, which involves the speaker saying a few words then waiting for the interpreter to do whatever expansion is required to interpret them. Then the speaker says more words, stopping again until they have been satisfactorily interpreted (Vernon & Miller, 2005). Courts almost never permit consecutive interpreting because it is very time consuming. However, it is also extremely helpful to both the interpreter and the defendant and to arriving at a fair verdict

The end result of these issues involving interpreting is that the average defendant in a criminal case who is Deaf is almost never able to participate in any significant way in his/her own trial, a clear violation of ADA as well as numerous state and local laws (Vernon, 1996).

Following the trial, if the defendant is found guilty and sentenced to prison, he may sit in jail several months awaiting transfer to a reception center. If so, this is an extremely difficult time because unless the jail is large he will be the only inmate there who is Deaf. During this period the inmate is usually not provided the services to which he is legally entitled, such as interpreting, access to a phone (TDY or videophone), church services, etc.

Upon leaving jail, the inmate usually goes to a prison reception center where he is tested educationally, evaluated psychologically, including an IQ test, and given instruction on how to behave in prison. He will be provided a copy of rules prisoners must obey, the procedures they will be expected to follow and the consequences of breaking these rules. This is vital information for survival in prison.

Rarely is an interpreter provided during the orientation and the handbook on prison rules is beyond the reading level of the overwhelming majority of prison inmates who are Deaf (Goben, Enos & Andrews (In Press, 2009). Yet the prisoner who is Deaf is expected to obey all these rules and regulations. Failure to do so can result in solitary confinement, loss of privileges, transfer to a different prison, or worse. For example, the inmate can lose good time he has earned that would otherwise result in an early release.

Another problem related to the orientation is that most correctional systems do not test hearing as a part of the process. Therefore, the prison to which the inmate is assigned has no idea that the inmate is Deaf when they give him a cell assignment, a cellmate, duties he has to fulfill, a job, etc. Another consequence of failing to test hearing as part of the physical exam given during orientation is that most prison systems do not know how many of their inmates are Deaf or where they are located within their system (Gibbs & Ackerman, 1999). This makes providing services impossible. Because, as indicated earlier,  being Deaf makes an inmate more vulnerable to rape and other offenses, most prisoners who are Deaf attempt to conceal their hearing loss from the general population. This creates other problems.

Following orientation, the prisoners are chained together, put on a bus and sent to the prison to which they have been assigned. Because the inmate who is Deaf had no interpreter during the orientation, he is devoid of the information given there and has no idea of what is to happen to him. Thus, it is inevitable that he will break some rules because he does not know they exist. Such violations can mean solitary confinement, loss of earned good time, dismissal from a prison job, no commissary privileges, etc.

The prison’s public address system, which is auditory, compounds the problem for the inmate who is Deaf. Because he can’t hear it, he misses out on the vital information that is provided, such as fire warnings, lockdowns, announcements of meal times, lights out, riot alerts, and other emergencies.

Other deprivations inmates who are Deaf suffer due to the absence or scarcity of sign language interpreters is that they cannot participate in prison programs such as educational classes, religious services, vocational programs, group therapy, addiction treatment, etc. Nor do they receive adequate medical services because when they see nurses, doctors or psychologists for their physical and mental problems, the visits are often futile due to the failure to supply interpreters.  It is even worse if they are experiencing serious psychological disorders.

Another issue that can create problems due to the lack of sign language interpreters is when a prison uses an inmate who knows sign language to interpreter for important functions such as disciplinary hearings. The worst result of this is when the “interpreter” deliberately provides interpretation that turns the Disciplinary Hearing against the inmate who is Deaf. This is easy to do since no one at the hearing except the interpreter knows what the inmate who is Deaf is signing, and what the “interpreter” is saying to the inmate in sign language. The interpreter can change and distort it in any way he desires. Also, very confidential facts are often revealed in these hearings. Later, the inmate interpreter can use this confidential information as blackmail.

Inmates who are Deaf and in the correctional system face many more such abuses than space in this paper permits describing. We have tried to bring attention to some of them.

Parole and Probation

Parole and probation are usually one of the two steps that precede discharge from prison. Most prisoners have usually earned some good time, meaning they are released from prison before they have completed their full sentence (Ross & Richards, 2002). They are then required to serve the rest of their time on parole, except in those states which have no parole.

Statistics on parole indicate that 50 percent of those on parole break parole rules and are returned to prison within a year. Seventy percent are returned within three years for the same reason (Ross & Richards, 2002). The rules of parole are extremely technical and difficult to understand. They are given to parolees who are Deaf in printed form who then, unknowingly violate the rules because they can’t understand them. These inmates are then returned to prison to serve the balance of their sentences. Relatively few parolees, hearing or Deaf, are returned to prison based on new convictions for crimes committed during parole (Ross & Richards, 2002).

Federal prisoners face a different situation. They have two sentences. The first time they go to prison they must serve 85 percent of their term before being released. The second sentence, covering the remaining 15 percent of their sentence, involves community supervision. This is not based time earned for good behavior (Ross & Richards, 2002).

There are also pre-release programs such as furloughs, educational releases, and work releases. These involve time away from prison during the day while performing an approved activity and returning to the prison daily upon completing the activity.

Two major problems with parole and probation relate to inmates who are Deaf. The first is that rarely are any interpreting services provided as part of the process. The second is that, many of the rules and regulations involved in parole and probation are provided prisoners in written forms that require readability levels far above that of the overwhelming majority of inmates who are Deaf. This, these inmates have little, if any, understanding of the rules they have to obey and unknowingly violate them.

For example, Miller (2003) quoted from a deaf parolee she interviewed in Texas as follows:

“They put a metal bracelet on my leg, but I did not know what it was for. I took my brother’s truck and went out driving and the police came and arrested me. So I had to go back to prison.”

The man lost the six months of good time he had earned and had to spend six more months in prison as a parole violator because he did not understand he was not permitted to drive.

If the rules for probation and parole were simply interpreted into sign language and put on videos which could be viewed by deaf prisoners prior to or while on parole, the problem and the considerable expenses of recidivism could be reduced. The cost of such a video would be minimal. Something this simple could save parolees who are Deaf years of prison time and prisons thousands of dollars. Failure to provide such instruction in a manner intelligible to inmates who are Deaf is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and a failure of the American justice system to enforce this major civil rights law.

The Mentally Ill and Homeless in Jails

Individuals who are both mentally ill and Deaf are by far the most neglected segment of the mentally ill population in the United States (Vernon & Leigh, 2007). Consequently, there is a paucity of data on these individuals. For this reason, it is often necessary to generalize from data on hearing mentally ill samples, or to make observations based on personal experience when such information is not available in the literature on mentally ill individuals who are Deaf.

To understand how this country arrived at the current status of its treatment of mentally ill individuals, both hearing and Deaf, it is necessary to go back to 1845. At that time Dorothy Dix visited a Massachusetts jail to teach a Bible class. There she discovered that many of the prisoners were mentally ill and that they had no heat in their cells despite the freezing temperatures. When she asked the jailors why this was so, they responded, “The insane do not need heat.” (McHugh, 2006).

