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Chris Collins: The Holding Center is a Travesty

Dear Mr. Collins:

A measure of a society is the manner in which it treats the weakest and most vulnerable of its members. Recent events at the Erie County Holding Centers have caused concern among many Erie County residents. Stories of beatings, lack of medical care, suicides either attempted or completed, as well as tales of other cruel treatment of prisoners should be a rarity in a civilized society. While we cannot know all the details of this controversy, we have received information from three organizations as well as sad accounts from three mothers whose sons have been or are in a holding center; one actually committed suicide while there. Where is the public outrage? In the name of justice and fairness to the inmates incarcerated, we ask for an open and complete investigation concerning these reports. Should they be proven false, nothing will be lost by diligently investigating their veracity. It is far better to seek the truth than to attempt to obstruct the Department of Justice through a very expensive law suit. Other counties have taken the high road in cooperating with the Justice Department; why not we?

Citizens of Erie County rely on the integrity of their elected officials and their staff members to act in a just manner to those who find themselves accused (not convicted) of a crime or misdemeanor. Taking simple but rational steps to protect the lives and health of those incarcerated is a reasonable expectation in American society.

The Social Justice Committee of St. Joseph University Catholic Church would like to express its concerns about conditions at the Holding Center and the Alden Correctional Facility, as well as the treatment of some of the occupants. In addition we expect a full and very public examination of the inappropriate use of commissary funds.

We believe that working in an open, transparent and cooperative manner with the US Attorney General and the NYS Attorney General to correct any possible wrongs or injustices is a far better approach than the current one of antagonism and doubt created by the actions of the county. We find it appalling that our county (with your approval and perhaps blessing) has denied access to the Holding Center to the Department of Justice. There can be no excuse for poor oversight or neglect of health and safety conditions in our prisons. Officials are elected and paid by the citizens to do a responsible job. In this regard, the County Executive, the Sheriff, and the County Attorney must be scrupulous in the execution of their duties to the weakest and most vulnerable among us and be totally transparent regarding their cooperation with the US Department of Justice.

Gloria McLaughlin
Chair, Social Justice Committee, St. Joseph University parish

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