Mother of Decapitated Prisoner Sues California Prison Officials for Housing Her Son with Prisoner Who Tried to Murder Previous Cellmate
She is sure to win a huge settlement or verdict, costing TAXPAYERS millions of dollars. Besides that, learn why our massive indifference to this shit is a massive mistake: READ Prison Abuse – Why Massive Indifference is a Massive Mistake
Excerpts from the Article:
On March 2, 2020, the mother of a man murdered at the California State Penitentiary, Corcoran filed a lawsuit against California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) officials, whom she alleged were responsible for the murder of her son. Her son was decapitated on March 9, 2019 by his cellmate, who had previously attempted to murder a cellmate and whose lengthy history of violence rendered him unsuitable for housing with another prisoner. He decapitated her son and made a body-parts necklace.
CDCR prisoner Luis Romero was transferred from another prison to Corcoran, which has a lengthy history of violence. According to a court document, instead of following the usual procedure of having a committee of prison administrators find appropriate housing for Romero, taking into consideration whether a potential cellmate was an appropriate fit, and having both prisoners sign forms agreeing to be housed with one another, they simply placed him in a cell with Jamie Osuna, a prisoner with a lengthy history of extreme violence.
While in jail, Osuna had attempted to murder his cellmate. His continuing violent misconduct had resulted in his being housed without a cellmate since his arrival at the CDCR seven years earlier. Further, the CDCR allegedly had documentation provided by Osuna’s own lawyers and medical team “warning CDCR of his propensity for extreme violence, insatiable desire to kill, and need to be held in a psychiatric ward, not in a prison with other inmates.” Osuna was serving a no-parole sentence for the torture-murder of a woman. He also was known to collect “trophies” of his violent acts.
That night, guards allegedly failed to perform safety checks on Osuna’s cell even when a sheet was stretched across the bars, blocking their view.
During the night, Osuna tortured and decapitated Romero. He was found in the blood-covered cell wearing a necklace of Romero’s body parts. Romero’s body showed signs of extreme torture, all of which was done with a weapon Osuna made from a small razor blade and string.
With the assistance of Encino attorney Justin Sterling and Los Angeles attorney Erin Darling, Romero’s mother filed a federal civil rights lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of Romero’s federal civil rights as well as pendent state torts. The matter is pending before the court. See: Solares v. Diaz, USDC (E.D. Cal.), Case No. l:20-CV-00158.
One more tale of horrid “health care” in our prisons. Along with the guilty, thousands of INNOCENT Americans languish in our prisons, being injured and killed by this problem of neglect and incompetence!
Excerpts from the Article:
Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) Inspector General (IG) Michael Horowitz has issued a report itemizing the multitude of mistakes and mismanagement that aggravated the troubled agency’s response to the COVID-19 hotspot at the Lompoc, California, federal prison complex.
The 36-page, July 23, 2020 report found that continuing medical staff shortages and failure to follow BOP national guidelines for detection and treatment of COVID-19 put the Lompoc prison complex in a state of crisis, which had been beginning to abate in summer.
After two guards apparently introduced the virus into the prisons in February or March of 2020, it spread rapidly, and at one point over 75% of the prisoners at the FCI were found to be infected. According to a previous story in Prison Legal News [PLN, June 2020, p.32], “Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) Lompoc, located in Santa Barbara County, holds 1,162 low-security prisoners, of whom 911 had tested positive for the novel Coronavirus that causes the disease … the highest number of cases in any BOP prison.”As of mid-July, more than 1,000 inmates had tested positive and four had died.
All of this came after March 2020 when Attorney General William Barr directed the BOP to make liberal use of home confinement, but this did not happen at Lompoc, the report said. “Despite this admonition, the data does not reflect that the BOP took immediate action at Lompoc,” it said. In mid-May, only 34 prisoners had been moved out of the complex, a fact that the acting warden blamed on a lack of halfway house space, although he did not explain why vulnerable prisoners had not been transferred to home confinement instead.
The report further noted that, “Based on the available data, the (OIG) estimated that, as of April 12, approximately 957 of the 1,775 prisoners in Lompoc’s low and minimum security facilities were potentially eligible for home confinement under existing authorities and BOP guidance.
By comparison, as detailed above, the BOP Central Office included 509 prisoners in the nine rosters it provided to FCC Lompoc for home confinement consideration between April 4 and May 15, illustrating the BOP failed to follow its own guidelines.
Even when the staff at Lompoc belatedly began to follow BOP guidelines on March 16, 2020, the report said, “its initial screening process was not fully effective.” Staffers identified minimal direction from senior management and a lack of adequate personal protective equipment as a factor in the rapid spread of the virus. The high number of infected individuals only became known when health officials in Santa Barbara County, concerned about a spread of the virus from the prisons into their communities, offered to test all prisoners and staff, as the BOP maintains a policy of only testing prisoners and staff if they show obvious signs of infection.
There has been a substantial increase in the prosecution of D O C personnel for smuggling contraband into prisons; not many, like this one, are addicted themselves.
Excerpts from the Article:
A jail deputy at the Erie County Holding Center faces a felony drug charge after a weeks-long investigation, according to a law enforcement source.
John Gugino, 44, was arrested and arraigned over the weekend, according to online records. He pleaded not guilty.