For the next two decades, Dix traveled across the United States, convincing the public that the mentally ill required treatment, not punishment (McHugh, 2006). Her work convinced thirty states to build asylums in order that the mentally ill could be removed from jails and prisons and provided treatment. By 1900 every state in the union had at least one asylum for the mentally ill (Early, 2006). However, by the 1940s these asylums had become dumping grounds, not just for the mentally ill but for the poor, the elderly, the disabled, the blind, etc. Many of the facilities were mismanaged and there were abuses of treatments such as electroshock therapy, lobotomies, fever therapy, etc. (Early, 2006).

In 1946, Life magazine ran a sensational expose with photographs of the abuses that were pervasive in these asylums. This was followed by Jane Ward’s book, The Snake Pit, and a series of newspaper stories in the same vein.

President Harry Truman reacted in 1946 by signing the bill that created the National Institute of Mental Health (Early, 2006). Its purpose was to find a cure for insanity. At about the same time, Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis was coming on the scene. It later became popular, but was eventually found to be of dubious validity and has gradually dropped in popularity (McHugh, 2006).

Around 1952, drugs such as chlorpromazine became to appear (McHugh, 2006). These psychotropic drugs acted against the symptoms of schizophrenia and other psychoses, leaving patients more manageable by reducing the delusions and violence of some of the more dangerous psychotic patients. As a result, fewer patients required hospitalization. These medications plus the federal government’s promise to establish local mental health facilities for the mentally ill led state legislatures to close their state mental hospitals (McHugh, 2006). In addition, it was assumed that other Federal programs including Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security would enable many mentally ill patients to live independently in the community while receiving outpatient services, including prescriptions for their medications.

Unfortunately, the proposed local mental health facilities were never built. Thus, many of the discharged patients from the state asylums were left homeless, wandering the streets without supervision and often not taking their medications (Cohen & Thompson, 1992). In the 1950’s legislation, backed by civil rights lawyers and judges rather than mental health professionals and based on a decision by a Wisconsin court, compounded the problem. Wisconsin’s Lessard decsion ultimately led to the abolishment of involuntary hospitalization and treatment of the mentally ill (Torrey, 2008). It stated that “there must be an extreme likelihood that if a person is not confined that he will do immediate harm to himself or others. Furthermore, the dangerousness must be proven by a recent overt act or threat to do substantial harm to oneself or others.” (Torrey, 2008). This law, or minor variations of it, is in effect nationally and has been since the 1970s.  It now becomes almost impossible to hospitalize even the most psychotic, potentially dangerous mentally ill individual against his will.

Although well intended this legislation has proven to be a cause of much homelessness and the imprisonment of man mentally ill individuals (Torrey, 2008). Furthermore, even when patients are hospitalized against their will, civil rights lawyers can use the Lessard decision and related laws to quickly extradite them because of the rigid requirements set forth in this legislation.

The end result of all this is that when the police pick up a homeless mentally ill person for some misdemeanor or felony and take him to a mental hospital, typically the individual is back on the streets within 24 hours because he does not meet the strict requirements needed for involuntary admission and treatment. This whole process is repeated with variations many times every day all over the United States.

The police face a dilemma: they do not want to jail mentally ill people, but if they don’t jail them and mental hospitals won’t keep them. When these individuals then continue to break the law by urinating in public, walking around nude, sleeping on private properties jail and/or prison is the only alternative the police have.

The crux of this problem is legislation that says a person cannot be hospitalized involuntarily nor can he be forced to take medication or other treatments. While this is a well-intended law, it is extremely destructive to the mentally ill individual and to society. A contributing factor to this problem is a condition known as anosognosia. It refers to people who have a mental illness but do not know it, for example, the psychotic patient who says he is God and believes it. More importantly, he is also likely to claim he is not sick and he believes this too. Consequently, such individuals will refuse hospitalization, medications and other treatment. Under current laws, most of them cannot be committed to a hospital against their will nor treated unless they agree, regardless of how psychotic they are. Therefore these psychotic patients, a significant percent of whom are at times violent, are either left homeless on the streets or incarcerated in jails and prisons. This leaves our country today with the same situation Dorothy Dix faced in 1845, except that back then patients could be hospitalized against their will if their were psychotic and they could be forced to accept treatment. No rational person today believes that the option for people who are mentally ill should be prison, jail or homelessness, but this is the choice thousands in this country face today because they are psychotic and have anosognosia, but even more importantly because forced hospitalization and treatment are illegal (Torrey, 2008).

Given this historical material on the treatment of the mentally ill in this country, it is understandable why jails and prisons today house at least 360,000 persons with major psychiatric disorders, and possibly as many as half a million (Lamb, 2009). A significant number are Deaf. Currently, for many people with severe mental illness, if they receive any treatment at all, it is from the correctional system, not mental health facilities. Many of these people are highly resistant to treatment, i.e., they have anosognosia. When compared to prison inmates who have no psychiatric disorders, the mentally ill prisoners were significantly more likely to have committed violent offenses (Pia & Tornieto, 2006).

The data on Deaf people in prisons who are mentally ill people is limited. However, there is one in-depth study of inmates who are Deaf in one of these facilities (Miller, 2001). A number of factors indicate that if more such studies were done, the proportion of people who are Deaf and mentally ill who are housed in jails and prisons would be higher than for hearing people.

One such factor has to do with the major etiologies of deafness, which includes such conditions as premature birth, meningitis, head injuries, mumps, encephalitis, anoxia, genetics, scarlet fever, cytomegaly virus, mastoiditis, autism, etc. (Andrews, Leigh & Weiner, 2004; Moores, 2001; and Vernon, 1969) In addition to deafness, many of these conditions are known to cause brain damage and related mental disorders (Vernon, 1969).

Another factor has to do with parent-child relationships. Many parents of children who are Deaf never learn sign language. For this reason, their communication with their children is limited, resulting in the child not getting vital information such as sex education, advice on coping socially, budgeting information, the dangers of substance abuse, etc.

These conditions and the fact that deafness makes life in general far more difficult to cope with in a number of areas such as employment, education, the law, economic planning, and personal health care (Pollard & Barnett, 2009). These conditions leave those who are Deaf more vulnerable to mental illnesses than those who are hearing. Poor literacy levels and communication problems also play a major role. These aspects of deafness all contribute to the strong probability that there is more mental illness among people who are deaf than among those who hear (Harry & Dietz, 1985). The problem is compounded by the lack of specialized mental health facilities for those who are Deaf as well as the absence of social workers, psychologists, and psychiatrists qualified to treat patients who are Deaf and mentally ill (Vernon & Leigh, 2008).


Rather than including a summary, this paper will recommend eight specific changes related to improving the care of persons who are Deaf and incarcerated.

1.                  Enforcement and Funding of the Amercans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The ADA is an outstanding piece of federal legislation; however, it has never been adequately funded , leaving that up to state and local governments (Thomas & Gastin, 2009; Vernon, 2009). In many cases these local jurisdictions do not have the money to assure ADA’s implementation and/or they do not see it as a priority.

The second problem is that law enforcement frequently fails to enforce ADA, especially in prisons and schools (Vernon, 2009). Until thee two problems are resolved, the passage of ADA will prove to be a failure in many respects. This problem should be resolved by changes in the law at that federal level.

