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)

leave a comment »

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

leave a comment »

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

leave a comment »

“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

leave a comment »

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

leave a comment »

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

with one comment

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

leave a comment »

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

ACLU: Louisiana Detainee’s Psychosis and Injuries Went Untreated for Five Months

with one comment

From the ACLU of Louisiana:

[George] Mason was found incompetent to stand trial and was transferred to Eastern Louisiana Mental Health System in January 2010. He arrived in a filthy jumpsuit with a strip of rag tied around his right wrist. A stench issued from his wrist which appeared infected and which emitted a green discharge. The rag was embedded in Mr. Mason’s arm, with skin growing over the rag in places. Mr. Mason also had an ulcerous wound on the right side of his back and fractured ribs. These wounds were obviously long standing and had been left untreated during his months of imprisonment.

Miranda Tait, Attorney with the Advocacy Center states, “Mr. Mason was clearly unable to care for himself or to differentiate illusion from reality. For 5 months, he lived a nightmare locked in a cell 23 hours a day, unable to communicate with anyone or ask for help.”

Mason’s niece has filed suit on his behalf against Tangipahoa Parish — you can read the complaint here (PDF) — alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and the Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Clause (which governs conditions-of-confinement cases for pretrial detainees, rather than the Eighth Amendment), as well as state-law negligence. Here, to me, is the most telling part of the Statement of Facts: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by sara

February 9, 2011 at 12:47 pm

Ninth Circuit: Sheriff Joe-Approved Cross-Sex Strip Searches Are Unconstitutional

with 2 comments

An Arizona pretrial detainee’s Fourth Amendment rights were violated when he was strip-searched by a female guard, the Ninth Circuit ruled last week in a sharply divided en banc decision. The case arose out of Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s notorious Maricopa County jail system. The San Francisco Chronicle‘s Bob Egelko sums up:

[Charles] Byrd was ordered to strip down to his shorts – colored pink, as required for all inmates by Joe Arpaio, the county’s hard-line sheriff – and was searched by a female cadet from a training academy. She said she had taken no more than 20 seconds, while Byrd estimated the time at a minute. No contraband was found.

“The right to be free from strip searches and degrading body inspections is … basic to the concept of privacy,” Judge Johnnie Rawlinson said in the majority opinion, quoting an earlier ruling.

No emergency existed, Rawlinson said, because male guards were present and could have conducted the search. She said the “humiliating event” was aggravated by the presence of onlookers, one of whom videotaped the search.

Dissenting Judge N. Randy Smith said the cadet had conducted the search professionally and, although it was “unsavory to our sensibilities,” the action met legal standards.

More reporting here from CNN; the full opinion can be downloaded here (PDF). For some background on Ninth Circuit case law on jailhouse strip searches generally, see my earlier post here.

Denver DA Won’t File Charges against Corrections Deputies Responsible for Inmate’s Death

with 2 comments

The indispensable Solitary Watch has been reporting from/on Colorado lately. Here’s their latest story:

As we were preparing to make our recent trip to Colorado, the district attorney in Denver decided not to file criminal charges against the group of corrections deputies who, according to the coroner, were responsible for the death of an inmate in a local jail.

Marvin Booker, who was preacher and homeless, was 56 years old. He was 5-foot-5 and weighed 135 pounds, and suffered from emphysema and an enlarged heart. Back in July, Booker was arrested on the misdemeanor charge of possession of drug paraphernalia, and he was waiting to be booked when a conflict arose. All of it was caught on video, which the state refuses to make public. DA Mitch Morrissey said in a statement that Booker refused to follow an order from a female deputy, then cursed her and “violently resisted.” …

But DA Morrissey insists that Booker alone was responsible for his own demise. “Mr. Booker’s actions and choices resulted in his death,” he said in a statement, suggesting that unruly behavior by a prisoner justifies a use of force sufficient to kill him. “Had he complied, had he given them his arms, had he gone to the holding cell when he was asked to,” Morrissey said, ”this never would have happened.”

So, here’s one reason of many to end the War on Drugs: police wouldn’t be able to arrest and book people on charges like “misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia.” In the meantime, take note: if you’re ever arrested in Denver, show anything less than total physical submission to the guards who are booking you, and apparently it’s your own fault if four guards lay on top of you and a fifth Tasers you, and you stop breathing and die. More from DA Morrissey: “Arrestee compliance is not optional, it is mandatory.” Combine that stance on the part of state officials with the Supreme Court’s position that pretextual or spiteful arrests on petty charges don’t violate the Constitution, and you have a pretty terrifying state of affairs.

Leaders from Denver’s black community have called for an FBI investigation.

Written by sara

October 18, 2010 at 9:30 am

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 181 other followers

%d bloggers like this: