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The Deaf Community and the Criminal Justice System

By Regina Negrete
April 5, 2009

The Deaf Community and the Criminal Justice System

With the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), deaf and other disabled persons were provided with landmark civil rights legislation. It provided legal protections in employment, access to state and local government and public transportation, public accommodations, and telecommunications. Included is a requirement that police agencies and the courts use qualified to communicate with victims, witnesses, and suspects who are deaf or hard of hearing. (McCay et. al. 2001)

Deaf offenders are described as those who have a severe to profound hearing loss and are unable to understand speech, with or without the use of amplification such as hearing aids. Hard-of-hearing offenders typically have a mild, moderate or even severe hearing loss. They may be able to understand speech in specific conditions, such as when using hearing aids and communicating one-on-one in a small, quiet room with good lighting. (Miller 2002)

There is no mandate to report police interaction with people who have disabilities. The Uniform Crime Report (UCR) Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which is the most widely recognized and accepted center for collection of crime data, maintains no information on people who have disabilities. (McCay et. al. 2001) The first point of contact with a hard of hearing person, or person with disabilities usually occurs at the point of arrest or during the investigation of a crime prior to arrest." There is no mandate that police agencies have written policies on interviewing deaf suspects. Most police agencies lack procedures to govern the way in which interpreters and other support services are used during pre- and post arrest interviews with deaf suspects." (McCay et. al. 2001)

To ensure equal access to programs, services, and activities conduct an intake assessment is taken as soon as possible with each offender who stays in custody to determine communication needs that will assist in recommending appropriate accommodations, i.e., qualified interpreter, closed caption for television and videos, inmate orientation video with sign language, and captioning and TTY/TTD devices. (Baker2007) Inmates are classified in jails/prisons by their prior convictions, gang affiliations, and level of aggression. "Deaf offenders who use sign language live together in one facility, mostly in one cellblock." (Miller 2002)
When a deaf suspect is charged in a homicide or other major crime, police mistakes are increasingly more likely to be brought to the attention of the court by defense attorneys. One result may be the release of confessed and otherwise guilty felons because evidence is found to be inadmissible in court due to procedural errors in interrogation. (McCay et. al. 2001)

Protecting the individual rights of deaf suspects within the criminal justice system is complicated by the diagnostic complexities associated with these persons. For example, prelingual deaf criminals frequently experience marked linguistic deficits, have an increased probability of brain damage and mental disorders. (McCay et. al. 2001) Most facilities do not have enough inmates with hearing loss to fiscally justify hiring a full-time staff interpreter. Therefore, decisions have to be made about when to provide one. Medical care, disciplinary and internal legal proceedings, and education are obvious settings in which gestures or other makeshift visual communication will not be adequate. (Miller 2002)

The deaf and hard of hearing community are very under represented in the criminal justice field they are not heard of too often. I have been studying criminal justice for three years now and this is the first time I ever stopped to think about them in the system. I have always studied the mentally ill and the minds of murderers but this blog caught me so off guard than what I expected. Its hard to find articles about them to even write on that's how much they are not spoken about.

Baker, Eileen D., Sheriff. Alexandria Legal Implications for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Offenders in Corrections: Risks and Opportunities Jan/Feb 2007. Vol. 59, Iss. 1; p. 11 (2 pages)

McCay Vernon Lawrence J. Raifman Sheldon F. Greenberg and Brendan Monteiro 2001 Elsevier Science Inc. Forensic pretrial police interviews of deaf suspects avoiding legal pitfalls International Journal of Law and Psychiatry January-February 2001, Pages 43-59

Miller, Katrina R. Population management strategies for deaf and hard-of-hearing offendersCorrections Today. Lanham: Dec 2002. Vol. 64, Iss. 7; p. 90 (5 pages)

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