Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Posts Tagged ‘pretrial detention

ACLU Files Motion for Protective Order for L.A. County Jail Inmates

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The ACLU of Southern California, which has long been involved in litigation over conditions in the Los Angeles County Jail, filed a motion earlier this week in federal court seeking a protective order for inmates who report grievances. The motion alleges a pattern of violent retaliation by prison guards against these inmates, ranging from beatings and stompings to broken bones.

L.A. sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore says the ACLU is exaggerating:

“What the ACLU is characterizing does not occur in men’s central jail,” Whitmore said. “The judge that oversees it toured the jail recently without condemnation.”

Whitmore said “regrettably from time to time there are physical altercations,” but added that every use of force is thoroughly investigated and said the Office of Independent Review, which monitors the department, called the jail system the most transparent in the nation.

The L.A. County jail system is the largest in the nation, with some 20,000 inmates. Men’s Central Jail, which is the facility at issue in the protective order motion, holds about 4,500 men, of which about 80% are pretrial detainees. Last week two inmates committed suicide in the facility.

Related news: L.A. Sheriff Lee Baca is calling for an expansion of the ICE Secure Communities program.

Written by sara

October 12, 2010 at 12:23 pm

Growing Trend: Jails Around the Country Adopting Postcard-only Policies

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I’ve noted a couple of lawsuits against jails that have adopted postcard-only policies for inmate correspondence. The Los Angeles Times reports that this is a nationwide trend that’s now spread from Joe Arpaio’s Maricopa County jails to at least seven states, including most recently, California’s Ventura County jail:

[Ventura County jail official Brent] Morris said that jail officials followed the emerging policy elsewhere through professional associations. They saw it as a way of both cutting security risks and freeing up staff. Two employees now spend most of their shifts sorting through mail flowing to and from 1,500 inmates.

“When you balance it with the challenge of budget and staffing, it seemed like a prudent thing to institute,” he said.

But for Los Angeles County, the tradeoff isn’t worth it, said Steve Whitmore, a spokesman for the Sheriff’s Department.

“We believe the mail coming to inmates is as important as their phone calls,” he said. “If we were to limit the mail, we believe we would see a rise in mental challenges, maybe even violence.”

UPDATE: Via Twitter, here’s a response from Just Detention International, which advocates for prison rape victims: “this could be problematic for organizations like JDI. We send important packets 2 survivors daily.”

ACLU Sues (Another) Colorado Jail over Postcard-only Policy

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Back in August, the ACLU of Colorado filed suit against the Boulder County Jail over its postcard-only policy for inmates. This week, the same organization announced a second lawsuit against the El Paso County Jail in Colorado Springs over a similar policy. While the Boulder sheriff defended his policy on safety grounds — as a response to an incident in which two inmates sent letters to area children — the El Paso sheriff has appealed to more of a cost-benefit explanation. From the Gazette:

The policy, implemented last month, says prisoners can only use the small cards sold for 50 cents by the jail. [Sheriff Terry] Maketa has described the new policy as a money-saving move that makes the overloaded jail mail room more efficient.

It also makes it easier for jailers to screen inmate mail for illegal plots, including escape plans. Inmate letters dealing with legal matters are still allowed.

Ultimately, both policies might be traced to the example of neighboring Arizona, and specifically to Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was among the first sheriffs in the country to require jail inmates to use postcards — namely, postcards bearing his picture. Whatever the motivation, jails in several states have recently issued postcard-only policies, including Florida (as I noted here), Oregon, and most recently, Washington State (as noted in this editorial, praising the change, from Spokane’s local newspaper).

Written by sara

September 15, 2010 at 7:17 am

Widespread Torture and Abuse in Iraqi Prison System

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USA Today summarizes the findings of a new Amnesty International report:

About 30,000 detainees are currently in Iraqi custody, although the exact number has not been released, the report stated. Prisoners are often housed in crowded conditions, leading to health problems, and they sometimes go years without seeing the inside of a courtroom, Amnesty said. …

Amnesty International researchers detailed a litany of abuse, including suspending people by their limbs, beating them with cables and pipes, removing toenails with pliers and piercing the body with drills.

