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Cultural and linguistic challenges and comprehending the inmate handbook.

Even within our 21st century milieu of individual rights for all diverse Americans, there are segments of the population who are at risk for not obtaining their Constitutional Rights, particularly within the criminal justice system--Americans who are deaf or hard of hearing. Since 1978, forensic psychologist McCay Vernon and his colleagues have conducted a line of research focusing on inmates who are deaf and hard of hearing (Vernon and Coley, 1978; Vernon 1995; Vernon, Raifman and Greenburg, 1996; Vernon and Raifman, 1997; Vernon, Steinberg and Montoya, 1999; Miller, 2001; Miller and Vernon, 2001; LaVigne and Vernon, 2003; Vernon and Miller, 2005; Andrews, Vernon and LaVigne, 2006, 2007; Vernon and Leigh, 2009; Vernon, 2009; Vernon, 2010; Vernon and Andrews, 2011).

One major outcome of this forensic research effort is that today we have clear descriptions of the formidable challenges that offenders who are deaf or hard of hearing face in the correctional facilities related to communication, language, literacy and mental health. The purpose of this article is to add to this research base. First, prevalence and incidence figures of deaf inmates are given. Next, a summary of Vernon and his colleagues' studies on the language and cultural barriers deaf inmates face is presented (Vernon, 2009; 2010). After this context is set up, the focus is on the obstacles deaf inmates face in reading the inmate handbook. Using the tools of discourse analyses and document literacy, five inmate handbooks are analyzed showing their high reading levels and linguistic complexities. The information can be used by correctional officers to better understand why the inmate handbook is impossible to read for most deaf inmates and why solutions to this problem are needed (see Goben, Enos, Andrews, in press for solutions).

Prevalence and Challenges

No precise figures on the prevalence and incidence of hearing loss exist; however, the American Speech and Hearing Association (ASHA) website provides a summary of independent research studies, including public health surveys (ASHA, 2011). It has been estimated that in 2004 there were approximately 331.5 million Americans who had hearing loss. These numbers increase with the aging of Americans (ASHA, 2011).

In another report from the Gallaudet Research Institute, Ross Mitchell (2005) estimates that there are approximately 10 million people who are hard of hearing and 1 million who are functionally deaf. Of those 1 million, half are 65 years or older, and less than four percent are under the age of 18 (Mitchell, 2005).

Vernon (1995) has noted that because states do not keep records of how many deaf people or people with hearing loss are incarcerated, there are no data regarding the number of deaf adults and juveniles in correctional facilities (Vernon, 1995). Vernon has also reported that there is an overrepresentation of inmates with hearing loss in county jails and state prisons, with approximately 35 percent to 40 percent of inmates suffering from some degree of hearing loss. Of these, 13 percent to 20 percent have a significant hearing loss that dramatically impairs communication while in jail or prison (Vernon, 1995).

In newspaper reports, dissertations and journal articles, it. has been reported that deaf youths and adults commit the same crimes as hearing persons ranging from drug possession and use to assault, rape, robbery, business fraud, computer child pornography, sexual molestation and murder (Miller, 2001). A vivid and compelling description of a deaf serial killer has also been documented in the biography. Deadly Charm: The Slory of a Deaf Serial Killer, by McCay and Marie Vernon (2010). When incarcerated, deaf and hard-of-hearing citizens pose a challenge to the criminal justice system because of their communication, language and literacy behaviors.

Cultural, Language and Literacy Challenges

Vernon and his colleagues have reported extensively on how deaf inmates face unique cultural, communication and language barriers during arrest and booking, the medical intake and psychological screening, and being placed in jail or appearing in the courtroom (Vernon, Raifman and Greenberg, 1996; Vernon and Rafiman, 1997; Miller and Vernon, 2001; Vernon, 2009; Vernon, 201.0). In more than 35 years of clinical work with deaf prisoners, he has found that deaf inmates1 jail stay is filled with fear, anxiety and horror because they cannot communicate with people around them, nor can they communicate with correctional officers (Vernon 2009; 2010). Since 1995, Vernon has pointed out that the Americans With Disabilities Act is clear on its directive that deaf inmates are entitled to the same access as hearing inmates are through auxiliary aids. However, his research shows that deaf inmates find it difficult to obtain access to both auditory and visual technologies, such as visual fire alarms, visual alarm clocks, videophones, television captioning and sign language interpreters; and auditory technologies such as hearing aids, cochlear implant speech processor batteries and amplifiers for telephones (Vernon, 1995; 2009; 2010).

