You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Correctional Corruption’ category.

Advertisements

Joshua Dall-Leighton is accused of sexually assaulting a female inmate in his charge at the Southern Maine Reentry Center in Alfred.

Joshua Dall-Leighton of Standish, who made headlines in 2015 when he donated a kidney to a woman who was looking for a donor, denies accusations that he had sexual encounters with a female inmate he supervised. 2015 Press Herald fileJoshua Dall-Leighton of Standish, who made headlines in 2015 when he donated a kidney to a woman who was looking for a donor, denies accusations that he had sexual encounters with a female inmate he supervised. 

A trial begins Monday for a former prison guard accused of repeatedly sexually assaulting a woman who was incarcerated at a transitional corrections facility in Alfred.

Joshua Dall-Leighton, 34, faces five charges of gross sexual assault and one of unlawful sexual contact. All are felonies, and he has pleaded not guilty.

Dall-Leighton received widespread media attention in June 2015 for donating a kidney to a woman who advertised her need for a new organ in the back window of her car. That gift of his kidney to a virtual stranger may play a role in his trial.

Among the motions filed in the case is a request by the state to keep that information from the jury. The defense objected, saying it was evidence of his character. It was not clear Friday how the judge had ruled on that motion and others.

The indictment states the alleged crimes took place on multiple days between December 2015 and February 2016. During that time, Dall-Leighton worked at a pre-release center for female inmates in Alfred, where the woman was finishing a prison sentence.

An affidavit filed in York County Superior Court by a Maine Department of Corrections detective describes alleged sexual encounters between the guard and the woman in a prison transport van. Dall-Leighton drove the van to take the woman to her workplace in Sanford, according to the affidavit.

The affidavit quoted a letter the woman wrote to a Bangor attorney describing the advances of an officer at the pre-release center. She said she eventually became intoxicated so she would be transferred from the Southern Maine Reentry Center in Alfred back to the Maine Correctional Facility in Windham to get away from him.

“I avoided sexual intercourse with this officer for some time but because of his position of power, and the many things I stood to lose, I felt pressured to engage,” she wrote. “This officer transported me to work several times per week and we were often alone while driving. I requested a job change, but was repeatedly denied. I felt I was in a no-win situation.”

Dall-Leighton stopped working at the pre-release center when he was charged, his defense lawyer told the Portland Press Herald at the time.

More than two years have passed since a York County grand jury indicted Dall-Leighton in November 2016. Neither the defense attorney nor the District Attorney’s Office returned a call for comment Friday.

The woman was convicted in January 2012 in Rockland of elevated aggravated assault, robbery and burglary. She was sentenced to 10 years in prison with all but six years suspended. Now 34 years old, she has been released and is on probation. The Portland Press Herald does not name the victims of alleged sex crimes without their consent.

She also filed a lawsuit in 2017 against Dall-Leighton, as well as the state and prison officials she said failed to protect her from the assaults. The former guard did not respond to the complaint, meaning he was in default. A federal judge then ordered him to pay $1.1 million to the former inmate, although it is not clear if he can or will pay that sum.

Ezra Willey, who represents the woman in the civil matter but does not have an active role in the criminal case, said he is pursuing options for his client to collect at least part of that award. The judge also dismissed the lawsuit against the state and the corrections officials, a decision Willey has appealed.

Willey credited the woman for coming forward with her allegations against Dall-Leighton and referenced the #MeToo movement that has shed light on sexual misconduct.

“She’s a recovery coach now,” he said. “She’s been speaking at different events about addiction. She’s really gotten out there in the community and is not only trying to help herself, but she’s really trying to help other people. I really admire her for that.”

 

Dear viewers,

None of the contributors to this blog write us for the purpose of ending up on the blog.  Although in the beginning (and next year the Political Prisoners Blog will be ten years old) we solicited and posted, anonymously, things written specifically for the blog, that isn’t necessarily so for all of our current inmate contributors.

Having had relationships with the current roster for over at least three years minimum, most of the entries that you’ll view these days are excerpts taken from personal correspondence between the inmates and the members of the project.  We let everyone know, early on, that excerpts of their letters to us may be used in the blog; far more remains un-posted.  Convicts in Maine, of course, have no way of viewing the blog, or of seeing responses posted to their entries, unless we forward them on.

Recently, Arline Lawless whose content has been featured in blog since January of 2016 was written up for posting to “social media,” referring to a Maine Department of Corrections ban on the same.  She was initially looking at a loss of earned good time, although presently she faces eight days of room restriction.

Unfortunately, until this issue is resolved you’ll be seeing no more contributions from Arline Lawless.

Sincerely,

The Holistic Recovery Project.

download (2)

Write to Arline via:

M.C.C. – Arline Lawless – MDOC #60057

17 Mallison Falls Road – Windham, Maine 04062

I’m currently incarcerated at the Windham Maine Correctional Center, doing 17 months for violating probation on a conviction of OUI which occurred in 2004. I suffer from a mental illness, addiction and residuals from a traumatic brain injury. Here’s my groove on Corrections in the State of Maine:

While Incarcerated at Kennebec County Correctional Facility in January of 2009, I pulled one of my best friends from a shower where he had committed suicide by hanging. Arthur Brian Traweek was a co-founder of the Holistic Recovery Project, and suffered from a mental illness. We were both successful graduates of the Kennebec county Co-Occurring Disorders Court Program.

Brian was only serving a 6 month sentence, but he’d been threatening suicide since his incarceration in November. While hanging from a sheet in the shower, an officer, Herreva went through our block for a check and actuallyopened the door to the shower room & seemed to look inside. (Apparently not.) After we pulled Brian out of the shower and alerted the guards, it was perhaps 8 minutes before they began performing mouth to mouth resuscitation on Brian. Why? No one could find a “separator:” a 25 cent plastic piece which rests between a victims lips and a rescuers (to prevent infection?) When they arrived, they said that he’d had a pulse. 8 minutes. Now he’s dead.

Brian had tried to commit suicide before, but with his particular illness most successful suicides are actual accidental. Brian counted on the jail to protect him. (To read the full deposition on Brian’s wrongful death, written only hours after the tragedy – click here).

What happened? There was an official police investigation. Nothing came of it. Maine State Civil Liberties Union promised to look into it, but never did.

Carol Caruthers of NAMI did stage a vigil, a candlelight vigil for Brian, right outside our window at the jail. It was attended by people who’d never visited Brian while he was alive. Neither would any of the crowd be visiting any of us who survived. We were treated to a crowd of candle-holding strangers, drinking coffee (which we couldn’t) and smoking cigarettes (which we couldn’t.)

As a fellow inmate said: “Who are these people? Brian never got any visitors when he was alive! Coffee and cigarettes? Why don’t they strippers out there too & call it good?!”

This was while we all faced showering in the same shower my friend had just hung himself in.

