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Harris v. Georgia Department of Corrections

Status: Ongoing
Last Update: June 5, 2020

What's at Stake

On October 3, 2018, the ACLU and the ACLU of Georgia, together with National Association of the Deaf and Weil, Gotshal & Manges, LLP, filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of deaf and hard of hearing people incarcerated in prisons supervised by the Georgia Department of Corrections (GDC). The complaint highlights GDC’s failure to provide incarcerated deaf and hard of hearing people with equally effective communication access to programs, services, and activities, including medical care, telecommunications, and prison programs. Further, due to lack of access to interpreters and other communication accommodations, deaf prisoners are also often unable to explain or defend themselves when GDC takes disciplinary action against them.

The complaint also details the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles’ failure to provide equally effective communication access to the parole and reentry system, meaning that deaf prisoners are unable to respond appropriately to documents; often do not understand their sentences, parole eligibility dates, or how to maximize their chances for parole; and do not recognize errors in their sentence computations.

As a result of these agencies’ failures, deaf and hard of hearing prisoners in GDC custody face threats to their physical and mental health, and may serve longer sentences. Without effective communication access, these individuals may be unable to communicate with GDC guards, medical staff, counselors, and friends and family members. They miss meals, medication, appointments, laundry, and work assignments. They may face punishment for failing to follow instructions that are only conveyed orally and are therefore inaccessible. They are unable to effectively engage in GDC programs that may help them to be released on parole, or to develop skills to prepare for release.

The complaint alleges that GDC, along with the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles, are violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and the United States Constitution.

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