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A Tale of Two Jails

88096888Following a long-term Federal investigation that exposed violations of the constitutional rights of inmates—including failure to protect inmates from physical harm caused by excessive force used by staff, and failure to provide adequate medical and mental health care—the Westchester (NY) County Jail will now have to clean up its act or face a Federal lawsuit.

Sound familiar?

Yes, but according to a 42-page report, there are differences between the situations in Westchester County and Erie County. (Compare it with the 50-page letter issued to Erie County.)

Whereas Erie County Executive Chris Collins, County Attorney Cheryl Green, and Sheriff Tim Howard have stonewalled Federal investigators, even after the instigation of a Federal lawsuit against the County, officials in Westchester granted an on-site inspection of their jail between February 25-28, 2008.

“We interviewed Jail staff in administration, security, medical and mental health, facilities management, and training. We also interviewed inmates. Before, during, and after our visit, we reviewed an extensive number of videos and documents, including policies and procedures, orientation and staff training materials, and unit logs. We also reviewed numerous internally prepared Jail reports involving incidents, uses of force, investigations, and disciplinary matters. In keeping with our pledge of transparency and to provide technical assistance where appropriate, we conveyed our preliminary findings to WCJ officials and legal counsel for Westchester County (the “County”) at the close of our site visit,” the Federal report says.

“We thank the staff at WCJ for their helpful and professional conduct throughout the course of the investigation. The County provided us with access to records and personnel, and responded to our requests, before, during, and after our on-site visit in a forthcoming manner. We also appreciate the County’s receptiveness to our consultants’ on-site recommendations. Accordingly, we have every reason to believe that the County is committed to remedying all known deficiencies at WCJ.”

While officials in Westchester are stung by the findings, they are, apparently, working with Federal investigators to fix the violations of the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CIRPA).

It will be interesting to see which approach works best. So far, Westchester is avoiding a lawsuit—which is more than Erie County can say. In addition to the Federal one against Erie County, there’s also the one that was filed by the NYS Commission of Corrections, for violating State standards and failing to correct the violations. Sheriff Howard and his staff have said State and Federal authorities have been been unfairly picking on us here in Erie county.

The Buffalo News printed this editorial today, urging Collins and Howard to “get serious” about the issue.

Question: At what point was it OK for them not to take Civil Rights seriously?

  • Peter A Reese

    If there is a God, she will come through and burn Collins and Howard to the ground on this one. Unfortunately, if that happens, we taxpayers will get stuck with the cleanup bill. Reminds me of the early 1970s and Buffalo School Board member Alfreda Slominski. She decided to get tough and stonewall on school integration. The result was a loss in a federal suit which brought on 35 years of forced busing and fueled white flight to the burbs. Her penalty? She got elected County Comptroller and moved to the country, while the citizens got stuck with the problem.