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Judge Approves Settlement Over Deaf Inmates


A federal judge in Chicago has approved a settlement in a lawsuit over Illinois' handling of deaf prisoners.

Howard Rosenblum once met an inmate who claimed he could communicate through American Sign Language. But they couldn’t understand each other.

At first Rosenblum thought the prisoner was using non-standard signs. Eventually, he figured out the man was just out of practice — two decades out of practice — because he had no one to sign with behind bars.

Rosenblum is CEO of the National Association of the Deaf. He recalled the encounter in an email interview, writing: “No interpreters, no visitors, no dialogue of any kind for 20 years.”

Under the settlement, Illinois has agreed to provide accommodations for deaf and hard-of-hearing inmates, ranging from signal lights and vibrating alarm clocks to hearing aids and sign language interpreters.

The agreement was approved Thursday by U.S. District Court Judge Marvin Aspen in Chicago. The class action lawsuit, first filed in 2011, is Holmes v. Baldwin, No. 11-cv-2961 (N.D. Ill.).

Brian Mackey formerly reported on state government and politics for NPR Illinois and a dozen other public radio stations across the state. Before that, he was A&E editor at The State Journal-Register and Statehouse bureau chief for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.
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