Sunday, February 20, 2011

Deaf inmates in Canada isolated due to lack of interpreters, accessible rehabilitation

From The Expositor in Brantford, Canada:

OTTAWA, Canada -- Deaf inmates in Canada are often isolated with limited access to prison rehabilitation programs, experts say.

Jim Roots, executive director of the Canadian Association of the Deaf, said courts and corrections try to accommodate special needs of deaf offenders, but a lack of dedicated resources means they are frequently shut out. The system is short on qualified interpreters who can convey complex legal terminology into concepts deaf people can understand, he said.

"That applies all through the system, including access to treatment and also to everyday prison life," he said. "They are isolated amid a dangerous populace with whom they cannot communicate."

Correctional Service of Canada does not have readily available figures on how many deaf and hearing-impaired prisoners are currently incarcerated. But spokesman Suzanne Leclerc said CSC is committed to ensuring needs of all disabled offenders are "appropriately accommodated" according to legislative requirements and obligations.

Operational and program adjustments can be made to ensure offenders have access and benefit from all essential services, she said.

But James MacDougall, a psychology professor at McGill University who has worked with deaf offenders, said support is "uneven and unpredictable." Inmates often languish without communication and rehabilitation due to a lack of interpreters.

"It's terrible.

"If you're isolated and no one can communicate with you, it's an extreme form of sensory deprivation," he said. "The overall impact on the person can truly be horrible."