Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Posts Tagged ‘doj civil rights division

Miami Jails Provide Inadequate Suicide Prevention, Health Care, Says DOJ

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The Miami Herald reports:

A Justice Department investigation has found numerous medical and mental health problems in Miami-Dade County jails.

The Civil Rights Division investigation says the jail system is indifferent to suicide risks, fails to provide adequate mental illness treatment and disregards medical needs including chronic health problems. The probe also found inadequate fire systems and bad sanitation, as well as risks of violence on inmates by fellow prisoners.

The investigation says these problems violate constitutional rights of prisoners and cause them physical harm, including death. The investigation began in 2008.


Written by sara

August 29, 2011 at 7:34 am

South Carolina Will Likely Miss Today’s DOJ Deadline to Change Its HIV Segregation Policy

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From the AP, an update on the looming lawsuit over the South Carolina prison system’s HIV-segregation policy. Unless something changes today, the stage is set for the DOJ to file suit:

The state faces a Wednesday deadline [i.e., today] to change the practice, which prison officials say is best for inmates and prison employees.

All state prisons “are safer from a public health perspective and a security perspective as a direct result of this program,” Corrections Department attorney David Tatarsky wrote in an August response to the Department of Justice.

More than 400 HIV-positive inmates are housed together at maximum security prisons in Columbia, including some who would not usually be in such high-security facilities. …

The report argued that HIV-positive inmates don’t have access to the same programs and jobs as other prisoners and are wrongly stigmatized. They are also prevented from participating in work-release programs, meaning they can’t earn credits to shorten their sentences.

“That inevitably means that they serve longer sentences and are essentially being warehoused for no reason other than a medical condition,” Margaret Winter, associate director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project, said Tuesday.

For background, see my earlier posts here and here, and the conversation on this issue a few weeks back chez Adam Serwer and the Daily Dish.

DOJ Hands Sheriff Joe an Ultimatum in Ongoing Civil Rights Investigation

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The Department of Justice Civil Rights Division has handed Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Ariz., an ultimatum: Cooperate with the division’s ongoing investigation into his office’s treatment of immigrants, or face a federal lawsuit. Sheriff Arpaio has previously announced his refusal to cooperate in the investigation, and his office has denied the DOJ access to its facilities, personnel, and requested documents. Among the practices being investigated, as summarized by the Seattle Times:

Arpaio’s office has conducted 17 sweeps in which deputies and “posse” volunteers, focusing on heavily Latino neighborhoods, stop people for sometimes minor violations, such as jaywalking, and then check their immigration status. Prisoners are fed twice a day, sleep in tents with no air conditioning and are issued striped prison uniforms and pink underwear and socks.

Main Justice links to the letter sent to Sheriff Arpaio by Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez. Some highlights:

MCSO’s refusal to cooperate fully with the Division’s investigation makes it an extreme outlier when compared with other recipients of federal financial assistance… Although we would prefer voluntary compliance in this case as well, we will not hesitate to commence litigation on August 17, 2010…

“Illinois inmate died in agony while pleading for help”

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That’s the headline of this AP report on a 36-year-old federal inmate who bled internally to death from a burst spleen — caused by complications with cancer, though he also suffered from hepatitis and HIV — just 18 days after arriving at FCI Pekin. Here’s the crux of the article: according to the coroner, the only medication in Adam Montoya’s system at the time of death was “a trace of over-the-counter pain killer.”

That means Montoya, imprisoned for a passing counterfeit checks, had been given nothing to ease the excruciating pain that no doubt wracked his body for days or weeks before death.

“He shouldn’t have died in agony like that,” Coroner Dennis Conover said. “He had been out there long enough that he should have at least died in the hospital.”

The FBI recently completed an investigation into Montoya’s death and gave its findings to the Justice Department, which is reviewing the case. If federal prosecutors conclude that Montoya’s civil rights were violated, they could take action against the prison, its guards, or both. A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment, saying that the matter was still being investigated.

The coroner said guards should have been aware that something was seriously wrong with the inmate. And outside experts agree that the symptoms of cancer and hepatitis would have been hard to miss: dramatic weight loss, a swollen abdomen, yellow eyes.

During Montoya’s final days, he “consistently made requests to the prison for medical attention, and they wouldn’t give it to him,” said his father, Juan Montoya, who described how his son repeatedly punched the panic button. Three inmates corroborated that account in interviews with The Associated Press.

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

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

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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

DOJ Lawyers: String of Suicides in Buffalo Jail Is a “Real Crisis”

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I’ve blogged briefly about the DOJ’s ongoing litigation over conditions in the Erie County Holding Center, the Buffalo, N.Y., jail where several inmates have committed suicide in recent years. Here’s a more detailed report from the Buffalo News:

Justice Department attorneys asked District Judge William M. Skretny to decide as quickly as possible to allow federal investigators to inspect the county’s jail in downtown Buffalo to determine if its suicide-prevention procedures are adequate.

In court papers, Justice Department attorneys refer to the proliferation of suicides at the jail as a “real crisis” that should be addressed as soon as possible.

That statement drew an angry denial from Sheriff Timothy B. Howard, who said there is no crisis at the jail. In a telephone interview, he lashed out at Justice Department investigators.

“I do not believe the Department of Justice has been working with us in a cooperative way,” Howard said. “They say, ‘We want to help you, but you can’t be there when we do.’ They want to question people in our facility without county attorneys being present . . . No other employer would stand for that.” …

County officials deny the allegations, saying the lawsuit is based on hearsay and fictionalized events. [County Attorney Cheryl A.] Green has accused the federal government of trying to force county taxpayers to provide jail prisoners with “the amenities, conveniences and services of a good hotel.”

Written by sara

March 1, 2010 at 10:17 am

DOJ Lawsuit Over Buffalo Jails Is Back in Court Today

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In last week’s Friday roundup I noted the ongoing controversy over a Buffalo, N.Y., jail’s string of inmate suicides. The U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division is suing Erie County over conditions in the lock-up, and the lawsuit was due back in court today. (Erie County has called the DOJ’s allegations “baseless” and its requests for access an “undefined fishing expedition”; you can download the complaint from the DOJ website here.) Buffalo’s WIVB-TV reports:

Erie County Sheriff Timothy Howard said, “Here in Erie County, prisoners are treated not like hotel guests, but citizens should be assured that our inmates are treated firmly, fairly and constitutionally.”

Incidentally, you see quotes like this a lot when you start to follow prison/jail news, and I keep hoping that one day, someone will explain to me where all these jails are where they’re treating the inmates like “hotel guests.” (Apart from Indonesia, of course.)

Written by sara

February 23, 2010 at 12:38 pm

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