2.                  Failure to Identify and Group Inmates who are Deaf

Most prison systems, both state and federal, do not even know who their Deaf inmates are, how many they have, or which institutions they are in. Most appalling is that this situation is easy to correct at very little cost. Yet nothing has been done about it.

To fix the problem, two steps need to be taken: First, all  inmates need to be audiologically screened for hearing loss at the time they enter the correctional system. This can be done with an inexpensive hand-held device known as an AudioScope which can be operated by a nurse, doctor, other medical specialist, or by any responsible lay person after only two or three hours of instruction (Griffin, Bordenick, & Vernon, 1984). Once the screener is trained, the screening process takes only a minute or two per prisoner.

After the individual has been identified as having a significant hearing loss, it should become a permanent part of the inmate’s medical record.

The second step needed is to identify the inmates who have already gone through the intake procedure and have become part of the prison population. The same screening procedure used at intake can be applied with these prisoners.

Screening is a simple, inexpensive process which can set the foundation for addressing the problems posed by inmates who are Deaf, problems that are destructive to the persons and place prisons in danger of law suits.

3.                  An Option for Addressing the Problem Faced by Inmates Who are Deaf and Hard-of-hearing

Once those who are Deaf or severely hard-of-hearing are identified, a separate unit should be established in each state correctional system for inmates who are Deaf. Those who want to be transferred to this unit should be moved there. They will usually be the inmates who are culturally Deaf and use sign language as their primary means of communication, plus others who have serious hearing losses but attended schools where there were no special programs for them.

A few states have done this or something similar. The best example is the Unit for the Deaf in Texas where there are around 100 inmates who are Deaf (Miller, 2001).

The reason a separate facility is so important for these individuals is that they are extremely vulnerable in the general population (Vernon, 2009).  For example, they are far more defenseless against sexual assault, other physical violence, intimidation, exploitation, etc. than other inmates (Vernon, 2009). In addition, deafness is very isolating and research has shown that isolation in prisoners is a major cause of psychological breakdowns and psychoses(Reutter, 2009; Weinstein, 2009 & Reutter, 2008).

Another rationale for a separate unit for inmates who are Deaf is that currently they are denied access to programs such as drug rehabilitation, educational classes, faith-based services, and therapies for various disorders.  These kinds of services are often provided hearing inmates (Miller, 2001). The reason for this exclusion is the cost of sign language interpreters for those who are Deaf. While failure to provide interpreters is a violation of ADA, the practice is pervasive in prisons (Vernon, 2009).

A major advantage of grouping together inmates who are Deaf is that it saves prisons money by centralizing interpreting services instead of having to supply interpreters for individual inmates in different prisons or different parts of the same prison. For example, when the separate unit was established in Texas, one interpreter was able to serve for numerous functions, whereas before,  many interpreters were required at greater expense.

Once such a unit is established, almost all inmates who are culturally Deaf and who depend on sign language will want to be in the unit (Miller, 2001). A few who became deaf later in life and do not know sign language may prefer to stay where they are and this preference should be respected.

In sum, establishing one unit for all Deaf inmates within a state or federal system saves the government money and greatly improves the situation for inmates who are Deaf.

4.The Prsion[sic] Litigation Reform Act (PLRA)

As it now stands, the PLRA cast shadows of constitutional immunity, contravening one core commitment to constitutional government (Schlanger & Shay, 2009). The PLRA’s obstacles to meritorious law suits are undermining the rule of law in our prisons and jails and granting the government near-impunity to violate the rights of prisoners without fear of consequences (Schlanger & Shay, 2009). While PLRA has also gone along way toward reducing frivolous lawsuits, it has also prevented prisoners from raising legitimate claims in serious cases involving rape, violence, neglect of needed medical services, religious discrimination, and retaliation by prison officials against those inmates who exercise their free speech rights (Reutter, 2009; and Schlanger & Shay, 2009).

Some legislation has been proposed in Congress to fix a few of the  more

egregious  problems created by PLRA, but the law desperately needs further revision (Reutter, 2009).

5.                  Prison Grievance Procedures

The major defense prisoners possess when they have a complaint about how they are treated by guards or other prison authorities or when they are attacked or raped by fellow inmates or denied basic constitutional rights, etc. is to file a grievance. This poses a major problem for inmates who are Deaf as most have only a second grade education and are unable to present their case in correct, understandable English (Miller, 2004). Nor are they provided with sign language interpreters to assist them in this task. There are also levels of grievances, time deadlines, and other bureaucratic requirements that discourage inmates from seeking justice by filing grievances.

Even more serious is that grievances filed against guards or other prison officials often result in punitive retaliation against the inmate, such as transfers to less desirable prisons, trumped up charges against the prisoner, loss of privileges, transfer to a cell with a violent cellmate, denial of parole, etc.

Filing a grievance is about the only recourse an inmate has. Until  the grievance procedure is completed in full according to PLAR requirements, the inmate has not properly exhausted his administrative remedies, and therefore is barred from making a federal claim. This leaves him unable to pursue his case.

Basically, PLAR was written by prison correctional officers and other prison officials to enable them to cover up abuses of inmates and to keep inmates from taking legal action against prison staff members who abuse them. The solution is for Congress to rewrite PLAR in a way that recognizes the constitutional rights of prisoners.

6.                  Prevent the Mentally Ill from Being Homeless or in Prison

Repeal of the Lanerman Paris Act is essential if we are to prevent many mentally ill people from becoming homeless or jailed as is now the case. According to this act, in order to be involuntarily admitted to a psychiatric hospital, the person must be “an imminent danger to self or others” (Torrey, 2008). This is almost impossible to prove with certainty unless the individual is pointing a gun directly at someone’s head and has a finger on the trigger.

Consequently, when the police pick up a psychotic person and take the individual to a hospital, the person is usually released to the streets within 24 hours. Consequently, the police often do not bother to take the person to the hospital but take the individual to jail instead on some charge such as loitering, urinating in public, creating a disturbance, trespassing, etc. Obviously jail is not the appropriate place for a mentally ill person, although it may be preferable to being homeless on the streets, especially in winter.

If the Lanerman Paris Act were repealed, these individuals could be taken to a psychiatric facility and treated.

In addition to making the involuntary hospitalization of mentally ill persons possible, it is important to give hospitals the right to require patients who are psychotic to take psychotropic medication. Currently, due to laws passed by well-intended attorneys, doctors and hospitals are denied the right to forcefully medicate patients. This only prolongs and intensifies the patient’s illness and laws forbidding this practice should be repealed.

If the above suggestions regarding involuntary hospitalization and the use of medications were repealed and laws permitting involuntary hospitaliztion and medication were implemented, more patients would be in hospitals, not homeless or in jails and prisons . Furthermore, they would be getting proper treatment (Early, 20056) resulting in their psychological improvement.

7.                  The Privatization of Prisons

Currently, the owners of private prisons are paying lobbyists hundreds of

thousands of dollars to get legislation passed requiring longer mandatory prison sentences, more prosecutions even of non-violent offenders, less parole, more segregation, and, in general, a “lock them up” approach to criminals (Wright, 2009). Because the private prison industry can raise money and build prisons faster than state and federal governments, they are disproportionately benefiting from the rapidly growing prison population. For example, some states have more than half their inmates in private prisons in other states (Wright, 2009).

