CW: Police Brutality:
This summer, a deaf woman was jailed for violating her parole restrictions during a meeting with her parole officer in Georgia. She was charged with failing to attend a drug rehabilitation program. In actuality, she approached several organizations and was denied by each one because they refused to provide ASL interpreters. The parole system is mandated by federal law to make mandatory services accessible to those with disabilities, but this failure resulted in her reincarceration in part.
Once someone with a disability becomes involved in the criminal justice system, they are more likely to remain stuck. They cycle in and out of prison and jail, experiencing isolation and communication difficulties along the way.
In 2019, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the Georgia Department of Community Supervision (GDCS) to expose their egregious failure to provide deaf and hard of hearing people on probation and parole with communication access. Deaf people in Georgia are unable to obtain information about the parole and probation laws they must follow, nor do they have access to the resources they require. As a result, many people fear returning to prison for months or even years. This is unjust and a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and the United States Constitution.
GDCS has continually denied or failed to offer the accommodations she required to communicate successfully with her. She was not given full access to ASL or any language during the first few years of her childhood, like many other deaf people born into hearing families. To properly convey information offered in English, the legislation mandates that service providers who are not fluent in ASL, such as counselors or parole officers, interact with her through an ASL interpreter and a linguistic specialist (sometimes known as a “Deaf interpreter”). This professional must be trained to help her overcome the difficulties caused by her early language deprivation.
She had frequently discussed this need with her probation officer. When she was arrested at her meeting this summer, her parole officer relied entirely on an ASL interpreter on a small cell phone screen, who struggled to comprehend her on multiple occasions. She was unable to comprehend the charges against her, provide a defense, or ask the parole officer any pertinent questions.
Another person was incarcerated when his probation officer failed to offer proper accommodations. His officer was repeatedly informed that he needed in-person translators since he is deafblind and has limited vision. In late 2020, he had a routine appointment with the police, who informed him that he was being drug tested using an interpreter on a laptop. He had never taken a drug test before and struggled to watch the interpreter to comprehend what was going on.
In some cases, those with disabilities are killed by police. According to a report from the Ruderman Family Foundation, nearly half of the people who die at the hands of police have some type of disability, as officers are frequently brought into circumstances where urgent care may be more suitable than lethal action.
Marcus-David Peters had just left his day job as a high school biology teacher and arrived at his second job as a part-time security guard at a hotel when he appeared to have a psychiatric episode. He left the hotel unclothed, got into his car, and drove off the side of a highway in Richmond, Virginia. After witnessing the car accident, policeman Michael Nyantakyi saw Peters exit the car and used his Taser to try to subdue him. When Peters advanced, Nyantakyi killed him with two shots to the stomach.
The criminal justice system needs to be accessible to everyone. It is unfair that people with disabilities aren’t given what they need in the criminal justice system. People with disabilities need to be treated with respect and dignity when they are dealing with the police or others in the criminal justice system.
Abid, Urooba, et al. “For People with Disabilities on Parole and Probation, Accessible Communication Is Essential: News & Commentary.” American Civil Liberties Union, American Civil Liberties Union, 7 Nov. 2022, https://www.aclu.org/news/disability-rights/for-people-with-disabilities-on-parole-and-probation-accessible-communication-is-essential.
Abrams, Abigail. “Black, Disabled People at Higher Risk in Police Encounters.” Time, Time USA, LLC, 25 June 2020, https://time.com/5857438/police-violence-black-disabled/.
DeGue, Sarah et al. “Deaths Due to Use of Lethal Force by Law Enforcement: Findings From the National Violent Death Reporting System, 17 U.S. States, 2009-2012.” American journal of preventive medicine vol. 51,5 Suppl 3 (2016): S173-S187. doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2016.08.027
Walsh, John. “Mentally Ill Often a Target, but Chicago Police Might Have a Solution.” International Business Times, IBT Media, 18 Jan. 2017, https://www.ibtimes.com/police-killings-race-2016-mentally-ill-often-target-chicago-police-might-have-2476586.