Silent Punishment: The Experiences of d/Deaf Prisoners

Kelly, Laura (2017) Silent Punishment: The Experiences of d/Deaf Prisoners. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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While studies about minority group prisoners are becoming more commonplace in prison research, knowledge about the experiences of hard of hearing (HoH) and d/Deaf prisoners remains limited. A primary aim of this thesis is to provide a more comprehensive understanding about the lives of HoH/d/Deaf people in prisons throughout England and Wales than what is already available, and to explore existing claims that d/Deaf prisoners suffer disproportionately whilst in custody. In order to do this a qualitative methodology is adopted, with semi-structured interviews being carried out with HoH, severely deaf and profoundly Deaf prisoners, and staff members across seven prisons in England, and observations being made at each establishment.
This thesis shows that in an environment like prison, those who are seen as ‘different’ often become institutionally deficient. While this could apply to many different subsections of prison populations, findings presented throughout show that the difference of d/Deafness is unique because sound rules in prison, with penal regimes being reliant on sound in order to run. However, d/Deafness, it is shown, is not merely a lack of hearing, and on the contrary there are different levels and layers of d/Deafness. Consequently, how a d/Deaf person experiences prison depends strongly on the way in which they identify with their d/Deafness and the way their d/Deafness is viewed by the prison. Despite such differences, findings suggest that there is little room for either deafness or Deafness in prison, with HoH/deaf and particularly Deaf prisoners often experiencing the pains of imprisonment more severely than their hearing peers as a result the Prison Service's inability to accommodate such difference.
This thesis makes an original and significant contribution to existing knowledge for a myriad of reasons. Firstly, it fuses together the fields of Deaf Studies and prison studies in a way that has not been done before, and considers d/Deafness on both an audiological and cultural level. In doing this, it notes the similarities and differences between the experiences of those who are HoH, those who are severely deaf, and those who are culturally and linguistically Deaf; giving meaningful consideration to the role of imported identity in prison. Secondly, excluding small-scale unpublished undergraduate dissertations, it is the first empirical study about d/Deaf prisoners in England and Wales to carry out face-to-face interviews with these prisoners. Finally, as the most in-depth research yet to be carried out about HoH/d/Deaf prisoners in England and Wales, this thesis provides a level of insight which has not been available previously.

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