I have to throw in a special shout out to Carol Caruthers, who organized the worthless vigil – oh, made the paper, though, didn’t it, Carol? Carol, the executive Director of NAMI, Maine – National Association of Mentally Ill? NAMI did nothing. NAMI didn’t give a fuck. We even asked Carol over & over again to help re-open the investigation! “Please, Carol, Please!! Help us!! Read NAMI’s own reports on those of us with mental illness & addiction, killing ourselves in jail! Help us Carol!”

Carol & NAMI do not care. But they did have that nifty candlelight vigil!

Fuck you, Carol. Fuck you, NAMI.

Brian’s dead.

How many more of us will die, Carol?

Just keep cashing your checks, love.

In the System’s defense – did they ask to become, as Sheriff Randal Liberty so aptly put it recently, “the number one provider of mental health services in Maine?” No, they did not. Jails are for what? Punishment. As Bo Lozoff says, jail is “intended to punish them, pure & simple – to punish, hurt, confuse, emasculate, and eventually break their contrary spirits.” Or, as a friend of mine from Texas said to me before my most recent arrest, “Y’all got only a little over a million people in your whole one-syllable state –  how can your prisons be over-crowded?”

Jails were never designed to treat those of us with serious mental illness or addiction, any more than they were meant to treat cancer or leprosy.

What can we do to change things?

What can you do? Please – get involved. Nothing happens from within, and I guarantee you – all of the powers that be know the truth about Brian’s death, but no one will do anything to change the status quo unless we the people demand it. Call your legislator, your governor – call Carol – at NAMI, Maine. Ask her what time it is. Join the Holistic Recovery Project at http://holistix.atspace.com/wholeness.htm – we have a mailing list there too.

They incarcerate the mentally ill & the addicted, then they release them – untreated – back into your neighborhood.

If the powers that be lived in your neighborhood, perhaps more of us would be sent to rehabs & psychiatric hospitals. Perhaps there’d be money for those programs.

Only you can make it happen.

Please do. Because I guarantee – right now – some twenty-something is sitting in a cell & he’s coming off of opiates & his mental illness is causing him to believe that there’s only one way out.

– Rage

Interesting Collect Calls I've Made From Prison by Rage

As spring rapidly approaches, I once again find myself in the mood for a good spring-cleaning.  However, inasmuch as I am a guest a the “Little Hilton on the Hill” (M.C.C.) and have little to clean of my own, I have decided to do spring cleaning for others.  Yep, ol’ Bob Wire has decided to clean the skeletons out of the closet of M.C.C.  Further, in the tradition of the great gossip columnists I will clean out the closet in the form of “Ask Bob Wire” (I am, after all, a man-in-the-know, here at the Hilton.)

Disclaimer:  I cannot say with 1000% certainty that what follows is actually true, but this I can say:  a rumor is not a rumor that will not die!

Dear Bob Wire:  Is it true that a female C.O. here at M.C.C. made a sex video for the Internet off her getting the shit fucked out of her by a dog? Sincerely, Inmate X

Dear Inmate X:  That rumor is patently FALSE… it was vaginal sex.

Dear Bob W:  I was told that there was an inmate in here who actually once saw a female C.O. do a strip act at Pure Platinum in Portland.  Is there any truth to that rumor?  Thanks, Inmate Y.

Dear Y: That rumor is false!  All one has to do is look at the C.O. in question to know that can’t be true, for the C.O. is less than 300lbs and has her teeth.  What kind of strip act would that be?  Duh!

Dear Bob Wire:  Is there any truth to the rumor that in 2007 a staff member here was caught with child porn on their computer?  Thanks, Inmate Geek.

Dear Geek:  It is true!  But, in the defense of the individual involved the pictures were rumored not to be for him, but for a calendar in a couple of dorms here at M.C.C.  Good question.  Keep sending them.

Dear BW:  Is it true that from time to time that C.O.’s   h  ave been inclined to bang female inmates at M.C.C.?  Thanks again, Bob Enzyte.

Dear Chubby:  That is a very good question indeed.  Yes!  In 2007, a couple of C.O.s were fired for having sex with female inmates.  It is a fetish sweeping the nation.  It’s called captive sex!

Dear Bob:  Is it true that one time a member of the medical staff was fired for possession of cocaine and other narcotics while on duty?  Thank you, Ted Blow

Dear TB: Yes!  2007 was a very good year for C.O.’s thinking they are “all that” and above everybody else.  Ooooops!!

Dear BW:  Who is watching the watchers here at M.C.C.?  John

Dear John:  Beats the shit out of me!  I guess there are things that even the gods cannot understand!

Well, that is it for this months “Ask Bob Wire.”  Keep the questions coming, because if ol’ Bob here can’t find out (or make up) the good answers, nobody can!

Readers of my blogging often write me and say (actually, they write these things, not say them, just for the record) things like: “Bob Wire you’re a pretty negative dude.”  Yet others write “Who stuck a stick up your ass to get you so pissed off at M.C.C.?”  Still others write:  “Bob, I could so do you in the ass right now!”  Okay, okay, the last one I made up, but it is lonely here!  However the point is this: people think I am a negative kind of guy!!

HELLO!!!  ME??? NEGATIVE???

Okay, I can be a bit negative, but I also have a positive side.  To show the world the wonderfully positive Bob Wire, I will expose Super Positive Bob to the blogging world.  I am going to make Norman Vincent Peale look like a prophet of doom.  To expose my positive outlook in the blogging world I thought I might offer MCC suggestions for the better operation of the facility.  Pissing and moaning aside, Here I Go!

To the medical department:  read the labels on the inmate’s prescription cards.  I think you will find that they do not prescribe taking the medication at 7:30 am, 10:30 am and 10 pm.  see the problem here?  Three fucking hours between the first and second taking and 12 HOURS TIL THE THIRD… Hello!  Is it that hard to give the inmates their meds on a schedule that has the semblance of sanity attached to it?

To the administration:  in an attempt to save money, I suggest the following:  get rid of the C.O.(s) at Sally Port; leave the gates wide open.  What are you afraid of anyway?  That an inmate might escape from one fenced-in area with razor wire to another fenced-in area with razor wire?  The money saved on not having one C.O. could provide bologna sandwiches one day a week at chow…

To the Chow Hall:  Keep you know who (J.R. – dorm 5) last in line at chow.  No one likes his nose dripping all over everything including the food in the salad bar, the tables, the food line… nasty… you guys know his nose drips everywhere; do something about it… fucking nasty.

To the guys that plow snow:  try to put the fucking snow plow down on the ground when plowing.  It is fucking bad enough that we have to walk everywhere improperly dressed for the weather; we should not have to use our sneakers to pack the fucking snow down…

To those in charge of the living quarters:  Stand up to the punks, for God’s sake.  Who is running this shit hole anyway?