The failure of the legislative and executive branches of the government on criminal justice issues is the major reason for this burgeoning prison population. The record of private prisons is poor. The primary reason for this is that their motive is profit and the best way to increase profit is to decrease services. Historically, private prisons have been known for their brutality and corruption.

For this reason they were abandoned in the 1920s, only to return to the scene in recent years (Wright, 2009).


Prison Legal News, a leading advocate for the decent treatment of imprisoned human beings is leading the fight against the privatization of prisons due to the cruelty and poor conditions that exist in many of these facilities.

8. Interpreting Services

Interpreting services in prisons and jails should be sufficiently available  to assure that the rules set forth by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) are fully implemented in jails and prisons in the United States (Terhune, 2004-2005). Cureently ADA is routinely violated in these facilities due to a lack of its enforcement (Vernon, 2009).

Compliance with the stipulation to provide interpreting services is imperative if the isolation and vulnerability of Deaf inmates are to be reduced. Adequate interpreting and the full implementation of ADA are the keystones to equal treatment and access for prisoners who are Deaf (Musemerci, 2006).


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Basic Legal Issues in Handling Cases of Defendants who are Deaf

Basic Legal Issues in Handling Cases of Defendants who are Deaf


McCay Vernon, Ph.D.


Jean Andrews, Ph.D.

Submitted to the Champion, October 2010

Contact Author: McCay Vernon

McCay Vernon, Ph. D. is a forensic psychologist and professor emeritus of McDaniel College, Westminster, MD 21157

Jean Andrews is a reading specialist and professor of Deaf Studies/Deaf Education at Lamar University, Beaumont, TX 77710


Ten guidelines are presented that are often crucial in criminal cases involving defendants who are deaf. Because such defendants are a small minority, most attorneys and judges rarely come across them in the course of their legal work and are unfamiliar with the unique legal issues they pose. As a result, many cases are lost unnecessarily which can result in jail or prison time for innocent deaf defendants. The guidelines provided in this paper are intended to help prevent this tragedy



            Clients who are deaf represent a small minority of defendants in criminal cases. Consequently, judges, public defenders, and other attorneys rarely represent them and/or make legal decisions regarding them. Thus they often lack familiarity with the unique legal problems these deaf individuals pose when involved with the criminal justice system. Nor are they always familiar with the specific laws that were written to assure deaf defendants equal treatment in court and other legal settings. (Dubow, et al, 2000)

For these defendants, this often means that cases involving them that could have been won are lost. Thus they frequently go to jail and/or prison where they suffer other serious injustices. These include not obtaining the services and care hearing inmates are provided and to which deaf inmates are entitled under the Americans with Disabilities Act (Miller, 2001; Vernon, in press, 2010).

In addition, because deafness is invisible, it is usually not considered an important disability. This attitude is characterized by statements such as “The only problem deaf folks have is that they can’t hear music.” In truth, deafness has such severe impacts on language, communication, learning, and socialization that Helen Keller, who was both deaf and blind, considered deafness the more serious of her two disabilities (Keller, 1902).

This paper begins by presenting the guidelines for attorneys and judges working with deaf clients. This is followed by a discussion of the current situation regarding disability legislation. Next, a compelling true story is presented involving a deaf client who did not receive the rights to which he was entitled and who paid a tragic price. In describing the case, the legal, cognitive, educational and linguistic issues deafness involves are described and their forensic implications explained. Following this, crucial issues involving sign language interpreting and its implications for deaf individuals caught up in the justice system are addressed.

In closing, the unique problems the Miranda Waiver poses for deaf defendants and their attorneys are described and examples of specific other legal documents that cause legal difficulties for deaf defendants are analyzed and the legal issues they pose are documented.

Three informative tables are included, one related to cases where evidence was suppressed because the Miranda was not administered correctly. Table two contains analysis of five documents used to waive U.S. Constitutional Rights. Table 3 presents six legal documents protected by Due Process. We use the tools of reading and linguistics to show that these documents are written at very high reading levels and contain vocabulary and linguistic construction that most deaf defendants will be unable to read and comprehend.

Ten  Guidelines

For attorneys working with deaf defendants, these ten points are often basic to their case:

1.      Get valid data on the educational and linguistic level of the client, especially the reading level. For young defendants, these data are usually available from the school system, but if not, a teacher, reading specialist, or educational psychologist can do the testing needed. These data alone can often demonstrate the linguistic incompetence of the defendant to be tried (Andrews, Vernon & Lavigne, 2007).

As indicated in the Table 1, there have been a number of cases when this has resulted in the deaf defendant in serious felony cases being released (see Table 1).

2.      Get the IQ of the client. A low score can support the argument for linguistic incompetence to stand trial (Vernon & Raifman, 1996). In addition, it can point out the vulnerability of your client to being led astray, taken advantage of, and not being fully aware of the significance of the crime with which he is charged. The IQ and educational level can be used together in this type of defense.

3.   Obtain full data on exactly how the Miranda Waiver was administered. As    indicated earlier, often with deaf defendants the fifth amendment is administered inadequately (Vernon & Raifman, 1996). For example, no interpreter is present, a family member is used to interpret, or the deaf person is required to read the waiver when his reading level is far below that required to understand it. Based on the authors’ combined sixty-two years of forensic experience with deaf defendants, our estimate is that they are given the waiver correctly and fairly only about 30 percent of the time.The waiver should be administered to a deaf person using a certified interpreter. The entire process should be videotaped and recorded on audiotape. Videotape with a deaf person is the legal equivalent of audiotape with a hearing person. It is the only way to get an exact record when sign language is involved.

4.      At trial, request that the interpreting be done consecutively, not simultaneously. This makes the interpreting far easier to do correctly.

5.          During trials, interrogations, and other related legal matters involving a  deaf   person, a certified deaf interpreter should be present. With cases involving deaf defendants with very poor English language skills, a Certified Deaf Interpreter (CID) is needed.

6.      During the trial, an interpreter should be made available to the defense lawyer in order that the deaf defendant and his/her lawyer can interact with one another.

7.      Insist that the trial be videotaped as well as audiotaped. This is the only way to get a complete record of the trial. Otherwise, there is no accurate record of what was said in sign language during the trial. In addition, the videotape makes it possible to assess the competence of the interpreter and exactly what the interpreter signed.

8.      Any interrogation of a deaf defendant should be videotaped and audiotaped. Videotaping is to a deaf person what audiotaping is to a hearing person.

9.      For deaf defendants who prefer closed captioning rather than a sign language interpreter, this should be requested by the attorney. Usually deaf persons making this request have excellent reading skills. Many were adventitiously deafened.

10.  If videotapes were made at the time of arrest and/or interrogations, copies of these should be obtained and examined by the attorney with the help of an interpreter. In addition, all legal documents that the deaf defendant was told to initialize should be collected and examined for reading level readability (see Table 2).

Failure by the police or attorneys to follow any of these guidelines can create the basis for an appeal.

