Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Posts Tagged ‘pretrial detention

Los Angeles County Men’s Central Jail May Close (And a Footnote in Praise of Technocrats)

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Earlier this week Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca announced plans to shut down L.A.’s notorious Men’s Central Jail. This is big news: L.A. County’s jails comprise not just the largest and most violent jail system in the nation, but also, by default, one of the nation’s largest mental health care providers. Over the years I have been writing this blog, I’ve often noted stories of violence and other problems in the L.A. County jails. So, planning to shutter the largest of those troubled facilities — Men’s Central, which houses as many as 5,000 inmates on any given day — is a noteworthy reform. (Of course, questions remain about whether/how the plans will be implemented.)

How, you might ask, can L.A. County do this — especially at a time when California’s realignment policy is shifting more responsibility to the county jails? The ACLU of Southern California, which has been suing L.A. County over its dismal jail conditions for years, explains:

[A] report [PDF here], by nationally-renowned corrections expert James Austin and based on data provided by Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, finds that Men’s Central Jail can be shuttered by safely releasing 3,000 low-risk, non-violent pre-trial and sentenced inmates into community-based supervision and education programs that will curb recidivism, and by increasing the capacity of the county-wide jail system by 2,000 beds through a repurposing of existing facilities.

James Austin may be familiar to readers of this blog, because he also provided the data crunching needed for Mississippi to shut down its horrific solitary confinement wing, “Unit 32“. I noted previously that he was also working with New Orleans to downsize its jails, though it appears his recommendations there have not been implemented. His firm has also consulted for a number of states and the federal Bureau of Justice Assistance. Consultants, advisers, policy analysts don’t have the flashiest jobs, and unlike celebrity activists and high-profile lawyers rarely become household names, but work like Austin’s is what will make it possible for local and state governments to dismantle mass incarceration — and, ideally, to do so in a way that avoids the Pyrrhic victories that Bob Weisberg and Joan Petersilia have warned of.

Supreme Court Upholds Jailhouse Strip Searches, Even for Traffic Infractions

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A 5-4 majority of the Supreme Court has ruled that jails may constitutionally strip-search anyone admitted to the jail, no matter how minor the reason they’re in jail. Writing in dissent, Justice Breyer observed that “the harm to privacy interests would seem particularly acute where the person searched may well have no expectation of being subject to such a search, say, because she had simply received a traffic ticket for failing to buckle a seatbelt…”

Actually, in the case at issue in this decision, the subject of the strip-search was erroneously arrested for something that isn’t even a crime: Albert Florence was arrested for not paying a fine that in fact he had paid, and in any event not paying a fine is not a crime under New Jersey law, it’s a civil infraction. As I noted previously about this case:

This line of cases should be extraordinarily troubling for civil libertarians. When you combine cases finding no Fourth Amendment violation when the police arrest and detain you even for very minor offenses — even offenses that aren’t actually arrestable offenses under state law — with cases finding no Fourth Amendment violation when jail guards strip-search you after booking on a minor offense, basically we’re giving the police a green card to find any pretext to have anyone they don’t like arrested, jailed, and strip-searched. Read the Atwater dissent, Part II, if you don’t think this could be a real problem.

I haven’t yet had time to read the full SCOTUS opinions, so perhaps I’ll have additional thoughts later, but you can find all the opinions and other materials here at SCOTUSblog.

Some Twitter reactions:

Written by sara

April 2, 2012 at 11:16 am

Los Angeles County Sued Over Violence, Abuse in Jails

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“Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca and his top commanders condoned a longstanding, widespread pattern of violence by deputies against inmates in the county jails,” said the ACLU yesterday, announcing a federal class-action lawsuit. The named plaintiffs, Alex Rosas and Jonathan Goodwin, claim that they were severely beaten by sheriff’s deputies while they were awaiting trial in the jail.

The ACLU of Southern California has long been litigating L.A. jail conditions and has served as court-appointed monitor of the jail — the nation’s largest — since 1985. The new lawsuit, however, includes new first-hand eyewitness accounts from chaplains and other observers of violence. The ACLU has put together a timeline of alleged incidents of abuse; you can also read the full complaint here.

The L.A. Times reports:

“Like members of street gangs, these deputies sport tattoos to signal their gang membership,” the ACLU alleges. “They beat up inmates to gain prestige among their peers, and ‘earn their ink’ by breaking inmates’ bones.”

In an interview with The Times, a recently retired jails commander also said that deputies had formed cliques inside Men’s Central Jail and that some guards earned respect from veteran members of those cliques by using excessive force.

