Federal Judge Found a Litany of Inhumane Problems in Joe Arpaio's Jails

Categories: News

By John Dickerson

In his ruling Thursday against Sheriff Joe Arpaio, U.S. District Judge Neil Wake cited a litany of unconstitutional problems in county jails: inadequate medical care, poor food, chronic overcrowding, and indifference to inmate health concerns.

Jail medical personnel's prescribing of a Soviet-era drug that causes tremors, spasms and "potentially permanent and disfiguring involuntary movements around the face" was another jail deficiency mentioned in Wake's 83-page "conclusion of law."

The judge's decision in the landmark Graves v. Arpaio case (formerly Hart v. Arpaio and Hart v. Hill) came after he reviewed three weeks of court testimony and thousands of pages of records. Many of the same complaints the judge listed were outlined last December in New Times' story “Inhumanity Has a Price.”

Sadly, the long list of violations in the ruling involved hundreds of inmates who endured cruel and unusual conditions under Joe Arpaio's watch. Some died as a result.

Wake noted that the "Eighth Amendment provides inmates with a right to safe conditions of confinement, including an adequate level of personal security.”

Specifically, failure to ensure this constitutional right led to inmate Robert Cotton's beating death, and to inmate Jeremy Flanders' near death following a jail assault.

Another problem spotlighted by Wake was that Arpaio’s jails do “not consistently ensure that all pretrial detainees actually receive all prescribed medications as ordered.” Another was that the jails' "inadequate medical records may create a risk of unnecessary pain and suffering."

These particular deficiencies cost Deborah Braillard her life when she was denied insulin for her diabetes.

Asked for a comment about the ruling, sheriff's spokesman Paul Chagolla responded, not surprisingly, with an accusation against New Times: "Yellow Journalist: You must be gleaning information from reputable reporters." We're not sure what that means, since New Times was the first to report on Wake's ruling Wednesday.

The sheriff did issue a press release about the ruling, amazingly claiming that it was a victory for him.

"This judgment reinforces the excellent work being performed by the detention staff, and we all are always committed to improving the jail system wherever possible,” Arpaio was quoted as saying.

The judge's order should change a number of things in Arpaio's jails. Among them: green baloney, filthy living conditions, and broken plumbing. The order specifically requires Arpaio to address severe overcrowding at the Fourth Avenue Jail, where as many as 35 inmates can be crammed into one cell -- without beds -- for as long as 72 hours.

Subjecting certain detainees to extreme temperatures will no longer be allowed under the order, which should mean that Tent City cannot be as widely used as it is now.

For a look at Wake's entire 83-page order, click here. Highlights from his voluminous list of unconstitutional jail problems are listed below:

Medical Care

* "Prison officials show deliberate indifference to serious medical needs if prisoners are unable to make their medical problems known to the medical staff. Access to the medical staff has no meaning if the medical staff is not competent to deal with the prisoners’ problems. The medical staff must be competent to examine prisoners and diagnose illnesses. It must be able to treat medical problems or refer prisoners to others who can.”

* “The Eighth Amendment prohibits deliberate indifference not only to an inmate’s current health problems, but also to conditions of confinement that are very likely to cause future serious illness and needless suffering...Budgetary constraints do not justify delay in treatment for a serious medical need.”

* “Pretrial detainees frequently are denied access to adequate medical, mental health, and dental care because they do not receive a timely in-person assessment of the urgency of their need for treatment.”

* "Inadequate medical records may create a risk of unnecessary pain and suffering in violation of the Eighth Amendment."

* “Thorazine is an antipsychotic medication with potentially severe and permanent side effects, including extremely painful involuntary muscle spasms of the neck, tongue, eyes or other muscles, a profound restlessness and constant movement of the feet and legs, drug-induced Parkinsonism (a resting tremor with some muscle rigidity), and tardive diskenesia (potentially permanent and disfiguring involuntary movements around the face). Although Correctional Health Services witnesses testified they would not prescribe thorazine as a first line of treatment, in fact, Correctional Health Services has prescribed thorazine for many psychotic, and even some not psychotic, pretrial detainees without justification for its use. Correctional Health Services psychiatrists sometimes prescribe thorazine as a sleep aid.”

