Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Latest Ruling in Erie County Suicides Litigation: Buffalo Jail Must Let in Federal Inspectors, But County Attorney Can Come Too

with 2 comments

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.”

Written by sara

March 9, 2010 at 10:04 am

2 Responses

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  1. When authorities commit crimes, they are often willing to commit more and much more serious crimes to cover-up. Even if the representative was a “good guy”, witnesses could be misinformed and could be told that he will report any cooperation with the investigation. Thus, this representative could easily ruin the investigation by his presence.

    I’ve discovered that authorities are often quite corrupt. Police are easily corrupted, even the “good ones” because they can start by taking minor shortcuts to try to get the bad guys. But after a few minor shortcuts, one thing leads to another and soon you find yourself lying or taking actions to make sure that your indescrepencies are not discovered. Fellow police also ask for favors, such as covering for them by lying. Soon even the best cop finds it easy to do things that they are throwing people in prison for (such as violence, falsifying documents, false testimony, minor drug possession).

    My blog On Prison is my attempt to address prison, police and other legal issues. I have a US law degree.

    Thanks for this interesting blog of yours!

    Charles Saline

    March 9, 2010 at 6:23 pm

  2. As in most groups, there are good employees and abusive ones. A psychologist told me he tests California prison guards for psychological fitness before they are hired, but they are never tested again in spite of their very emotionally difficult jobs.

    We need to weed out abusive policies and move abusive employees to other jobs. Of course, the investigators would have to determine if those being interviewed are telling the truth if no county rep. is present.

    Having the rep. looking over the shoulder of those being interviewed will hinder investigations. It will make it impossible to tell if interviewees are hiding the truth because of fear of retaliation.


    March 10, 2010 at 9:56 am

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