Report: America has 153,000 Deaf, Hard of Hearing Inmates

According to a newly released report, America has 153,000 Deaf and Hard of Hearing inmates who are not only in jail or prison now, but who have a high likelihood of continuing a life of crime. About 7 percent of all jail and prison inmates have deafness or hearing loss.

Person in handcuffs, clothing says LA County.
For a person who is Deaf, handcuffs represent duct tape over the mouth of a Hearing person–they can’t communicate with their hands, which are their voice.

RespectAbility, a nonprofit disability organization that has been raising awareness of disability issues during the presidential campaigns, published the report June 20.

The media, including PBS NEWSHOUR, instantly responded to the report, “Disability and Criminal Justice Reform: Keys to Success,” interviewing the organization’s CEO, Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi.

According to the organization’s website, the report isn’t using new information: “The report uses public data previously available but never before assembled and analyzed.”

“According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 32 percent of federal prisoners and 40 percent of people in jail have at least one disability,” according to the report.

The organization broke down the statistics on disability;
more than 751,000 people with disabilities are behind bars in America, including:

  • 146,000 who are blind or have vision loss,
  • 153,000 who are deaf or have significant hearing impairments,
  • More than 219,000 who have mobility issues, and
  • more than 504,000 with cognitive impairments,
    according to the website.

    Wires and fence of a prison
    Behind wires and bars, how do the 153,000 people who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing communicate with others? Or are they living an advanced punishment in solitary confinement, unable to communicate? photo credit: Freedom’s Dump via photopin (license)

In the PBS interview, Mizrahi addressed issues that people who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing face that can lead to their entry in the justice system:

“It really happens when young people who have dyslexia or executive function disorder don’t get the diagnosis, don’t get the accommodations that they need and they deserve in school.’

“They wind up getting in trouble, getting suspended, dropping out of school…’

“And, in some cases, they’re very, very smart, and they might be deaf. There’s all kinds of situation where individuals who are hearing-impaired are not given the right language supports with ASL, American Sign Language, so they can defend themselves,” Mizrahi said.

 photo credit: F. Capital Punishment via photopin (license)
In 2005, a Denver Deaf man hung himself because he couldn’t communicate with anyone in jail, according to a report in The Denver Post.
photo credit: F. Capital Punishment via photopin (license)

The report proposed reforms for the justice system that the Sign Shares’ blog will cover in future posts.

Hopefully, justice system reform will address communication access for prisoners with hearing loss and deafness, and prevent tragic results, such as the suicide a man who was Deaf committed while in jail in Denver.

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