The Current Situation

Fortunately, over the past sixty years there have been a series of federal laws passed which were written specifically to assure that disabled people were provided the rights intended by the Constitution and the ten amendments that comprise the Bill of Rights (Dubow et all, 2000). In addition, the fields of reading and forensic linguistics have developed tools to analyze and describe specifically the legal language used in the courtroom that obstruct comprehension for the deaf defendant (Andrews, 2008; Gibbons, 2003, p. 223).

Despite these aids and despite the legislative acts that were passed, they have not always been actively enforced (Andrews, Vernon & LaVigne, 2007; Frumkin, 1998; Musumeci, 2006; Terhune, 2004-2005; Thomas & Gastin, 2006; Vernon, 2009; and Vernon 2010). In fact, they have often been blatantly ignored (Thomas & Gasten, 2006; and Vernon, 2009 and 2010)

A Unique Case Illustrating the Basic Forensic Issues

Involved in Criminal Cases of Deaf Defendants

            Mr. X, a 40-year-old gay man is profoundly prelingually deaf, meaning he lost his hearing prior to three years of age. The ages birth through three years are considered to be critical early years for language acquisition (Blake, 2008). The hearing loss Mr. X suffers is so severe that he is unable to hear and understand speech regardless of how loud it is.

He was charged with first degree murder and mutilation with an axe of a man who he thought was having an affair with his gay lover who was also deaf. Both the accused murderer, Mr. X. and the victim came from stable, devoted families. Mr. X’s parents were educated professionals, employed, and living a middle-class life.

At the time of the alleged offense, Mr. X was taking a computer course and working with vocational rehabilitation to obtain a job. He had a history of employment in unskilled type occupations, but had no job at the time of the offense with which he was charged. Nor had he ever graduated from high school.

The overall picture of Mr. X’s family is that they are devoted to him and very close to each other. In discussing their son, his parents described him as others have, noting that he was not physically aggressive with people, could not stand the sight of blood, and would walk away from fights. This description of Mr. X was confirmed independently by his acquaintances and past co-workers. It does not yield the picture of a violent, hostile individual likely to commit a homicide.

Characteristics of Deaf Defendants that Pose Legal Hurdles in Hearings and Trials

More than the bizarre nature of the crime, its interest rests in the unique legal issues involved in the case. These issues and how they played out in court are fascinating, yet troubling in regard to how the American justice system handles defendants who are deaf. To understand the problem, it is necessary to know the linguistic implications of prelingual deafness.

Because children with this condition do not hear spoken English, they grow up with severe deficits in their vocabularies and their grasp of English syntax (Andrews, Leigh, and Weiner, 2004). To understand the magnitude of these deficits, one has to but look at the research. For example, around 18 months there is a vocabulary explosion of words understood by a hearing toddler (Blake, 2008) and by age six, the average hearing child has a vocabulary of 8,000 to 14,000 words and a mastery of the basic rules of English syntax necessary to put these words into sentences (Carey, 1977). By contrast, at age five, the average prelingually deaf child’s vocabulary consists of 161 words and so little familiarity with syntax that even two- or three-word sentences are difficult or impossible to form (Center for Assessment and Demographic Studies, 1996; Griswold & Cummings, 1974; and Lederberg, 2003). The deaf child who does not get a preschool education does not even achieve this level. Consequently, some start school at age five or six totally without any language whatsoever (Vernon & Andrews, 1990). They do not know the names of the foods they eat or the clothes they wear.

This huge linguistic disadvantage continues as the deaf child gets older. By age 17, the average hearing student is reading at a 10th grade level, whereas the average deaf child’s reading level is between third and fourth grade (Allen & Schoem, 1997). Relative to this comparison, it is important to note that many hearing children have far greater verbal facility orally than their reading vocabulary and syntax reflects. This is not true, however, of the prelingually deaf child whose reading level is an exact measure of his or her understanding of English vocabulary and syntax.

Stated somewhat differently, the average vocabulary of an 18-year-old deaf person is comparable to that of an 8-year-old hearing child (Rose, McAnally & Quigley, 2004). Furthermore, many mildly retarded hearing persons (IQ 55-70) such as some with Downs Syndrome can reach a fifth- to sixth-grade reading level (Ardizzxone & Scholl, 1985). Numerous additional researchers have provided documentation on the severe linguistic impact of prelingual deafness (Andrews, Leigh & Weinter, 2004; LaVigne & Vernon, 2003; Vernon & Raifman, 1997; and Vernon & Raifman, 1995).

One of the most common misconceptions about prelingually deafened people is that they must read a lot because they cannot hear the radio or television, nor can they listen to the conversation of others. One reason this is untrue is that while learning to read is relatively easy for hearing persons, this is not the case for those who are prelingually deafened. Hearing people can associate the printed work with its oral equivalent, which they already know. The hearing first grader who confronts the printed words “I see the dog,” has already heard those words spoken. Reading these printed symbols is much different for the deaf child who has never heard the words spoken aloud. The deaf child must not only learn the printed form of the word, they must also learn the meaning or concept the word represents. Only then can they know what the printed form means.

If the word has to do with a concrete object or action, the teacher can show the child a picture that demonstrates what the word represents. However, for words such as “love,” “patriotism,” legal rights,” idealism,” arraignment,” “justice,” etc., there are no pictures. Teaching these concepts to a person who has never heard them used in everyday speech is a difficult and challenging task because the deaf person lacks background and experiential knowledge about the meaning of these concepts as well as they lack the label or the word for the concept. .

What is the significance of all this in terms of Mr. X’s case as he faced first degree murder charges? Most people assume it is easy to address the case of the deaf defendant in court, that one can simply provide a sign language interpreter and the deaf individuals will then have equal access to all that is said in court, as is guaranteed to all citizens by due process of law. For a number of reasons, nothing could be farther from the truth.

Interpreting Issues

For the overwhelming majority of prelingually deaf adults, American Sign Language (ASL) is their first and primary language. Interpreters for deaf people interpret from English into sign language and from the deaf person’s sign language into English. Sign language is a highly expressive and fascinating language, but it has some severe limitations. One such limitation is the vocabulary: The largest commercially available dictionary of ASL has only 5,600 signs (LaVigne & Vernon, 2003). By contrast, the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary has over half a million words (Brown, 2002).

As a result of the difference in the size of the vocabularies of sign language and English, a sign language interpreter must fingerspell letter-by-letter all words in English for which there is no sign, or else mime them, draw a picture of what they stand for, give examples, use gestures or other ways to try to convey all but the 5,600 of the available words in English that can come up in court procedures.

This process is known as “expansion” of the available words into English. For persons such as Mr. X who reads at grade level 3.3, fingerspelling has little value in court. This is because the reading level of discourse in court proceedings ranges from grade 5.7 in a typical jury trial to 9.2 in an average plea and sentencing hearing with other court proceedings falling in between (Andrews, Vernon & Lavigne, 2007). To understand a suppression hearing such as the one we discuss in this paper, the average reading level required is grade level 8.4 (Andrews, Vernon & LaVigne, 2007). This means that a significant percent of the words used in Mr. X’s hearing and in most other court procedures have no signs. It would have been useless for the interpreter to fingerspell most of them because Mr. X would not have understood them even then, due to his third grade reading level. Therefore the interpreter would have had to either explain them using the expansion methods described above, or else the prelingually deaf defendant will have little idea of what is going on in his/her trial, plea bargain, motion for suppression hearing, etc. As a consequence, deaf defendants are often being denied their rights of due process (Vernon & Miller, 2001).

