- Associated Press - Sunday, September 21, 2014

SALEM, Ore. (AP) - National advocacy groups for deaf people are demanding that the Oregon Department of Corrections stop using fellow inmates as interpreters.

Using inmates as American Sign Language interpreters violates federal law and raises issues over “confidentiality, impartiality and conflicts of interest,” the National Association of the Deaf, Helping Educate to Advance the Rights of the Deaf and the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf said in a letter to state corrections director Colette Peters.

The letter came in response to a corrections newsletter that advertised for inmate interpreters, the Statesman-Journal reported (https://is.gd/DeoPzN).

The advertisement said candidates would be tested on their sign language competency and that their services could be used during events, educational programs and staff-inmate interactions.

The groups said deaf inmates have a right to qualified and certified interpreters. They also said that inmates can “never” be qualified interpreters and they are concerned about the effectiveness of the DOC’s sign language assessment.

“Deaf prisoners have been assaulted by prisoners for reporting that inmate interpreters are not qualified,” the groups’ letter said. “Yet other deaf prisoners report being afraid that if they report unqualified inmate interpreters, then they will be punished by the withholding of any interpreter or by retaliation.”

There are 170 deaf and hearing-impaired inmates in state custody, or about 1 percent of the population of about 14,600 inmates, corrections spokeswoman Betty Bernt said. The state doesn’t track how many are being used as interpreters, she said.

Inmate interpreters are not used during medical appointments of a “substantive nature,” mental health appointments, disciplinary hearings, counselor reviews or intakes where custody and corrections plans are being decided and work program or education interviews, Bernt told the newspaper.

“All deaf and hard of hearing individuals have a right to qualified and certified interpreters,” Shane Feldman, executive director of Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, said in a statement.

The Oregon Association of the Deaf and the Oregon chapter of RID also issued statements, demanding improved accommodations for deaf inmates.

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Information from: Statesman Journal, https://www.statesmanjournal.com

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