In a comprehensive and scholarly review of the literature on deafness, language and due process. University of Wisconsin law professors, Michele LaVigne and McCay Vernon (2003) have probed many of the issues that deaf inmates must confront. For instance, they point out that police and correctional officers often believe that deaf offenders can rely on speech, speech-reading, reading and writing for communication and for obtaining information. However, they report that most deaf inmates cannot use these English avenues. Moreover, the majority of deaf inmates rely on American Sign Language (ASL) and the use of an interpreter. However, as LaVigne and Vernon (2003) emphatically point out, and even place this statement in their title of their monograph, an interpreter is often not enough. Many deaf inmates do not even have the ASL skills to effectively use an interpreter. As such, a condition called "semilingualism" takes place where the deaf inmate neither has the proficiency in English or in sign language to communicate with the police during booking, as well as to work with his or her attorney in court or to even understand the courtroom proceedings (LaVigne and Vernon, 2003; Vernon. 2010; Miller, 2001). Part of this problem can be attributed to the fact that deafness is a low incidence disability and many police, attorneys, and correctional officers may meet only a few deaf suspects and inmates in their careers so they are unaware of the unique cultural and linguistic challenges facing the deaf inmate.

Cultural Issues

The deaf culture is a community that values the use of vision, group cohesiveness and the sharing of similar experiences coping in a larger, hearing world that is often viewed as indifferent, and the use of ASL (Andrews et al., 2004). As Vernon points out, most correctional facilities are auditory environments that are filled with loudspeakers, alarms and spoken orders and commands from correctional officers and other inmates (Vernon, 1995; 2009; 2010). In essence, the prison environment is twice as isolating as it is for the hearing inmate because of deaf inmates' lack of communication access. LaVigne and Vernon (2003) point out that few criminal justice and police officers are aware that deaf society has its own language (ASL) and its supportive networks such as residential schools, clubs, advocacy groups and sports organizations (LaVigne and Vernon, 2003). Other deaf culture values such as the use of gesture and touch as attention-getting devices many be misunderstood by other inmates and correctional officers as well.

Communication, Language and Literacy Issues

LaVigne and Vernon (2003) point out that profound deafness severely impedes language learning, as does early onset hearing loss in general. Consequently, it tends to close off deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals from hearing people and society, which is primarily auditory-based. Rarely do deaf children and their families benefit from the supportive networks of the deaf culture and ASL until later childhood or adulthood. For the most part, 90 percent of deaf children come from hearing families and they are exposed to sign language at different times of their lives from early childhood to adulthood (Andrews, Leigh and Weiner, 2004).

Vernon notes that correctional officials and the general public often think that the only problem with deaf inmates is that they cannot hear (Vernon, 1995; 2010). However, hearing loss brings with it a constellation of unique differences related to cognition, background knowledge and experiences, cultural differences, and communication and language challenges (LaVigne and Vernon. 2003). For example, a common misconception is that if people raise the volume of their voices, a deaf person will hear them. Another misconception in correctional settings is that all deaf inmates can read lips (speech-read) and read documents given to them during the booking and intake process, including the inmate handbook (LaVigne and Vernon. 2003).

Most prelingually deaf adults--those who were born deaf or who lost their hearing prior to age two when language was acquired--cannot speech-read more than five percent of a conversation, and deaf adults who leave high school on average can only read at a fourth-grade level (Vernon and Andrews, 1990; Andrews ct aL, 2004). Thus, hearing, lip reading and speech are not viable communication modes for the deaf inmate. However, ASL and sign language interpreters can make the prison environment accessible to deaf inmates.

ASL and Sign Language Interpreters

ASL is the language of the deaf community. It is a natural language having its own lexicon and rules of grammar that are different from spoken languages first described by William Stokoe, an English professor at Gallaudet University. ASL has been studied in linguistic laboratories throughout the world (Andrews et. al., 2004). Most deaf adults use a form of sign language, either ASL, or a variety of a manual code of signing English. If the deaf adult cannot read, he or she will not use fingerspelling to a great extent (Andrews and al, 2004).

A sign language interpreter must be provided in the jail or prison setting for deaf inmates to understand what is going on around them. Few states have the resources to provide staff interpreters "around the clock," and decisions must be made on when an interpreter is needed (Goben, Enos and Andrews, in press).