Well, that was fun.  I got to be Mr. Positive and if the powers to be are like me (and I would like to think they are), they will take these suggestions to heart and we can all live happier, healthier lives together.

Bob Wire

A shocking new study by the American Civil Liberties Union has found that more than 3,200 people nationwide are serving life terms without parole for nonviolent offenses. Of those prisoners, 80 percent are behind bars for drug-related convictions. Sixty-five percent are African-American, 18 percent are white, and 16 percent are Latino — evidence of what the ACLU calls “extreme racial disparities.” The crimes that led to life sentences include stealing gas from a truck, shoplifting, possessing a crack pipe, facilitating a $10 sale of marijuana, and attempting to cash a stolen check. We speak with Jennifer Turner, human rights researcher and author of the new ACLU report, “A Living Death: Life Without Parole for Nonviolent Offenses.”

Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: A shocking new study by the American Civil Liberties Union has found that more than 3,200 people nationwide are serving life terms without parole for nonviolent offenses. Of those prisoners, 80 percent are behind bars for drug-related crimes. Sixty-five percent are African-American, 18 percent are white, and 16 percent are Latino—evidence of what the ACLU calls “extreme racial disparities.” The crimes that led to life sentences include stealing gas from a truck, shoplifting, possessing a crack pipe, facilitating a $10 sale of marijuana, and attempting to cash a stolen check.

AMY GOODMAN: Sixty-three percent of those serving life without parole for these nonviolent offenses are in federal prisons. Most were sentenced under mandatory minimum laws. The ACLU says keeping nonviolent offenders behind bars for life is costing taxpayers an additional $1.8 billion. In a minute, we’ll be joined by the author of the study. But first, this is a clip from a video that features family members of some of the more than 600 prisoners it profiles.

SARLOWER SURRY: Everything he did was to hurt himself, not others. And it went from—from one-year sentence to two-year sentence to natural life.

CASHAWNA TILMAN: My dad will never get out for something so little? Natural life.

LORETTA LUMAR: For stealing a $150 jacket. And that $150 jacket got him life in prison.

SARLOWER SURRY: Here in Louisiana, they use that habitual offender law: Three strikes, you automatically get natural life.

CATHERINE MATTHEWS: It’s like giving him a death sentence, because this is no life—no life for a man with his children or his parents or anybody else, once they’re in there.

BURL CAIN: Judge should have the discretion not to give a life sentence. I mean, that’s extreme. You tell that to anybody, they’ll say, “Ah, nah-uh, that’s a little bit too much.” That almost gets to be the point that that’s not what the forefathers envisioned, even with the Constitution. That’s extreme. That’s cruel and unusual punishment, to me.

CASHAWNA TILMAN: He’s a good person, my dad. I mean, he’s always—like I said, he’s always been there for me and my sister and brother. He’s always done his best, until he started abusing the drugs.

CATHERINE MATTHEWS: And a lot of times with Patrick, with the drugs, it came down to not being able to find work.

SARLOWER SURRY: Life sentence is no way to deal with a drug addiction.

EISIBE SNEED: My son wasn’t a menace to society.

DELOICE LEWIS: He would give his shirt off his back.

CATHERINE MATTHEWS: And being so tenderhearted in a place like that, it just doesn’t fit. It’s changed him that way, because I notice he is getting a little colder. I find that he’s not believing and he’s not keeping his faith as much. He’s not—like, he’s like, “I’m about ready to give up on this.”

WILLIE COMBS: Oh, it’s been hard. I go down there and see him. I can’t hardly stand to leave him, but I know I have to go. It be hard. It be hard.

CATHERINE MATTHEWS: To tell him what I ate for Thanksgiving, and he couldn’t eat it, you know, it’s hard. It’s little things like that.

DELOICE LEWIS: And my birthday coming up, and those are days I break.

BURL CAIN: But if this person can go back and be a productive citizen and not commit crimes again, these nonviolent crimes, then why are we keeping him here, spending all this money? Because maybe I’ve done my job, so he should have a parole hearing.

SARLOWER SURRY: There’s too many families that’s suffering out here.

LORETTA LUMAR: Give him a second chance. He’s 54 years old now.

WILLIE COMBS: I’m looking for things to change.

CATHERINE MATTHEWS: Because these boys are just getting wasted away in these prisons for no reason.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s a clip from a video that accompanies the ACLU’s new report, “A Living Death: Life Without Parole for Nonviolent Offenses.” For more, we’re joined by its author, Jennifer Turner, human rights researcher with the American Civil Liberties Union.

Welcome to Democracy Now! I mean, it is just astounding. A man—the story we just heard; another story, a man walks out of a store with a coat slung over his shoulder, $159, gets life in prison without parole.

JENNIFER TURNER: Absolutely. These sentences are grotesquely out of proportion of the crimes that they’re seeking to punish. And we found that 3,278 people are serving life without the possibility of parole for nonviolent crimes, but these numbers actually underrepresent the true state of extreme sentencing in this country. Those numbers don’t account for those who will die in prison because of sentences such as 350 years for a drug sale. It also doesn’t account for the many millions of lives ruined by excessive sentencing in this country, as well.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And especially the impact of federal mandatory minimum sentencings, could you talk about that and the efforts to try to roll back some of those—some of those laws?

JENNIFER TURNER: Yeah, what we found was that over 80 percent of these sentences were mandatory, both in the federal system and in the states. They’re the direct consequence of laws passed over the 40-year war on drugs and tough-on-crime policies that included mandatory minimum sentencing laws, habitual offender laws in the states.

And they tie judges’ hands. And in case after case after case that I reviewed, the judge said from the bench—outraged, would say, “I oppose this sentence as a citizen, as a taxpayer, as a judge. I disagree with the sentence in this case, but my hands are tied.” And one judge said, when sentencing one man to life without parole for selling tiny quantities of crack over a period of just a couple of weeks, he said, “This is a travesty. It’s just silly. But I have no choice.”

AMY GOODMAN: What if a judge said no?

JENNIFER TURNER: The judges can’t say no. In fact, I looked at cases where the judges tried to say no, where the judge tried to find a legal loophole, where prosecutors appealed, repeatedly. One man was sentenced to zero time in prison by a Louisiana judge for threatening a cop while handcuffed in the back of a police cruiser. He was drunk, threatened him, was sentenced initially to no time. The prosecutor appealed; the sentence increased to 10 years. Prosecutor appealed again. On the third appeal, it was increased to life without parole as a mandatory sentence because of his priors dating back as much as 20 years earlier.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to another case. Another person profiled in your report, in the ACLU report, is Sharanda Jones. She was sentenced to life for conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine when she was a 32-year-old mother, with a nine-year-old daughter—no prior arrests. No drugs were found on her, but her supposed co-conspirators testified against her in exchange for reduced sentences. In this clip from the film, The War on Drugs, she talks about being separated from her daughter.

