Media Contact

ACLU: Aaron Madrid Aksoz, [email protected]
ACLU of Georgia: Dorrie Toney, [email protected]

May 2, 2024

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ATLANTA — Deaf and hard of hearing individuals on parole and probation in Georgia have successfully settled a lawsuit challenging the Georgia Department of Community Supervision’s (GDCS) failure to provide them with accessible communication.

Under the terms of the settlement, GDCS has agreed to:

  • Assess the communication needs of each Deaf and hard of hearing person when they start probation or parole.
  • Create communication plans, which can include aids like sign language interpreters or real-time captioning. 
  • Develop policies and training to make sure that the communication aids are being used effectively in the field, and that effective alternatives are used if any technical problems arise. 

GDCS will also provide deaf interpreters for deaf and hard of hearing individuals who have such a need identified in their communication plan. Deaf interpreters are sign language interpreters who are deaf and serve as interpreting specialists for deaf individuals who cannot be effectively accommodated by typical sign language interpreters. 

“Going from prison to parole was really hard. The parole system has many complicated rules I'm supposed to follow, but they didn't bring in any interpreters so I could understand what they were telling me. I need a team of hearing and deaf interpreters to fully understand something as complex as parole rules,” said plaintiff Brandon Cobb. “They expect me to follow rules they didn't explain to me, and I had to sign forms that I couldn't understand. I found out later those forms were waiving many of my rights. I wound up getting put back in prison because of all this. I'm glad this settlement will help other deaf or hard of hearing people get better communication and not have the same problems I did.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), ACLU of Georgia, the National Association of the Deaf, the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, and Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP represent a class of deaf and hard of hearing individuals under GDCS supervision in the case, Cobb v. Georgia Department of Community Supervision.

“No one in Georgia should have to face the risk of unknowingly violating terms of supervision and losing their freedom because they struggle to communicate with their parole or probation officer or to understand complicated supervision conditions,” said Brian Dimmick, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Disability Rights Program. “This settlement sets a robust standard for communication access that protects the rights of Deaf and hard of hearing people. It should serve as a model for reform of supervision systems nationwide.”

In our complaint, we detailed how the department’s failure to provide accommodations that facilitate effective communication has often led to deaf and hard of hearing class members’ incorrect understanding of the conditions and requirements of their probation and parole, with potentially disastrous consequences. 

“This settlement is a tremendous win for our clients and others on supervision who faced the danger of incarceration and were limited in their ability to secure employment, maintain their health, and fulfill their basic needs,” said West Resendes, staff attorney with the ACLU's Disability Rights Program. “Supervision officers often did not communicate with their deaf and hard of hearing supervisees in an accessible manner or make supervision documents accessible to them, putting deaf and hard of hearing people at risk of violating supervision terms and conditions that they are not even aware of.”

This agreement includes a four-year monitoring period in which plaintiffs’ counsel will receive documents from GDCS and ensure that GDCS is complying with the terms of the agreement. 

Additional comments can be attributed as noted:

“This Settlement is a significant step forward for deaf and hard of hearing individuals on probation and parole in Georgia who have often experienced systemic communication failures that have profound impact on their lives,” said Stephanna Szotkowski, a senior associate at Arnold & Porter. “We are hopeful that the policies and procedures for supervision outlined in the Settlement will help ensure GDCS and individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing are able to communicate effectively going forward.”

Brittany Shrader, a senior attorney at the National Association for the Deaf, added: “Within the current structure of the criminal legal system, successful participation in and completion of parole or probation is necessary to ensure a seamless transition outside of incarceration; but without communication access, deaf and hard of hearing people are forced into a vicious cycle of undeserved punishment. We are hopeful that this settlement agreement will be a major step toward breaking that cycle and allowing deaf and hard of hearing people an equal opportunity to transition into and remain in the community.”

The settlement agreement is available here:

ASL and plain-language versions of the settlement agreement are available here:

This statement is available here:

An ASL version of this statement is available here:

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About the ACLU

For more than 100 years, the ACLU has worked in courts, legislatures, and communities to protect the constitutional rights of all people. With a nationwide network of offices and millions of members and supporters, the ACLU takes on the toughest civil liberties fights in pursuit of liberty and justice for all.

About the ACLU of Georgia

The ACLU of Georgia enhances and defends the civil liberties and rights of all Georgians through legal action, legislative and community advocacy, and civic education and engagement. We are an inclusive, nonpartisan, and statewide organization powered by our members, donors and active volunteers.

About Arnold & Porter

Arnold & Porter is a law firm with a long history of fighting for equal access to justice through its pro bono efforts. In recent years, Arnold & Porter has represented deaf clients seeking access to legally required accommodations in a variety of contexts including federal prison, homeless shelters, and White House press briefings. Arnold & Porter combines sophisticated regulatory, litigation, and transactional capabilities to resolve clients’ most complex issues. With over 1,000 lawyers practicing in 15 offices worldwide, we offer deep industry experience and an integrated approach that spans more than 40 practice areas. Through multidisciplinary collaboration and focused industry experience, we provide innovative and effective solutions to mitigate risks, address challenges, and achieve successful outcomes.

About the NAD

The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) is the nation’s premier civil rights organization of, by, and for Deaf, DeafBlind, DeafDisabled, Hard of Hearing, and Late-Deafened people in the United States. The NAD represents the estimated 48 million Americans of these communities, and is based in Silver Spring, Maryland.