SRV In the News: Disabled inmates denied crucial access, judge says

This article from the San Francisco Chronicle, details the trouble that inmates of county jails in California have had in gaining access to basic aids for their physical impairments. According to the district judge interviewed in the article, prisoners have been denied access to canes, wheelchairs, sign language interpreters and telephone-assistance devices. The judge claims that prisoners “crawled or limped in pain to hearings and meetings in county jails”.

Marc has previously posted on the theme of prisons (here and here), so I will only briefly touch on some of the issues in this article.

Firstly, it appears that because of their devalued status, the inmates of county jails in California receive abusive treatment from jail officials. This touches on the issue of heightened vulnerability that I’ve written about several times (including here). While being a prisoner or having physical impairments are by themselves devaluing, both conditions together leaves one even more susceptible to wounding and devaluation.

Secondly, being at a heightened vulnerability for wounding and devaluation places one dangerously at risk of falling into a negative role circularity, a phenomenon discussed in the theme of SRV, referred to as “The Power of Role Expectancies and Role Circularity in Deviancy-Making and Deviancy-Unmaking” (Wolfensberger, 1998). Here we can already see the slide into devalued roles such as criminal, prison inmate, and disabled person. Along with a slide into devalued roles, prison is also a place where most of one’s previous valued roles can be stripped (i.e. role destruction), making role descent (as opposed to role ascent) even more likely.

Below are several other stories that highlight the vulnerability of disabled prisoners.

From Australia: Disabled man in jail isolation

From British Columbia: Justice system struggles to deal with fetal alcohol disorder

From Oregon: State sued over prisoner’s death

Steve Tiffany

Posted on January 23, 2012 at 7:29 pm by stevetiff · Permalink
In: Uncategorized · Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

3 Responses

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  1. Written by Kelly Rebert
    on February 20, 2012 at 8:00 pm
    Reply · Permalink

    When you think about prisoners most people do tend to automatically form negative opinions about them because of their labeled term of “prisoner”. People don’t usually look at these people in jail as anything but a prisoner which I find sad in some cases. Everybody makes mistakes in their lives and I feel that for the people in prison that have committed minor crimes and have remorse for what they did shouldn’t be look at so negatively. The heartbreaking thing is that even if they do feel bad they are automatically grouped into the category of a bad person and devalued in the eyes of others because of what they have done. Prisoners whether they have physical impairments or not are more prone to being wounded and devalued in and out of jail. It’s almost like if you go to jail you are pinned negatively in society for life and really don’t have a chance at getting your whole positive identity back. The SRV theme of Role Expectancies and Role Circularity in Deviancy-Making (Wolfensberger, 1998) explains the reasoning behind how society doesn’t provide prisoners with a second chance of a positive identity. When a prisoner leaves jail there is always a part of them that will remain part prisoner because society tends to treat them the way they think a prisoner should be treated. When society treats the “ex” prisoner this way they are bound to play the devalued role society gives them. I’ve heard before how some people get a chance to leave jail and be given a complete new identity. Unfortunately this I feel is one of the only ways that a prisoner can truly and fully be treated like a positive human being and not be devalued because of their previous jail time.

  2. Written by Kelly Rebert
    on February 20, 2012 at 8:02 pm
    Reply · Permalink

    Wolfensberger, W. (1998). A Brief Introduction to Social Role Valorization; A high—order concept or addressing the plight of societally devalued people, and for structuring human services (3rded.). Syracuse, NY; Training Institute for Human service Planning, Leadership & 3 Change Agentry (Syracuse University).

  3. Written by Robin Anderson
    on June 3, 2012 at 3:48 pm
    Reply · Permalink

    Really?!? Treating people with disabilities like this just because they are in jail is no better than how people in mental institutions were treated. All I envisioned when reading this was the video of people at Pennhurst. Denying anyone of basic medical interventions in cruel. You are not only devaluing their status as a human being, but also devaluing their ability to function socially. The prisoners are also being denied the ability to show personal competence. Things are hard enough in a jail setting, do we really need to deny prisoners with disabilities practical tools? The judge was absolutely correct in taking action against the prison.

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