Hundreds of people — including some facing the death penalty — have been convicted based on confessions extracted through torture, the report said.

The vast majority of the detainees are Sunnis suspected of helping the insurgency; hundreds are Shiites accused of being part of the Mahdi Army, an outlawed militia run by anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who has fought U.S. and Iraqi security forces.

Last month, the U.S. military released thousands of its own prisoners into Iraqi custody (i.e., into these conditions), completing the near-total handover of prison responsibilities to the Iraqi government. However, Reuters reports that U.S. wardens continue to guard about 200 detainees, “including al Qaeda militants and henchmen of ousted dictator Saddam Hussein.”

Written by sara

September 13, 2010 at 7:40 am

Attention Journalists, Sociologists, Grad Students, etc.: Spotlight Needed on the Nation’s Local Jails

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Rikers Island, America's largest psychiatric facility (photo: Paul Lowry)

Although this blog is titled Prison Law Blog, I’m starting to wonder if I shouldn’t put jail into the title somewhere. I’ve blogged before about how Rikers Island has become America’s largest mental health facility (more here), and about the myriad problems that plague the nation’s overcrowded, underfunded local jails. In the new Daedalus issue on mass incarceration that I mentioned last week, Loic Wacquant argues that students of the American criminal justice system would do well to turn their focus on jails:

As a result of intensified policing coupled with a rising propensity to confine miscreants, American jails have become gargantuan operations processing a dozen million bodies each year nationwide, as well as huge drains on the budgets of counties and pivotal institutions in the lives of the (sub)proletariat of the big cities. Indeed, because they treat vastly more people than do prisons, under conditions that are more chaotic due to high turnover, endemic overcrowding, population heterogeneity, and the administrative shift to bare-bones managerialism (the two top priorities of jail wardens are to minimize violent incidents and to hold down staff overtime), jails create more social disruption and family turmoil at the bottom of the urban order than do prisons. Yet they have remained largely under the radar of researchers and policy analysts alike.

Wacquant’s comments ring especially true with respect to places like New Orleans that have relied heavily on detention as both a crime control strategy for serious crimes (though often without charges ever being filed) and a revenue generation strategy for minor offenses, as described in this recent Crime Report interview: Read the rest of this entry »

Fifth Circuit: Hurricane Trumps a Never-charged Arrestee’s Fourteenth Amendment Claim

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Above: James Terry tells his story

The criminal justice system in New Orleans had long been a rickety, unwieldy, cobbled-together thing. Under the weight of Hurricane Katrina, it totally collapsed. As two New Orleans lawyers recalled a year later: Read the rest of this entry »

The New York Times Swings at the L.A. County Justice System—and Whiffs

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I get it, even the New York Times needs page views now and then; and I know, Friday evenings aren’t the height of the news cycle. But even still, this is front page news (ok, well, homepage news)?

Meanwhile, I clicked on the NYT topic archive for “Los Angeles, Calif.” going back as far as October 2009 and found not a single article in that time span on the Los Angeles County criminal justice system’s actual problems. From a May 2010 ACLU report: Read the rest of this entry »

The Mental Health Crisis in America’s Jails, Part II

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If you have any doubt about the inverse relationship between the availability of mental health treatment and the population of our county jails, check out this heartbreaking Sacramento Bee article about a woman who, quite literally, wound up in jail because of budget cuts to her local mental health treatment providers. In light of this news, and following up on yesterday’s post, I thought I’d note this excellent post over at Grits for Breakfast detailing a recent tour of the massive Harris County Jail in Houston. The Harris County Sheriff is seeking funding to build a new 1,200-bed mental health ward. The need for some sort of mental health treatment is there — to give just one statistic, of the Harris County jail population of about 8,800 inmates, some 2,500 are on some form of psychotropic meds. But Grits is skeptical of the expansion plan:

There are just a few thousand people cycling in and out of the jail – many of them mentally ill, homeless, addicted, or with other major barriers to successful rehabilitation – who are primarily responsible for the demand for increased capacity. These folks generate high per-person costs over time but as a matter of policy (a de facto if not an intentional one), Harris County is spending money on them at the jail instead of seeking community-based alternatives.

