It’s pretty hard for prisoners to call their loved ones left at home. But, the situation is even harder for deaf inmates due to the outdated TTY technology being used in most US prisons.
This is according to a recent article published in partnership between Wired and The Marshall Project.
Majority of prisons still use a 50-year old technology, the TTY or TDD (telecommunication device for the deaf)—a teletypewriter where users type their messages.
Outdated TTY messages are transmitted through telephone lines and are either read by a relay operator to a hearing person over the phone, or displayed on a screen at the top of another device.
What Do Deaf Inmates Think About Outdated TTY?
Helping Educate to Advance the Rights of Deaf (HEARD) has been receiving letters from deaf inmates regarding their communication dilemmas inside prisons.
In 2013, the nonprofit organization collected more than a hundred letters to submit to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Janet Lock, a deaf prisoner in Texas, wrote:
“The unit I am on is equipped with TTY phones, however calls are limited to 15 minutes, by the time the connection is made [plus] the time it would take for me to type and receive messages, using a TTY phone is counterproductive.”
The process of calling someone through outdated TTY is extremely slow. Callers need to be well-versed in written English and familiar with the system.
Prisoners also report that:
- Outdated TTY devices are often unavailable or broken.
- Calls are frequently garbled and easily interrupted.
- The relayed message is sometimes blocked or charged as a long-distance call even if it is not.
Deaf recipients must also have a TTY machine for them to answer the calls. Most deaf households, however, have already upgraded to videophones, which enable users to speak in sign language.
Why Not Install Videophones in Prisons?
Videophones are already installed in some prisons, but usually only after lengthy legal proceedings. Since 2010, eight states have faced lawsuits for lack of phone access for deaf inmates.
Cost and security issues are the two main factors as to why officials are wary of giving deaf inmates access to videophones.
Security, however, has not been a problem in Virginia. It started using videophones in 2011 and since then has not recorded any major security issues. In fact, the state has seen positive overall impact, says Barry Marano, the Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator for the Virginia Department of Corrections.
It’s All Up to Corrections Officials
“If we’re talking about affecting change for deaf and hard of hearing inmates, it’s all about the attitude of the correction officials. You can put in all the hardware you want, all the technology you want, but if correction officers and other prison employees don’t have the right attitude, then it doesn’t much matter.”