Jail Hell

 Posted on September 11, 2009 in Uncategorized

Randall Patterson's Houston Press article on conditions inside the Harris County Jail, based on inmate interviews. If you believe the government, this must be a vast conspiracy of defamation conducted by inmates. If you believe the inmates, federal crimes are routinely committed by jailers.

Which story is more credible? Considering that the inmates aren't even organized enough to keep themselves out of jail, it's highly unlikely that they could maintain a concerted false story.

(For the record, I think that the truthers and the birthers are equally nutty, and only a pendejo would think that challenging the government based on earnestly-held belief in either was unpatriotic.)

The most likely scenario, in my view (having never been on the wrong side of the glass in the jail), is that inmates aren't lying when they describe "unsanitary conditions, a lack of medical care[,] and guard violence." Which is part of Randall's summary of the DOJ's June Findings on jail conditions. When the DOJ agrees with jail inmates, it's hard to credit the County's claims that there's nothing dirty going on.

The DOJ's findings on excessive use of force begin at page 15 and conclude:

These and other similar incidents suggest that staff use hazardous restraint and force techniques without appropriate guidance or sanction. In some cases, medical records confirm that detainees may have suffered notable injuries, such as lacerations to the scalp or eye. Notably, when force was investigated by supervisors, it appears that the supervisors often determined that staff's use of force was appropriate without obtaining statements.

The problem of unlawful excessive use of force in the Harris County Jail would not be a difficult one to solve, but a stern letter to the County Judge is not the way to solve it. Nor is the threat of a civil lawsuit.

What Acting Assistant Attorney General Loretta King describes in the Findings is a criminal law enforcement problem. She should treat it like one.

It's not hard to infiltrate the Harris County Jail. Get a couple of FBI agents arrested on pretexts; let them spend a few days as inmates quietly observing and making notes of names, times, places, and incidents. Bail them out and debrief them.

The problem of law enforcement criminality is exacerbated by law enforcement officers' wall of silence. And according to Ms. King, in the Harris County Jail:

Jail policy does not clearly require the individual using force to file a use of force report; nor does Jail policy provide for routine, systematic collection of witness statements. When supervisors review use of force incidents, they do not have ready access to important evidence. Instead, they appear to rely excessively on officer statements to determine what happened during an incident.

So, without disclosing the fact that DOJ had credible witnesses inside the jail, have other agents interview the jailers who participated or observed. If they tell the truth, great. You've broken through the wall. Get them on the federal government's old standbys, obstruction of justice and false statements to a federal agent.

You won't have to keep going back. Just the idea that anyone in that line of inmates could be a federal agent will stop the abuse, and take all the fun out of being a jailer.

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