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Deaf Inmates: Cultural and Linguistic Challenges and Comprehending the Inmate Handbook

NCJ Number
Corrections Compendium Volume: 36 Issue: 1 Dated: Spring 2011 Pages: 1-6,14,16
Jean F. Andrews
Date Published
9 pages
After summarizing research on deaf and hard-of-hearing inmates regarding the language and cultural barriers they face in correctional facilities, this article addresses the obstacles they face in reading the inmate handbook.
From 1978 to the present (2011), forensic psychologist McCay Vernon and his colleagues have conducted research on inmates who are deaf and hard of hearing. One major outcome of this research is an increased awareness among correctional professionals of the challenges that these inmates face related to communication, language, literacy, and mental health. This article first summarizes the studies on the language and cultural barriers deaf inmates face (Vernon, 2009; 2010). This is followed by a focus on the difficulties deaf inmates face in reading the inmate handbook. Using the tools of discourse analyses and document literacy, five inmate handbooks are analyzed to show that they require high reading levels and involve linguistic complexities. This information can be used by correctional officers to better understand why the inmate handbook is impossible to read for most deaf inmates. The article suggests that criminal justice officials may not fully understand the visual deaf culture, the importance of appropriate sign-language interpreters, the difficulties of speech and speech-reading, and the low reading and writing skills of most deaf inmates. Clearly, more information is needed by criminal justice policymakers and practitioners regarding how deaf and hard-of-hearing inmates struggle to understand and function in the world of a correctional facility where those who operate it are not trained in dealing with the handicaps of the deaf inmate. 4 tables and 33 references


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