County Jail is a Documented Center of Medical Abuse and Death

from Justice and Unity for the Southern Tier, October 16, 2019

The Sheriff has done it again. Whenever he is faced by protests over medical abuse and a record-setting number of deaths, he has one ready response: don’t worry, everything’s good at the jail. Yesterday, in response to the protest during the Columbus Day parade, he did it again, shamefully stating:

“The conditions of the jail are good. It’s a clean run facility, on the medical side we just got inspected two weeks ago by the commissioner corrections medical people. They found everything was in great order”

We’ve heard this before. The problem is that the abuse, medical malfeasance, and unnecessary deaths are well documented and mounting. Harder and his supporters can run but they can’t hide from the evidence.

Consider just a few of the most serious accounts.

In 2011, Alvin Rios died “face down and shaking” in his cell. His family filed a wrongful death lawsuit, backed in turn by a New York State Commission of Correction  report that documented medical abuse. The family was vindicated:  the County and the private medical provider at the jail, Correctional Medical Care (CMC), lost the lawsuit.

In 2014 the New York State Attorney General further faulted and sanctioned Correctional Medical Care, which between 2009 and 2011 was implicated in nine deaths in jail facilities state wide.

Asked about the rising tide of deaths and the lawsuit, Sheriff Harder shrugged it off, telling the media that deaths “will happen.” Pressed on any needed changes he simply said there was “no reason to.” The county, for its part, failed to investigate.

And so the deaths and abuse continued.

In 2015, Salladin Barton, developmentally disabled and well known and liked on the streets of Binghamton, pleaded with his family: “The guards are going to kill me. You gotta get me outta here.” He died shortly thereafter.  His family sued. Harder’s response? “It’s a bunch of crap.”

Harder hasn’t been able get off the hook. On August 21st 2019 a Federal Court judge issued a blistering judgement in favor of Salladin’s Barton’ mother, Rose Carter. As the judge noted, medical problems at the jail had long been reported to the Sheriff and County by both the State Commission of Correction and the Office of the Attorney General. The judge’s conclusion is stark:

As a result of the ongoing failure by CMC to provision appropriate medical care to inmates at the County Jail, and the failure by these policymaking defendants to intervene to correct it, Barton died while in the County’s custody.”

And this time the Sheriff and the jail Administrator were held personally responsible:

“Sheriff Harder and/or Administrator Smolinsky, in their roles as policymakers for the Jail, possessed abundant knowledge about CMC’s egregious misconduct, knew that CMC was actively engaged in this misconduct at the County Jail, and yet failed to take any corrective action to prevent the substantial risk of harm those policies and practices posed to the inmates in their custody.”

So says the judge. We can expect a final ruling that is going to cost the county dearly.

And still it continues. In 2018, the Sheriff and the County lost a class action suit filed by Legal Services of Central New York (LSCNY) on behalf of abused youth. What did the expert witness, who had worked for 25 years in youth facilities, conclude?

“Based on my review of the allegations in the Complaint, the declarations of multiple juveniles, the Sheriff’s Office’s written policies and other documents, it is my opinion the policies and practices guiding the placement of youth in solitary confinement are extraordinarily harsh and are extremely damaging to youth so confined. The Sheriff’s Office’s adherence to these policies place all juveniles who are, or will be, incarcerated at the Jail at substantial risk of serious harm.

Come forward to this year, when Rob Card, denied basic medical treatment for a brain tumor, told his family he was going to be killed in the jail. Secretly released from custody by an irregular court order, Card was removed from the jail, on a gurney and in coma, so he could die in a hospital and off the books of the jail and the private medical provider’s dime.

The families of the incarcerated have never accepted this, and never stopped pressing for changes in jail conditions and the use of incarceration. They along with advocacy groups like JUST have painstakingly documented and pressed elected officials, following all “official” and “proper” channels to end brutality at the jail and hold the sheriff accountable. Over the last five years they have continuously presented evidence of abuse and action plans to the County Executive, County legislators, and New York State officials as documented on our website. Rallies and protests have accelerated outside county offices, the jail, and the UHS offices of Dr. Butt, the jail’s longstanding doctor. And yet, the community gets nothing but excuses from politicians and the jail’s ever-increasing body count.

No public antics, shifting the issue, or disparagement of community groups by the Sheriff and his local supporters can hide the truth: medical abuse and death are the common fate of those caged in the county jail, with the vast majority lingering there, unconvicted, for lack of bail money.

On November 7th at 6pm JUST will be holding a public forum on “The BC Jail on Trial: Voices from the Inside” at the Broome County Public Library.

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