SHARANDA JONES: My sister bring her to visit. And every time she come, it’s hard. I see her like once a month. And to see her grow from a little bitty baby to almost a grown woman now, it’s just like, God, my dream is to just show up at her school. I mean, I know they gave me life, but I can’t imagine not being at her graduation, her high school graduation. I just can’t imagine me not being there.

AMY GOODMAN: Sharanda Jones. Jennifer, tell us more about her case.

JENNIFER TURNER: Well, Sharanda was caught up in a massive drug sweep in a majority white town in Texas. Over a hundred people were arrested, all of whom were black. Chuck Norris participated in some of the arrests. Sharanda had no information to trade for a lenient—a more lenient sentence. And the judge was required to sentence her to life without parole, objected to the sentence, but he had not choice.

AMY GOODMAN: So, they had nothing on her, but—

JENNIFER TURNER: They had nothing but one wiretap. What happened was, a couple had been arrested on drug charges and began cooperating with the feds as confidential informants and, from there, started implicating others in the community. They called Sharanda and said, “Hey, do you know where we can get some drugs?” The wiretap caught Sharanda saying, “Let me see what I can do.” That was the extent of the evidence against her, with the exception of testimony from these confidential informants and other co-conspirators. They never found any drugs on her. There were no even video surveillance of her with drugs. But she was sentenced to life without parole.

A single mother. Her daughter Clenesha has been separated her for many, many, many years. And Sharanda maintains a very close relationship with her daughter. She carefully apportions the 300 minutes she’s allowed to use per month for non-legal calls to call her daughter 10 minutes each day. When I talk to Sharanda on the phone, she’s like, “I’ve got to go! I can’t use up my minutes; I need to speak with my daughter.”

And Sharanda, unfortunately, has no relief available. Her sentence is final, like those of everyone else we were profiling. They have really no chance of relief unless President Obama, in Sharanda’s case, because it’s a federal case, or, in the states, where the governors use their executive clemency powers to reduce their sentence.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Could you talk about the racial disparities that your report highlights? They’re really amazing. I mean, everyone knows that African Americans and Latinos are disproportionately incarcerated, but in terms of these life-without-parole sentences, the amazing percentage of African Americans, specifically, in states like Louisiana, 91 percent are African-American.

JENNIFER TURNER: The racial disparities are staggering. Obviously, as you said, that blacks are treated disparately throughout the criminal justice system, but what we found was that in life-without-parole sentencing for nonviolent crimes, those disparities are even more marked. Nationwide, 65 percent of people serving these sentences for nonviolent crimes are black; 18 percent are white. In the federal system, blacks are 20 times more likely to be sentenced to life without parole for nonviolent crime. In some states it’s even higher. In Louisiana, where 91 percent of the people serving these sentences are black, they’re 23 times more likely. In the federal system, Latinos are five times more likely to be sentenced to life for nonviolent crime than whites.

AMY GOODMAN: So, the avenue for this to be changed is legislation?

JENNIFER TURNER: There are very clear avenues for change. These sentences are really symptomatic of the larger problem of excessive sentencing in this country. Many, many, many more thousands of people are serving excessive sentences that are disproportionate to their crimes. And they’re all the result of the 40-year war on drugs and tough-on-crime policies, such as mandatory minimums and three-strikes laws. We simply need to repeal the laws that led to these sentences. And with growing national consensus across both sides of the political aisle that mandatory minimum sentences, for instance, are a travesty of justice, this is quite possible. There have been two bipartisan bills introduced in Congress that would somewhat reduce the reach of mandatory minimum sentencing laws.

But also, as I mentioned before, the—President Obama, who has the worst pardon record of any modern president—he has pardoned five turkeys and commuted the sentence of only one prisoner—he does have the power and authority to review the sentences of the over 2,000 people like Sharanda serving life without parole for a nonviolent crime, and he can reduce their sentence. Same with state governors.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And as you note, even if there were changes in the law, these more than 3,000 people that have already been sentenced would not necessarily be affected. It would have to take some executive action by governors or by the president to get some of them—to assure they don’t die in prison, essentially.

JENNIFER TURNER: Absolutely. Some sentencing reforms have been retroactive, and certainly future sentencing reforms could be retroactive, and that’s what we’re calling for. But for many of these people, their only chance at release is some form of clemency. And we have a petition online on our website where you can all take action to call on President Obama to review these sentences and impose a fairer and smarter sentence for these prisoners.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, just to shift gears a bit, about a year ago you came out with a report, “Island of Impunity: Puerto Rico’s Outlaw Police Force.” Explain what’s happening now.

JENNIFER TURNER: Absolutely. In Puerto Rico, I looked at Puerto Rico Police Department because it’s the second largest in the country, second only to NYPD, and because its policing practices are really off the map. We found that the police force uses lethal force at a rate much higher than other police departments—three times the per capita rate of police shootings by the NYPD, for instance; uses excessive force against protesters; brutal beatings of low-income and black Puerto Ricans and Dominican immigrants.

And we sued the police department, called on the Department of Justice to investigate the police department. And just in August, the department was entered into a consent decree with the Justice Department. And two weeks ago, a monitor was appointed to oversee the reform effort and to ensure that the police department actually institutes the reforms that they’ve promised to institute. One week ago, a top New York Police Department officer was appointed superintendent of the police force to start this reform process.

So it’s really the very beginning stages, and we will be watching closely to make sure the police department does follow through on its promise for reforms, which are truly an overhaul of the police force, which is required. The police force is so dysfunctional that it needs to be overhauled at all levels, from basic policies put in place to holding cops accountable when they kill or hurt people, as well as changing the reporting mechanisms. Really, everything has to be reformed in that police department.

AMY GOODMAN: Jennifer Turner, we want to thank you very much for being with us, human rights researcher with the American Civil Liberties Union, wrote the ACLU’s new report, “A Living Death: Life Without Parole for Nonviolent Offenses,” also authored the report, “Island of Impunity: Puerto Rico’s Outlaw Police Force.” We’ll link to both of them at democracynow.org. When we come back, Calle 13 joins us here in studio. Stay with us.

image.png

HALLOWELL — One corrections officer spread a false rumor that the new female officer at the state prison in South Windham was a stripper.

Another one called her “Genitalia,” instead of her real name, which also began with a “G.”

She was asked by a colleague if he could measure her buttocks. When she said no, he did it anyway. She was asked about her favorite sexual positions and to describe her breasts.

When her complaints were not taken seriously, she quit her job and filed sexual harassment and retaliation complaints against the Department of Corrections with the Maine Human Rights Commission, detailing her claims in a sworn statement.

The state settled the case. Cost to taxpayers: $20,000.