A source tells 2 On Your Side the Erie County Sheriff’s Office had been investigating Gugino for weeks following intelligence that suggested he was in possession of cocaine. According to the Erie County District Attorney’s Office, Gugino was arraigned on Sunday for one count of criminal possession of a controlled substance in the fifth degree, a class D felony; one count of driving while ability impaired by drugs, a class A misdemeanor; one count of unlawful possession of marijuana in the second degree, and one count of operating a vehicle without inspection certification.
If convicted on all charges, Gugino faces up to seven years in prison. The sheriff’s office told 2 On Your Side Monday that they are working to remain as transparent as possible.
“That’s what we do. We’re not looking to hide it, other than sometimes we can’t release as much information due to circumstances of an investigation or the case as a whole,” said Erie County Sheriff’s Office Spokesperson Scott Zylka.
Gugino was released on his own recognizance and is due back in court on the morning of December 3.
The Buffalo News reported Gugino’s defense attorney said he and his family “look forward to an opportunity to address (the allegations) at the appropriate time in the appropriate forum.”
This is nothing, unless you are one of tens of millions of Americans with a loved one in prison! Here in DE, they still are just dumping men on the street at 3 or 4 am, with nothing, and DOC does not notify anyone. 🙁
Excerpts from the Article:
Independently obtained and analyzed data from April 2017 to April 2018 showed that 73 percent of all prisoners — more than 16,000 in total — were released after Philadelphia jail facilities’ cashier offices were closed, which left them without a phone, other possessions, identification, and cash for hours, or in some cases days, as those offices are closed on weekends.
The information was revealed in a series of stories in August 2020 by The Philadelphia Inquirer. Following publication, Prison Commissioner Blanche Carney said, “Anyone released after the close of their facility’s Cashier’s Office will now receive their property at their facility.”
Ann Jacobs, director of the Prisoner Reentry Institute at New York City’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said, “This is a good example of a system listening and responding in a way that looks like it will make a big difference.” Making sure that the changes are permanent will require “collaborative vigilance,” said Jacobs.
‘‘You can’t rest on your laurels. What we know about any kind of systems change is that it changes as long as it’s being observed and measured.”
Philly jails’ spokesperson Mallie Salerno stated that every person released from jail will receive their possessions at the facility in which they were incarcerated, regardless of time. And those who require cash will be driven to Philadelphia’s largest jail, Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, to retrieve their money from a prison staff member, regardless of the time of day.
In terms of releasing prisoners at reasonable hours when public transportation is available, things aren’t so straightforward. Shawn Hawes, a spokesperson for the Philadelphia Department of Prisons, said, ‘‘We cannot legally hold anyone beyond a court-ordered release.” The department has a policy of not releasing female prisoners after 1 a.m., but it was found that, according to the Inquirer, in a recent year 273 female prisoners were released between 1 and 5 a.m. when there were no city buses running.
‘‘We try to discourage it, but we can’t hold them,” said Hawes.
“These women by design are vulnerable,” Jacobs said. “They are going to be preyed upon at best for sex; at worst it puts their lives in jeopardy.”
This is exactly what must happen to deter these assholes! READ: Why only PROSECUTION and IMPRISONMENT Will Stop Prison Abuse and Police Abuse! Demand It!! How to Avoid the Deaths of More Prison Guards!
Excerpts from the Article:
Convicted on one count of possession with intent to distribute marijuana and methamphetamine, a former Georgia correctional officer was recently sentenced to 10 years in federal prison. Her convicted-felon boyfriend pleaded guilty to the same charge and was also sentenced to 10 years in federal prison.
On April 9, 2018, officers from the Dublin Police Department and Georgia Department of Community Supervision visited the residence of Georgia Department of Corrections officer Lekesia Lashea Harden and her boyfriend, Tremayne Linder, to serve Linder with an arrest warrant for failing to complete the requirements of probation. After searching the residence, officers found 12 small packages, two containing methamphetamine and 10 containing marijuana. As noted in court documents and testimony, the marijuana was wrapped in electrical tape with some of the packages containing rolling papers, evidence that the material was packaged for contraband delivery to prison.
As a correctional officer for the Georgia Department of Corrections (GDC), Harden worked at Wheeler Correctional Facility, a medium-security, privately owned state prison in Alamo, Georgia. Previously convicted on drug and theft charges, Linder reportedly spent 571 days in the Laurens County jail on four felony counts.
In October 2019, Harden was convicted on one count of possession with intent to distribute marijuana and methamphetamine. Prior to Harden’s conviction, Linder pleaded guilty to the same charge.
“As a correctional officer, Lakesia Harden knew what she was doing when she engaged in drug trafficking and associated with Tremayne Linder, a convicted felon,” said U.S. Attorney Bobby Christine. “Both of them will now spend substantial time in federal prison for their crimes.”
“Harden’s crime taints every law enforcement officer who takes an oath to uphold the law,” stated Chris Hacker, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta. “She chose her relationship with a convicted felon over her oath and now she, too, is a convicted felon and will be held accountable along with her associate, convicted felon Tremayne Linder.”
