Thursday, November 18, 2010

Virginia prison first to get videophones for deaf inmates

From The Associated Press:

A Virginia prison will become the first major institution in the country to install a videophone so deaf inmates can communicate with family and friends, as part of the recent settlement of a lawsuit.

A group of deaf and hard of hearing inmates at Powhatan Correctional Center (pictured) sued the state Department of Corrections in January, accusing it of discrimination. The Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs announced the settlement Wednesday.

Deaf inmates who signed the settlement said the videophones will allow them to reach out to family they had not been able to communicate with for some time.

"For the first time in years, I am going to be able to say 'Merry Christmas' to my deaf family members in Arkansas," inmate Larry More said.

Elaine Gardner, director of the Disability Rights Project at the Lawyers' Committee, said effective communication is critical to the successful rehabilitation of deaf inmates. She applauded the department for "its foresight and sincere interest in ensuring equality for deaf inmates."

A Department of Corrections spokesman refused to comment.

"We believe the settlement agreement strikes a very fair balance between the needs of deaf prisoners and the requirement that the agency maintain maximum flexibility to operate its facilities," said Brian Gottstein, a spokesman for Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.

Gottstein said the department also would train employees who regularly work with deaf prisoners to enhance their communication capabilities.

The settlement also provides inmates with interpreters two days a week, sign language interpretation of rules and other instruction, and visual notification of meals and events.

Prior to the settlement, Powhatan provided an interpreter for six hours this week for at least 15 deaf inmates. Without the help of an interpreter, deaf inmates could not participate in educational programs, communicate with staff or understand medical personnel, the lawyers' group said.