A beginning state trooper – a male – was placed under the supervision of a male sergeant, who took him on assignments to secluded locations, rubbed the trooper’s inner thigh and talked about skinny-dipping. The sergeant gave the trooper a rug and told him how good it felt to lay naked on it, according to the trooper’s sworn statement.

The trooper got a transfer, but the sergeant called him regularly, making comments about penises and oral sex and suggested they take a naked sauna together.

The trooper filed a sexual harassment complaint and the state settled the case out of court. Cost to taxpayers: $50,000.

A corrections officer was threatened on a website run by anonymous corrections staff after she complained of sexual harassment. Cost to taxpayers: $137,500.

Retaliation in the Human Services department, disability discrimination in Public Safety, sex discrimination in Corrections and on and on for a total of 45 such cases settled by the state in the past 10 years.

• The cost to taxpayers for a range of alleged bad behavior by state employees towards their fellow workers in the past 10 years is almost $1.85 million.

• The state has spent about another $500,000 to defend itself in the cases.

• Forty-four percent of the cases came from two law enforcement departments – Corrections and Public Safety, home of the Maine State Police. Those 20 settlements cost taxpayers more than $1 million.

• The most common charges were sexual harassment, sex discrimination, and retaliation, the latter often in response to filing a previous charge.

• Of the 19 state employees who said they experienced sexual harassment or discrimination, two-thirds were women.

• In all of the settlements, the state admitted no liability.

No tracking by department

State law requires that all new employees receive sexual harassment training their first year in the job, according to Assistant Attorney General Susan Herman.

Herman said her office does not track the claims to find out where there might be a chronic problem.

Public records do not include any disciplinary action that may have been taken in the 45 cases.

Some details kept secret

The settlement agreements – legally binding documents signed by the state and the employee – are often written in a way that prevents full public disclosure.

For example, in 34 of the 45 cases, in return for the settlement, employees and the state agreed not to disclose the terms of the agreements.

The secrecy goes even further in the 21 cases that have non-disparagement clauses. Typically, they state, “Both parties agree that they will not disparage the other.”

In 82 percent of the cases, the process began with the employee filing a complaint with the commission. (The others filed civil lawsuits.) The commission, a state agency established in 1971, investigates complaints of discrimination from public and private employees.

Webbert, the employment attorney, said, “Based on representing many state employees … I have observed that the worst problems … are in the law enforcement areas. … These are the areas that most often have leadership that sends a message to the rest of the organization of hostility or indifference to civil rights requirements, especially equal treatment and respect for women and workers with same-sex sexual orientation.”

Payments from state budget

The settlement payments don’t come from traditional insurance; the state is self-insured for these cases. That means the cash comes directly from the state budget.

The Department of Corrections, which runs the state’s prisons, is currently assessed $101,000, 10 percent of the total self-insurance budget, while it only has 6.8 percent of the state’s 18,500 employees. The reason is the disproportionate number of settlements in Corrections.

The department’s employee discrimination settlements were one reason the Legislature asked its investigative agency to evaluate Corrections in 2009. The Office of Program Evaluation and Accountability report was called “Organizational Culture and Weaknesses in Reporting Avenues Are Likely Inhibiting Reporting and Action on Employee Concerns.”

The report said intimidation, retaliation and distrust within Corrections kept a lid on exposing internal problems. Combined, the practices “appear unethical” and “expose the State to unnecessary risks and liabilities.”

Recent progress

According to two long-time state Human Resources officials, in the past two years there has been a push in state government to deal more effectively with discrimination and harassment.

The change was at least partially a reaction to the costly settlements.

She also praised a new attitude in Public Safety, which she traced to a new head of the state police, Col. Robert Williams.

Joyce Oreskovich, human resources director for the state, said “(Williams) is much more interested in fairness and equity” than previous management.

The two women said there’s been a shift in Corrections, also, under Commissioner Joseph Ponte, who took the job in early 2011.

“Very early on, Commissioner Ponte began talking about changing the culture in Corrections,” Shippee said. “I am definitely seeing an interest in swift and firm discipline that they’re not wavering on. That is one of the best ways to get across that we’re taking this seriously, if people are held accountable for these behaviors.”

‘They use a lot of retaliation’

One of the incidents that let to the OPEGA study was the 2008 case of Pamela Sampson, a corrections officer at the state prison in Warren.

In her lawsuit against the state, she said she was sexually harassed by a sergeant who was later fired for sexually harassing another officer.

When she complained to management, she said they retaliated by investigating her on charges of sexually molesting inmates.

She was later cleared, but she ultimately left the state job because of the stress and concern for her safety.

The state denied she was sexually harassed and that the sergeant was dismissed for harassment, but admits the charges against her “were not substantiated.”

The state settled her claim in 2007 for $66,000. Only six of the 45 claims were settled for a higher amount.

Although Sampson’s settlement has a non-disclosure and non-disparagement clause, she was willing to be interviewed.

“If you speak about anything against these guys (in Corrections), it’s not good,” she said. “They use a lot of retaliation. That’s why everything was thrown out in my case: They tried to create a false investigation against me.”

Sampson now lives in Bangor and is looking for a job in security.

“I wanted to continue working at my job, and I miss it very much,” Sampson said. “It’s just really hard right now.”

From the case files

Examples of discrimination charges from court documents and complaints filed with the Maine Human Rights Commission:

Bets on her sex life

The corrections officer was hired in 2001, one of the few females in that job. (The employee is not being identified because of the salacious nature of the allegations.) Among the claims in her sexual harassment lawsuit:

• Some fellow officers “had a betting pool about whom and when (she) would sleep with first,” including inmates.

• Rumors circulated that she “was willing to perform fellatio for $20.”

Advertisement

• She claimed her supervisor was trying to force her out because she had complained about the sexual harassment. One example she cited involved a report she said was designed to undermine her: that she witnessed a male officer demonstrate how he could touch his nose with his tongue.

According to the report, she said: “I can’t believe he can do that. I think I’m in love.”

In her court filing, she claimed she never made the remark. Instead, she said the officer was ordered by the supervisor to fabricate the comment. In the state’s response to that charge, it agreed that the officer admitted he did not hear the offensive comment, but denied that he was ordered to make up the claim.

The female officer eventually quit the department when she said behavior and comments by officers and a supervisor created “a hostile work environment.”

While the state contested some of her allegations, it eventually paid a lump sum cash settlement to her for $65,000.

The kissing supervisor

From 2007-2008, Trish Smith was a juvenile program worker at the Department of Corrections Mountain View Youth Development Center in Charleston. Her lawsuit against the department for creating a hostile work environment and retaliation details the case of a supervisor known for his advances towards female employees.

The suit, citing Smith’s allegations and also affidavits from other employees, is unusual in that the state admits some of the behavior.

Some examples of what the state admitted:

• The supervisor “made inappropriate comments and jokes of a sexual nature, inappropriately touched and hugged and attempted to kiss” Smith and demonstrated similar behavior with other employees.