Rikers Island and Irene

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A flurry of concern on Twitter yesterday & today about Bloomberg’s announcement that Rikers Island would not be evacuated as Hurricane Irene headed towards NYC. [Full story after the jump.] Read the rest of this entry »

SCOTUS Might Take Case on Jailhouse Strip Searches

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Adam Liptak noted earlier this week that the Supreme Court appears likely to grant cert in Florence v. County of Burlington, in which a New Jersey man was arrested, detained for over a week, and repeatedly strip-searched for a supposedly unpaid fine. (Failure to pay a fine is not a crime under New Jersey law — it’s a civil offense — and in any event, the fine actually had been paid.) More info on Florence here at SCOTUSblog. Liptak points to cases out of Atlanta, San Francisco, Philadelphia upholding jailhouse strip searches after any arrest, no matter how minor the charges. So for readers who want more background, I thought I’d note my earlier coverage of some of those earlier opinions. Here are two posts from the archives:

This line of cases should be extraordinarily troubling for civil libertarians. When you combine cases finding no Fourth Amendment violation when the police arrest and detain you even for very minor offenses — even offenses that aren’t actually arrestable offenses under state law — with cases finding no Fourth Amendment violation when jail guards strip-search you after booking on a minor offense, basically we’re giving the police a green card to find any pretext to have anyone they don’t like arrested, jailed, and strip-searched. Read the Atwater dissent, Part II, if you don’t think this could be a real problem.

Written by sara

March 11, 2011 at 11:32 am

Fifth Circuit Upholds Jury Verdict for Man Who Contracted MRSA and Lost an Eye in Dallas County Jail

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Mark Duvall was only in jail for 15 days, but that was long enough to contract the staph infection that would leave him blind in one eye. From the Fifth Circuit’s opinion (PDF) upholding a jury verdict in his favor:

The jury heard evidence that the Jail experienced around 200 infections per month. Indeed, record evidence demonstrates that the infection rate of MRSA in the Jail was close to 20 percent, and that most jails in 2003 would have one or two cases per month, resulting in an infection rate of one or two percent. It would be reasonable to conclude that the infection rate in the Jail was ten to twenty times higher than in comparable jails. The record also establishes that the County’s awareness of the situation preceded Duvall’s confinement, and that there had been serious outbreaks of MRSA in the Jail for at least three years before Duvall’s arrival. (p. 5)

[The jury] heard evidence that the Sheriff and other jail officials had long known of the extensive MRSA problem yet had continued to house inmates in the face of the inadequately controlled staph contamination. Testimony was presented that it was feasible to control the outbreak through tracking, isolation, and improved hygiene practices, but that the County was not willing to take the necessary steps or spend the money to do so. (p. 6)

The jury’s $355,000 verdict can be downloaded here (PDF). As Grits noted in 2008, Dallas County has been slammed with multiple big-number jury verdicts in recent years — and no wonder: here’s a 2006 DOJ investigation (PDF) filled with troubling findings about inadequate medical screening and care in the Dallas County Jail complex. My advice to readers: Don’t get arrested in Dallas!

Dallas County is currently the site of a University of Chicago study on MRSA. Researchers there first got the idea to study jailhouse MRSA outbreaks when they noticed that staph infections were spreading from the Cook County Jail into the community:

Then in the mid-1990s, [Dr. Robert] Daum and other pediatricians at the U of C hospitals noticed a rising tide of MRSA cases in children who had no risk factors—they had not been recently hospitalized and had no chronic conditions. “That had never happened before,” Daum said. “People didn’t believe us.” …

“So we had to ask, ‘Why are we seeing it and they aren’t? What’s the difference between our kids and theirs?’” Daum said. Daum and his colleagues found that about 60 percent of their patients had close relatives or friends who had recently spent time in jail.

Written by sara

February 14, 2011 at 11:33 am

Concerns about (Lack of) Health Care in Texas County Jails

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Today’s New York Times has an article about health care in Texas county jails, leading off with the recent death of Amy Lynn Cowling, 33, a mother of three:*

Ms. Cowling was pulled over on Christmas Eve for speeding and arrested for outstanding warrants on minor charges. She was bipolar and methadone-dependent and took a raft of medications each day. For the five days she was in Gregg County Jail, Ms. Cowling and her family pleaded with officials to give her the medicines that sat in her purse in the jail’s storage room. They never did.

Ms. Cowling’s death is the most recent at Sheriff Maxey Cerliano’s Gregg County Jail in Longview. Since 2005, nine inmates have died there — most were attributed to health conditions like cancer, diabetes and stomach ulcers — far more than at other facilities its size. Bowie County Jail, in East Texas on the Arkansas border, reported five deaths in the same period, as did Brazoria County Jail, south of Houston on the Gulf Coast. In Williamson County in Central Texas near Austin, the jail reported just two deaths.

Interviews with prison experts and people with firsthand experience with the Gregg County lockup and its medical staff, as well as a review of scores of public documents, reveal a troubled local jail where staff turnover is high and inmates routinely complain about conditions. Criminal justice advocates say the situation in Gregg County is not unique; it is representative of systemic problems that plague local jails statewide.

* CORRECTION: This post has been corrected to reflect that Ms. Cowling had three children (not five as I erroneously stated initially).

Written by sara

February 13, 2011 at 8:48 am

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