How much cheaper would it be to focus on reducing the number of visits and lengths of stay by frequent flyers than to simply build more capacity to accommodate a dysfunctional system?

These insightful comments reminded me of a New Yorker article by Malcolm Gladwell from a few years back about the problem of chronic homelessness. The article’s title, “Million-Dollar Murray,” refers to a homeless gentleman who — between jail visits and emergency room stays — cost the city of Reno and the state of Nevada about a million dollars over a ten-year period. Unfortunately, the full text is behind a paywall, but here’s a snippet: Read the rest of this entry »

Pinellas County, Florida, Reduces Reliance on Bail and Jail

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photo by ilmungo (click photo for flickr original)

A headline in today’s St. Petersburg Times paints a frightening picture of the Pinellas County criminal justice system: “Thousands of Pinellas jail inmates released without a judge ever setting bail.” But the facts in the article paint quite a different picture: a seemingly well-functioning criminal justice system in which people arrested for low-level crimes and not assessed to be a safety or flight risk — the opening anecdote describes a gentleman arrested for cocaine possession — are spared the indignity of checking into jail (complete with strip search) and the hardship of coming up with a sizable (and nonrefundable) chunk of change for a bail bondsman. (I would be curious to hear from any readers with firsthand experience with the Pinellas County system as to which picture is more accurate.)

The article reports that the Pinellas County sheriff’s department makes extensive use of its authority to “R.O.R.” arrestees (or “release on own recognizance,” with an affidavit promising to appear in court), pursuant to a 2007 administrative order by Chief Deputy Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. Of course, criteria such as community ties and severity of past offenses still factor into the decision whether to require bail. The article really buries the lede, because the headline notwithstanding, so far the results of Gualtieri’s policy don’t seem too bad:

The Pinellas Sheriff’s Office saved at least $126 per person, the cost to house an inmate for a day — a total that jail officials think could come close to $1 million by year’s end — and had one fewer occupied bunk in the jail. …

And the failure-to-appear rate in Pinellas, 5 percent, has historically been below the national average of 20 percent, Gualtieri said. Figures were not available on whether the Pinellas percentage has changed of late.

Bernie McCabe, state attorney for Pinellas and Pasco, said he is unaware of a single case in which an accused felon committed additional crimes while on administrative recognizance release.

Considering that jails around the country are overstuffed with indigent defendants who haven’t been charged with particularly serious crimes but simply can’t afford to make bail, other jurisdictions may want to look to Pinellas County as an example. Of course, I’m sure the bail bonds industry wouldn’t be happy about that.

Written by sara

July 5, 2010 at 3:27 pm

Kentucky Jail Guards Found Guilty in Federal Civil Rights Prosecution

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A jury unanimously found two Kentucky jail guards guilty on all counts in a federal civil rights trial that concluded earlier this week. Here’s an excerpt from the local news coverage:

The charges stemmed from reports that jail officials assaulted pre-trial detainees — people being held following an arrest but prior to conviction. On several occasions, the jailers slammed detainees’ heads onto the triage counter in the prisoner intake area or otherwise assaulted or planned to assault them, according to court records.

Records said the acts occurred when prisoners were not “resisting or posing a threat to any officer.”

The men then wrote false reports or failed to file reports about the incidents; they took place in 2006, court records said.

Written by sara

May 18, 2010 at 10:19 am

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