Deaf News: Prison Service failing to meet the needs of deaf prisoners, research finds

Posted on January 16, 2013

Profoundly deaf prisoners are missing out on important services that could help their rehabilitation because the Prison Service cannot provide for their needs, a study has found.

Research has revealed that, although there are some cases where deaf prisoners are given suitable support, these are often isolated examples. Provision must be more widespread in order for the Prison Service to meet its legal duties.

The findings are outlined in a report, Not hearing us: An exploration of the experience of deaf prisoners in English and Welsh prisons. It was written by Daniel McCullough, a Birmingham City University post graduate criminology student as part of a programme supported by the Howard League for Penal Reform.

Some deaf prisoners interviewed as part of the research claimed to have had trouble accessing employment, education courses and behaviour classes in prison because of issues relating to their disability.

Others said they were concerned about their safety in the event of a fire because they would be unable to hear an alarm and would be unsure of what to do. Some deaf prisoners feel lonely and isolated because of difficulties communicating with other inmates, as well as family members and legal services outside of prison.

The report recommends that deaf prisoners should not face a ‘partial justice system’. It calls for more sharing of good practice – such as that seen in Shrewsbury prison, where staff and prisoners were taught sign language alongside each other so they were able to communicate with the deaf.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “The Howard League legal team has represented young deaf prisoners who have experienced difficulties in participating in the prison regime because their needs were ignored and misunderstood both in state prisons and in private jails.

“This research should spark a reconsideration of the services provided to the deaf inside penal institutions. It is unacceptable that organs of the state and commercial prisons fail to comply with equalities legislation.”

Dr Pritti Mehta, Head of Research and Policy at Action on Hearing Loss, said: “We welcome this research by the Howard League as people with hearing loss face barriers in all areas of life.

“It is not surprising to learn about the communication problems highlighted in the report and we hope that the recommendations are taken on board by the Prison Service to ensure prisoners who are deaf or hard of hearing have equal access to services.”

Download the report here:

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