* “Clinicians at the Maricopa County Jails often cannot provide a professional medical judgment because Correctional Health Services does not have a medical record and information system capable of timely providing health care professionals with the information they need to diagnose and treat pretrial detainees appropriately, including laboratory results and results of specialty consults.”

* “Correctional Health Services does not maintain a list of pretrial detainees with chronic diseases and cannot readily determine where they are housed and what medications have been prescribed for them.”

* "Systemic deficiencies in the screening process significantly impair continuity of care and result in failure to identify pretrial detainees with immediate medical needs."


Overcrowding

* At times, the court holding cells [at the Madison Street Jail] are so overcrowded that pretrial detainees do not have room to sit or adequate access to toilet and sink facilities. Overcrowding in the court holding cells causes sanitation problems and health risks to pretrial detainees. Overcrowding in the court holding cells at Madison violates pretrial detainees’ constitutional rights.

* “Often, substantially more than thirty-five pretrial detainees are held in one cell [in the Fourth Avenue Jail holding area]. At times, intake holding cells are so overcrowded that there is not room for all inmates to sit on benches, and at times there is not room for all inmates to sit anywhere, even on the floor. At times, inmates sleep on the concrete floor, and sometimes there is not enough room for inmates to sleep on the floor without coming into physical contact with other inmates. At times, the intake holding cells are too crowded for inmates to move to use the toilet and sink. Overcrowding in the 4th Avenue Intake holding cells violates pretrial detainees’ constitutional rights.”

* “From June 1, 2007, through May 31, 2008, 93,065 pretrial detainees were booked into [Fourth] Avenue Intake. Of these, 21,987 (24%) were in intake more than twenty-four hours, 1,910 were in intake more than forty-eight hours, and 358 inmates were in intake more than seventy-two hours."

* “Regardless of the length of time a pretrial detainee remains in the intake process, Defendant Arpaio does not provide the pretrial detainee with a bed and blanket unless the pretrial detainee is placed in an isolation cell. As previously found, intake holding cells often are overcrowded, without room for all inmates to sit, sleep, or move to use the toilet and sink. At times, the intake holding cells are extremely dirty, and the sinks and toilets unsanitary and inoperable.
At times, the intake holding cells do not have toilet paper, and pretrial detainees are not provided with toilet paper when they request it. At times, the intake holding cells do not have soap for pretrial detainees to wash their hands after using the toilet. During intake, inmates usually have no access to a shower until they receive their jail uniforms. Some inmates have not been permitted to take a shower in intake before putting on their jail uniforms. When inmates are brought into intake, usually little is known about their mental and physical conditions, sexual orientation, and security threat levels."

* "During intake, repeat offenders charged with serious violent crimes may be placed in holding cells with individuals charged with DUI or criminal speeding. There are no panic buttons or intercom systems in the intake holding cells. Pretrial detainees placed in intake holding cells usually can communicate with a detention officer only when the door is opened to move pretrial detainees in or out of a holding cell."

* "Although security cameras record activity within intake holding cells, detention officers do not continuously watch the security cameras. Security staff provide only minimal visual and audio supervision of the intake holding cells. Detention officers do not conduct routine security walks on a regular basis in the intake areas."

* "Detention officers do not continuously monitor the intake holding cells. The intake incident reports do not include every incident that occurs in the intake holding cells, even some that require pretrial detainees to receive medical treatment. Defendant Arpaio does not consistently take reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of the pretrial detainees during the intake process, which constitutes a current and ongoing violation of pretrial detainees’ constitutional rights."

"Overcrowding [in general] can violate the Eighth Amendment if it results in specific effects that form the basis for [a] violation, such as by causing increased violence, diluting constitutionally required services to the extent that they fall below the minimum [constitutional] standards, or by reaching a level “unfit for human habitation.”

Sanitation

* “Rats and/or mice remain a chronic problem in Maricopa County Jails, which Defendant Arpaio has made some efforts to eradicate. Cells are not consistently cleaned and sanitized prior to occupancy by pretrial detainees thereby causing an unconstitutional health risk…There are, therefore, current and ongoing violations of pretrial detainees’ constitutional rights."

* “If a prison’s plumbing is in such disrepair that it deprives inmates of basic elements of hygiene and seriously threatens their physical and mental well-being, it constitutes cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment.”

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