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ATLANTA — A case challenging the Georgia Department of Community Supervision’s (GDCS) failure to provide adequate communication access to deaf and hard of hearing people on probation or parole will proceed after a federal judge issued an opinion rejecting the department’s motion for summary judgment and granting plaintiffs’ motion for class certification. 

The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Georgia, the National Association of the Deaf, the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, and Arnold & Porter represent impacted deaf and hard of hearing individuals in the case, Cobb v. Georgia Department of Community Supervision, and are seeking an order requiring GDCS to immediately provide American Sign Language interpreters, auxiliary aids and services, and reasonable modifications to deaf and hard of hearing people on parole or probation.

“This case illustrates one of the many ways the criminal legal system fails people with disabilities. By neglecting their responsibilities under federal disability rights laws, Georgia deprives deaf people on parole or probation a fair chance to successfully reenter society and maintain their freedom,” said West Resendes, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Disability Rights Program. “The stakes could not be higher. People who cannot understand the conditions of their release or even communicate with their supervision officers risk being thrown back in prison for months or years because the system failed to make those supervision rules clear to them and failed to ensure that deaf supervisees have equal access to GDCS’ services as other supervisees.”

The Georgia Department of Community Supervision has a long history of failing to provide the required supports for deaf people and other people with disabilities. In our complaint, we detail how this failure often leads to an incorrect understanding of the conditions and requirements of their probation and parole, with potentially disastrous consequences. Our clients and others who cannot appropriately communicate with their parole officers or understand documents related to their release constantly face the risk of violating supervision terms and conditions that they are not even aware of, putting them in danger of incarceration. We also outline how this failure limits their ability to secure employment, maintain their health, and fulfill their basic needs.

“Georgia has the highest rate of people on probation or parole of any state in the nation,” said Andrés López-Delgado, ACLU of Georgia staff attorney. “The State owes it to deaf and hard of hearing people to provide them with the communication access they need to navigate this large and complex system. Our clients deserve nothing less.”

Brittany Shrader, NAD staff attorney shares, "Within the current structure of the criminal legal system, successful participation in and completion of parole or probation is necessary to ensure a seamless transition outside of incarceration; but without communication access, deaf and hard of hearing people are forced into a vicious cycle of undeserved punishment. This case seeks to break that cycle and allow deaf and hard of hearing people an equal opportunity to transition into and remain in the community."

“Today’s ruling is a long-awaited and significant step forward for deaf and hard of hearing individuals on probation and parole in Georgia who have routinely experienced systemic communication failures that have wide-ranging impacts on their lives,” said Tyler Fink, associate at Arnold & Porter.  “We are dedicated to continuing to achieve equally effective communication and justice for these individuals.”

The lawsuit alleges the GDCS is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and the United States Constitution.

This statement is available in American Sign Language here: https://youtu.be/LDyBY8mxtog

The order denying defendant’s motion for summary judgment and granting plaintiffs’ motion to certify class is here: https://www.aclu.org/legal-document/cobb-v-georgia-department-community-supervision-order-denying-motion-summary

More details about the case are here: https://www.aclu.org/cases/cobb-v-georgia-department-community-supervision

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