Broome County is Killing Me

By Bill Martin

It has become far too common: another person denied medical care at the Broome County Jail, and this time with gruesome and deadly consequences. Today’s epitaph is written for Rob Card, a local carpenter, artist, and family man who was sent to the jail for violating probation on a minor drug charge. At the time of his arrest on January 8th, he was being treated for a brain tumor and seizures, a fact known to the local police and court authorities.

Rather than getting the treatment he needed, his only relief at the jail was Tylenol. His condition quickly worsened, and as he had difficulty walking and clothing himself, he fell multiple times. In desperation Rob called his family and said “Broome County jail is killing me.” In this history repeats itself: in 2015 Salladin Barton told his family ““The guards are going to kill me. You got to get me out of here.” Sal, as friends and family remember him, died shortly thereafter.

Is this why such mystery surrounds Rob Card’s death? After Rob suffered a stroke and was near death in the jail, unknown local authorities—presumably a judge, a court appointed lawyer, and the district attorney, all without notifying his family–arranged for him to be released from custody. He was reportedly carried out of the jail in a comatose state on January 20th, only to be kept on life support so he could donate his organs. He was declared dead on January 22nd, a death neatly hidden from public view.

His family and friends are outraged. In less than 24 hours over 400 persons signed a petition this week asking for answers:
Why did Rob need to be incarcerated?
Why did he receive no treatment for his brain tumor and seizures?
What lawyers and court officers directed his release in a comatose state?

Robert Card’s death was the ninth at our county jail since 2011 that we know of, a rate far above state and national norms. In 2014 our jail’s private medical provider was indicted and fined by the State Office of the Attorney General. Hundreds of medical and abuse grievances go unanswered in system indicted by our own State Comptroller. Community groups, especially Justice and Unity for the Southern Tier and , have for many years now presented evidence of abuse and medical malfeasance to county officials.

And in face of all this, and a long-term falling crime rate, the county has bluntly accelerated the use of the jail as a depository for the poor who can’t afford bail, far too many Black residents, and those with substance use disorders and health problems of all kinds. Every year the county legislature has expanded the local jail force and the district attorney’s budget, while cutting local health resources. Over 75% of those in the jail have health issues, particularly substance use disorders, for which there is almost no long-term local treatment. And too much of our short-term treatment is tied to the police and the courts, where criminal rather than medical procedures insure lapses in recovery and a constant cycling of persons in and out of jail.

We must do better. Why do we criminalize and incarcerate and harm so many, at so high a moral (and financial) cost? County officials, the Sheriff, and the courts owe Robert Card’s family, and all of us, an answer.

William Martin is a founding member of Justice and Unity for the Southern Tier and teaches at SUNY-Binghamton University.

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