Brooklyn Jail “Alarms” and “Appalls” Appeals Court
February 23, 2017 (Fault Lines) – County jails are where denizens of this country are first taken after they’ve been placed under arrest, and the deplorable conditions in these jails* is a national disgrace. Those who’ve never had the chance to beat the rap but not the ride go through “our” criminal justice system are largely unaware of this fact, but those fighting in the legal trenches know.
But the conditions in Brooklyn Central Booking are so outrageous that they caused the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit to revive** a lawsuit of cloacal proportions, as reported by The Courthouse News Service. Actually, the words used by the appellate panel were “alarming and appalling”:
Breathing new life into a nauseating lawsuit, the Second Circuit found Tuesday that even a brief incarceration at Brooklyn Central Booking could expose people to “alarming and appalling” civil rights violations.
As laid out in the lawsuit by 20 men and women who spent less than 24 hours in lockup, the cells of Brooklyn Central Booking were overcrowded between July 10, 2011, and July 23, 2013, strewn with everything from garbage to feces, maggots to vomit, urine to rotten milk.
The Second Circuit unanimously revived their case Tuesday, faulting the lower court in Brooklyn for ruling “that no set of conditions, no matter how egregious, could state a due process violation if the conditions existed for no more than ten to twenty-four hours.”
Illustrating the “degrading, humiliating and emotionally scarring” environment, the 52-page opinion quotes one unidentified plaintiff who had a panic attack because of the “deplorable” toilet conditions.
Booking centers across America process arrestees of all stripes and predispositions, ranging from the bro thrown into the drunk tank to the raging bull facing a resisting arrest an aggravated battery on a cop charge. Usually, they’re all crammed into a general cell, where they all put their intestinal mettle to the test, as they all have to share one toilet.
As to what goes into one’s body, it’s usually a slice of bologna sandwiched between moldy bread. No wonder those well-intentioned protesters are shocked when they’re processed after their first arrest.
In theory, those who’ve yet to be found guilty of an offense cannot and should not be punished by the state. It’s all about that “presumption of innocence” thing. But the reality on the ground proves that that is malarkey, and that being “detained” in a county jail for 24 hours in miserable conditions while waiting for an arraignment hearing is a form of punishment.
Taken further down the misery lane in another area of practice, immigration inmates can be “detained” for months (sometimes at an outsourced county jail) while they serve a non-sentence. All because it is deemed “administrative,” and not “punitive” confinement by the courts. See how easily those handy euphemisms can distort the law, and reality?
Should someone have the misfortune of being collared on a Friday night, they may not get to see a judge and thus get bond until Monday morning. And whether their stay in booking lasts just a few hours or days, these people are exposed to all kinds of indignities: ranging from the denial of tampons to the fairer sex, to the scandalous brutality of beatings and rapes that do not discriminate based on the victim’s genitalia.
Now, what’s been happening at Brooklyn Central did not involve a few incidents of mistreatment at the hands of the jail staff or their fellow inmates. Rather, these were repeated – and most importantly, uncontroverted – accusations of subhuman conditions in the jail, occurring time and time again over the span of several years. This snippet from the Court’s 52-page ruling gives us a snapshot into the accommodations at Brooklyn Central:
Given that many of the toilets were clogged and overflowing, the plaintiffs unsurprisingly testified that the holding cells themselves were filthy. The cells had feces and dried urine caked to the floors. The stench from the toilets drifted through the holding cells, and caused one plaintiff to “dry heav[e] . . . yellow bile.”
The plaintiffs consistently testified that the floors were sticky and covered with garbage and other unsanitary items, such as vomit, dead roaches, decaying apple cores, old milk cartons, and rotting sandwiches. One plaintiff testified that he could not “recall a time [the cells were] sanitary for a human being.”
Pursuant to prison policy, the cells did not contain trash cans and detainees were expected to throw their trash on the floor.
Get the picture? Those who are familiar with the stench and correctional indifference in these places because of their career of choice are by and large not desensitized to this problem. They point it out to the jail officials, to the county judges/magistrates, and a shrug is the latter’s rejoinder of choice. Unfortunately, it’s usually someone from the higher-ups, the appellate panels, who try to bring an end to this madness. But that takes time, and a lot happens to plenty of innocent people before an appellate ruling is handed down.
As for those who see this as a somewhat justifiable consequence for those who are foolish enough to end up in booking, you may sleep soundly. No one ever ended up in county jail because of a minor peccadillo such as an unpaid parking ticket, or because a cop arrested them under false pretenses.
*To be clear, this involves county jails, which serve the dual purpose of booking/processing folks and warehousing those that are serving sentences of 1 year or less. To be fair, American prisons are also plagued by dismal conditions.
**The appellate court vacated a federal judge’s order dismissing the Plaintiffs’ lawsuit. As noted by the 2nd Circuit, the U.S. District Court determined that the jail’s conditions were not a constitutional deprivation “because no plaintiff could establish a regular deprivation lasting more than twenty-four hours, or an actual serious injury or sickness.”