Louisiana Department of Corrections has started a revolutionary program allowing inmates to earn a certificate as an American Sign Language interpreter for the deaf.
Truth Out reports on the program which has been called “one of a kind” in the U.S. prison system. The program teaches inmates ASL, which then allows them to possibly earn jobs after incarceration or become “offender interpreters,” or interpreters for other inmates.
While the program has a lot of supporters, it hasn’t come without criticism. Deaf advocates have complained that offender interpreters are paid too low a wage or nothing at all. But this is a common trend among many prison work programs (if not all), and is certainly not unique to offender interpreters.
But graduates of the program speak highly of it. Scott Huffman, one of the first graduates of the ASL program told Truth Out,
“Not only do we lead the world in incarceration, we have a unjust system, especially for these deaf, deaf-blind, deaf-disabled, hard of hearing prisoners. They live in a prison within a prison, so not only are they incarcerated, but now they’re extra incarcerated because they don’t have communication.”
He added that during his five-year sentence, he noticed that deaf inmates were “easy targets” for sexual abuse by other inmates and physical abuse by the guards.
After getting released, Scott has used his new understanding of deaf culture to become an advocate and help ensure that video systems that allow deaf prisoners to call home are installed, as required by law.
Rights for the deaf and incarcerated may still be severely lacking, but this is certainly something bright. And while the Louisiana Department of Corrections has a amend for, this is one tiny step on the right path. Finally.