“The GDC maintains a zero-tolerance policy for individuals who choose to ignore their oath and jeopardize our non-negotiable mission of public safety. We appreciate the support of our federal partners in our efforts to see that justice is served on this former officer,” noted GDC Commissioner Timothy Ward. “The actions of this individual do not reflect the hundreds of officers who are committed each and every day to ensuring the safety of the public and the safe operations of our facilities.”
On Thursday, Harden was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison with five years of supervised release. Linden was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison with three years of supervised release.
Sounds good. Will accomplish damn near nothing!
Anyone who knows what really goes on in Delaware D O C, and most prisons in the nation, knows that the overwhelming amount of CONTRABAND entering the facilities is brought in by D O C personnel, not visitors!
Articles like this one highlight the fact that officials refuse to acknowledge the heart of the problem: a state agency out of control – D O C! This expenditure of nearly a million dollars of YOUR money will accomplish little …. very little!
That lying fool, Geoff Klopp, head of the guards’ Union, does a great job of deflecting attention away from the FACT that many of the people he represents should be on the other side of the bars!
Excerpts from the Article:
As the Delaware Department of Correction continues its drive to create a safer environment for those entering prison facilities and anyone held inside as well, correctional officers now have a new way to detect contraband.
An investment in Millimeter Wave technology whole-body image scanners will hopefully pay dividends in stopping attempts to bring illegal substances through the prison entrances. The system went live at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center on Tuesday and should be operational at all Level V facilities by next week, officials said.
Five scanners are located at prison gatehouse areas, DOC said, and four X-ray scanners are set for booking and receiving areas across four maximum security facilities. DOC Deputy Commissioner Monroe Hudson touted the ne w scanners as another tool to assure a more safe and secure environment within correctional facilities, joining a “very robust” security camera system, K-9 detection program, cell phone detection technology, “stringent” mailroom search protocols and the recently opened Intelligence Operations Center.
“Whether it’s drug contraband, dangerous weapons or devices intended to defeat security systems or aid in an escape attempt, they all present significant safety and security concerns for our people and our facilities,” he said.
“This technology will greatly enhance our proactive efforts to keep them out and to hold those who may try to introduce illegal contraband into our prisons accountable for their actions.”
According to Bureau of Prison Chief Shane Troxler, there have been 123 incidents involving contraband within correctional facilities since February 2019, most involving illegal substances such as K-2, heroin, fentanyl, marijuana and cocaine.
DOC Sgt. Walter Kiser, who oversaw implementation of the program, said officers can be trained to use the system in two-hour courses and receive educational support from manufacturer Nutech. Correctional Officers Union of Delaware President Geoff Klopp lobbied state legislators and Gov. John Carney to secure funding that wasn’t originally in the DOC’s requested Fiscal Year 2019 budget. DOC said that while $1 million was allocated, only $992,000 was actually spent to purchase the scanners.
“When we broke down exactly what the machine did and how it would really be life changing as far as contraband coming into the prison, it was relatively easy to get the General Assembly and governor’s office on board,” Mr. Klopp said. Also, Mr. Klopp said, “This is a great day for the Department of Correction and correctional officers. This will (hopefully make) the job a little easier but definitely more effective.
“It will be better for our visitors (and staff) and it will absolutely make the facility a safer place and it’s just wonderful to see the technological advancements that have come in the (DOC) in the last two years and we look forward to continuing that forward progress.”
The proposal for the project “shows how the department has changed,” Commissioner DeMatteis said.
“It came from officers and we put a sergeant (in charge) of it. This didn’t come from the top down and I think this is a model of how we are running this department.”
Letter to the Editor or Op Ed Submission – Not Quite the Truth-
As prison reform advocates, we hear from inmates and their loved ones, and a few prison personnel who stay in touch with us, every week. Once again, we must write because we see truly misleading information being put out by D O C personnel.
They recently announced the purchase, at a cost of nearly 1 million of your tax dollars, of five new scanning devices, saying that it will greatly reduce the contraband entering our prisons. Drugs, cell phones, and other contraband enter daily, but these devices used to scan visitors will accomplish darn near nothing!
You see, as most D O C staff knows, and as anyone who knows what really happens in our prisons knows, more than 90% of ALL contraband is brought in by staff! Yes, smuggling of contraband is a lucrative way for corrupt staff to supplement their incomes, and those at the top do not want you to know it.
Demand a real, effective, outside investigation into this major problem.
Ken Abraham, former Deputy Attorney General, Dover, DE 302-423-4067
And Stephen Hampton, Esq, Dover, DE 302- 678- 1265
INSTRUCTIONS FOR LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
I get lots of letters published, and ghost write for others. THIS IS THE BEST WAY TO REACH THOUSANDS OF READERS! SEARCH “The top ten newspapers” in (your state!).
The keys to getting your Letter published are:
1. Keep it to 250 words or fewer.
2. Do not make it about “poor little old me”. Describe the problem as one which not only affects the individual, but is a senseless or ineffective measure, policy, or law which also harms communities and society. For example, with reentry, the obstacles make it unnecessarily difficult for the individual, but also harm society by making it hard to become productive, spending money and paying taxes in the community, and they cause increased recidivism = increased crime.
3. Speak from your heart.
4. Google any facts you are not sure about.
5. Do not name-call.
Do what works: Write that Letter!
