The Justice Department announced today that it has joined with Erie County, New York, to request that the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York terminate the consent decree regarding the Erie County Holding Center and the Erie County Correctional Facility. The county successfully achieved substantial compliance with the decree and maintained compliance for more than 18 months, as required by the decree. If the U.S. District Court grants the parties’ joint motion, it will end federal compliance monitoring and return oversight of the facilities back to the county.
“Under the consent decree, Erie County made fundamental improvements to conditions in the Erie County Holding Center and the Erie County Correctional Facility,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Although the Erie County facilities continue to face the same challenges as other jails in caring and treating for people with serious medical and mental health issues, more than a decade of hard work has significantly improved how care and treatment is provided inside these facilities. The Civil Rights Division will continue to prioritize addressing and improving conditions inside jails and prisons across the country.”
The department brought this case under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA), which prohibits a pattern or practice of deprivation of constitutional rights of individuals confined to state or local government-run correctional facilities. Specifically, the department found systemic deficiencies related to suicide prevention, medical care and mental health care which resulted in preventable death of incarcerated individuals. The facilities also had fundamentally inadequate policies and practices related to the use of force and the protection of incarcerated individuals from violence and sexual misconduct. These problems were exacerbated by a flawed housing classification system.
Since the District Court entered the consent decree in August 2011, the county has made substantial progress in the facilities’ medical and mental health programs, protection of incarcerated individuals from harm, and environmental health and safety. For example:
- The county has established a Medical Review Committee that oversees the implementation of medical policies and procedures, performs quarterly quality management reviews of the sick call process and analyzes medical data to ensure access to quality care.
- The county has developed a Stabilization Treatment Unit designed for the therapeutic benefit of individuals with serious mental illness. In addition, the county has implemented provisions of the consent decree requiring constant observation and frequent assessments by mental health professionals for individuals requiring a crisis level of care, who may be at risk of suicide. This program is overseen by a constant observation treatment team, which reviews the cases of all individuals in the program as well as those recently discharged.
- The county implemented a detox program administered by a nurse practitioner with specialized training on the management of this high-risk population. The detox program recently added a Medication-Assisted Treatment program, which addresses potentially life-threatening risks for individuals experiencing opiate withdrawal.
- The county appointed a senior-level staff person to serve as the sexual abuse prevention coordinator and supervise improvements in policies, staff training and education of incarcerated individuals.
- The county improved its staff training on use of force, and all uses of force are now reported to the New York State Commission of Correction. These reports are then reviewed by an independent auditor to ensure they are consistent with accepted correctional practices.
Additional information about the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department is available on its website at www.justice.gov/crt/special-litigation-section. Individuals who believe their civil rights may have been violated may file a complaint at www.civilrights.justice.gov.