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Department of Corrections to settle in case alleging violations of Americans with Disabilities Act

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The Michigan Department of Corrections is settling a lawsuit brought by a group representing roughly 200 inmates who are deaf and hard of hearing.

The class action suit argued that the department was violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by not adequately meeting the needs of its deaf inmates.

Chris Davis is an attorney with the Michigan Protection and Advocacy Service, which represented the plaintiffs. He said prisoners could receive discipline because they weren’t properly accommodated.

“If they aren’t able to attend a required class because they don’t have an interpreter for it they could be denied parole.”

Mark Cody is also with Michigan Protection and Advocacy Service. He said prison is inherently isolating. 

“But if you have an individual who can’t communicate with fellow inmates or people who are around them then it’s an especially isolating life that people are leading. This is going to provide a significant improvement in the lives of inmates who are deaf or hard of hearing.”

Under the settlement, according to Cody and Davis, the department will need to provide American Sign Language interpreters for required hearings, classes, therapy, and religious services, among other accommodations.

Chris Gautz is with the Michigan Department of Corrections. He declined to comment on the settlement directly.

“I think, just in general, we look at each separately and provide reasonable accommodations under the law. The law says we have to provide reasonable accommodations and we work as best we can to fulfill those needs.”

The settlement is scheduled to receive final approval before a judge on March 21st.