Deaf People in Prison

Not Forgotten

"Lock them up and throw away the key."

This is an expression that people often use when talking about imprisoning people for crimes. What happens to deaf people when they go to prison? They are not totally forgotten, because of people like Mark Ehrlichmann.

Ehrlichmann administers to deaf and hard of hearing people in prisons. Below is what he told About Deafness in an e-mail, with identifying information removed from bracketed areas.

"What I am doing is once a month during school time, and more frequently during non-school time, is conducting two hour Bible Study on Friday mornings at [a prison] for Deaf and HOH inmates. Currently about 3 to 6 attend. We have no hard facts about numbers for how many deaf/hoh inmates in prison in the country. The only facts we have are from those involved in Deaf Prison Ministry or Social Service work. Sometimes, we are lucky to find a prison chaplain that will tell us. I know of approximately 25-30 Deaf/HOH inmates in [a California prison] which I visited last September when I went to the Deaf Prison Ministry Network Conference in Bakersfield, CA. Texas has the largest group of Deaf/HOH inmates - approx 90-100. The numbers vary from 10,000 to 20,000 in the country.

As I was collecting some of this information, I noticed on the [prison] website information about English as a Second Language offered.

It made me wonder about Deaf people in prison (which are nearly all male, we don't have much information about female Deaf inmates) would they have access to this service? We know that the deaf services in the prison systems around the country is appalling to say the least.

I know of one situation where TTY access was restricted due to abuse by an inmate that was hearing in one ear and hoh/deaf in the other, he could speak for himself.

He found out about the free long distance calls through relay and began abusing the TTY. The Deaf inmates were furious with him and complained to the Warden who restricted TTY service and this inmate abusing the service. From what I understand recently, TTY service is still restricted but easing very slowly. Some of the inmates can't call collect anymore because their families can't afford to accept collect calls.

So, you can see from what I have provided so far (I am still collecting and researching...) that life inside is very much a double-prison for those Deaf and HOH. Many requests are received at the Deaf Prison Ministry Networks' offices from hearing inmates for resources for learning ASL so that they can communicate with their Deaf Inmates. This is another way that we gather numbers. It is impossible to get numbers from the Prison System because of HIPPA (Health Information Protection)."

Ehrlichmann referred About Deafness to the website According to the website, the Deaf Prison Ministries Network is a network and clearinghouse that helps deaf people in prison.

The network also helps deaf former prisoners and families of deaf prisoners. Assistance is provided to deaf churches that want to reach out to deaf people in prison in their areas.

At the time About Deafness visited the website, the DPMN was in the process of establishing the first halfway house facility for the deaf, Healing Hands Ranch. Healing Hands Ranch is needed because of the high re-offending rate among deaf former prisoners, and the need for education and job training services for deaf former prisoners.

The DPMN holds an annual conference, and has a mailing list. At the time About Deafness visited the site, there was no newsletter but efforts under way to get one started.

Research on Deaf People in Prison

Books on Deaf People in Prison

There is one book about deaf people in prison: Deaf Prison Inmates: Time to be Heard, by Bonnie P. Tucker. Published in 1988 by the College of Law at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona, copies of this book are in the catalogs at the Gallaudet University Library in Washington, DC and the Rochester Institute of Technology library in Rochester, New York.

Articles on Deaf People in Prison

Several journal articles have been published on deaf people in prison. In reverse chronological order, here are some articles:

  • Vernon, M., and K. Miller. "Obstacles Faced by Deaf People in the Criminal Justice System." American Annals of the Deaf 3(2005): 283-291.
  • Miller, Katrina, McCay Vernon, and Michele Capella. "Violent Offenders in a Deaf Prison Population." Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education 10(2005): 417-425. (The text of this article is free online).
  • Miller, Katrina. "Linguistic Diversity in a Deaf Prison Population: Implications for Due Process." Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education 9(2004): 112-119. (The text of this article is free online)
  • Schneider, R.N., and B.D. Sales. "Deaf or hard of hearing inmates in prison." Disability & Society 19(2004): 77-89.
  • Miller, Katrina, and McCay Vernon. "Deaf Sex Offenders in a Prison Population ." Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education 8(2003): 357-362.
  • Vernon, McCay, Annie Steinberg, and Louise Montoya. "Deaf murderers: clinical and forensic issues." Behavioral Sciences & the Law 17(1999): 495-516.
Katrina Miller has a home page on which she has an extensive bibliography of deaf criminal justice resources. A sampling of what is on her bibliography includes doctoral dissertations, and a Deaf Mosaic video clip on deaf men in a California prison.

Continue Reading