Factor of Speed

A major factor involved in sign language interpreting is the speed at which a person normally speaks and the speed of sign language communication. Studies using deaf college students, deaf professionals, deaf people who had deaf parents, an other above-average deaf individuals have found that even with these highly select groups with whom interpreting is relatively easy, it takes two to four times longer to interpret something into sign language than it does to say it in English (Brauer, B., 1995; Steinberg, Lipto, Eckhart, Golodstein &Sullivan, 1998). For persons like Mr. X, the process is far harder than this due to the need for extensive expansion, mime, gesture, etc. in order to convey the meaning of the words for which there are no signs in ASL. For Mr. X and other deaf individuals severely limited in their understanding of English and who do not know the meaning of many legal terms, it is often necessary to spend months teaching them the basic concepts they need in order to be linguistically competent to stand trial. Many can never become linguistically competent (Holmes, Steven, Appellant v. State of Florida).

Because of the complexities involved in sign language interpreting, it is a well established fact that even bright deaf students in college do not get as much information from lectures interpreted into sign language as matched hearing college students get from the same lectures given orally in English (Jacobs, 1977; and Marschark et al, 2005). If this is true of bright college students who are deaf, it is true many times over for a person such as Mr. X who reads at third grade level. Incidentally, the majority of persons who are deaf and caught up in the criminal justice system read at third grade level or below (Miller, 2001). Juveniles who are deaf are vulnerable, too. For instance, in a study of 20 deaf juveniles who were charged with felonies, the majority had first to third grade reading levels, pointing to the fact tht few could read well enough to participate in their legal defense (Jernigan, 2010).

Simultaneous Interpreting

The data provided above on interpreting refers to what is called simultaneous interpreting. This is defined as the interpreter keeping up with the speaker, i.e., the same time the speaker uses a word or concept, the interpreter signs or interprets the word. It is also apparent from these data that a verbatim simultaneous interpreting is impossible due to the difference in how long it takes to sign something as contrasted to expressing the same material orally.

Consequently, when interpreting simultaneously in court, the interpreter has to eliminate some of what is said orally. When this kind of distortion of the discourse occurs in a court procedure, it inevitably results in a blatant denial of the deaf defendant’s due process right of equal access. Therefore, simultaneous interpreting should not be used in any but the simplest of cases, such as those involving misdemeanors. In cases involving deaf defendants, the court also has the legal obligation to make a competent interpreter available to the defendant’s lawyer prior to and during the court hearing in order that procedures and concepts can be explained and interpreted before, during and after trial and sentencing.

Consecutive Interpreting

Due to the severe limitations of simultaneous interpreting, consecutive interpreting should be required in the overwhelming percent of trials in which the defendant is deaf. In this procedure, attorneys, judges and witnesses speak a sentence or several sentences and stop. Then the interpreter signs what was said, taking as long as necessary to assure the defendant understands the concepts just spoken. If they are not understood, the interpreter or defendant informs the court. It is a simple procedure to carry out, but can be a slow process. However it goes a long way toward insuring the deaf defendant’s due process rights..

In a small minority of cases, the deaf defendant has such a meager knowledge of English and ASL that even consecutive interpreting is inadequate to convey due process rights. Such cases represent linguistic incompetence to stand trial, just as mental retardation and legal insanity represent psychological incompetence (Holmes v Florida, 1985; and Vernon & Miller, 2001).

Owing to these kinds of considerations and the legal system’s lack of exposure to and understanding of deafness, the due process rights of deaf defendants are frequently not recognized, albeit unintentionally.

Relevance of the Interpreting Issue to the Case of Mr. X and Most Cases Involving Deaf Defendants


Prior to the suppression hearing and in testimony given during the hearing, an effort was made to inform the judge of the problems involved in sign language interpreting and the importance of using consecutive interpreting throughout the trial. Information regarding this was provided by the Public Defender, Ms Abner, and by a psychological forensic expert on deafness who addressed the issue in his report to the court and in his oral testimony at trial.

The judge ignored these data and testimony and declined to permit consecutive interpreting. Furthermore, no Certified Deaf Interpreter(CDI) was provided as was also suggested. Based on what has been proven about sign language interpreting, by research performed by reputable and well-known scientists, and by what has been determined on the linguistic and educational limitation of the deaf defendant, this constitutes a clear violation of the defendant’s due process rights in this case (Andrews, Vernon, & LaVigne, 2007; LaVigne & Vernon, 2003). However, the defense declined to appeal the verdict and the deaf defendant was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Other Related Considerations

            It was also suggested to the judge by the expert that if she wished to make certain the defendant was understanding what was transpiring in court, she should periodically ask open-ended questions of the defendant regarding the content of what was being interpreted. This was especially critical in view of the court’s decision to deny the defendant’s right to a Certified Deaf Interpreter. The judge declined to ask the defendant any questions.

CDIs are deaf individuals, often children of deaf parents, who have grown up with ASL and have been certified by the Registry of Interpreters of the Deaf as a result of courses they have taken and tests they have passed. These deaf interpreters are required to have special linguistic skills in ASL idioms and usages of them by deaf people who have very limited English and/or ASL competency. The CDIs’  skills allow them to transmit information from the hearing interpreter into language the deaf defendant can comprehend.

CDIs provide five critical benefits of great importance to a defendant such as Mr. X. First, they serve as a double checking system regarding the deaf defendant’s understanding of what is said in court. Second, they provide a grace period of time for processing information. Third, they act as a monitor for effect and neutrality. Fourth, they protect the right of the defendant to understand what is said in court. Fifth, they increase the comfort level of the deaf defendant. These should have been major considerations when Mr. X., a deaf man, faced the possibility of a death sentence. They were ignored!

Same Time Captioning

In the suppression hearing, with the best of intentions, the court provided Mr. X with a real time captioned version of what was said during the hearing. However, in view of the fact that the average suppression hearing requires an eighth grade third month reading level to understand it, and Mr. X read at a third grade third month level, the captioned version, if anything, would just have confused him more. In fact, research has shown that presenting a signed interpretation and a print version simultaneously leads to poorer comprehension than presenting just one version, either the print or the sign language (Marschark, et al, 2005; and Marschark et al, 2006).

Finally, the judge apparently misunderstood the expert’s testimony when tbe judge stated that Mr. X, due to his intelligence, could understand what was going on in court. The expert never said this, and, in fact, provided extensive data to the contrary. Despite this evidence, the judge pronounced Mr. X linguistically competent to stand trial and the motion for suppression was denied.

An Overview of the Growth of Human Rights in the United States

Before getting any deeper into the significance of these data for deaf suspects and defendants, it is helpful to consider briefly the history of enforcement of the Bill of Rights and the Miranda v Arizona Supreme Court decision.