Many deaf inmates arrive in prison illiterate, having been failed by the educational system that has not addressed their complex psychosocial, educational, language and literacy needs (LaVigne and Vernon, 2003). In addition, some deaf inmates might have poor sign language skills and find it difficult to even communicate with a sign language interpreter. These deaf individuals need a certified deaf interpreter (CDI) 1 who is a deaf individual skilled in breaking down abstract concepts and language for the low-language-functioning deaf person. GDIs have knowledge and understanding of deafness, the deaf community and deaf culture, and have native or near-native fluency in ASL (LaVigne and Vernon. 2003: Goben, Enos and Andrews, in press).

English Literacy (Reading and Writing)

Deafness is particularly detrimental to the young deaf child's ability to learn to read because few reading teachers take advantage of the sign to print meaning connections (Andrews and Mason, 1986; Andrews and Rusher, 2010). As a result, most deaf students fail to learn to read very well and graduate from high school with a fourth-grade or below reading level (Traxler, 2000). While there are deaf adults in college who read at the 10th-grade level and above, those constitute only about 10 percent of the deaf population (Andrews and Karlin, 2002). Most deaf inmates read below the third-grade level (LaVigne and Vernon, 2003; Miller, 2001). Additionally, 30 percent to 40 percent. of deaf youths have secondary disabilities, all of which might interfere with English language learning (speaking, reading and writing) and even sign language learning (Vernon and Andrews, 1990; Andrews and al., 2004).

As mentioned above, LaVigne and Vernon (2003) report that approximately 30 percent of deaf people are classified as semilingual, meaning they are functionally illiterate (2.9-grade reading level or below) and lack proficiency in sign language as well. Not knowing either of the two languages prevents them from being understood by the correctional officers and prevents them from accessing services in prison or jail (Vernon, 2009; 2010). Misunderstandings may arise when a deaf inmate uses some speech for social words (i. e. thank you, yes or no) but. cannot understand or use spoken language in normal conversations. Furthermore, if a deaf person has a cell phone and uses text messages, the police or correctional officer may assume that the deaf inmate can rely on speech and written language to communicate (LaVigne and Vernon, 2003).

In fact, many deaf inmates who are illiterate may own a cell phone to send and receive text messages and a computer to use e-mail. Illiterate deaf adults will use shorthand such as "LOL" (laughing out loud) or "c u later" (see you later), and their conversations are heavily dependent on context (e. g., times for meetings or names of restaurants). Deaf inmates may also have passed a driver's license exam with the aid of an interpreter, applied for jobs on the computer, ordered food at a restaurant by pointing to pictures or names of foods, or shopped at stores--all of which are routine activities that do not require high literacy. Typically they will depend on their signing deaf friends or signing vocational rehabilitation counselors to assist them in their day-to-day living through videophone or through face-to-face interactions. These might appear to be highly literate activities from a criminal justice official's standpoint, but in fact they mask the deep illiteracy rate and coping strategies of illiterate deaf adults in correctional facilities.

These cultural and language issues are particularly challenging for deaf youths in juvenile correctional facilities. Correctional facilities rarely have the resources to provide the full spectrum of services that deaf youths need that take into account their deaf culture, use of ASL and need for ASL interpreting to fully access the rehabilitation they need (Andrews and Lomas, 2011).

Deaf Juvenile Offenders

Deaf youths in the juvenile justice system are particularly vulnerable segment of the deaf prison population (Andrews and Lomas, 2011). A metaphor coined by the Harvard Civil Rights Project, the "school to prison pipeline" is a disturbing trend found in deaf education today that refers to two parallel concepts. For one. youths are being removed from school environments and are sent off campus to alternative schools or incarcerated in juvenile correctional facilities. The second part refers to public attitudes and policies regarding juvenile offenders. Since 1992, approximately 45 states have passed laws that make it easier to try juveniles as adults and have increased penalties for juvenile offenders (Eaton. 2010).

In deaf education today, there are increasing numbers of older deaf youths with mental health issues, such as early childhood/familial sexual abuse and neglect. who are expelled from school and sent to alternative schools or juvenile correctional facilities. In their teen years they commit felonies such as drug and alcohol abuse, sexual abuse of minors and violent offenses (assault). In effect, they become the victims and the victimizers because they suffered from many of these abuses as young children (Andrews. Shaw and Lomas. 2011). Etiologies or causes of deafness contribute to this issue. These may include impulse disorders, attention deficit disorder, and learning and language disabilities. They have low sign language, reading and language skills, and cannot use a sign language interpreter effectively, making it difficult for them to read and fully comprehend court documents (LaVigne and Vernon, 2003).