• In March 2004, the supervisor “intentionally snapped” the bra of an employee.

The state denied some of the other claims by Smith, including that management failed to keep her supervisor away from her, as they had promised to do after she complained.

Smith’s suit said she felt forced to resign because of the unwanted contact with the supervisor.

The state settled for $69,500.

There is no public record of what happened to her supervisor.

— Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting

Contact MCPIR at mainecenter@gmail.com or on the Web at pinetreewatchdog.org.

FEBRUARY 26, 2019

The former chief medical officer of New York City jails has just published a remarkable new book about the health risks of incarceration. The book is titled “Life and Death in Rikers Island.” Dr. Homer Venters offers unprecedented insight into what happens inside prison walls to create new health risks for incarcerated men and women, including neglect, blocked access to care, physical and sexual violence, and brutality by corrections officers. Venters further reveals that when prisoners become ill, are injured or even die in custody, the facts of the incident are often obscured. We speak to Dr. Venters and Jennifer Gonnerman, staff writer for The New Yorker magazine.

Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. His name is synonymous with all that’s wrong with the prison system: Kalief Browder. Kalief spent three years at Rikers Island jail in New York without charge. He was a 16-year-old high school sophomore when he was detained on suspicion of stealing a backpack. Browder never pleaded guilty, was never convicted. He maintained his innocence and requested a trial, but was only offered plea deals while the trial was repeatedly delayed. He was held at Rikers Island jail for three years, beaten by guards and prisoners alike. After enduring nearly 800 days in solitary confinement and abuses, Browder was only released when the case was dismissed. He committed suicide on June 6, 2015, at his home in the Bronx. He was 22 years old. Nearly four years later, the question remains: Why did Kalief have to die? Is there something inherently wrong with incarceration that makes it a health risk, sometimes with deadly consequences?

Well, a remarkable new book attempts to answer those questions as it shines a light on the health risks of imprisonment. The book is titled Life and Death in Rikers Island. Its author, Dr. Homer Venters, the former chief medical officer of New York City jails. He offers unprecedented insight into what happens inside prison walls to create new health risks for incarcerated men and women, including neglect, blocked access to care, physical and sexual violence, and brutality by corrections officers. Venters further reveals that when prisoners become ill or injured, or even die in custody, the facts of the incident are often obscured. He writes, quote, “[W]e work in settings that are designed and operated to keep the truth hidden. Detainees are beaten and threatened to prevent them from telling the truth about how they are injured, health staff are pressured to lie or omit details in their own documentation, and families experience systematic abuse and humiliation during the visitation process,” unquote. The risks of jail are disproportionately harmful for people with behavioral health problems and for people of color, Venters explains. He concludes Rikers Island must close, and suggests how that should be done.

Well, Dr. Homer Venters joins us now, physician and former chief medical officer for New York City’s Correctional Health Services. Again, his book, Life and Death in Rikers Island. He’s currently senior health and justice fellow at Community Oriented Correctional Health Services and associate professor at New York University’s College of Global Public Health. Also with us, Jennifer Gonnerman, staff writer for The New Yorker magazine. Her most recent piece is a review of Dr. Venters’ book. It’s called Life and Death in Rikers Island. “Do Jails Kill People?” is the name of her article.

Welcome you both to Democracy Now! OK, Dr. Venters, start off talking about why you wrote this book and how Kalief Browder’s death relates to all of this.

DR. HOMER VENTERS: Well, early on in my time overseeing the health system in the New York City jails, it became clear that our job was not just to take care of people who were injured or address the medical problems people had, but that this system was conferring new health risks to our patients. So, our patients were getting hurt because of the way the jails were set up and run. And so, it was clear to my team and I that part of our mission had to be to use our tools as public health and epidemiology folks, as well as doctors and nurses, to document just what these health risks were and to report those out. And one of the things that over the years became clear is that those health risks, as you just stated, aren’t meted out in a uniform fashion. People with behavioral health problems, people of color, our data show, were more likely to find themselves on the wrong end of these health risks.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about why prisons are lethal. Talk about Rikers Island, for example.

DR. HOMER VENTERS: Well, we can start with the first and most serious health risk, which is death. It’s clear that there are many preventable, or what we would call jail-attributable, deaths that happen. We worked hard to document those while I was leading the health service in the New York City jails, but there are many others. So, for instance, people that we know who are coming in with very serious health problems—diabetes or hepatitis C or needing dialysis—who then are denied those services, despite the fact that we have them available; people who are exposed to solitary confinement, not just the isolation, but the brutality and violence associated with it, who do take extreme measures to get away from the distress that that setting causes—those are things that were conferred to those people.

AMY GOODMAN: Tell us the story of Carlos Mercado and Angel Ramirez.

DR. HOMER VENTERS: So, those are two patients who, as have been publicly reported, entered into the jail system with clearly identified health problems, one with diabetes and one undergoing withdrawal. And as has been reported in the press, they both, despite having clearly communicated their problems and even having their problems elicited and understood by quite a few people in the jails, received a punishment response and a neglect response that led to their death, even though they were in a system that was able to provide them the healthcare they needed.

AMY GOODMAN: So what happens to a prisoner when they’re sick? You also talk about the tension between the doctors, the nurses—the health professionals—and the guards.

DR. HOMER VENTERS: In the best of circumstances, the correctional officers, who are with our patients all the time—you know, they see and interact with people much more than we do in the health service—they determine that somebody is ill and they need help, or somebody just reports, “I don’t feel well,” then they’re taken to medical care, and they get the appropriate level of medical care. They’re transferred to the hospital if they need something that the jails can’t provide.

In the worst circumstance—and there are some situations that actually hardwire in this less ideal response—people aren’t able to say that they’re sick or that they feel well, or when they do, they’re not believed, and so they’re kept in a chaotic intake pen, or they’re kept in a solitary confinement cell, even though they’re saying, clearly, “I need insulin,” or “I’m sick,” or “I’ve just swallowed something that could kill me,” and then they’re denied access to healthcare.

And then, finally, I would say that because of the pressure of dual loyalty, this really crushing and very omnipresent ethical problem, human rights problem, in correctional health, that even when they do make it to the health service, sometimes the doctor or nurse or social worker in front of them is acting more as an agent of the security service than as a healthcare provider.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about your own experiences. You entered the jails in what? 2008?

DR. HOMER VENTERS: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: About a decade ago?

DR. HOMER VENTERS: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: What did you find there? What shocked you most?