Around the turn of the century, the Bill of Rights, including the Fifth Amendment, were half-heartedly enforced (Shaprow, 1999). This led to the conviction of many deaf and hearing suspects and defendants because they had no concept of their rights. In addition, police routinely violated these rights with impunity (Sheprow, 1999). In fact, suspects, including those who were deaf, were often forced to give confessions under threat of beatings or prolonged interrogations, including torture.

Finally, in the second half of this century in the classic case of Miranda v Arizona and the earlier Escobedo v Illinois case, the courts ruled that suspects had to be told of their right to an attorney. Furthermore, statements made under police questioning could not be used  unless certain safeguards were followed, which precluded the use of torture and other abuses to force confessions (Sheprow, 1999).

These legal decisions resulted in protection for defendants that had either not existed before or had not been strictly enforced.

On June 2nd, 2010, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority crippled the once powerful Miranda Waiver, especially as it regards those who are deaf. This is because under the new law, once the rights have been read to the suspect or defendant, he/she must explicitly state their right to remain silent in order to force the police to stop the questioning. For example, in the case that precipitated this ruling, the defendant waived his right to remain silent when, after two hours and 45 minutes of questioning during which he said very little, the detective asked, “Did you pray to God to forgive you for shooting that boy.” The defendant answered, “Yes,” and looked away. As a result, he was convicted of murder (Savage, 2010).

The new law hurts most deaf defendants far more than hearing defendants because it requires them to state their desire to remain silent and their request for a lawyer. However, it also requires the arresting officer or the interrogator to inform the suspect or defendant of these two requirements. This will, in most cases with deaf people, require a competent sign language interpreter to be present to interpret the new ruling regarding the Miranda to the deaf suspect or defendant.

If done properly, this will be more expensive and time consuming. As a consequence, it is less likely to be done correctly, i.e., in terms the deaf person can understand.

Miranda Waiver and Deaf Defendants

In most cases involving defendants who are deaf, it is essential for the defense attorney to establish whether or not the Miranda Waiver was administered in a way that assures that the suspect was folly aware of his rights prior to interrogation (Sheprow, 1999). This means the defendant must be told of his/her rights under this new law.

Historically, due to linguistic, reading, and educational problems that are pervasive in the deaf population, the Miranda Waiver when given to deaf persons has  rarely been presented in a manner that meets these standards (Andrews, Vernon & LaVigne, 2007). This is crucial because it means that in these cases where the Miranda is not administered properly, all the evidence gathered as a result of interrogation cannot be used against the defendant. In such cases, the defendant often goes free, not because he/she is innocent, but because the police interrogators fail to understand the legal linguistic issues posed by defendants who are deaf.

Legal Documents Which affect Constitutional Rights and Due Process

            Deaf defendants are often required to sign their name on legal documents that they do not understand. These are legal documents that are written above their reading grade level and are filled with highly specialized vocabulary that is very complex linguistically. In Table 2 and Table 3, we describe each legal document, give the amendment that provides for legal rights, the reading level required to comprehend it, and a list of difficult vocabulary that the document contains that a fifth grader or below would have difficulty understanding. Table 2 deals with five legal documents protected under the fourth, fifth, and fourteenth amendments and Table 3 pertains to an additional six legal documents protected by Due Process. It is important to note that a hearing illiterate suspect is at a marked advantage compared to a deaf suspect. A hearing suspect can talk through the meaning of these difficult words using spoken English, while very few deaf suspects have the spoken English skills to do this. Furthermore, the deaf suspect may not have a sign language interpreter present. In addition, as described above, a sign language interpreter would not be able to effectively translate much of he abstract terminology contained in these legal documents. Indeed, these eleven legal documents containing words with multiple meanings, abstract vocabulary, and complex sentence structures would be impossible for Mr. X to comprehend with his third grade reading level as would be true of the majority of deaf adults caught up in the criminal justice system.

            The case study of Mr. X presented here along with the cognitive, educational, linguistic and interpreting considerations outlined in this article highlight the challenges defendants who are deaf face in the legal system.


Allen , T.E. & Shoem, S.R. (1997). Educating Deaf and Hard-of-hearing Children: What Works Best. Gallaudet Research Institute, Washington, DC

Andrews, J.F.; Leigh, I.W. & Weiner, M.T. (2004) Deaf People: Evolving Perspectives from Psychology, Education and Sociology. Pearson Education, Inc. Boston, MA

Andrews, J.F.; Vernon, M. & LaVigne, M. (2007) The Bill of Rights, due process and the deaf suspect. Journal of Interpreting, 2007, pp. 9-38

Ardizzone, J. & Scholl, G.T. (1985) Mental retardation. In G. T. Scholl (Ed.) The School Psychologist and the Exceptional Child. Council on Exceptional Children, Reston, VA pp. 81-98

Brauer, B.A. (1995) Adequacy of a translation of the MMPI into American Sign Language for use with deaf individuals: Linguistic equivalency issues. Rehabilitation Psychology, 38, pp. 247-248

Carey, S. (1977) The child as a word learner. In M.Hale, L. Bresnau, G. Muller, (Eds). Linguistic Theory and Psychological Reality . Cambridge, MA, MIT Press

Center for Assessment and Demographic Studies (1996) Score Summary for Stanford Achievement Tests, Hearing Impaired Version, 9th Edition. Washington, Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press

Frumkin, I.B. (1998) Competency to waive Miranda Rights, NLADA Indigent Defense, pp. 8-9

Griswold, E.E. & Cummings, I. (1974) The expressive vocabulary of deaf children. American Annals of the Deaf, 119, 16-28

Holmes, Steven, Appelant v the State of Florida, Appellee #83-1055, District Court of Appeals of Florida, Third District (August 12, 1986)

Jacobs, I.R. (1977) The efficiency of interpreting input for processing lecture information for deaf students. Journal of Rehabilitation of the Deaf, II,  10-14

Keller, H. (1902) The Story of My Life. New York: Doubleday & Co.

LaVigne, M. & Vernon, M. (2003) An interpreter isn’t enough: Deafness, language and due process. Wisconsin Law Review v. 2003, #5, pp. 844-936

Marschark, M.; Leigh, I.; Sapere, P.; Burnham, D.; Convertino, C.; Knoors, H.; Vervloed, P.J. & Noble, W. (2006). Benefits to sign language in interpreting and text alternatives for deaf students’ classroom learning. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, ll, #4, pp. 422-437

Marschark, M.; Pelz, J.B.; Convertino, C.; Sapere, P. Arndt, M.E.; & Seewagon, R. (2005) Classroom interpreting and visual information processing in mainstream education for deaf students. American Education Research Journal 42, pp. 727-762

Miller, K.R. (2001) Forensic issues of deaf offenders. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. Lamar University, TX

Musumeci, M.B. (2006) Confronting sentences that silence: The Americans with Disabilities Act: Effective communication mandate for prisoners and probationers who are deaf. Clearinghouse Review Journal of Poverty, Law and Policy. March-April, 2006, pp. 627-638

Rose, S.; McAnally, P. & Quigley, S. (2004) Language Learning Practices with Deaf Children Austin, TX: ProEd

Sheprow, Glenn, J (1999) Interpreting the Miranda Warnings. American Sign Language Resources, 10, December 1999