Within juvenile correctional facilities or alternative schools, deaf youths cannot participate in group discussions in the sex offender or violent offender programs in the same way hearing offenders can. Deaf, illiterate youths cannot read the textbooks or complete the writing assignments in these rehabilitation programs (Andrews and Lomas, 2011).

To further complicate the situation, sign language interpreters are not available so deaf juvenile offenders miss countless "teachable moments" with correctional officers, treatment counselors and teachers. Since they do not understand the rules of the correctional facility because they do not have sign language interpreters and they cannot read the inmate handbook, many deaf juvenile offenders may not understand how to earn privileges or why they are being punished for infractions (Andrews and Lomas, 2011).

Incarcerated deaf youths are often expelled from schools for the deaf for criminal activity. They are frequently placed in alternative schools or juvenile corrections facilities without accessible mental health treatment or rehabilitation for drug/substance abuse or violent or sex crimes (Andrews and Lomas, 2011). They often languish in the court system because the system does not know where to place them. They do not understand bond and parole issues, thus they often find themselves back in jail or prison. They drop out of school and become repeat offenders, often ending up in adult prisons. Because of the stigma of mental health issues, alcohol/substance abuse, and sex and violent crimes, they are rejected by their biological families as well as members of the close-knit deaf community who feel that the deaf youths' criminal behavior reflects back on them (Andrews and Lomas, 2011). Consequently, deaf youths who are criminal offenders do not get the understanding, care, attention, treatment and rehabilitation that hearing youths do because of accessibility issues (Andrews and Lomas, 201 1).

Document Literacy and the Deaf Offender

Marilyn Albert (2011) defines document literacy as "the knowledge and skills needed to perform document tasks (i.e., to search, comprehend and use non-continuous texts in various formats). Examples include job applications, payroll forms, transportation schedules, maps, tables and drug or food labels." Included in document literacy are legal documents such as the Miranda Warning, the Search and Seizure Waiver, the Guilty Plea Waiver and jail or prison inmate handbooks.

Deaf adults are vulnerable to having poor skills in document literacy. For instance, deaf offenders are frequently required to read a number of documents during their arrest and incarceration. These legal documents are provided in order to guarantee that the suspect is protected by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, specifically the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Fourteenth amendments (Andrews, Vernon and LaVigne, 2006. 2007). Another important document is the inmate handbook. Deaf inmates are protected under the Constitution and the American with Disabilities Act (1990) to be able to comprehend the inmate's handbook as well as these other legal documents as soon as they enter the criminal justice system from their arrest to incarceration.

The arrest. Suppose a deaf man is the victim of spousal abuse. After a bitter and violent altercation with his deaf wife, she calls 911 on the videophone through a relay interpreter.2 When the police arrive, the deaf woman points to bruises on her neck, a large metal object on the counter, then cries and points to her husband. The police handcuff the husband and take him off to jail to book him for assault. The husband tries to communicate with the police to tell his side of the story--that his wife's bruises were caused by him defending himself from his wife's attack with a metal object--but because no interpreter is present and as a result of the high emotional charge and enormous confusion of the interactions, the deaf man is not permitted to communicate his version of events. Since he cannot speak and no interpreter is present, he is not allowed his constitutional rights for due process (LaVigne and Vernon, 2003). Also, because he is handcuffed behind his back, he is further restrained from any communication using gestures, pointing or sign language. The police might attempt to use written communication but because the deaf suspect is functionally illiterate the police can only get simple-word or simple-phrase responses from him.

At this interaction or other interactions with the police, the need to administer the Miranda Warning may arise. However, the Miranda Warning is written at the seventh-grade reading level so few deaf suspects can read it (Seaborn, Andrews and Martin, 2010). The right of a citizen to understand the Miranda Warning is guaranteed by the Fifth and Sixth amendments, where the suspect has the right to remain silent, cannot be forced to self-incriminate and has the right to an attorney (Andrews and al., 2006; 2007). But if deaf suspects cannot read it and no interpreter is present, they are denied their rights.

