Disability Independence Group and Disability Rights Florida Resolve Lawsuit against Miami-Dade Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to Provide Services to Deaf Inmates
Wednesday, October 19, 2016
MIAMI – Disability Independence Group, a non-profit organization that advocates for the rights of people with disabilities, and Disability Rights Florida, Florida’s federally-funded Protection and Advocacy system for individuals with disabilities, have resolved a lawsuit against the Miami-Dade County Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (Miami-Dade County) over its alleged systemic failure to comply with federal measures intended to protect individuals with disabilities who are processed and incarcerated at their jails throughout the County. After the action was brought, Miami-Dade County endeavored to resolve the matter to ensure that deaf inmates do not suffer from discrimination in the jails.
The case began following the experiences of numerous individuals who are Deaf and who are alleged to have faced discrimination in Miami-Dade County jails. The Complaint recounts the ordeals of two individuals who are Deaf and who suffered directly from Miami-Dade County’s failure to comply with the federal laws intended to protect individuals with disabilities from discrimination. As a result of this non-compliance, Deaf prisoners are not provided adequate access to communication with their family and lawyers nor adequate medical services, and may be assaulted and victimized without recourse. In response to what is perceived to be a nationwide trend of such treatment, several disability rights groups have filed similar lawsuits.
Joel Martos is a profoundly Deaf individual who communicates primarily using American Sign Language (ASL), which is his native language. He relies on ASL interpreters and other auxiliary aids to communicate with individuals who do not use sign language. Throughout a period of more than three years of incarceration, the lawsuit alleged Miami-Dade County’s failure to provide Mr. Martos with even the most-basic of communication accommodations. He was denied accommodations beginning at intake, underwent medical tests and psychological examinations without the benefit of any communication, and was denied other programs in the jail. Moreover, because Mr. Martos was unable to communicate, he had no understanding of programs available or the conditions of probation, and had no meaningful contact with family, friends or lawyers.
Similarly, Joshua Santuche is a profoundly Deaf individual who also communicates using ASL. Mr. Santuche was arrested in October 2015, but was not provided with an interpreter upon arrival at Miami-Dade County jail. Instead, he attempted to communicate with officers through hand gestures that he was Deaf and needed an interpreter, but was ignored by some officers and ridiculed by others. At no point was Mr. Santuche provided with a videophone or any other means of communication to contact an attorney, a bail bondsman, or his family. At his bond hearing, no ASL interpreter was provided. Had Mr. Santuche’s mother not been available and present at the hearing to interpret for him using what she refers to as “survival sign language” Mr. Santuche would have remained incarcerated. At the majority of subsequent hearings at the Miami-Dade County Courthouse, no ASL interpreter has been provided despite Miami-Dade County having ample knowledge and time to secure one.
“This settlement ensures that Deaf inmates will be treated fairly. Like hearing inmates, Deaf inmates will be able to communicate with their lawyers and families, not be subject to discipline or medical examinations without a full understanding, and will not be victimized by other inmates.” said Matthew W. Dietz, Litigation Director of Disability Independence Group. “Without communication, a Deaf inmate is required to become invisible, to avoid confrontation, to avoid medical need, to avoid rehabilitative services, to avoid recreational services, and wait endlessly in isolation for the incarceration to end.”
“As Florida’s Protection and Advocacy organization, we have a responsibility to ensure that the rights and dignity of individuals with disabilities are being respected,” said Molly J. Paris, Staff Attorney at Disability Rights Florida. “The law requires that individuals who are Deaf are properly accommodated and are afforded the opportunity to communicate so that instances of unnecessary incarceration or re-incarceration are avoided.”
The Settlement requires Miami-Dade County to timely provide qualified interpreters for all programs and services of the jails, including: booking and intake processes, at classification hearings, during medical or psychological treatment, disciplinary hearings, religious services, educational classes, Narcotics and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings or the equivalent, and interactions with staff that implicate an inmate’s due process rights. It also provides access to and use of video relay phones and TTYs (a communication device that permits the typing of messages), and repairs and replacement batteries needed for the proper operation of hearing aids and cochlear processors. The county employees will receive training regarding the need for effective communication with the Deaf, and procedures for identifying and providing accommodations to Deaf inmates.
The Plaintiffs are represented by attorneys Matthew Dietz from Disability Independence Group and David A. Boyer and Molly J. Paris from Disability Rights Florida.
The case is Martos et al. v. Miami-Dade County Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Case No. 16-cv-21501 in the Southern District of Florida, and has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Martinez. For copies of the Complaint and the Settlement agreement, please contact Disability Rights Florida.
Disability Rights Florida was founded in 1977 as the statewide designated protection and advocacy system for individuals with disabilities in the State of Florida. It has been advocating for access to services, education, employment, independence, and the elimination of abuse and neglect for over 35 years.
Disability Independence Group is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that promotes recruitment, education and employment of persons with disabilities thereby improving their lives through competitive employment and financial stability; and through the changing of society’s perception of person with disabilities.
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