Talila Lewis of Helping Educate to Advance the Rights of the Deaf, composed and sent the following letter.
The abuse experienced by deaf prisoners housed in the Florida Department of Corrections defies imagination. Our most vulnerable prisoners–those who are deaf, deaf-blind, blind, elderly and mentally and physically disabled–are the victims of extreme violence and sexual abuse. This abuse has been reported to the governor, the current and former Department of Corrections secretaries, the Office of the Inspector General, and numerous wardens, corrections officers and counselors. Yet still, terrible human & civil rights violations persist.
The Florida Department of Corrections (DOC) has systematically created a culture of fear and hopelessness for disabled prisoners. The DOC’s failure to provide adequate accommodations for and protections to this vulnerable population is beyond reproach. Countless deaf prisoners, their family members, and advocates have expressed concern for the safety and well-being of these prisoners in Florida’s state prison facilities. Many of Florida’s deaf prisoners, fearful of brutal retaliation and assured of prison official’s apathy or complicity, have all but given up hope of ever living safe from fear of sexual and physical assault. It is unclear the rationale behind the DOC’s unwillingness to address these concerns.
This past year, one deaf prisoner (he will remain unnamed to protect what remains of his “safety”) risked his life to report to the Office of the Inspector General, horrendous physical and sexual abuse of other prisoners with disabilities as well as other serious violations occurring at the prison. Though this prisoner’s complaint resulted in at least two officers being fired and numerous prisoners being transferred out of the facility, the Office of the Inspector General informed staff at Tomoka that this prisoner was responsible for lodging this “anonymous” complaint. As a result of this breach of confidentiality, this prisoner’s life has been threatened by staff and prisoners at Tomoka. Just last week, despite numerous requests from advocates not to send him back to this facility, the Florida Department of Corrections sent this prisoner back to what can only be described as a living hell for this man who sacrificed his own safety to protect others. As of the writing of this letter, he has not been heard from by any of those community members with whom he consistently maintains contact.
The Florida Department of Corrections not only perpetuates human rights abuses against deaf prisoners, but it also fails to ensure adequate accommodations for deaf and deaf-blind prisoners pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act and other state and federal laws that exist to protect the rights of people with disabilities.
HEARD created and maintains the nation’s only Deaf and Deaf-Blind Prisoner Database. This Database includes information on more than four hundred deaf and deaf-blind men and women, in thirty-eight states, the District of Columbia, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The abuses being reported out of Florida are by far, the worst that we have seen from across the nation. Wardens, correctional officers and administrators, and government officials must be held accountable for these abuses and for their failure to follow federal laws that protect people with disabilities. These personnel should be aware that this sort of behavior will not be tolerated.
We have reported these abuses at every turn for nearly three years. We have run out of options. I hope this letter raises awareness about the horrors that people with disabilities and the elderly experience in the Florida prison system. The Florida Department of Corrections actions and inactions are a mark of shame on the state and our nation.
To the citizens of Florida: You may decide to do nothing, but you can never again plead ignorance.
Talila A. Lewis
Talila A. Lewis is the Founder of Helping Educate to Advance the Rights of the Deaf (HEARD). HEARD is a nonprofit civil rights organization that advocates for deaf, hard of hearing, and deaf-blind prisoners across the nation.
BitcoDavid is a blogger and a blog site consultant. In former lives, he was an audio engineer, a videographer, a teacher – even a cab driver. He is an avid health and fitness enthusiast and a Pro/Am boxer. He has spent years working with diet and exercise to combat obesity and obesity related illness.
- Correctional Officer Stabbed at Local Prison (wctv.tv)
- Former Florida prisons chief who took kickbacks released from federal prison (jacksonville.com)
- Gov. Robert Bentley not surprised at DOJ’s Tutwiler probe, says state will treat prisoners humanely (al.com)
- Bay Co. Using State Prisoners for Labor (wtvy.com)
- State inks deal to privatize S. Fla. inmate health care (tampabay.com)
- Escaped prisoner shot by Department of Corrections officer (baltimorenewsjournal.com)
- Most Influential Blogger Award (deafinprison.wordpress.com)
- Amnesty International Petition for Angola 3 Member (deafinprison.wordpress.com)
- Team Blood (bitcodavidsboxingblog.com)
- March at DeafInPrison.com (deafinprison.wordpress.com)