After their arrest and later on when their cases come to trial, deaf suspects are also asked to read other court documents. These include the Guilty Plea Questionnaire, Waiver of Search, Blood and Breath, and Polygraph Exam. These documents are impossible to read for the deaf illiterate suspect or inmate (Andrews et. Al ., 2006; 2007). For example, the Blood and Breath Test document is written at the college level (13.5-grade reading level). This document provides protection guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment. Other documents such as the Waiver of Search (also protected by the Fourth Amendment) is written at the 13.6-grade or college reading level. The Guilty Plea Questionnaire (protected by the Fifth Amendment) is written at the 9.7-grade reading level. The Polygraph Exam waiver (protected by the Fifth Amendment) is written at the 13.2-grade or high school reading level. There are also numerous other documents the deaf inmate is asked to sign related to court appearances, installation of ignition devices, financial liability forms and so on that are typically written at the high school reading level (Andrews and al ., 2006; 2007). The right to comprehend these forms is guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. If deaf inmates cannot read them and an interpreter is not provided to translate them, then they do not receive their Constitutional Rights (LaVigne and Vernon, 2003). As mentioned above even with a sign language interpreter, many times deaf offenders who are semilin-gual do not have the sign language proficiency to understand their interpreters in legal or correctional settings and this poses a big challenge (LaVigne and Vernon, 2003).

Booking. Vernon points out that having to be booked into jail or prison is an emotional, frustrating and even terrorizing event for first-time deaf offenders, especially if there is no sign language interpreter present (Vernon, 2010). Furthermore, as Vernon (2010) highlights, a deaf inmate has no idea what lies ahead. The booking area is the first place the inmate is brought when arriving to the jail prior to being placed in a cell. If an interpreter is not present, deaf inmates will not understand this process even though they might appear to understand the activities that happen such as when a correctional officer hands the inmate a set of prison clothes and uses gestures to point to a room where the inmate can change. Correctional staff might use gestures again to show the inmate which room to go next such as a holding cell or an area where the inmate is fingerprinted or receives an iris scan. They might continue to gesture for the inmate to return to the holding cell. While the deaf inmate will understand these gestures and pointing, he will not understand the whole process of what is occurring in the booking area. Correctional officers might experience frustration if they do not have experience with booking deaf suspects. They might resort to written notes or using a computer or the text feature on a cell phone to communicate with the deaf suspect, but sign language is necessary to provide the deaf inmate with full access to information and communication (Vernon, 2009; 2010).

Table (1.) Excerpt From Harris County Sheriff's Office 'Inmate Hand000k, page 5--Instructions on How to Follow Jail/Prison Rules

Duty to Obey

1. You are required to quickly and fully comply with any order given by a deputy or staff member.

a. An order may be verbal, such as a deputy telling you to do something or not to do something.

b. An order may be written, such as a memo from the jail captain or the instructions from an inmate handbook.

2. You are required to obey all the inmate rules set forth in this handbook THERE ARE NO EXCEPTIONS. Each of these rules contains an explanation of the type of conduct which is prohibited or required.

3. You are required to know these rules ignorance of these rules is no excuse and is not a valid excuse.

The orientation. After the booking, the inmate is given a prison or jail orientation. Offenders typically are provided an inmate handbook. This is a 30- to 40-page manual that provides detailed information about facility rules and regulations for day-to-day life in the prison. The document. contains information about inmates' rights for services and the right to present and resolve grievances. The handbook also provides a list of the types and consequences of misbehavior while incarcerated. Table 1 illustrates the importance of inmates understanding the contents of an inmate handbook. If they do not, there are negative consequences.

As discussed above, Vernon and his colleagues' work have shown that speech, reading and writing are seldom acquired by deaf suspects (LaVigne and Vernon, 2003) so these are not accessible communication modes to understand the inmate handbook. Furthermore, inmate handbooks such as the Harris County Handbook above are written at high-grade reading levels, are filled with new concepts, and contain complex vocabulary and grammatical constructions. How can a deaf suspect be accountable if he or she cannot read the inmate handbook?

Inmates who are hearing and illiterate can ask their hearing peers and correctional officers for clarification. In contrast, deaf inmates cannot depend on hearing officers or hearing inmates to explain the rules because these individuals do not know sign language. And because sign language interpreters are rarely provided to translate the inmate handbook, deaf inmates find themselves incarcerated without knowing the rules and routines in the same depth and understanding as hearing inmates do.

Medical and psychological intake.

As part of the booking process, the deaf inmate then meets with a medical officer and a counselor. Both encounters create even more complexity because of the abstract concepts and the medical and counseling vocabulary found on the intake forms. During the medical intake, the deaf inmate might not be able to read and put his or her signature on the medical history forms. He or she may not be able to explain to the medical officer, nurse or counselor that he is on medication, is a suicide risk or needs special services such as assistive devices in the jail cell. At this point, if no interpreter is present the medical officer and counselor might resort to written communication to ask if the deaf inmate understands the intake forms. Using written communication with a deaf person who is reading at the third-grade level or below is dangerous when discussing topics as serious as medical and mental health issues. Often illiterate deaf inmates will smile and nod and sign the medical and counseling forms even though they do not comprehend them as a result of their low reading abilities (LaVigne and Vernon, 2003).