Letter to Editor – sign name, town, state, and your phone number (they often call to verify that you sent it), and “Member of Citizens for Criminal JUSTICE” if you like – shows you are part of a large group.
Send the email to yourself, and put on the “bcc” bar the email addresses for Letters to the Editor for the top ten newspapers in your state and several national ones – The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, U S A Today (google the Letter to Editor email addresses). Any questions, CALL me at 302-423-4067! My “bcc” list is now about 400 papers, all over America!
GOOGLE THE EMAIL ADDRESSES FOR “LETTERS TO THE EDITOR” FOR THE TOP TEN NEWSPAPERS IN YOUR STATE AND SAVE THAT INFORMATION FOR REPEATED USE – Some papers will print a letter from you every 2 weeks, some every 30 days, some every 90 days. They have varying policies. But if you really want to make a difference shoot them a new letter once a month! I send one out every 2 weeks.
CLICK ON THE TAB ON OUR WEBSITE “LETTERS TO THE EDITOR. OPEN “ARTICLES”, THEN CLICK THAT TAB FOR HUNDREDS OF SAMPLE LETTERS!
Need a Letter on some criminal justice issue and not a great letter writer? NO EXCUSE! Email me a rough draft and call me and I’ll polish it up! email@example.com .
ANY QUESTIONS, CALL ME AT 302-423-4067.
Michigan Settles Sex Abuse Claims by 1,300 Former Juvenile Offenders Housed With Adults for $80 Million
This is one case in one state, costing YOU tons of money …
Nationwide, it is BILLIONS OF DOLLARS each year, because not enough of you raise hell about prison abuse!
Excerpts from the Article:
On January 29, 2020, the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) agreed to pay $80 million to resolve a class action lawsuit filed by juveniles who were housed in adult facilities where they were allegedly subjected to sexual assault and other harms.
The action consolidated in state court numerous lawsuits filed against MDOC in both state and federal courts. The class included persons incarcerated in MDOC while younger than 18 at any time during the period from October 15, 2010 to February 24, 2020. All of these juveniles were charged, convicted, and sentenced as adults, and MDOC placed them in adult facilities upon receiving them.
The complaint contained allegations related to 12 “John Doe” prisoners, all of whom alleged they were anally raped or coerced to engage in anal or oral sex, sometimes by guards but most often by adult prisoners with whom the juveniles were housed and left to fend for themselves. The events they described read like lurid movie portrayals of new prisoners being “fresh meat.” [See PLN, April 2020, p.50.]
John Doe #2 reported a physical assault and sexual harassment while at Oaks Correctional Facility in 2011. He was placed in solitary confinement and issued disciplinary misconduct tickets for making his abuse report. Once released from solitary, he was physically assaulted with a blade, “resulting in a scar across his face and marking him as a victim and ongoing target for other prisoners.” That incident again led to placement in solitary confinement.
Another plaintiff refused to leave solitary confinement after making a report of sexual abuse. He also was subject to disciplinary action for that refusal. Two juvenile plaintiffs alleged they were routinely sexually and physically assaulted by guards who grabbed and pulled on their genitals during body searches.
The parties sealed details of the settlement on February 26, 2020. The $80 million was to be paid in three installments: $25 million within two business days of the settlement’s effective date, another $15 million on October 15, 2020, and the final installment of $25 million due on October 15, 2021.
MDOC also agreed to eliminate its grievance process under the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) and to allow for sexual abuse and harassment claims to be exhausted through the normal grievance process. MDOC’s PREA Grievance Process was found by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in December 2019 to be so impractical that it was effectively unavailable to prisoners.
Since 2016, MDOC has housed juvenile prisoners in areas separated from adults. As of early 2020, just 28 juveniles remained in housing with the system’s 38,000 adult prisoners.
“These youths spoke out at great risk to themselves about the abuse that happened to them while in the care of the MDOC,” said plaintiffs’ lead counsel, Deborah LaBelle. “We started this suit six years ago to try to get the state to see the harm done to these children. We hope through the settlement that the state recognizes the harm and will do this no more.”
“Though this settlement brings finality to this case,” she said, “we call on the Legislature to bring this issue to an end once and for all and prohibit youthful offenders from being placed in adult prison.” See: Does v. Michigan Department of Corrections, 2020 Mich. LEXIS 131.
My good friend and excellent attorney, Steve Hampton, sent me this article. I choose to post it nearly in its entirety because it is so important. However, I have omitted several pages detailing gruesome deaths, which appear often in reports like this one. Just click at the end on “The Whole Story” for those tragic details.
Thank God for the diligent and determined team of reporters at Reuters, trying to shed light on the scope of the problems I have been addressing for years!
Excerpts from the Article:
The U.S. government collects detailed data on who’s dying in which jails around the country – but won’t let anyone see it. So, Reuters conducted its own tally of fatalities in America’s biggest jails, pinpointing where suicide, botched healthcare and bad jailkeeping are claiming lives in a system with scant oversight.
Harvey Hill wouldn’t leave John Finnegan’s front yard. He stood in the pouring rain, laughing at the sky, alarming his former boss’ wife. Finnegan dialed 911. “He needs a mental evaluation,” the landscaper recalls telling the arriving officer. Instead, Hill was charged with trespassing and jailed on suspicion of a misdemeanor offense that could bring a $500 fine. It was a death sentence.
