You got pulled over by the police in outer Uzbekistan and you didn’t speak the language. But they thought you did. And in order to be accommodating – and hopefully be able to eventually speak to someone from the American consulate – you were very agreeable. And ended up in jail. Where you tried to teach one of the guards the ABC’s – and got the snot beaten out of you for being a snitch, after which you were placed in solitary confinement.
Welcome to the world of the Deaf in the criminal justice system in America. So far as I can tell, there are a significant number of the deaf – perhaps as many as 20% – who are so incapable of understanding English and the concepts of Miranda as expressed in English that they were actually incapable of participating in their own defense and should never have been brought to trial. I’m not saying that they didn’t do whatever it was – maybe they did, maybe they didn’t – but even if they did, they were not competent to stand trial based on a lack of understanding.
It’s like sending someone who speaks only English to court in Uzbekistan without any concept of what is going on because no one speaks the language. And that situation is compounded after incarceration in jails and prisons. Only to make it even worse, they get their hearing aids taken away – returned broken or not at all. So they can’t hear a da*n thing and they end up being targeted by both guards (as troublemakers) and prisoners (as snitches or someone wanting special treatment).
Because of the lack of ability to communicate inside prisons they can’t get education, drug treatment, psychiatric care, better jobs, and so on and so forth ad infinitum. Two men sentenced to prison for ten years – one hearing and one deaf have such a different experience that it is as if one man serves 10 years with perks of education, rehabilitative treatment and the possibility of parole while the deaf one serves the equivalent of 50 – at hard labor.
The research on the subject presents an appalling picture. Individuals who cannot understand their rights not to incriminate themselves. Individuals who cannot participate actively in their own defense, who cannot even understand their lawyers, who may have untreated drug and alcohol problems, who cannot understand the trial nor the questions asked, and who cannot even participate in prison society without alienating either prisoners or guards. What are we doing? How can this even be referred to as “justice?”