Each inmate handbook contains sections describing emergency care, dental, dietary, optometry and medical services. The handbook describes the procedures in getting these services, how to make payment for medical service and describes the prison or jail rules for using medications. If the deaf inmate cannot read these sections and procedures and does not have an interpreter translating them then they do not have full access to information and services as hearing inmates do.
Table 2. Features of English Legal Language Found in Inmate Handbooks
(adapted from Tiersma, 1999, p. 203-210)

Features of English Examples Explanation of
 Thai Obstruct Obstacles

Technical vocabulary If you are a pretrial Technical words
or jargon detainee and you want such as
 to volunteer (for a pretrial
 work assignment you detainee may
 may submit ... not be

Archaic or unusual The inmate shall be The word, shall
words deemed to have is an
 violated ... archaic-word.
 Its equivalent
 word, must, is
 used today in

Impersonal If this prerequisite 1 sing the
constructions is met. an inmate may noun, inmate
 fill out a commissary instead of the
 order for an indigent word, you is an
 package. impersonal

Overuse of nom Requests for An example of
utilization and publications (books) nominal ration
passives or magazines that is the complex
 would be mailed subordinate
 directly to you. must structure that
 be submitted to the serves as the
 Inmate's Affairs* subject. In
 Division for approval this sentence.
 prior to ordering. Requests for
 that would he
 mailed directly
 to van is the
 subject of the
 sentence with
 the verb being,
 must he
 submitted This
 kind of complex
 structure has
 been found to
 be problematic
 for deaf
 (Quigley and
 al.. 1978).

Modal verbs Provisions shall be The modal verb,
 made for the shall, is
 selection of archaic and
 disciplinary board should be
 members ... replaced by the
 word, must or

Multiple negations Minor infractions are Two negatives
 violations of rules in one sentence
 and regulations and impedes
 do not represent comprehension,
 serious offenses
 against persons, and
 do not pose a serious
 threat to
 institutional order
 and safety

Complex sentences Provisions shall be This sentence
 made permitting: an is more than 30
 inmate is illiterate words long with
 or, where the complex phrasal
 complexity of the and subordinate
 issue makes it structures.
 unlikely that the
 inmate will be able
 to collect and
 present the evidence
 necessary for an
 comprehension of the

Poor organization Throughout all five Sections are
 inmate handbooks not prioritized
 by importance.

In the jail or prison cell. In the jail or prison cell and in situations with other inmates, deaf inmates are particularly vulnerable to assault or rape (Vernon, 2010). At the very least, they might miss meals because they are not able to hear the bells that wake up inmates and alert them to go to breakfast. Correctional officers might fail to go into their cells and wake them up for breakfast. Visual or vibrating alarm clocks would solve this problem; however, many jails do not have these devices. During transfer from one area to another, deaf inmates might be beat up, assaulted or even raped by another inmate if not closely supervised by correctional officers (Vernon, 2010). An inmate can request to be put in a cell by himself or herself for protection, but this isolation could lead to suicide if the inmate is at risk and if the counselor did not pick up on it during the medical and counseling intake process.

The inmate handbook contains information on what kinds of items and how many items (i. e. food items, clothing, razors, reading materials, other toiletries and stamps) are allowed in the cell. Again, a deaf inmate may not understand these rules.

Leisure, educational and vocational programs. Since most deaf inmates are reading at the third-grade level or below, they cannot read the books and magazines in the prison library (Lavigne and Vernon. 2003). They might not be able to understand the captioning on the television either. If there are vocational, rehabilitation and educational programs, most require a seventh-grade or higher reading level. so unless there is an interpreter, these programs are not accessible to deaf inmates. For deaf inmates, jail or prison is filled with countless hours with nothing to do and no services to access (Vernon, 2010).

The inmate handbook contains information on types of religious, educational and visitation programs that are available. Included in this are rules for telephone, library and commissary privileges. To access most programs in prison, the inmate needs to be reading at the seventh-grade reading level (Miller, 2001). However, as mentioned above most deaf adults read below the fourth-grade reading level so these programs are not accessible to them. This problem is further exacerbated for deaf youths who are in need of rehabilitation programs. If these programs are not geared specifically toward deaf juvenile inmates, taking into account their deaf culture, ASL and low reading levels, then rehabilitation rarely can take place in the same manner and quality that hearing youths experience in juvenile justice facilities (Andrews and Lomas, 2011).

