Latest Ruling in Erie County Suicides Litigation: Buffalo Jail Must Let in Federal Inspectors, But County Attorney Can Come Too
I’ve been keeping up with ongoing litigation brought by the DOJ Civil Rights Division over a string of suicides in the Erie County jail in Buffalo, N.Y. — the jail has a suicide rate five times the national average, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The most recent issue has been whether the DOJ would be granted unfettered access to the jail to investigate conditions. Here’s the latest update: district judge William Skretny has ruled that federal inspectors must be granted access to the jail facility. But Judge Skretny also ruled that the county is free to send along its own representative — e.g., a county attorney. Prisoners’ rights advocates are concerned:
“I don’t see this as a good thing,” said Karima Amin, co-chairwoman of the Erie County Prisoners Rights Coalition. “With the county attorney standing by, I think employees will be intimidated. They’ll say anything the county attorney wants them to. … Retaliation is real.”
Skretny’s 11-page ruling does not address the issue of whether county attorneys can be present while prisoners are being interviewed. That issue will have to be clarified before the Justice Department inspectors visit the jail March 22-23, according to U.S. Attorney Kathleen M. Mehltretter. …
Many of the people in the jail are young, first-time offenders or others who have never been convicted of a crime, Amin said.
“Any one of our sons or daughters could wind up in that predicament after a first offense,” she said. “I’ve seen it many times. I’ve seen many people whose entire attitude about the jail changes in a heartbeat when one of their own children is locked up.”