The next day, May 6, 2018, Hill’s condition worsened. He flew into a rage at the Madison County Detention Center in Canton, Mississippi, throwing a checkerboard and striking a guard with a lunch tray. Three guards tackled the 36-year-old, pepper sprayed him and kicked him repeatedly in the head. After handcuffing him, two guards slammed Hill into a concrete wall, previously unpublished jail surveillance video shows. They led him to a shower, away from the cameras, and beat him again, still handcuffed, a state investigation found. The guards said Hill was combative, exhibiting surprising strength that required force.
Video showed Hill writhing in pain in the infirmary, where he was assessed by a licensed practical nurse but not given medication. Mississippi law dictates that a doctor or higher credentialed nurse make decisions on medical interventions. But Hill was sent straight to an isolation cell, where a guard pinned him to the floor, removed his handcuffs, and left him lying on the cement. Hill crawled to the toilet. Then he stopped moving.
No one checked him for 46 minutes. When they did, he didn’t have a pulse. Within hours, he was dead. And he had a lot of company.
Hill’s is one of 7,571 inmate deaths Reuters documented in an unprecedented examination of mortality in more than 500 U.S. jails from 2008 to 2019. Death rates have soared in those lockups, rising 35% over the decade ending last year. Casualties like Hill are typical: held on minor charges and dying without ever getting their day in court. At least two-thirds of the dead inmates identified by Reuters, 4,998 people, were never convicted of the charges on which they were being held.
Unlike state and federal prisons, which hold people convicted of serious crimes, jails are locally run lockups meant to detain people awaiting arraignment or trial, or those serving short sentences. The toll of jail inmates who die without a case resolution subverts a fundamental tenet of the U.S. criminal justice system: innocent until proven guilty.
“A lot of people are dying and they’ve never been sentenced, and that’s obviously a huge problem,” said Nils Melzer, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on torture and other inhuman punishment, after reviewing the Reuters findings. “You have to provide due process in all of these cases, you have to provide humane detention conditions in all of these cases and you have to provide medical care in all of these cases.”
The U.S. Constitution grants inmates core rights, but those provisions are hard to enforce. The Fourteenth Amendment guarantees fair treatment to pre-trial detainees, but “fair” is open to interpretation by judges and juries. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel punishment forbids “deliberate indifference to serious medical needs of prisoners,” but proving deliberate negligence is difficult. The Sixth Amendment assures speedy trials, but does not define speedy.
The Reuters analysis revealed a confluence of factors that can turn short jail stays into death sentences. Many jails are not subject to any enforceable standards for their operation or the healthcare they provide. They typically get little if any oversight. And bail requirements trap poorer inmates in pre-trial detention for long periods. Meanwhile, inmate populations have grown sicker, more damaged by mental illness and plagued by addictions.
The 7,571 deaths identified by Reuters reflect those stresses. Most succumbed to illness, sometimes wanting for quality healthcare. More than 2,000 took their own lives amid mental breakdowns, including some 1,500 awaiting trial or indictment. A growing number – more than 1 in 10 last year – died from the acute effects of drugs and alcohol. Nearly 300 died after languishing behind bars, unconvicted, for a year or more.
As with much of the U.S. criminal justice system, the toll behind bars falls disproportionately on Black Americans, such as Hill. White inmates accounted for roughly half the fatalities. African Americans accounted for at least 28%, more than twice their share of the U.S. population, a disparity on par with the high incarceration rate of Blacks. Reuters was not able to identify the race of 9% of inmates who died.
Jail deaths typically draw attention locally but escape scrutiny from outside authorities, a gap in oversight that points to a national problem: America’s system for counting and monitoring jail deaths is broken.
America’s 3,000-plus jails are typically run by county sheriffs or local police. They often are under-equipped and understaffed, starved for funds by local officials who see them as budgetary burdens. A rising share have contracted their healthcare to private companies.
Yet there are no enforceable national standards to ensure jails meet constitutional requirements for inmate health and safety. Only 28 states have adopted their own standards to fill the gap. And much of the oversight that does exist is limited by a curtain of secrecy. The Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics has collected inmate mortality data for two decades – but statistics for individual jails are withheld from the public, government officials and oversight agencies under a 1984 law limiting the release of BJS data. Agency officials say that discretion is critical because it encourages sheriffs and police to report their deaths data each year.
The secrecy has a cost: Local policy makers can’t learn if their jails’ death rates are higher than those in similar communities. Groups that advocate for inmates’ rights can’t get jail-by-jail mortality data to support court cases. The Justice Department’s own lawyers, charged with taking legal action when corrections facilities violate constitutional standards, can’t readily identify jails where high death counts warrant federal investigation.
“If there’s a high death rate, that means there’s a problem,” said Julie Abbate, former deputy chief of the Justice Department’s Special Litigation Section, which enforces civil rights in jails. Publicizing those rates “would make it a lot harder to hide a bad jail.”
