prison reform

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
9:28 am
Wed April 30, 2014

10 Takeaways From Frontline's Look at Criminal Justice and Louisville's Beecher Terrace

Credit Frontline

On Tuesday night, the PBS show Frontline aired a documentary that took a deep look at the costs and challenges of the criminal justice system—and the focus was on Kentucky and a specific neighborhood in Louisville.

In 90 minutes, "Prison State" told the story of four Louisvillians, including two  juveniles, who are entangled in Kentucky's criminal justice system.

All four were from Beecher Terrace.

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