DR. HOMER VENTERS: I believe that what—one of the things that shocked me the most was the high level of injury and injury associated with violence. Certainly, all physicians and healthcare people, we have experience taking care of injuries. But so many of our patients were coming to us with injuries, and so many of them were saying that these injuries were from things called slip and falls. So, you know, patients that come with a fracture to the jaw, a very—you know, very serious injury, or a fracture of the upper arm or the leg, and then saying that they had slipped and fallen—things that just did not—you know, we didn’t believe. But also, it was clear, when you interacted with these patients, that they were terrified and that they, actually, in that moment, were thinking very clearly about their survival and their preservation. And so, it makes a very difficult proposition for a doctor or nurse.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you set up an injury surveillance system?

DR. HOMER VENTERS: That’s right. Shortly before I arrived, Christopher Robinson, another young man who died in that same jail that Kalief Browder was held in, he had been beaten to death. And so, when I did arrive and started with the Correctional Health Service, we set about understanding how many other people were injured, especially adolescents. And we saw lots of jaw fractures and hand fractures. And so, at first we were dealing with paper records, but then we quickly implemented in the New York City jail system an electronic medical record. But we were able to modify that in really major ways, so that we could capture data not just about the type of injury people had, but about whether or not it was intentional. Did it happen during a use of force? Was there a blow to the head? Then we could use that data to report out to others, not just in the correctional service or the city, but outside parties that might be interested, what the rates of injury were, so that we had empirical data to show that brutality and injury was in fact a real crisis for our patients.

AMY GOODMAN: Describe what would happen when you would send an email to the DOC, to the Department of Corrections, to upgrade an injury, to upgrade what you saw.

DR. HOMER VENTERS: Well, the injury reporting system on the health side, as I mentioned, we built a pretty sophisticated electronic medical record system. On the security side, it required paper, pieces of paper, injury reports, to be updated and amended actually on an individual piece of paper. So, when I would find a patient, as I often would, who had an injury that was more serious than initially reported, or that the circumstances of the injury were different than was originally reported, unlike in healthcare, where we want all information to lead us to the quickest, best outcome for the patient, these paper forms then would be put back in my face, and people would say, “Listen, you have to find the original doctor or go to the original jail. Go find this piece of paper”—that nobody can find. “That’s the proper way to get this addressed, not simply to tell us that, just because you’re a doctor or a health administrator, you think something else happened.”

AMY GOODMAN: Why is there so little transparency? Talk about the silent complicity you describe.

DR. HOMER VENTERS: You know, these are paramilitary settings. And so, the health service, in most of these places, even when we have an independent health authority, we still rely on the correctional staff for our safety and security. And so, as such, because there isn’t a lot of mandated transparency about health outcomes, about the true characteristics of injuries, for instance, at the time we were doing this work, most of the system is designed to keep information on the inside, so that anybody who wants to change the original account, whether it’s a patient or a doctor or a nurse, faces a real gauntlet of challenges, that not only are bureaucratic and administrative, but actually could put their own personal safety at risk.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to this discussion and bring in Jennifer Gonnerman, who wrote the review of your piece for The New Yorker—the review of your book. Dr. Homer Venters’ book is called Life and Death in Rikers Island. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: “Blue Prelude” by Ethel Ennis, Baltimore’s “First Lady of Jazz.” She passed away February 17th at the age of 86. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report.

I want to turn to Kalief Browder in his own words. Kalief Browder, of course, is the—well, was 16 when he was arrested and sent to Rikers Island. He ended up being there for three years, much of that time in solitary confinement, without charge. He was arrested when he was a high school sophomore. Police believed—they said that he stole a backpack, but could never come up with the person who made the accusation, who they drove around a neighbor, and the person pointed out Kalief walking on the street. And then that person just disappeared. Kalief would not plead in prison, because he said he was taught not to lie, and he said he was innocent. Held for three years, much of that time in solitary confinement. He said that while he was in solitary confinement at Rikers, the guards often refused to give him his meals.

KALIEF BROWDER: If you say anything that could tick them off any type of way, some of them, which is a lot of them, what they do is they starve you. They won’t feed you. And it’s already hard in there, because if you get the three trays that you get every day, you’re still hungry, because I guess that’s part of the punishment. So, if they starve you one tray, that could really make an impact on you. And—

MARC LAMONT HILL: How much were you starved?

KALIEF BROWDER: I was starved a lot. I can’t even—I can’t even count.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that was Kalief Browder speaking on HuffPost Live, when it was around. He died within two years after this interview. He took his own life. He went on to say he was once starved four times in a row—no breakfast, lunch, dinner or breakfast again. After enduring nearly 800 days in solitary, Browder was only released when the case was dismissed. Browder took his own life June 6, 2015, at his home in the Bronx. He was 22 years old. He was a student at Bronx Community College.

Jennifer Gonnerman wrote a lot about his case for The New Yorker and exposed videos that were gotten from the inside of Rikers showing him being beaten by guards and prisoners alike.

Jennifer, you have covered the prison system a lot. And you were really taken with this book, Life and Death in Rikers Island, and wrote a review of it for The New Yorker.

JENNIFER GONNERMAN: Yeah, you know, I saw an early copy of this book in December. And a lot of books come in. You know, as a reporter, you get a lot of—often get a lot of books and people who want publicity. I started reading this book, and I really couldn’t put it down. I thought it was so important, crucially important. And I feel like it covers one of the most overlooked aspects of mass incarceration. I mean, mass incarceration has gotten a lot of attention in recent years. But what—the health risks that folks endure when they go inside is something that I feel needs much more attention. And I think, as a society, we’ve sort of grown numb to these headlines, like an individual died in prison or jail, and we don’t really follow up with the necessary questions. And what Dr. Venters’ book does is really pushes us to ask those harder questions, like: Did this death have to happen? Was it preventable? Did something happen in the jail that led to this individual’s death? And those are the kind of questions the public—and journalists, in particular—really need to be asking.

AMY GOODMAN: Tell us the case of Ronald Spear.

JENNIFER GONNERMAN: Ronald Spear is one of the gentlemen in the book. He was in Rikers Island. He was in his fifties. He was a kidney dialysis patient. In 2012, one night, he felt very ill and tried to get the attention of the doctor. He was housed in the infirmary on Rikers Island. There was a medical office next door to his dorm. He snuck out of the dorm to get into the hall to get to the medical office, and the doctor told him—you know, a guard stopped him, and the doctor said, “You have to keep waiting.” He had been waiting for hours. The officer, the correction officer, and Mr. Spear got into an altercation, which ended with two other guards coming in and restraining him on the floor. And that would have been the end of the situation, but then the first officer, whose name is Brian Coll, came in and kicked Mr. Spear in the head repeatedly, and he died right there on the floor. This case was covered up, lied about for years, until, finally, federal prosecutors in the Southern District in Manhattan brought a prosecution against the officer. And he went on trial in 2016. So I sat through the trial. And obviously the focus was on what this officer did and didn’t do.