The Justice Department does issue broad statistical reports on statewide or national trends. But even those fatality numbers don’t always tell the full story. Some jails fail to inform BJS of deaths. Some report them inaccurately, listing homicides or suicides as accidents or illnesses, Reuters found. Justice Department consultant Steve Martin, who has inspected more than 500 U.S. prisons and jails, said that in all the cases he’s investigated, he recalls only one homicide being reported accurately. The others were categorized as “medical, respiratory failure, or whatever,” he said.
Methodology: How Reuters tracked jail deaths
The Data Behind the Deaths
Other jails find other ways to keep deaths off the books, such as “releasing” inmates who have been hospitalized in grave condition, perhaps from a suicide attempt or a medical crisis, so they’re not on the jail’s roster when they die. Sheriffs sometimes characterize these as “compassionate releases” that allow inmates’ families a chance to spend their final hours together without law enforcement supervision.
In all, Reuters identified at least 59 cases across 39 jails in which inmate deaths were not reported to government agencies or included in tallies provided to the news organization.
The Justice Department has grown more secretive about the fatality data under the Trump administration. While BJS never has released jail-by-jail mortality figures, it traditionally has published aggregated statistics every two years or so. The 2016 report wasn’t issued until this year. And, a Justice spokesman said, there are “no plans” to issue any future reports containing even aggregated data on inmate deaths in jails or prisons.
The report delays are “an outrage,” said Representative Bobby Scott, a Virginia Democrat who co-authored the original reporting law in 2000 with a Republican colleague. Scott said secrecy was never the goal. He co-authored a 2014 update, which restricts federal grant money when jails don’t report deaths and shifts data collection to a different Justice Department agency that would not be restricted from releasing jail-by-jail data. The updated law has yet to be implemented.
“The whole point,” Scott said, “is we suspect a lot of the deaths are preventable with certain protocols – better suicide protocols, better healthcare, better guard-to-prisoner ratios. You’ve got to have information at the jail level. You have no way of really targeting corrective action if you don’t.”
Because the government won’t release jail-by-jail death data, Reuters compiled its own. The news organization tracked jail deaths over the dozen years from 2008 to 2019 to create the largest such database outside of the Justice Department. Reporters filed more than 1,500 records requests to obtain information about deaths in 523 U.S. jails – every jail with an average population of 750 or more inmates, and the 10 largest jails or jail systems in nearly every state. Together, those jails hold an average of some 450,000 inmates a day, or about three out of every five nationwide.
“You’ve got to have information at the jail level. You have no way of really targeting corrective action if you don’t.”
One finding: Since the last Justice Department report, for 2016, the death rate in big jails has continued to climb, leaving it up 8% in 2019, the highest point in the 12-year period of 2008-2019 examined by Reuters. In that time, the suicide rate declined as many facilities launched suicide awareness and response initiatives. But the death rate from drug and alcohol overdoses rose about 72% amid the opioid epidemic.
The data also reveals scores of big jails with high death tolls, including two dozen with death rates double the national average.
Such data “would have actually been very helpful for enforcement purposes,” said Jonathan Smith, who ran the Justice Department’s Special Litigation Section from 2010 to 2015.
Detailed insight into jail deaths can save lives. In 2016, the Justice Department began investigating the Hampton Roads Regional Jail in Portsmouth, Virginia, after state Attorney General Mark Herring and local civil rights groups called for a probe following several inmate deaths. Reuters found the jail, which serves five jurisdictions, averaged 3.5 deaths per thousand inmates over the years 2009 to 2019, more than double the national average of 1.5 deaths.
In December 2018, the Justice Department said the 900-bed jail violated inmates’ rights by failing to provide adequate medical and mental healthcare. The regional authority that manages the jail agreed to a “consent decree,” enforced by a federal judge, to ensure improved treatment of prisoners. Inmate deaths dropped after the agreement, which required increased staffing, better training and enhanced medical services. The jail reported two fatalities in 2019 and one through this May, down from an average of five a year in the prior four years.
That was one of the Justice Department’s last jail investigations. From 2008 to 2018, the department opened 19 investigations into jails, three during President Trump’s tenure.
Yet since 2018, it hasn’t opened any. A memo circulated in November 2018 by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions put hurdles in the way of entering consent decrees for overhauling jails. In a telephone interview, Sessions told Reuters the policy he set forth adhered to Supreme Court standards on when consent decrees could be entered, allowing them when “appropriate” and “justified.”
In the absence of federal oversight, states have a patchwork of guidelines. Seventeen states have no rules or oversight mechanisms for local jails, according to Reuters research and a pending study by Michele Deitch, a corrections specialist at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas. In five other low-population states, all detention facilities are run by state corrections agencies. The other 28 have some form of standards, such as assessing inmates’ health on arrival or checking on suicidal inmates at prescribed intervals. Yet those standards often are minimal, and in at least six of the states, the agencies that write them lack enforcement power or the authority to refer substandard jails for investigation.
Without jail-by-jail mortality data, even jails with extraordinary death rates can escape official intervention for years, and local officials can remain blind to the seriousness of problems their facilities face. One example is the Marion County Jail in Indiana, a decrepit 65-year-old facility nicknamed “The Fossil” within the sheriff’s department. Overfilled and understaffed, the Marion County jail had at least 45 deaths from 2009-2019. Yet local officials rejected pleas from two consecutive sheriffs for additional funding to bolster staffing and build a new facility. Reuters found that the jail is among the two dozen with an average death rate, 3.5 deaths per 1,000 inmates, at least double the national average from 2009 to 2019. And its record was troubling on one of the most challenging problems plaguing jails: suicide, which accounted for more than a quarter of all U.S. jail deaths.
