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Fighting for Justice

Rick May 2010
This week the U.S. Department of Justice issued its findings on the Escambia County Jail. It gave the county 49 days to come up with a plan for correcting the problems.

This paper fought for this investigation believing that it would correct decades of horrific treatment of prisoners in this county.

In working on an article on this momentous event, I ran across this Outtakes from May 2006. I proud of the role this paper played in this. I regret that Leroy Boyd didn’t live to see this.

OUTTAKES: CALL IN THE FEDS
Published May 18, 2006

It’s time we quit looking the other way on the Escambia County Jail. Two deaths of mentally ill prisoners in less than six months and the recent alleged rape of a teenage inmate by an adult prisoner indicate we have a problem. Heck, even the daily newspaper has started writing editorials on the jail.

However, news articles, opinion columns and newscasts aren’t going to change the jail. And unfortunately after a corner’s inquest into the August 2005 homicide of Robert Boggon failed to identify any one responsible, few in the black community trust the State Attorney’s office or the local court system to truly investigate the jail.

That leaves the Department of Justice as the only viable alternative. The Feds have the power to investigate the jail pursuant to the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA). They can bring a team of expert consultants in the fields of corrections, medical care, and environmental health and safety who can thoroughly inspect the facility without prejudice or bias.

Under CRIPA, the Department of Justice has the authority to take appropriate action to enforce the constitutional rights of inmates in jails. The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires humane conditions of confinement. Prison officials must ensure “that inmates receive adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care and must ‘take reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of the inmates.’’

The county must also ensure that all inmates in the jail receive adequate medical care, including mental health care. The deaths of Robert Boggon and Hosea Bell do leave a reasonable doubt whether their care was adequate.

Maybe I’m just not up on the latest correctional techniques, but strapping Boggon naked to an emergency restraint chair for the six hours up to his death doesn’t appear to be the proper treatment of a mentally ill person.

Inmates constitutionally are entitled to incarceration in an environment that offers reasonable protection from harm. The sexual assault of the teenager in a 22-bed quadrant for adult inmates appears to show that the jail doesn’t afford our younger inmates protection from abuse inflicted by the older adult prisoners.

The Federal investigation would help heal some of the mistrust and animosity that is has building in the black community towards the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office. It would give us an accurate picture into the true conditions of the Escambia County Jail so that we can make the most effective improvements.

A complete investigation of the jail should examine inmate-on-inmate violence, the proper segregation of prisoners, supervision, the training of detention officers, suicide prevention programs and inmate discipline.

The jail infirmary needs special scrutiny. Remember Boggan died while he was in the infirmary. The intake screening process must ensure that inmates receive necessary medical care while incarcerated. Physical examinations, including a medical history, should be conducted within 14 days of admission to the correctional facility. A mental health screen or mental health assessment needs to be part of the admission process.

The end result of a Justice Department investigation would be a set of reports from the expert consultants and a summary letter from the Attorney General. The ECSO and the county government would have to a period to resolve all the issues and problems discovered or risk a federal lawsuit.

We can finally move past the blame game and political maneuverings and focus on making the Escambia County Jail the best corrections facility in the state. The jailhouse deaths and rapes have to end – and just shifting personnel around isn’t the answer.