The majority of deaf adults cannot read the jail/prison medical/intake form without the aid of a certified sign language interpreter. However, rarely do jails and prison provide deaf inmates with interpreters. This can and does result in human tragedy.
The medical/psychological intake form is a one-page form that is given to the inmate during the booking or intake process when the individual is jailed. In our research using a computerized readability program, this form was found to be written at the 9.5 reading grade level. This means that a hearing student in the 5th month of the ninth grade could read it.
In fact, the average reading grade level of deaf adults is at the third to fourth grade level so it is impossible for them to read this document. Part of the problem is that the document is filled with complex grammar structures and complex vocabulary such as monitoring, medication, disabled, aggressive, suicidal, allergic reactions, depression, substance abuse. The criminal justice system should be providing a qualified sign language interpreter during this segment of the jail intake procedures because of the importance of getting accurate information and the life-threatening consequences .
On the form, there are typically two parts: In Part one, the form details the inmates’ medical history. For instance, the inmate will be asked to answer questions related to family medical history, any major surgeries recently have, any history of heart attack, diabetes, or high blood pressure, the types of medication currently taking, dosage and frequency of medication and the kinds of allergies the inmate may have. Other questions relate to history of alcohol, tobacco and drug use.
A second section relates to psychiatric history. The inmates are asked to answer questions related to any history of a mental health disorder, history of depression, any attempts at suicide, or have they been treated for a substance abuse in a treatment facility. The inmates must read a final statement saying they understood everything on this questionnaire and sign it with their name.
In one recent case, in a western state, a deaf man in a city jail was not provided an interpreter when shown the medical/psychiatric intake form. He smiled and nodded when the deputy checked off the yes or no boxes. The deputy assumed that the deaf inmate understood what he was being asked. The deputy also assumed that lipreading and reading were effective communication modes for this deaf man. The deaf inmate was placed in a cell apart from the hearing inmates because the jail officials assumed it would be safer for him.
The deaf inmate hung himself in his cell.
This human tragedy and blatant defiance of the jail/prison officials against the Americans with Disabilities Act point to the need for jails and prisons to have policies that mandate the use of certified sign language interpreters for signing deaf persons during the booking and medical/intake process.