The Uptown People’s Law Center is the true watch dog for prisons and prisoners in Illinois. It does far more than watch and report; the Center has organized large law firms to participate with it in important class court actions dealing with health care, excessive use of solitary confinement, the horrendous Supermax prison in Tamms and aiding prisoners with disability challenges as described in this update.

Attorney Alan Mills, the Executive Director and General Counsel of the Center is the co-presenter in the seminars presented by James Chapman, the President of the Changing Minds Campaign, to the lawyers the Federal Courts appoint to represent prisoners who have filed, on their own, civil rights cases dealing with conditions of confinement; and helps Mr. Chapman in his consultations with lawyers appointed these cases. Below we’ve included the update from the Center.

Deaf and hard of hearing lawsuit update from Uptown People’s Law Center
Class status granted, IDOC’s requests to throw out case denied

Illinois Dept. of Corrections routinely refuses to provide American Sign Language interpreters and other forms of assisted communication. Without these accommodations, Deaf and hard of hearing prisoners are endangered and deprived of meaningful access to healthcare, religious services, educational and vocational programs, library services, disciplinary proceedings, grievances, and more. Sometimes prisoners are even punished for not following directions, when they actually didn’t hear the directions being given.
That’s why we, along with Winston & Strawn LLP, Equip for Equality, and the National Association of the Deaf, filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of all Deaf and hard of hearing prisoners in Illinois. Last week, a federal judge granted the case class action status.

IDOC requested summary judgment, saying there wasn’t enough evidence to support our claim. However, the judge denied that, and held that there was substantial evidence that IDOC had acted illegally under the Americans with Disabilities Act, among other federal laws, as well as evidence of violations of the U.S. Constitution related to the free exercise of religion, due process, and cruel and unusual punishment.

We are very glad that the court recognized the terrible mistreatment of people who are deaf and hard of hearing in Illinois’ prisons. The fact that IDOC continues its refusal to follow the law and provide accommodations to this group of prisoners should appall every resident of Illinois. To deny someone medical treatment, or to discipline them, because prison officials cannot effectively communicate with them, is unconstitutional, illegal, and morally unacceptable.