29 January 2014
Commissioner Brian Owens
Georgia Department of Corrections
300 Patrol Road
Forsyth, GA 31029
Dear Commissioner Owens,
This letter calls upon you, Commissioner Owens, to take action in regards to the discriminatory practices that are taking place under the Georgia Department of Corrections with regards to Deaf and Hard of Hearing inmates. In addition, we believe you are denying one particular Deaf prisoner, Ricardo L. Harris the right to a speedy trial.
Having one’s case brought to trial in an expedient manner is a constitutional guarantee and yet Mr. Harris has been imprisoned for over a year. The Americans with Disability Act title II covers the judicial system and prison facilities. Reasonable accommodations to ensure effective communication are a right that Deaf and Hard of Hearing inmates in Georgia been denied. These inmates have limited or no interaction with other prisoners and guards. They lack access to information and programs within the prisons. Your prisons do not provide avenues for these individuals to communicate with their families. Such unequal treatment results in your effectively sentencing these inmates to solidarity confinement.
This also means that the Georgia Department of Corrections is guilty of audism. Audism is attitudes and practices based on the assumption that behaving in the ways of those who speak and hear is desired and best. It produces a system of privilege, thus resulting in stigma, bias, discrimination, and prejudice—in overt or covert ways—against Deaf culture, American Sign Language, and Deaf people of all walks of life.
We, Audism Free America (AFA), are a grassroots advocacy network. AFA, the National Black Deaf Advocates (NBDA), Helping Educate to Advance the Rights of the Deaf (HEARD), other members of the national Deaf community and Hearing allies are aware of the injustices that are being experienced by Deaf and Hard of Hearing inmates in the Georgia Department of Corrections. Such injustices are NOT acceptable.
We urge you, Commissioner Owens to be accountable for these inmates and their treatment. We urge you to follow your Department of Corrections core value of integrity -–doing what is right legally and morally.
Let Freedom Roll,
Karen Christie, Patti Durr and Ruthie Jordan
on behalf of Audism Free America