“We’re not built to be the largest mental health hospital in the state,” said Colonel James Martin, who oversees the jail. “We’re not built to be the largest detox facility in the state.” Yet the jail has “more detox beds than any single hospital in the state.”
The jail’s shortcomings have been documented, including a county-commissioned review in 2016 that found the Fossil “antiquated,” with inadequate staffing and design flaws that severely hamper inmate monitoring. In 2018, after another independent study highlighted the jail’s challenges, the county approved a new $580 million criminal justice complex, with dedicated facilities to treat mental illness and substance abuse. In 2022, the Fossil will be history.
An autopsy ruled Hill’s death a homicide, however. The report showed that abrasions speckled his head and chest. Severe internal bleeding swelled his neck. His liver had been lacerated.
The state medical examiner, citing a backlog, didn’t release the findings to the family until this June, 25 months after he died and 13 months after the statute of limitations had expired for litigation involving assault. The family filed its ongoing lawsuit last February, before receiving the autopsy.
How Reuters tracked and analyzed deaths in America’s largest jails
By GRANT SMITH and PETER EISLER
The Reuters examination of deaths in U.S. local jails represents the largest collection and publication of inmate mortality data undertaken outside the federal government.
The news organization filed more than 1,500 public records requests to collect data on inmate populations and deaths from more than 500 local jails. That universe includes the 10 largest jails in each state, as well as any jail in the country with an average daily population of 750 or more inmates.
In all, the Reuters data captures about 60% of the total inmate population in the nation’s 3,000-plus jails. Similarly, Reuters data accounts for about 60% of all inmate deaths nationwide, based on the latest national data collected by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. BJS issues national-level and state-level data on jail deaths, but no statistics for individual jails. The Reuters investigation is the first to provide individual jail death data on a national scale.
Reuters calculated annual death rates at more than 500 jails by dividing the total number of deaths in a given year by the average daily population in the same year – the same formula used by BJS and other experts in criminal justice statistics.
Number of inmates in jails surveyed by Reuters who died without getting their day in court
States and local law enforcement agencies have varying definitions for what constitutes a jail death. Reuters counted all deaths that occurred in a jail, as well as deaths of inmates who were hospitalized for injuries or conditions incurred at the jail. When inmates are in life-threatening condition, some jails release them and do not count their subsequent death as an inmate fatality. Reuters, like many jurisdictions across the country, included those cases in its tally of jail deaths.
Reuters received responses from more than 95% of the jurisdictions from which it sought public records. Not all jails were able to provide accurate data on inmate populations for every year covered by the analysis, particularly the earlier years. Data was not available on race for about 9% of inmates who died and for conviction status for about 17% of fatalities. In cases where data was available for adjacent years, Reuters used that information to estimate inmate populations for the years in which no data was provided – a statistical method also used by BJS.
Reuters also used court records and news accounts to identify deaths that were not documented in jails’ responses and, in many other cases, to augment information jails did provide. Several dozen unreported deaths were identified in this manner and added to the Reuters tally. Court records and other official records, such as autopsy reports, also were used when available to fill in data that some jails declined to provide, such as cause of death or age.
Reuters also collected information on how healthcare services are provided in each jail, identifying those that relied on private companies to manage and deliver that care. Reuters only considered jails to have privatized or contracted care if they relied on a company to manage and staff the facility’s entire healthcare operation. If a jail contracted with individual practitioners for discreet medical services or hired staffing agencies to provide clinicians, Reuters still considered that care to be publicly managed, just as it would if the jail was running its own healthcare operation or relying on a public health agency.
The data captures jails in 44 states plus the District of Columbia. It does not include six other states – five where all detention facilities are managed by unified state corrections agencies (Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Rhode Island and Vermont), and Alaska, which uses a hybrid model that also relies largely on a network of state-run facilities.
My good friend and great lawyer, Steve Hampton, sent me this article. Second only to “the war on drugs”, privatization is the worst thing to happen to our criminal justice system.
Excerpts from the Article:
Hefty fees for services such as drug testing and electronic monitoring are weighing down low-income people moving through the criminal justice system, according to a report by the American Bar Association.
The report, “Privatization of Services in the Criminal Justice System,” which was released in June, provides a comprehensive look at the effect of the private industry growing out of the nation’s criminal justice system, noting that about 10 million low-income residents owe more than $50 billion in often unaffordable additional costs.
The figures reflect the increased prevalence of user fees throughout the criminal justice system, and the degree to which those fees are charged by private companies, often for profit. Court fines and fees are compounded by supervision fees for both pretrial and post-sentence supervision. These fees balloon as private companies add revenue-enhancing requirements such as courses, regular drug and alcohol testing, counseling, periodic background checks and electronic monitoring.
The report, from the ABA’s Working Group on Building Public Trust in the American Justice System, represents a comprehensive overview of the role private companies play throughout the criminal justice system and how they affect low-income individuals. The report builds upon the “Ten Guidelines on Court Fines and Fees,” which were adopted as policy by the ABA House of Delegates in 2018.
