Judge: State Prisons Need To Improve Services To Hearing Impaired

Jun 11, 2020

A federal Judge says the state has been too slow in responding to the needs of inmates with hearing problems. 

The judge from the U.S. District Court’s Northern Division admonished the Illinois Department of Corrections for its slow response in helping hard-of-hearing inmates get tested and fitted with proper equipment.  Rachel Weisberg, an attorney with disability rights group Equip for Equality, said there are 1,500 inmates who need devices like hearing aids.

“When you’re in prison, you know, a hearing aid is such an important device, not only to help you hear, but also to protect your safety,” said Weisberg

The judge said the state’s prison system was not adhering to a settlement reached two years ago.  Weisburg said it has been taking up to eight months for prisoners to get tested and get devices.  Judge Young B. Kim told the Department of Corrections it must carry out testing within 90 days on inmates.

“There’s so much information that’s communicated over a sound system. So, for many of our clients, folks are missing hundreds of meals, they’re missing the opportunity to go out to yard, because they simply can’t hear that announcement they made,” Weisberg said.

A hearing test also allows an inmate who is hearing impaired to have access to an interpreter during proceedings and equipment such as vibrating watches which can alert them to educational and religious services that are being offered.

Judge Kim also said the prison system also needs to use licensed audiologists, rather than other technicians to do the hearing examinations. 

In the judge’s ruling, he pointed out that the use of other personnel for the tests was “extensive," noting it occurred in more than 700 evaluations.

The court also said the state prison system must pay attorney’s fees related to investigating the violation.

A Department of Corrections spokesperson would not comment on the ruling.