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The County Holding Center

Understandably concerned about multiple deaths at Erie County jails, federal inspectors from the Department of Justice want to inspect the Erie County Holding Center, but County Executive Collins won’t let them in. Instead he relies on the advice of County Attorney Green who states that if allowed inside, the federal government would force the county to provide inmates at the Holding Center medical benefits “far greater than what the typical Erie County taxpayer has available to them,” including annual mammograms. Green’s argument is a straw man that adds nothing to public discourse about conditions at our jails.

Three years ago the NYS Commission on Corrections, the state agency charged with oversight of our jails, found that Erie County failed to provide a “system for the management and monitoring of chronically ill inmates/patients”, and that it was in violation of state law that requires “screening to identify serious or life-threatening medical conditions.” The Commission wanted nothing more than for the county to develop a health care delivery system that was operational for 24 hours a day, seven day a week.

Three years ago then Erie County Sheriff Patrick Gallivan warned the County Legislators that unless it provided the Sheriff’s Department, which is responsible for the Holding Center, with adequate funding that the county would not be in compliance with state law regulating the Holding Center. He told our legislators that “Constitutional rights under the Fifth and Eighth Amendments will be impacted if insufficient funding is put in place which deprives people of due process under the law or exposes them to cruel and unusual punishment.”

Despite the Commission’s critical report and despite the Sheriff’s warning, Erie County continues to operate the Holding Center with indifference to the basic medical needs of inmates. The Justice Department’s investigation isn’t about providing inmates annual mammograms; it’s about preventing serious illness and death.

Nan L. Haynes, Assistant Professor of Legal Skills, UB Law School

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