Understanding the predicament of Interpreters in Prison in Louisiana

HEARD is an advocacy organization that is driven to end injustice in prisons. HEARD stands for Helping Educate to Advance the Rights of the Deaf Communities. Board Member, Scott Huffman, spoke with DSTidbit News about the latest fiasco with Sign Language Services International based out of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Information about the story is shared in the following articles:

·         How to get RID involved

·         Who Daniel D Burch is and what he has to do with the whole scene 

·         An explanation of what is going on in prisons in the state of Louisiana.

Scott Huffman has a unique perspective for he is somebody that has gone through the program and has first-hand knowledge and experience with the injustices of the Department of Corrections Program. He also shares some of the same sentiments as the community because he is currently a community interpreter and one that is very highly regarded within the community.

The most important thing for people to know is that Certified Interpreters are NEVER offered to Incarcerated Deaf individuals. They are stuck using peers within the prison who know some sign language. “When an incarcerated Deaf person has a medical appointment, the medical staff is supposed to give the Deaf patient a “waiver” regarding their right to an outside certified interpreter. Attached is the form that has been mentioned however Deaf folks never actually see nor sign these forms." -  Scott

Scott also urges people to make public records request asking to see every waiver form signed since 2010. Dozens of Deaf state prisoners have been through the state prison over the past decade. "I guarantee there are minimal documents the Department of Corrections can provide that have been read to Deaf patients before receiving medical treatment."

Also, Daniel Burch has never been asked to publicly produce documents related to the program he spearheads. "Make public records request asking for full disclosure of each hearing individuals track record per the items that are alleged to be taught via SLSI & DOC contract. Other than EIPA scores, there’s not been a lot of transparency as to whether Daniel is following the requirements of the contract he’s receiving payment for.” - Scott

Daniel and the Dept of Corrections regularly brag on the privileges they give to the hearing signers at the prison: $.80 an hour (40 hrs a week), Jpay tablets with deaf culture reading the material and the ability to do their program homework on the tablets. These are perks offered to participants of the programs. The issue with this, not once has the Deaf men/women be included in the inner workings of this program, and aren’t even allowed to attend the classes with their hearing counterparts, nor their monthly workshops. This program only benefits hearing participants!

For those that wonder what roles the hearing signers are being used in within the system; Scott takes some time to share, "Hearing signers are currently used to interpret: parole hearings, disciplinary hearings, education, mental health, religious, etc... I think the larger issue is the unintended consequences of using these men in the capacities they’re being used.

The participants of the program truly do not understand the harms of their services. When you have a teacher who misinforms their students to benefit the stability of their for-profit program, these are the results we get! Scott emphasizes that vital information is likely to be missing from the interpretation simply because the participants in the program have not been properly trained to act in the roles they are being used in. 

Another issue Scott mentioned is that “the Deaf men and Hearing Signers all live together, eat together, and see each other every day. They’re friends, teammates on sports teams, pastor, and much more… In the same fashion the ADA advises not to use family for impartiality reasons; its the same kind of relationship with these guys in the state prison.” - Scott

Participants of the program, learning ASL, being used as "peer interpreters" are just as victimized as the Deaf men that utilize their services. Scott wants to makes sure that everybody understands that people shouldn't discourage ASL learning in prisons. "Even teaching folks about the role of an interpreter. Should they decide to go home, enroll in an ITP, and meet all the requirements to take national certification tests; go for it. I believe in reentry!!!"  - Scott

However, Scott believes that the department of corrections is working backward, all because they're being misled by Daniel.

"They’re paying hundreds of thousands to SLSI to train folks how to interpret. They essentially paying SLSI to be in direct conflict with ADA. They’re paying for Daniel to be an “expert consultant “ who gives them consulting services that lead to lawsuits. “ - Scott

“For the amount of money they’ve shelled out to this program, they could have hired two staff interpreters full time who Interpret in prison and for probation and parole. These staff Interpreters could also teach ASL and interpret courses as a re-entry component. “ - Scott

Not only are the incarcerated men and women in Louisiana prisons having their ADA rights violated, the state of Louisiana also uses program "interpreters" to interpret for returned citizens that have stipulated classes through the use of Polycom video conferencing as VRI.

“The Department of Corrections tells people they have certified Interpreters.” (because of consulting services by Daniel) Scott clarifies that what they truly have “are people who’ve taken the EIPA and scored over a 3.0 and have passed the written EIPA test.” - Scott

"SLSI (Daniel) has advised the Dept of Corrections that because the Louisiana Dept of Education considers a score of a 3.0 or better on the EIPA skill enough to work with Deaf children, it should be ok enough to interpret for Deaf in prison. While I believe there’s a valid point here, neither should be the case! These men/women are not certified, they’ve worked hard enough to pass the written test and score above a 3.0 on the performance assessment. " - Scott

Scott would like to make known that he wholeheartedly believes incarcerated people and returned individuals (folks who’ve been released) are everyday people and should be treated as such! They do not deserve to be demonized by the community for past mistakes and information they have been taught while incarcerated.

I don’t want people to think I’m throwing shade on the hearing signers in the prison. They are my friends and I have MUCH love for them! Let’s not discount the FACT that they’ve worked hard to learn ASL and pass tests and take assessments! My point is that they are being used incorrectly. The Dept of Corrections is being misled. It’s Time to put an end to the injustice of Deaf in Prison. Let me also be clear that this is a National problem. For more information about the plight of Deaf in prison go to HEARD.

It is important to Scott that this point is made:  Language acquisition in prisons is a tool that many inmates utilize especially when they need a new skill, however, being exploited by the state to violate somebody else' basic rights to access communication does not mean they should be frowned upon by people.  Everybody makes mistakes but that doesn't mean they can't be a tool for the community when they get out after learning basic language acquisition.  Not all inmates that become returned citizens are unethical, do not feel the need to run and hide from them.