Associated Press Report: Dallas Jail & DOJ

http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/chronicle/4397377.html

Justice Dept. report: Dallas jail conditions violate rights
By MATT CURRY-The Associated Press

DALLAS — The Dallas County Jail, one of the largest in the country, violates the constitutional rights of inmates by failing to provide adequate medical and mental health care, according to an eyebrow-raising federal report.

Page after page of violations are detailed in a letter from the U.S. Department of Justice, which also found that prisoners are not kept in safe or sanitary conditions at the detention complex, the seventh largest in the United States.

Among the more egregious examples were an HIV-positive prisoner who died in October 2005 from an infection after his antibiotic was withheld 11 days and a woman who hanged herself in January 2003. Her records included an inmate request form she filled out just two days earlier.

“I need to see the doctor to get my medicine straightened out. I am not getting my meds that my doctor faxed prior orders for me, and I brought in the medication myself and paid for it,” it said. “I cannot afford to be treated this way! Please help me! I need my medicine.”

There is no indication the woman, identified only as M.K., received the medicine.

The 47-page letter, dated Dec. 8 and signed by Assistant Attorney General Wan J. Kim, was addressed to County Judge Margaret Keliher, who was defeated in the November election and leaves office at the end of the month. She did not immediately return a phone message from The Associated Press.

Sheriff Lupe Valdez has not seen the report, said spokesman Raul Reyna, who referred questions to Keliher.

The letter indicates that federal authorities expect to resolve the problems by working with county officials. If they are unable to, they warn that a lawsuit could be filed.

In February 2005, a separate report found that lapses in medical care in the Dallas County jail system resulted in undetected illnesses, excess costs and risks to the public. That report was produced at Keliher’s request by Health Management Associates, partly as a response to the near-death of James Mims. The mentally ill inmate’s psychiatric medications were withheld for two months.

“If you listen to the local leaders, everything’s fine. ‘Problem? What problem?'” said Dallas attorney David Finn, who represents Mims in a federal lawsuit. “It’s as if they are standing in front of a burning building, and people are jumping to their death from the fourth floor. You can smell the smoke, and you can see the flames, and they’re telling the world that there’s not a problem at the Dallas County Jail.”

In November 2005, the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division notified the county that it would investigate conditions at the jail.

Accompanied by consultants in correctional medical care, mental care and environmental health and safety, the office conducted its onsite inspections in February and March.

The report lists numerous examples of inadequate care and screening.

A prisoner identified as Q.S. was transferred to the hospital and died of alcohol withdrawal in December 2004. He had been admitted to the jail a week earlier with a history of alcohol withdrawal and seizures during the withdrawal, the report showed.

Within four of five days, he became disoriented, developed a fever and had an elevated blood pressure. The report says he was kept in the facility without physician or nursing care and no monitoring of his vital signs.

He was later discovered lying in his feces, but it took an additional five hours before he was taken to the hospital, where he died.

A juvenile identified as O.H. was taken to Parkland Memorial Hospital in June 2005 to receive sutures. He received no follow-up and was forced to remove them himself.

The investigation found several problems related to suicides.

“Due to a lack of training, correctional staff are ill-prepared to handle a suicide in progress, including how to cut down a hanging victim and employ other first aid measures,” the report says. “Finally, contrary to generally accepted practice, there is no administrative review following a suicide or a suicide attempt to identify what could have been done to prevent the incident.”

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A copy of the complete Department of Justice Report on the Dallas County Jail can be found on the Dallas Morning News website:www.dallasnews.com

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