Strange Fruit
7:28 am
Sat November 8, 2014

'A Prison within a Prison': Advocating for the Rights of Deaf Inmates


"We call it a prison within a prison."

That's how advocates describe the lives of incarcerated deaf and hard of hearing people. The vast majority of correctional facilities have no ASL interpreters, and it's not unusual for inmates who rely on hearing aids to be denied the devices—or denied batteries to make them work.

Talila Lewis, founder of HEARD (Helping Educate to Advance the Rights of the Deaf, joins us this week on Strange Fruit to talk about the work the organization is doing to try to improve the lives and ensure the rights of incarcerated folks with disabilities.

Lewis says the ableism in mainstream society is magnified in the prison setting.

"If you don't respond to an auditory command, you get shot or beaten or put into solitary confinement," Lewis explains. "Everything around you is based on sound. So if you miss the bell at 4 a.m. to get up and go eat, you miss chow. That's it."

Click here for a transcript of this week's show.

Being deaf or hard of hearing in prison essentially means being unable to communicate with anyone around you.

"It's almost like being in solitary confinement," Lewis says. They're also more susceptible to physical and sexual assault, often asked to trade sexual access to their bodies for vital information from hearing inmates.

Because there are no accommodations in place to allow these inmates to communicate, it's hard to find them, count them, and make sure they're okay.

HEARD created and maintains the only national deaf and deaf-blind prisoner database, but without cooperation from departments of correction, accurate numbers are hard to come by. They estimate that deaf, deaf-blind, and hard of hearing prisoners in the U.S. number in the tens of thousands.

We talk with Lewis this week about what we can do, and our local, state, and federal government could do, to protect the rights of this vulnerable population.

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Local News
4:46 pm
Mon June 2, 2014

Kentucky Pilot Program Paroles Inmates to Nursing Homes

Credit Phalinn Ooi/Creative Commons

Kentucky is looking at a plan that would parole some ill prison inmates to nursing homes as a way to defer the cost of caring for them, the Associated Press reports.

The General Assembly OKed the pilot program. The AP story focuses on a nursing care program at the Kentucky State Reformatory that costs the state $4.4 million annually. The state spends $132 more per ill inmate than on average inmates—and the population of older inmates in increasing, the AP added.

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Local News
2:50 pm
Mon April 21, 2014

A Kentucky State Penitentiary Inmate Starved Himself to Death

The Kentucky State Penitentiary
Credit Wikipedia Commons

One doctor has been fired and another is being dismissed from the Kentucky State Penitentiary after an inmate went on a hunger strike and committed suicide by starving himself to death.

According to documents obtained by The Associated Press, the Department of Corrections terminated physician Steve Hiland and will soon cut loose psychologist Jean Hinkebein. The firings stem from the Jan. 13 death of 57-year-old James Kenneth Embry, who was serving a nine-year sentence for drug offenses.

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Local News
10:23 am
Wed January 2, 2013

Federal Judge: Indiana 'Indifferent' to Mentally Ill Inmates


INDIANAPOLIS — A federal judge says Indiana has been "deliberately indifferent" to the plight of mentally ill inmates in its state prisons, who amount to nearly a quarter of the system's population.

U.S. District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt ruled that the Indiana Department of Correction doesn't provide adequate treatment for mentally ill prisoners in violation of their constitutional right against cruel and unusual punishment.

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