Analysis of Five Inmate Handbooks

As mentioned above, an individual who can read an inmate handbook shows skills in document literacy (Albert, 2011). The inmate handbook is a document that is organized differently than other publications. It is an expository or informational text that presents the information in chunks or parts of texts. Theses handbooks can be read in chunks or sections without losing the flow of the meaning.

At the sentence level, inmate handbooks contain complex grammar structures such as relative clauses, passive voice, question formations, conjunctions, pronominalizations, negation and complementation. These grammar structures have been found to be difficult for the deaf reader (Quigley, Steinkcmp, Power and Jones, 1978).

Inmate handbooks also use graphological devices such as bulleted points, numbered rules, tables of offenses and bolded headings for emphasis, they are still poorly organized documents because they do not prioritize the information presented. Hidden within the documents are areas that should be labeled "very important" or "urgent" because they specify actions that can be used against the inmate. For example, the "Duty to Obey" section is buried in General Information (See Table 1). The inmate is required to know all of the inmate rules and ignorance of them is no excuse. If the inmate cannot read or comprehend the handbook, then how can he or she be reasonable held accountable?

To delve deeper in the complexity of these texts, five inmate handbooks distributed in U. S. jails and prisons in the South and West were analyzed using the tools of document literacy: discourse analyses and measures of readability.

Discourse analysis. Peter Tiersma, professor of law uses discourse analysis to identity eight language features that pose challenges for readers of legal texts (Tiersma, 1999). These same structures have been found to be difficult for deaf readers (Quigley et. al., 1978). See Table 2 for examples from inmate handbooks.

Even from this small sampling, it is clear that the discourse structures of prison handbooks are different than those found in newspapers, magazines, novels, and e-mails, captioned television shows, thus impeding comprehension by inmates with low reading levels (Tiersma, 1999).

Readability. A readability analysis of the five prison handbooks was carried out using a computerized software program (Micro Power and Light, Co., 1995). Random passages were selected from each handbook (500 words each sample), and entered into a computerized readability software program. Micro Power and Light (1995). The reading grade level of each inmate handbook was calculated.

Readability assessments are objective standardized assessments that apply a mathematical formula to a reading passage. Such analysis tells the surface feature of the text, such as number of syllables in words, the average number of words in sentences and the percentage of different words on lists of commonly used words. Micro Power and Light (1995) is computer software that utilizes seven readability formulas to calculate the number of syllables and sentences in each inmate handbook.

As shown in Table 3, inmate handbooks 1 and 3 were written at the 11.6-grade reading level, meaning that a hearing student in his or her junior year of high school or above could read these two prison documents. Inmate handbooks 2, 4 and 5 were found to be the most difficult to read: a hearing student in his or her second year of college or above would be able to read them. Therefore, deaf inmates who read at the third-grade reading level would not be able to read these handbooks.
Table 3. Reading Levels of Five Inmate Handbooks Using Seven Readability

Readability Handbook Handbook Handbook Handbook Handbook

Formula 1 2 3 4 5

Flesch-Kincaid 12.0 12.0 12.0 15.6 13.0

FOG 13.4 19.3 14.4 20.2 21.7

Powers 6.8 8.0 7.3 7.6 8.7

SMOG 12.8 17.1 13.5 17.0 18.3

1-ORG A ST 11.2 11.4 12.1 9.7 12.5

Fry 16.0 16.5 N/A 14.5 N/A

Dale-chall 9.5 10.4 9.5 N/A N/A

Average Reading 11.6 13.9 11.6 14.1 14.8
Grade Level

N/A indicates that (he readability formula could not he applied to
this sample.

Vocabulary. The readability software also has a vocabulary assessor component that compares the vocabulary in a document with a set of vocabulary words that could be read by a fifth-grader or below (Micro Power and Light, 1995). For the current study, the computer program matched the vocabulary or words in the prison documents to a vocabulary list of words that students in grades one-five could read. If the words were not on that list, a 10-year-old hearing child in the fifth grade would not be able to comprehend them.