But one of the subtexts of that court case was what the medical staff was doing at the time. So, this crime took place in the hallway right outside the medical offices, and the nurse got on the stand and said, when she heard the altercation in the hallway, she opened her door, and then she shut her door, and that she had sort of been taught to do that. It’s almost like an unofficial rule on Rikers Island. And the doctor who was on duty and hears all of this commotion going on in the hallway, he was sitting in his office and never looked out the window, never opened the door, testified to all of this, and only opened his door after the whole thing was over, and somebody knocked on the door—I believe it was a captain—and said, “Can you come out here and, you know, help?” And at that point, Mr. Spear is on the floor, in handcuffs, face down and no pulse. And so, essentially, this homicide took place within feet of the medical staff. And that always stuck with me. And, you know, this idea of an unofficial rule of averting your eyes when there’s an altercation between correction officers and inmates is something that actually shows up in Dr. Venters’ book also.

AMY GOODMAN: You say that 112 people died in New York City jails between 2010 and 2016. That’s like almost what? Twenty a year.

JENNIFER GONNERMAN: More, probably, in some years, right? Yeah.

DR. HOMER VENTERS: Some years, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what is society’s responsibility here?

DR. HOMER VENTERS: I think that there are really very large policy decisions that have been made to keep these deaths and injuries hidden. And so, to undo these problems is not simply a matter of a little bit of training for one group of staff or another. It is that we have to establish medical systems that work not only to care for the patients and their health problems, but also to collect the data we do in the rest of the country, and report it out. We also need independent oversight. We’re fortunate in New York City to have the Board of Correction, an incredibly vital institution that really doesn’t exist in most of the other 3,000 counties in the States. But they need to be supported and the independence to make sure that the health service and the correctional service adhere to rules.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Venters, you also say Rikers should be closed.

DR. HOMER VENTERS: Absolutely.

AMY GOODMAN: Is it happening fast enough?

DR. HOMER VENTERS: Well, so, the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, led by Liz Glazer, is doing an amazing amount of work to come up with the actual planning that can make it happen. But this is a political question. To close Rikers Island, one of the—

AMY GOODMAN: How many people does it imprison?

DR. HOMER VENTERS: The jail system today has about—has under 9,000. But we really need to get down to 5,000 or so, which means building at least another borough jail.

AMY GOODMAN: You write, the health risks that are faced, particularly by people with behavioral problems, in prison—talk about that.

DR. HOMER VENTERS: Yeah, I think that the most extreme example, that’s really an obscenity, is the notion that people who exhibit symptoms of mental health problems would be then put into solitary confinement, where we know that they’ll get worse and often die. And so, the idea that we had a solitary confinement unit for people with mental illness in the New York City jails until 2014 is horrific. It’s not—that’s not a lack of resources. That’s not a lack of thought. Thought went into it. And so, where Jason Echevarria and others died, you know, that was an affirmative decision. So, undoing those bad decisions, coming up with a more clinically appropriate, a therapeutic model, in most cases, means not having people in jail. It means having people in a community setting, that’s an actual healthcare setting. We built alternative models in the New York City jails, these units, the CAPS and PACEunits, these very therapeutic units, but they’re incredibly expensive—couple million dollars a year for 20 patients. And every aspect of those units would be more effective if they were not in the jails.

AMY GOODMAN: Mass incarceration in this country has been taken on by grassroots activists now for years. And it’s certainly reading, I think, a—reaching a tipping point, where you have people across the political spectrum saying we have the largest prison population in the world. How can this be changed?

DR. HOMER VENTERS: I think that one of—there’s an important voice that needs to be brought to this, which is healthcare systems, health insurance companies, because keep in mind that while most people don’t die in jail or prison, many people are coming home with physical and psychological damage from these settings. And the care they need—which they may have struggle to access, but the care they need is going to be provided by community hospitals. Just take the example of traumatic brain injury. We documented all of the hidden traumatic brain injury just in the New York City jail systems. That increases the risk of those people for dementia and CTEdown the road, that is incredibly costly to them and their families.

AMY GOODMAN: How do people on the outside get access to this information on the inside, particularly families of people who are in prison?

DR. HOMER VENTERS: So, I think that it is—these systems are designed to keep the truth from—certainly from families, who are, you know, lied to all the time. And from—but I think that it’s incredibly important to have aggressive journalism. But also, I think that some of the structures that exist in New York City should be replicated elsewhere, so having a board of correction or an oversight agency that demands data. Having investigative journalists that dig into individual deaths is incredibly important.

AMY GOODMAN: Steve Coll just wrote a new piece in The New Yorker, “The Jail Health-Care Crisis,” talking about the opioid epidemic, among other things.

DR. HOMER VENTERS: Yeah, I think that that’s a—that is also a very good example, that most jails and prisons, people don’t have access to evidence-based addiction care. So, many people end up incarcerated because of an addiction problem. Then, because they’re denied access to buprenorphine and methadone, they leave, and, we know—we have documented, here in New York City—their risk of death when they leave is much higher. Now, in New York City, we have a methadone program and a buprenorphine program for people who are incarcerated, but very few jails around the country have that.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Jennifer Gonnerman, what gives you the most hope as you continue to cover the prison-industrial complex?

JENNIFER GONNERMAN: Well, you know, as you were mentioning, there’s a lot of activists that have taken up this cause, which is fantastic, because, you know, back in the ’90s, the 2000s, you just didn’t see that level of interest or enthusiasm in activism for taking on these really challenging topics. That gives me hope. And also folks like Dr. Venters, people who have been on the inside, who have witnessed horrific things, and then have the wherewithal and the courage and take the time to really record them, so the rest of us can really, truly get a much better understanding of what’s going on behind bars.

AMY GOODMAN: And the access to information you, as a journalist, have, getting—for example, you leaked these videos of what was taking place with Kalief being beaten, the videos that are taken, the surveillance system within prison?

JENNIFER GONNERMAN: Right. You know, that was very unusual. You know, there is very little video footage that has come out of—from prisons around the country, despite there being a number of surveillance cameras. You know, like Dr. Venters said, the truth is hidden. It’s intentionally hidden. It’s very difficult—you know, reporting on what’s going on inside of jails and prisons is very difficult. But, obviously, the more journalists who are taking on the challenge, the more we’re going to get to the heart of what the truth is.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both for being with us. Dr. Homer Venters, former chief medical officer for New York City’s Correctional Health Services. His new book, Life and Death in Rikers Island. And Jennifer Gonnerman, staff writer for The New Yorker magazine. We’ll link to her piece, “Do Jails Kill People?”

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 204 other followers

Political Prisoners

Welcome to the blog from inmates of Maine's jails and prisons.

In collaboration with the Holistic Recovery Project, the Political Prisoners Blog provides a prisoner's view into what's happening at Maine's correctional facilities.

Only your vigilance on the outside can guarrentee that justice goes on on the inside.

If you'd like to contact one of our inmate bloggers, send us an email.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for your support.

Advertisements