Class Action Lawsuit Filed Against Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections

BATON ROUGE, La. – On August 16th, the Advocacy Center, Proskauer Rose LLP and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of a class of probationers and parolees who are deaf or hard of hearing against the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections (“LDPSC”) and its Secretary, James LeBlanc, alleging violations of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

The LDPSC routinely denies qualified interpreters and other effective auxiliary aids to probationers and parolees who are deaf or hard of hearing during required classes and meetings with probation and parole officers.  Instead, the LDPSC frequently, and unlawfully, relies on prisoners and family members to try to interpret for them, requires them to try to communicate verbally or in writing, and, even has insisted that they pay for their own interpreters.

“Individuals who require sign language interpreters to communicate effectively should be afforded the same opportunity as everyone else to participate in rehabilitation programs and to successfully complete probation or parole.  They should not be forced to face a harsher punishment just because they are deaf,” said Nell Hahn, Director of Litigation at the Advocacy Center.

The three men named in the lawsuit are deaf or have very limited hearing.  All use American Sign Language as their primary language and have difficulty understanding spoken or written English. The men repeatedly told their parole officers that they could not understand and requested interpreters for meetings and classes, but the LDPSC failed to provide them with effective assistance.

“This case is about the importance of ensuring access to justice for everyone, especially the most vulnerable and forgotten.  No one and no institution is above the law,” said Proskauer partner Russell Hirschhorn, who is advising along with associate Madeline Rea as lead counsel for plaintiffs.

“Our clients are forced to navigate a complex process that may determine their very liberty without the opportunity to understand or to meaningfully participate.  This is contrary to the most fundamental notions of due process, equal justice and fairness.  Among the cases that we have litigated around the country involving deaf prisoners, this practice stands out,” said Jonathan M. Smith, Executive Director of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs.

In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs are requesting that the LDPSC provide interpreters and otherwise ensure that deaf and hard of hearing probationers and parolees are able to communicate effectively; that it train parole and probation officers about issues that impact these individuals; and that it retain an independent monitor to measure compliance.

A copy of the complaint is available here.

Media Contacts:
Nell Hahn (337) 237-7380, ext. 311
Russell L. Hirschhorn (212) 969-3286
Madeline C. Rea (504) 310-2037
Da’aga Hill Bowman (202) 319-1000

About the Advocacy Center: The Advocacy Center is a statewide non-profit organization dedicated to assisting people with disabilities and seniors in Louisiana to achieve maximum potential and independence.  The Advocacy Center employs 50 people statewide who assist people to achieve employment, education, housing, and health care goals.www.advocacyla.org

About Proskauer Rose LLP: Proskauer is a leading international law firm with offices in major financial business centers in Asia, Europe, and North and South America.  Proskauer has a longstanding commitment to providing legal services and aid to the disadvantaged and poor. It is deeply ingrained in our culture and in everything we do. We are proud to partner with organizations within our communities to make a difference for those who truly need help.  Additional information about the firm can be found at www.proskauer.com

Copyright © 2008-2017 Washington Lawyers' Committee