Table 4 presents vocabulary and phrases that would be difficult for a deaf inmate with a low reading level. As noted in this table the vocabulary is typically multisyllabic and represent, difficult concepts. Many of the words have multiple meanings (i.e. pose, unfounded, encounter, verbal, corrections, offenses, recreating). Also many are legal terms such as book in, detainee, pretrial, legally, probated, classified, sanctions, disposition, offenses and corrective. These words would be difficult for deaf inmates who read at the third-grade level or below to comprehend.
Table 4. Vocabulary and Phrases From Five Inmate Handbooks Readers With
a Fifth-Grade Reading Level or Below Would Have Difficulty Comprehending

 Difficult Vocabulary and Phrases

Handbook 1 Complaint, media, incident, occurred,
 location, deputies,: witnesses,
 grievances, conduct, unfounded, resolved,
 appeal, temporarily, discharge, accrued,
 sanctions, accordance, affairs, [
 pretrial, detainee, sanitation,
 eligibility, orientation, ancestry,
 legally, material, prior, diploma,

Handbook 2 Commissary, counseling, delivered,
 indigent, institutional, offenses, pose,
 prerequisite, probated, reprimand,
 restriction, sanctions, verbal,
 violations, visitations, classified,
 commissary, categories, sanctions,

Handbook 3 Book in, continuum, ensure, jailee,
 judgment retardation, supervisor,
 unimpeded, procedures, obtained, system.
 emergencies, disposition, encounter

Handbook 4 Unauthorized, horseplay, arson,
 violations, verbal, stun-devices,
 sharpened, sexual, self-discipline,
 rioting, return, refrain, prohibited,
 paraphernalia, noncompliance, lethal,
 intoxicants, inmate, herein, ensures,
 disrespectful, differentiate, deputy,
 corrections, civilian, blackmail,
 authorized, assaulting

Handbook 5 Confinement, specified, separation,
 administrative, adjustment, reprimand,
 recreating, offenses, items, inmate,
 designee, corrective, commissary

Translating the inmate handbook in ASL Comprehending the inmate handbook becomes even more complex for deaf inmates when they do not understand sign language very well. In these special cases, they will need a CDI (LaVigne and Vernon, 2003). Many judges, lawyers and criminal justice officials are not aware of the wide variability and differences in language abilities of deaf people--both ASL and English. Proficiency and use of ASL varies within the deaf population. See Goben. Enos and Andrews (2011) for a fuller description of the complex translation issues related to translating inmate handbooks for deaf inmates.


Vernon and his colleagues have painted a detailed landscape of the cultural, communication, language, reading and mental health challenges that deaf inmates face in the criminal justice system (Vernon, 2009; 2010; LaVigne and Vernon, 2003; Vernon and Leigh, 2009). While it is estimated that there more than 31.5 million individuals with hearing loss (ASHA, 2011), there are no statistics on how many people with hearing loss are currently incarcerated in adult and juvenile corrections (Vernon, 1995; Vernon 2010). While criminal justice officials may be vaguely cognizant of the mandates of the Americans with Disabilities Act in providing services to deaf inmates, they may not fully understand the visual deaf culture, the importance of appropriate sign language interpreters or know about the difficulties of speech and speech-reading, and the low reading and writing skills of most deaf inmates and how this impacts prison communication and exchange of information, particularly as specified in this article, the reading of the inmate handbook. Given the barriers that are frequently unknowingly put in place by the criminal justice system, clearly more education about deaf inmates is needed by the system. Such education could reduce the chances of liability and costly lawsuits as Vernon (2009; 2010) boldly points out. Additionally, providing CDIs for deaf inmates, and providing translations of prison handbooks (Goben, Enos and Andrews, 2011) are necessary to provide equal access to prison communications and services, thereby removing barriers to ensure deaf inmates' constitutional rights are not violated.


(1.) The Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf is the nationally certifying organization for sign language interpreters, including CDIs ( Local interpreter agencies also might know and work with CDIs in the state.

(2.) Relay services allow a deaf or hard-of-hearing person to communicate with a hearing person like a police officer or 911 dispatcher who does not know sign language through a relay interpreter. The relay interpreter is a hearing person who uses sign language with the deaf caller and who speaks to the hearing person on the other end who does not know sign language. Thus, the accusing deaf woman calls the relay interpreter and the relay interpreter calls the 911 dispatcher who informs the police of the altercation.


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Author's Note: This article was partially fancied by U.S. Department of Education Grant #H325D08000.

Jean F Andrews, Ph. D., is a reading specialist and a professor of deaf studies/deaf education in the Department of Deaf Studies/Deaf Education at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas.
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Title Annotation:Deaf Inmates:
Author:Andrews, Jean F.
Publication:Corrections Compendium
Date:Mar 22, 2011
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