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Dallas County Jail Deficient, Says 2006 Report; DOJ Files Suit

Just over two years ago, the jail in Dallas County, Texas (DCJ) failed state certification inspections and came under fire for numerous high profile cases of prisoner deaths and neglect. A U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) report, issued on December 8, 2006, found that the facility was still deficient in the exact same areas. In September, 2007 the DOJ sued the county to force improvements in jail conditions and medical care.

Assistant Attorney General Wan J. Kim sent a copy of the 47-page 2006 report, which detailed numerous deficiencies at the jail, to then-County Judge Margaret Keliher. Judge Keliher commissioned the original internal investigation that revealed numerous problems at the jail. [See: PLN, Jan. 2006, p.1]

On November 28, 2005 the DOJ's Civil Rights division notified jail officials of their intention to inspect the facility. Two on-site inspections were conducted in early 2006, lasting a total of nine days. DCJ failed in every area.

The report began with the screening process used by the nation's 7th largest jail system. DCJ receives nearly 100,000 prisoners per year.
Inspectors found that most of those prisoners fail to receive adequate medical screenings when they arrive, which places all the prisoners, and those who come in contact with them, at risk for the spread of contagious diseases.

One prisoner identified only as C.C. was suspected of having TB. An order for an X-ray was issued on January 9, 2006; however, C.C. was not X-rayed until March 18, 2006. The results of the X-ray resulted in C.C. being placed in quarantine, which should have occurred months earlier.

Another prisoner, C.T., showed active symptoms of TB by coughing up blood and having night sweats. Yet seven days after being booked into the jail, on March 14, 2006, C.T. still had not received an examination, chest X-ray or medical evaluation.

The report also revealed that prisoners suffered from inadequate treatment of their chronic care needs. Inspectors "randomly selected 12 inmates from those designated as diabetics by DCJ." What they found was that only 9 of the 12 had received blood sugar level testing upon intake; six had received no insulin for a period ranging from 6 to 60 days after intake, and none of the twelve had been tested for the two standard indicators of diabetes upon intake.

Inspectors spoke with prisoner A.R., who had already spent three weeks in DCJ without insulin. A subsequent test indicated that A.R.'s blood sugar level was "extremely high."  Inspectors concluded that the prisoner had been "unnecessarily exposed to potentially life-threatening harm" by DCJ staff.

Inspectors also found that asthmatics and prisoners who suffered from HIV were neglected at the jail. Prisoner B.P. suffered from HIV, asthma and a drug-resistant skin infection. He was supposed to be on three medications but was only being given one. The obvious risk of this lapse in care was that B.P.'s ailments would eventually become drug resistant as his health deteriorated.

Jail records indicated that a female prisoner, N.T., suffered seizures on October 10 and November 28, 2005. She received no seizure medication until February 16, 2006 - four days before the inspectors first arrived.

Even those who eventually obtained treatment received inadequate follow-up care. DCJ prisoner C.Z. was taken to Parkland Hospital suffering from a life-threatening bowel obstruction. Doctors determined that the problem was being caused by prescribed Seroquel medication, and instructed that the dosage be reduced. C.Z. was returned to DCJ on March 14, 2006, where her Seroquel dosage was increased 300 percent.

Jail prisoner A.Q. had a condition called rhabdomyolysis, which is serious enough to cause kidney failure if left untreated. On October 13, 2005, A.Q. was hospitalized for this condition. When inspectors reviewed his medical file in February 2006, A.Q. still had not received a follow-up visit by hospital staff.

DCJ prisoner A.M. was booked into the jail with a wound on September 6, 2005 and had to wait almost a month before he received treatment on October 4. He developed an infection and was hospitalized on October 14. But when inspectors visited the jail in February 2006, A.M. had not been seen by DCJ medical staff and had not received any of his prescribed medications.

The DOJ report submitted to the Dallas County Commissioners specifically listed 36 prisoners who had either died or been grossly neglected while in the custody of DCJ. U.S. Assistant Attorney General Kim said that the problems identified most recently by the DOJ mirrored those listed in a 2004 jail report that had been commissioned by the county judges.

Another area of immediate concern to DOJ investigators was the inadequate screening of juveniles admitted to the jail and inadequate treatment and observation of mentally impaired prisoners, which had resulted in several deaths by suicide.

Kim's report to the commissioners included a copy of a note sent by DCJ prisoner M.K. shortly before she hung herself. "I need to see the doctor to get my medicine straightened out. I am not getting my meds that my doctor faxed prior orders for me, and I brought in the medication myself and paid for it," she pleaded. "I cannot afford to be treated this way! Please help me! I need my medicine!"

M.K. was admitted to the jail on December 4, 2002. She wrote the note on January 3, 2003 and hung herself two days later.

DCJ prisoner C.L. died of an overdose of psychotropic medication that he had not been prescribed. The report did not say where C.L. obtained the medication, but did observe that his record noted "mental health issues," and that his sister had called jail officials to warn them her brother had threatened to commit suicide and should be watched closely.

DCJ prisoner J.P. suffered from bipolar disorder, which was noted at intake. However, deficient medical care by four separate clinicians left J.P. "deteriorated to the point that jail staff repeatedly observed him eating his own feces."

In February 2007, Dallas County agreed to settle lawsuits filed by the families of three mentally ill DCJ prisoners whose medications had been withheld. One of the prisoners, James Mims, suffered renal damage and almost died after the water in his cell was turned off for ten days as a disciplinary sanction. The settlements totaled $950,000; the prisoners' families were represented by attorneys David Finn, Mark Haney and Jeff Kobs.

Other issues mentioned in the Dec. 2006 DOJ report included old washers and dryers at the jail that failed to adequately clean bodily fluids from clothing and linen, which increased the risk of infection. Fire and safety equipment were also deficient, sanitation facilities were inadequate, and the jail's dental department was still plagued with problems.

The DOJ expressed a desire to work with county officials to alleviate the areas of concern cited in the report, but warned that if left unresolved the deficiencies could result in legal action.

Apparently the problems were never remedied. On Sept. 12, 2007 the DOJ filed a lawsuit against Dallas County and Sheriff Lupe Valdez, citing civil rights violations due to unsafe conditions and inadequate healthcare. The suit demands that corrective action be taken at the county's five jail facilities. "Defendants have exhibited deliberate indifference to the health and safety of Dallas County Jail inmates," states the complaint, which was signed by former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. See: United States v. Dallas County, USDC N.D. TX, Case No. 3:07-cv-01559.

Editor's Note: PLN is also suing the Dallas County Jail, over the jail's refusal to deliver PLN subscriptions to prisoners at the facility. The case settled as this issue went to press. Details to follow.

Sources: Associated Press, Star-Telegram, Dallas Observer, U.S. Department of Justice Letter to Commissioners

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Related legal case

United States v. Dallas County