On Friday, February 7, 2014, approximately 800 prisoners at the Geguti prison in the ex-Soviet state of Georgia staged a hunger strike over their conditions of confinement, in particular physical and sexual abuse at the hands of the prison guards and poor medical care. Since then, the severity of the prison protests has only increased,
By Matt Clarke
The deaths of five prisoners in 18 months might pass without notice in a large jail system, but that many deaths at the 270-bed Portage County jail, located about 30 miles southeast of Cleveland, Ohio, raised red flags.
An investigation by the Cleveland Plain Dealer revealed that Matthew P. DiBease, 29; Amanda Michael, 32; Kenneth R. Mantell, 26; Mark D. Shaver, 32; and Joshua D. McDaniel, 25, all Portage County jail prisoners, died during an 18-month period ending in mid-October 2011. DiBease, Michael and Mantell had all committed suicide by hanging.
Three suicides within 18 months at a 270-bed jail “far exceeds” the average for suicides in a facility that size, according to Lindsay Hayes, executive director of the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives, which conducts research on suicides in custody. Hayes noted that such a high rate should have “set off alarms with the sheriff and jail administration.”
David W. Doak, Sheriff of Portage County since he was first elected in 2008, said that although his department had increased suicide prevention training for jailers, it is difficult to assess who is a suicide risk because prisoners aren’t always honest with medical staff who perform risk evaluations.
“When someone makes up their mind to hurt themselves, that’s a real difficult thing to deal with,” he stated.
Doak defended his reduction in jail staff against accusations that the staffing cuts created an unsafe environment at the facility, noting that budgetary considerations had forced the reductions. The Ohio Patrolman’s Benevolent Association argued against the cuts in 2010, but an arbitrator upheld the sheriff’s right to determine staffing levels at the jail.
Whatever the case, the fact remains that DiBease, who informed jail medical staff that he took medication for a bipolar disorder, hung himself with a sheet on October 29, 2011, less than a day after being booked into the facility for failing to appear at a court hearing.
By Mike Brodheim and Alex Friedmann
WITH SEVEN FACILITIES THAT HOUSE from 15,000 to 18,000 prisoners, Los Angeles County’s jail system is the nation’s largest – and, arguably, among the most dangerous in terms of staff-on-prisoner violence.
The jail system, operated by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD), is facing an investigation by the FBI into allegations of corruption and abuse, as well as multiple lawsuits. Sheriff Leroy David “Lee” Baca, 70, has committed to numerous reforms following a report and recommendations by the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence, but people familiar with long-standing problems in the county’s jails remain skeptical.
A Continuing Culture of Violence
THE LASD JAIL SYSTEM HAS BEEN UNDER federal court oversight since the 1970s when, following a 17-day trial, an injunction was issued that ordered the county to improve jail conditions – including overcrowding, inadequate exercise, and lack of clean clothing and telephone access. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) had initially sued Los Angeles County in 1975, alleging that overcrowded conditions, systematic abuse of prisoners by sheriff’s deputies and inadequate medical care violated the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. See: Rutherford v. Baca, U.S.D.C. (C.D. Cal.), Case No. CV 75-04111 DDP. [PLN, March 2007, p.35].
A renewed deterioration of jail conditions led to the reopening of the case in 1984. Since then, a number of court-appointed parties and experts, including the ACLU, have been monitoring conditions within the county’s jail system. Other oversight agencies include the Office of Independent Review (OIR) and Special Counsel to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
In December 2010, the ACLU asked the federal court to order a new trial in the case based on what it described as “an escalating crisis of deputy violence, abuse, and inmate suicides.” Between 2006 and 2011 there were 5,630 use of force incidents reported in county jail facilities, and according to the LASD’s own data, deputies are more likely to use force against mentally ill prisoners. Of the 582 use of force incidents reported in 2011, about one-third involved prisoners with mental health problems.
By Mike Brodheim and Alex Friedmann WITH SEVEN FACILITIES THAT HOUSE from 15,000 to 18,000 prisoners, Los Angeles County’s jail system is the nation’s largest – and, arguably, among the most dangerous in terms of staff-on-prisoner violence. The jail system, operated by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD), is facing an investigation by the