The guidelines are intended to “provide practical direction for government officials and policymakers” so that the criminal justice system, particularly for relatively minor offenses, “does not punish people for the ‘crime’ of being poor.” They stress the “amount imposed, if any, should never be greater than the ability to pay or more than the actual cost of the service provided.”
The report cites numerous examples of individuals charged fees by private companies while working to resolve even minor criminal cases. Among them:
In 2015, police pulled over South Carolina resident Antonio G. for failing to use a turn signal, arrested him and took him to the local jail. The next day, his mother posted the $2,100 bail and the judge ordered, as a condition of his release on bail, that he wear and pay for an electronic monitoring device. The for-profit company that provided the monitor charged a set-up fee of $179.50 and $9.25 per day, or nearly $300 per month.
The cost of drug tests can be as little as $12 or as much as $80 or more for lab-confirmed results. At $25 per test, an individual ordered to test once a week during a 12-month term of probation will incur costs of over $1,250 for drug tests alone.
In about 40 Illinois counties, bad-check writers, in addition to restitution, must pay an administrative fee of $25 to $35 and a fee of $125 to $175 for a “financial accountability” class. In addition, there are fees for enrolling in a payment plan or rescheduling a missed class. As a result, someone who bounces a check for as little as $5 can end up paying as much as $300.
“Our criminal justice system should prioritize public safety,” said Rob Weiner, chair of the working group. “The fees in the criminal justice system disproportionately harm minority communities and, particularly when driven by profit, fuel the distrust these communities feel toward that system. We must take steps to eliminate these fees, ensure that all programs are equally accessible to those who need them and guarantee that nobody is trapped in the criminal justice system by virtue of inability to pay.”
The report represents the views of the working group and has not been approved by the ABA House of Delegates or the Board of Governors.
You know it’s bad when Bill Barr’s DOJ says it’s bad! Once again, talk talk talk, and little ENFORCEMENT action! All studies show that isolating juveniles does not help, and, in fact, makes them worse and does MH damage.
Those responsible for these conditions should be PROSECUTED! READ Why only PROSECUTION and IMPRISONMENT Will Stop Prison Abuse and Police Abuse! Demand It!
Excerpts from the Article:
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) issued notice on February 5, 2020 that it has found the “totality of the conditions, practices, and incidents” it discovered at Broad River Road Complex (BRRC), South Carolina’s long-term juvenile commitment facility, violated the juveniles’ Fourteenth Amendment rights.
After stating its intent in September 27, 2017, to investigate BRRC, the DOJ conducted three onsite visits, reviewed documents and videos, and conducted dozens of interviews with juveniles, staff, and management within South Carolina’s Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ). The DOJ noted that the DJJ was very cooperative and took steps to address concerns raised on site.
This is not the first time DJJ came under scrutiny for its failure to provide constitutional conditions of confinement for juveniles committed to its custody. In the 1990s, a federal court issued an injunction requiring DJJ to implement minimally acceptable standards to remedy the unconstitutional confinement conditions at its facilities. See: Bowers v. Boyd, 876 F.Supp. 773 (D.S.C. 1995). It developed and implemented a plan that resulted in that case being terminated in 2003.
The DOJ found DJJ fails to keep the average daily population of 100 juveniles at BRRC reasonably safe from harm and its use of isolation is unconstitutional. Over an 11-month span from July 2018 and May 2019, “there were 134 fights and 71 assaults that resulted in 99 injuries to youths. On average, youth fights and assaults occurred every two of three days and a youth sustained an injury every third day.
Staff reports in 2017 “describe significant incidents such as youth being punched, knocked to the ground and stomped, struck in the face, grabbed by the genitals, and having their glasses broken in altercations with their peers.” The injuries included loose teeth, a bite, and a broken nose.
The DOJ noted that staff decreased by 27 percent, from 235 in September 2017 to 172 in May 2019. Yet, the population increased from 119 to 127 over that period. It also found the failure to have videos held for longer than two weeks prevented investigation of incidents. Of 47 incidents in 2017, video for only 12 was available for the DOJ’s review. Failure to train staff de-escalation techniques resulted in them using force to restrain youths or in response to fights.
While the constitution prohibits using isolation solely for punishment of youths, DJJ uses isolation for punishment even where the youth was not a threat to health or safety. Youths were placed in isolation for “having playing cards,” “being unable to complete a drug test,” and “tattooing each other with ink pens.”
The average stay in isolation was three days, but in 2017 youth were isolated 39 times for 10 or more days. The longest stay was 225 days. On average, BRRC used isolation 94 times a month from July 1, 2018, to May 31, 2019. There were 46 instances of youth under suicide watch being placed in isolation or mental health observation.
The conditions of isolation are harsh, for the cells are dark and have no natural light. The only window in the cell was painted over “to impede the youth from interacting with other youth or staff outside.” The DOJ found instances of youths’ mental health deteriorating from prolonged isolation. In a few cases, juveniles were not provided psychiatric care after attempting self-harm.
The DOJ’s report listed remedial measures to correct the conditions. The February 5, 2020, notice points out that DOJ can file suit if the conditions are not corrected.