Former prisoner Michael Mickelson, 38, has filed a grievance against the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC), claiming that the system failed to accommodate his deafness for nearly a decade during his incarceration, says the West Coast Prison Justice Society, a non-profit organization in British Columbia.
Mickelson, who has been deaf from birth, communicates primarily in American Sign language (ASL) and only has a basic understanding of written English.
Mickelson is seeking mandatory policies at CSC to ensure that deaf offenders receive accommodation for their hearing loss and access to sign language interpreters. “I’d like to see change not just for me, but for other deaf people,” Mickelson said via an interpreter.
“I’ve never seen an improvement. I’ve seen it get worse. It’s enough. Something should be done.” He says he wants to ensure that no one else has to endure what he has been through.
Mickelson claims that his repeated requests for an ASL interpreter were turned down by CSC and alleges that the lack of interpreter services had negative repercussions such as:
- being sentenced to 92 days in solitary confinement in the last year alone
- Being denied the opportunity to participate in a rehabilitation program, resulting in the denial of his request for parole
- Being unable to contact family or his lawyer confidentially most of the time while in segregation
Mickelson claims that when he complained that he was experiencing unfair treatment and discrimination, a 2012 CSC report was filed that claimed that he was trying to “externalize blame.”
A 2008 CSC report says that Mickleson’s deafness “renders regular programming virtually ineffective, [requiring] special methods of intervention.” The report claimed that he was not ready for parole because he was unable to complete his Correctional Plan’s “regular programming.”
“Michael has struggled to defend himself against CSC accusations without an interpreter and been segregated to solitary confinement as a result,” said DJ Larkin of the West Coast Prison Justice Society, who represents Mickelson.
Larkin pointed to an occurrence last February when Mickelson tried to explain himself to another inmate through gestures during a disagreement. CSC documents indicate that their officials knew that Mickelson was just trying to communicate, but they still segregated him for using “movements that are intimidating to other inmates.”
“Solitary confinement conditions are hard on anyone,” stated Larkin, “But for Michael they are devastating. Michael cannot hear anything from other cells or CSC staff – he has almost no human contact at all. He could not call family or confidentially contact a lawyer for most of his time in segregation. Over the 2011 Christmas holiday he spent 34 days in solitary confinement before he was provided a single phone call to our office through an ASL interpreter.”
“I have been shocked at every turn to find that there is nothing in place for deaf prisoners,” Larkin said. “Based on information we have received through the access to information process, there is no national policy, strategy or resources to accommodate the communication needs of deaf prisoners. There are individual employees at CSC who care for Michael’s welfare, but the lack of resources or policy to protect deaf prisoners has left those employees without any real options to help him.”
CSC policy states that correctional facilities must “ensure offenders with disabilities are treated equitably” in accordance with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. According to a Supreme Court of Canada ruling in the case of Eldridge v. British Columbia (Attorney General), government departments have a duty to provide accommodation for deaf persons accessing their services when needed, such as sign language interpreters.