National advocacy organizations for the deaf and hearing impaired have filed a letter (pdf) demanding the Oregon Department of Corrections (DOC) stop recruiting and using inmates to act as interpreters for fellow deaf prisoners.
Family members of deaf Oregon inmates notified advocates back in April when they saw a DOC newsletter advertising for inmate interpreters. Advocates cite safety and health concerns for deaf inmates who must depend on a fellow inmate for their day-to-day activities, including “non-substantive” medical appointments. Oregon is among 30 states that use inmates to serve as American Sign Language interpreters.
Talila Lewis, Founder and Executive Director of Helping Educate to Advance the Rights of the Deaf (HEARD), says that using inmate interpreters is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Lewis says the ADA mandates that prisoners with disabilities have access to qualified interpreters.
The Department of Corrections issued a statement declining to appear on our show, since their policy is not to comment on pending or anticipated litigation. But in a statement sent to OPB, the DOC said it does not use inmates for substantive medical appointments, mental health appointments, disciplinary hearings, counselor reviews, or work program or education interviews.
- Talia Lewis: Founder and executive director of HEARD