The American Friends Service Committee recommends that this country stop what it’s doing to incarcerated citizens and begin serious reform by taking the following steps. 1. Ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture. 2. Removing a human being from their community, depriving them of human contact, denying them of stimuli and subjecting them
Conditions in County Jails
The American Friends report to the UN describes the inhumanity of the U.S. justice system and the mistreatment of humans in our prisons and jails. Family members across Texas are reporting on similar conditions in many in our Texas county jails. Will Texas legislators step up and demand changes?
“At the close of 2012, the U.S. led the world in incarceration rates1 with over 2.2 million adults held in prisons and jails. Why is this the case? Deeply flawed policies focusing on punishment − not healing or rehabilitation − have created a pipeline through which economically disadvantaged populations are funneled into prisons and jails. Incarcerated individuals are frequently exposed to deplorable, cruel, and dangerous conditions of confinement that no human being should experience.”
The numbers of people dying in county jails are adding up in 2014. On October 6th, 37-year-old Iretha Lilly died hours after being tased by a McLennan County deputy; because of many reports to us of jailers failing to respond to a person in a medical crisis, we are asking how long was Ms. Lilly in heart failure before she was taken to the ER? In September saw the tragic death of 18-year-old Victoria Gray in the Brazoria County Jail, after that jail failed to protect her despite knowing of her history. Both of them were pretrial—not yet convicted. (Our list is only of deaths within county jails, not police custody.) Earlier this year, when Courtney Ruth Elmore died in the Brown County Jail, was staff properly trained to watch for respiratory failure? David Grimaldo, 18, a Perryton High School student died just hours after being booked into the Ochiltree County Jail. Sheriff Joe Hataway reported that the teen died of a medical condition—could a quicker response have prevented his death?
Diane Wilson, co-founder of Texas Jail Project, has described the misery of being numb with cold and wrapping her arms with toilet paper…but people think anybody with air conditioning is a “lucky dog.” Now, listen to the current “conditioning” in the Eastland County Jail: “They have the AC set as low as it will go, they say they will have it ‘fixed’ but do nothing. the inmates are freezing, teeth chattering, their bunks are like ice and the inmates tried to cover the vent and the officers removed the covering …” And she reports that if family members complain, the officers take it out on the inmates.
A medical officer at a Texas county jail wrote us about her job & what inmates need to know. This is exactly the kind of thing we need to hear this from those working inside jails, especially since more people have died in just the past few weeks–inmates in Gregg and Bexar and Ector counties.
“To My Inmates,
Yes, I call you “my” Inmates. Sometimes I even call you my kids. There are 600 of you and one of me, the Medical Sgt. I am a nurse. I care what happens to you. I care what your family is going through while you are here. When I interviewed for my job I was asked what would be the most difficult thing I felt I might have to go through. My answer…… losing one of you. A death in custody. You are my responsibility.”
During the last session, we informed lawmakers about the need for study of how county jails use solitary confinement or seclusion cells for housing mentally ill inmates. But the Texas Sheriffs Association and others forced the removal of county jails from SB 1003, and the questions remain. Reporters and lawyers and families ask us for information and the jails stonewall everyone, as more and more cases are revealed, where mentally ill people are being locked in solitary cells for weeks and months–growing sicker and often committing suicide. Here is the one page information handout we have on use of seclusion; let us know if you’d like to help us work on this issue.
“Unlock The Box: The Fight Against Solitary Confinement in New York” reveals how the fight against the use of solitary confinement is spreading as grim accounts and numbers reveal the overuse of isolation. Bonnie Kerness, director of the Prison Watch Project from the American Friends Service Committee, has spoken out about this most punitive and damaging form of incarceration for years. Here in Texas, a bill has been filed to curtail the use of prolonged isolation in state prisons, juvenile facilities, and county jails.
So people in jail without resources to get OUT of jail are now going to be charged for medical care while they are IN the jail! Yes, more and more jails are charging fees for any and all medical care. Dallas Couny has formulated its plan for taxing poor people and their families:
Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez recently announced that she will soon . . . . implement the plan to charge inmates a medical co-payment by tapping money in their commissary accounts, which they use to buy such items as toiletries and snacks. Inmates and their families put money in the accounts.
A jailer wrote to us, telling us of positive changes at the jail we were all concerned about. This account has to be anonymous to respect the privacy and protect the job of this correctional officer. We hope to hear from more jailers. “There have been so many good changes since you and the chaplains and the
Texas Jail Project has been monitoring the number of complaints and calls for help from inmates inside Dallas County Jail, and the numbers are down. This week, one mother in California who was worried about her son reported that she was relieved to hear her son had received treatment for the flu that many inmates have right now. This is good news, but we still look for more improvement, since the #1 search term used most often on the Texas Jail Project website is Lew Sterritt, the name of the Dallas county jail – and that’s because a lot of people are looking for information and help in dealing with this jail.