Artvoice: Buffalo's #1 Newsweekly
Home Blogs Web Features Calendar Listings Artvoice TV Real Estate Classifieds Contact
Previous story: The People's Agenda
Next story: Seven Days: The Straight Dope From the Week That Was

Courting Disaster

Judge Skretny hears opening arguments from feds, county

On Wednesday afternoon, Erie County Attorney Cheryl Green alleged that the US Department of Justice complaint against conditions at the county’s two jails is insufficient on its face, or that it’s so non-specific that the county can’t even respond to it.

Since they have yet to be allowed in to examine the facilities, Judge William M. Skretny asked federal attorneys how they came by their allegations.

US attorneys told the judge that the complaints compiled from interviews with inmates during the previous county executive’s time in office, coupled with more recent interviews with former and current inmates, as well as a report from the NYS Commission of Correction in 2008, illustrates a pattern and practice of behavior that violates the Eighth Amendment (which deals with cruel and unusual punishment), and 14th Amendment (which deals with citizenship and civil rights).

The county argued that the problem is the feds seek “best practices” rather than the “bare minimum” in addressing treatment of prisoners, and that the only clues to what should really be provided to prisoners must be found in existing case law. For example, Green offered that laundry facilities need not exist, as long as prisoners have a sink, a bar of soap, and clean water to wash their clothes.

“And this whole suicide thing. How many are acceptable,” Green asked, given the volume of people held in detention by the county. She then cited 15 suicides accomplished through hanging by wrapping sheets through air vents, and asked if it’s the county’s responsibility to fix that, when the state originally approved the cell design.

“This court has to look at the limitations of the Constitution,” she argued.

“Isn’t that my conclusion to make?” Skretny asked.

There was a lot of nitpicking going on, which may suggest a long, drawn-out battle brewing. For their part, US attorneys will seek to show deliberate indifference toward continuing problems at the jails. The county, by all appearances, will continue to draw this out as long as possible, in an effort to avoid facing up to rights guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States.

buck quigley

blog comments powered by Disqus