Landmark Settlements Reached in Maryland and Kentucky for Deaf Prisoners

The Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs (WLC) and the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) announced today that comprehensive settlement agreements have been reached with both Maryland and Kentucky in the last several weeks concerning the proper treatment of Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing prisoners by the states’ departments of corrections. The agreements settle federal litigation brought by the Washington Lawyers’ Committee in both states, along with NAD in Maryland and additional counsel listed below in each state.

“There has been a pattern of mistreatment of Deaf prisoners around the country, including even disciplining some for not obeying orders they could not hear,” said Deborah M. Golden, Director of the WLC DC Prisoners’ Project. “These settlements should ensure proper treatment under federal law for prisoners in Kentucky and Maryland,” she continued, “and also serve as a model for other states and the federal government. We commend Maryland and Kentucky for their leadership, and thank all of our co-counsel for their tremendous work on these cases.”

Common to both settlements are provisions that will offer protections to Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing prisoners to help ensure that their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act and other federal laws are protected, many of which are similar to provisions in a 2010 agreement reached in a similar WLC lawsuit in Virginia. These agreements will provide:

  • Access to videophones so that deaf inmates will be able to communicate with people outside of prison, just as hearing inmates can;
  • Adequate visual notification of oral announcements concerning emergencies and other events;
  • Adequate access to Sign Language interpreters and other auxiliary aids and services; and
  • Implementation of necessary policies, training, outreach to prisoners, and monitoring to ensure equal treatment by prison officials

“Even in prisons, prisoners have basic human rights which are routinely and appallingly denied to Deaf and Hard of Hearing prisoners across the country,” said Howard A. Rosenblum, NAD CEO and Legal Director. “Maryland and Kentucky join only a few states in ensuring equal access is provided to Deaf and Hard of Hearing prisoners. We hope all state and federal prisons will recognize their obligations and comply with federal laws without further delay. We appreciate the hard work of the legal teams whose work gave back to these prisoners their rights and dignity.”

The settlement in the Maryland case, Jarboe v. Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, can be found here. Counsel for the plaintiffs are: WLC, NAD, and Foley & Lardner LLP. The settlement in the Kentucky case, Adams v. Commonwealth of Kentucky, can be found here. Counsel for the plaintiffs are: WLC, Weil, Gotshal and & Manges LLP, and Belzley Bathurst Attorneys, a Kentucky civil rights firm concentrating in the area of inmates’ rights.

Elliot Mincberg, Washington Lawyers’ Committee, 202-319-1000
Debra Patkin, National Association of the Deaf, 301-587-1788

ABOUT THE WASHINGTON LAWYERS’ COMMITTEE: The Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs (“WLC”) was established in 1968 to provide pro bono legal services to address issues of discrimination and entrenched poverty in the Washington, DC region. Since then, WLC has successfully handled thousands of civil rights cases on behalf of individuals and groups in the areas of equal employment opportunity, fair housing, public accommodations, immigrant rights, disability rights, public education, and prisoners’ rights.

ABOUT THE NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF THE DEAF: The National Association of the Deaf (“NAD”), founded in 1880, is the oldest national civil rights organization in the United States and is the country’s premier organization of, by, and for deaf and hard of hearing individuals. The mission of the NAD is to preserve, protect, and promote the civil, human, and linguistic rights of 48 million deaf and hard of hearing individuals in the country. The NAD endeavors to achieve true equality for its constituents in all aspects of society including but not limited to education, employment, and ensuring full access to programs and services.

ABOUT WEIL, GOTSHAL & MANGES LLP: Founded in 1931, Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP has been a preeminent provider of legal services for more than 80 years. With approximately 1100 lawyers in 20 offices worldwide, Weil has been a pioneer in establishing a geographic footprint that has allowed the Firm to partner with clients wherever they do business. The firm’s four departments, Corporate, Litigation, Business Finance & Restructuring, and Tax, Executive Compensation & Benefits, and over two dozen practice groups are consistently recognized as leaders in their respective fields. Weil has also become a highly visible leader among major law firms for its innovative diversity and pro bono initiatives, the product of a comprehensive and long-term commitment which has ingrained these values into our Firm culture.

ABOUT FOLEY & LARDNER LLP: Foley & Lardner LLP is a corporate law firm that provides practical solutions for complex business and legal issues facing companies today. With approximately 900 attorneys in 20 offices, Foley combines international reach with a local focus across a full range of legal services in various industries, including technology, health care, sports and manufacturing. Foley has been recognized by clients and the legal industry for its strong commitment to client service excellence and innovation. Learn more at Foley associate Lauren Champaign, and partner Joseph Edmondson, both of the firm’s Washington, DC office, were co-counsel in the Maryland case in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland. Foley partner Adrian Jensen provided able assistance with briefing. Former Foley attorney Rachel Pilloff liaised with clients, and collected and documented evidence for administrative appeals and briefing.

Foley, WLC, and NAD remember and honor their late colleague and Foley partner Ronald Carroll, who initially spearheaded Foley’s involvement with this issue more than seven years ago, but succumbed to illness while this case was being litigated. We regret that he is not with us to see his vision of equal treatment for deaf prisoners come to fruition.

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