Steinberg, A.G.; Lipton, D.S.; Eckhardt, E.A.; Goldstein, M. & Sullivan, V.J. (1998) The diagnostic interview schedule for deaf patients on interactive video: A preliminary investigation. American Journal of Psychiatry, 155, #11, pp. 1603-1604

Terhune, K.L. (2004-2005) Deaf criminal defendants: Is the system just? National Association of the Deaf Magazine, 4, #5, pp. 20-21

Thomas, V.L. & Gastin, L.A. (2009) The Americans with Disabilities Act: Shattered aspirations and new hope. Journal of the American Medical Association, 301, #1

Vernon, M. (2001) ADA routinely violated by prisons in the case of deaf prisoners. Prison Legal News, 20, #7, pp. 14-15

Vernon, M. (In press 2010) The horror of being deaf and in prison. American Annals of the Deaf

Vernon, M. & Andrews, J.F. (1990) The Psychology of Deafness: Understanding Deaf and Hard-of-hearing People. White Plains, NY: Longman Press pp. 3-21

Vernon, M. & Miller, K.R. (2001) Linguistic incompetence to stand trial: A unique condition in some deaf defendants. Journal of Interpreting, Millenial Edition, pp. 99-120

Vernon, M. & Raifman, L.J. (1996) The Miranda Warnings and the deaf suspect. Behavioral Sciences and the Law, 14(1) 121-135

Vernon, M. & Raifman, L.J. (1995) Forensic prelingually-trial police interviews and competence to stand trial assessments of deaf defendants. Videotape of Grand Rounds Presentation, Springfield Hospital Center, Sykesville, MD April 7, 1995

Vernon, M. & Raifman, L.J. (1997) Recognizing and handling problems of deaf defendants charged with serious offenses. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 20, #3, pp. 373-387.



Official Launch and Some Navigation Notes

Welcome at last, to Today, March 4th 2012, marks our official launch date. Although we’ve been on the Web for a couple of months now, we’re finally out of the construction phase and ready to reveal ourselves to the world.

Dostoyevsky said, “The degree of civilization in a society is revealed by entering its prisons.” Prisoners in America are not treated well, but the Deaf in America’s prisons are a minority within a minority, sentenced to solitude in silence.

These people are discriminated against, subject to cruelty, abuse and violence, and repeatedly denied access to services and rights that other inmates take for granted.

Our Blog will attempt to highlight some of these stories, and bring awareness to this forgotten and voiceless segment of the population. In coming months, we will endeavor to build a community forum where these individuals can seek support, and where their families, friends and loved ones can meet. Here we can discuss the issues facing them and help to create awareness of their suffering.

Please join us. We need your support.


Across the top of our page, you will see tabs with the names of our contributors. Each is given their own page, on which you will find a short bio, as well as any personal interest writings or posts, not directly concerning the Deaf in prison issue.

The home page is a continuous scroll of posts sorted by most recent. In the left hand column you will see an archive button, in which you will be able to find any posts, not available on the scroll.

As mentioned in a previous post, each author also has a Gravatar icon, which can be found on the left hand column of the home page. That Gravatar can be used by our followers and other readers, to locate work by these authors, on other sites.

You will also see a tab on the top of the page, titled “Important Links.” This constantly updated page will have links to other Web sites and blogs that can provide useful information about the issue of Deaf in Prison, Deafness in general and Prison life and legal issues.

We will also do our very best to provide you with the latest news stories that apply to these issues.

Please feel free, as well to “Like” our FaceBook page at

Follow us on Twitter

or find us on LinkedIn.

If you are a writer, or have some knowledge on this issue, we would be glad and proud to have you as a contributor to our site. And, although all comments are – obviously – moderated, we welcome them.

It is my sincere hope, as well as the hope of our other Contributors, that you will find this site educational, informative and entertaining – and that you will make it one of your destination sites on the Internet.

Thank you for reading


When Innocence Isn’t Enough –

When Innocence Isn’t Enough –

Deaf or hearing, many innocent people are still behind bars, often facing the Death penalty. For these individuals, the path to freedom may be a difficult, if not impossible one to tread.

The Case of ***** ***** (Name Withheld)

This is the actual handwritten letter

My name is ***** ***** ***** [he wrote last, first and middle above his name]. I was saveral hear sound low  broke hear become some fit hearing aid I was not all skill b.heat- hearing some half all. I was make behalf. I was settement to prison some other inmate hit me hearing aid hard skull. that person black man was young view person.

I was transfer to ***** correction institution would was in 1997 I was into building area first place because They notice behind me back turn my face after morning black muscle notice my cell open broke into they strong force to me language sharpe strange I was doing wrong open but they open to me first force me I was thin first time. I was started first black man sex to me gay. It was think me faggot. He forget after reduce mucle – first meet him failed.
I was nervous tell her I was moved to lock protection to black man. I knew that Bad luck news but lucky boy- before happened story.
                                                                    thank you
                                                                    ***** *****
Above is the unaltered transcript of the letter, as written.
This is the back page, written separately.

And the text:

1998 I was ate sometime all good look fat flat but sometime all transfer last one ***** institution black man tall strong wrastle like muscle challenge to me but other white inmate fell send one boy fat name ***** ***** strongest than me when he squeeze me pressure to me they around pressure home force to me deep and around transfer gone now 2012 today final ah wait 2010 they played playhouse around me then 2012 they are gone now today quiet comfortable deaf person friend new person, anyone offer me they are wape me

Below, in block quote is a letter from another inmate that accompanied the one above. It serves to explain some of the communications problems suffered by this individual.

Along with this letter you will find a statement from *****. He did the  best he could but what he is trying to say is in 1997 at ***** several black men broke into his cell and forced themselves on him (rape) and stole his stuff. Then in 2010 he was raped again here but the officers did nothing. Then he was raped again by somebody named ***** and nobody helped him, they laughed at him. He says he comfortable now that deaf are here but scared they might leave and the rpages[sic] start again. I asked him why he did not report it and he said the people up front threatened to lock him up if he said anything. It’s so sad but common for deaf people in prison.

[I am amazed that ***** is as good at spelling as he is. In fact, in a chapel bible study,  the interpreter chaplain asked questions and ***** answered every one correctly. Somewhere in *****'s mind there is intelligence, but the thinking out process isn't there. He's not only deaf but blind in one eye and only stands 4' 9". PB]

ed: One of the arguments against improving conditions for deaf inmates, is that they can communicate through writing. The above case illustrates where that may be problematic.

Dementia Behind Bars – a New York Times Video

How about a program like this for the Deaf?

Video Link

Here’s the link to the related text format article.

Article Link

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My Life of Crime, Murder, Missing People and such! Above all else, never forget the victim, that the victim lived, had a life and was loved. The victim and their loved ones deserve justice, as does society.

Step One to Solving any Problem is Admitting a Problem Exists

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Book Hub, Inc.

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A look at Police Misconduct in Clark County, Nevada and Across the U.S.


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Life In Color With Closed Captions

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Kendall F. Person, thepublicblogger

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My space, my opinions and my views on life, celebrities, news and current topics. Just about any and everything. Nothing's off bounds!


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