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Pennsylvania County Prisons Mired in Conditions Litigation

by David M. Reutter

Whether or not a large number of lawsuits is indicative of management or operational problems at a prison or jail is a matter of debate that depends on one’s perspective – that is, which side of the fence you’re on. One thing is certain, though. Correctional facilities in Pennsylvania, including the Lancaster County Prison (LCP) and Bucks County Correctional Facility (BCCF), have been the subject of dozens of lawsuits over the past several years.

LCP has faced litigation due to claims involving illegal strip searches, denial of adequate medical care, wrongful deaths, and physical and sexual abuse by guards, while BCCF and the Northampton County Prison have been sued for failing to prevent and treat dangerous staph infections.

LCP’s warden, Vincent Guarini, believes prisoners file lawsuits as a way to pass the time. “They spend a day in the law library. They read about a case in a law book, and all of a sudden it becomes theirs. They manipulate it,” said Guarini, who has served as LCP’s warden since 1981. “In many cases, an inmate is rolling the lottery. The vast majority of lawsuits are dismissed. There isn’t anything there.”

Guarini is correct that most prisoners’ lawsuits are tossed out. The reasons for such dismissals include inexperience, an inability to procure evidence to overcome summary judgment motions, having to face skilled defense counsel with better legal and monetary resources, and a reluctance by attorneys to take prisoner lawsuits due to limits on attorney fees under the PLRA, among other factors.

However, the very fact that so many lawsuits against LCP are attracting lawyers willing to represent prisoners, and are resulting in settlements, appears to indicate that Guarini is investing more time in fighting lawsuits than in changing the conditions and practices at LCP that result in such suits being filed in the first place.

“Our whole system is documentation,” Guarini explained when describing the files maintained on prisoners at LCP. “A guy could be in prison for a week and have a thick file because everything is reported. You never know when you’re going to use it.” Such as when the prison is sued, for example.

Overcrowding the Castle

LCP’s original structure was built in 1851, upon high ground, patterned after an old castle in Lancashire, England. Its massive stone façade was designed to reassure the public that its 160 prisoners could not escape. Numerous expansions since that time have increased the size of the facility to a city block, spanning seven stories. LCP is now designed to hold 1,029 prisoners, but had a population of 1,250 in November 2008, including almost 140 women. More than 6,000 people cycle through the prison each year.

Staff shortages are a serious problem. “We’re busy nonstop. We have 102 people on a block and one officer,” stated LCP guard Jodi Barone, a 10-year veteran.

Prison guard Bob Barley said he hears of 7 to 10 fights per month among prisoners, but most are minor and not re-ported “because of fear of retaliation from other inmates.” Assaults on guards occur regularly, too. “If you’re here long enough, eventually [every guard] is going to get assaulted,” he said. Barley acknowledged that some of the difficulties at LCP are caused by prison staff. “Ten percent of the [guards] create 90 percent of the problems,” he stated.
Squeezing too many prisoners into LCP is the root cause of most violence. “When you start putting a bunch of people into a small area, you start getting into other people’s space,” Barley explained. “Sooner or later it’s going to erupt, be-cause they want their space back.”

Violent incidents are not limited to prisoners assaulting guards or other prisoners, according to lawsuits filed against LCP officials. Whether it is the stressful environment caused by overcrowding or the sadism of individual employees that results in abuse by prison staff is unknown. Whatever the cause, LCP has settled several lawsuits related to abusive guards, and is facing several more.

Encouraging an Assault

When Jonathan B. Eichelman, 42, was booked into LCP in June 2005, he was asked how he felt. “Want to lay down,” Eichelman responded, “and die.”

Although he didn’t die while incarcerated at LCP for five days, Eichelman believes the experience ruined his life. “Everything was taken from me,” he said. “I don’t know if my life can be fixed – medically, physically, and spiritually.”

Eichelman was arrested for shooting a two-year-old boy. He was treated harshly by prison staff; despite maintaining his innocence, LCP guards allowed vigilante justice by other prisoners to occur.

The child Eichelman was accused of shooting was Hispanic. Eichelman’s subsequent lawsuit alleged that within minutes of his arrival at LCP, a Hispanic prisoner punched him in the side of the head “in full view of the correctional officer.”

An LCP guard, Dave Riley, had identified Eichelman as the child shooter before he was assaulted by the other prisoner. Riley told Lancaster County constable Michael Aponte not to worry about the incident.

After Eichelman arrived at a maximum security cell block, guard Michael King told other prisoners that Eichelman was the child shooter and “something should happen” to him. It was not until his third day at the prison that something did happen.

Upon entering Eichelman’s cell block on June 6, 2005, LCP guard Luis Torres told several Hispanic prisoners that Eichelman had shot a Hispanic child. “I don’t care what happens to him. Are you going to let him get away with shooting that kid?” Eichelman recalls Torres saying.

“Torres was what I would call recruiting various prisoners or inciting various Spanish prisoners to assault Mr. Ei-chelman because of the kid he had shot,” testified prisoner Carlos Colon, who was recruited by Torres to beat Eichel-man but declined. Colon said similar incidents had happened previously at LCP, and “the guards would look the other way.”

As Eichelman was taking a nap one afternoon, Torres opened his cell door and allowed several prisoners to enter, in-cluding Jose Santiago, 36, and Carlos Dominguez, 37. While Eichelman screamed, “help, help, someone help me,” Tor-res “observed the assault, heard [Eichelman’s] cry for help, but deliberately and maliciously failed to do anything to intervene or stop the assault.”

Following the attack, Eichelman stumbled from his cell bleeding from his left eye. He observed several guards “standing nearby, laughing.” Although his injury was treated, he was not allowed to shower, change his bloody clothes or clean up the blood in his cell. Guards continued to allow other prisoners to threaten and harass him.

It was later learned that Eichelman was innocent; a review of video footage taken from a surveillance camera revealed that he was not involved in shooting the two-year-old child. Immediately following his release from LCP, Eichelman went to a local hospital. He was hospitalized for four days for treatment of an “orbital fracture, liver laceration, and contusions and abrasions,” plus he suffered psychological trauma.

Eichelman filed suit, naming the county, Warden Guarini, Torres, a prison doctor and other LCP staff as defendants. Three prisoners provided statements that guards had encouraged prisoners to attack Eichelman. On the second day of a federal jury trial in August 2007, county officials settled the lawsuit for $500,000. See: Eichelman v. Lancaster County, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Penn.), Case No. 2:06-cv-00547-DS.

Torres was suspended and then fired, but did not face criminal charges. LCP guard Michael King later resigned. Guarini, for his part, continued to downplay prisoner lawsuits. “Our procedures were fine,” he said. “Everything had been done accordingly except for the one officer – the human element.”

Jean Bickmire, who monitors LCP for the Pennsylvania Prison Society and for Justice & Mercy, a prisoner advocacy group, sees it differently. “Other correction officers have done what was done to Jon Eichelman,” she said. “It could hap-pen in any prison unless you have the correct oversight.... I don’t think our prison has that.”

Eichelman’s attorney, Jeffrey Paul, was more blunt. “It’s an incredible cesspool over there [at LCP],” he remarked.

More Settlements

LCP prisoner Felix Nieves was not beaten by other prisoners at the urging of guards; rather, he said he was assaulted by the guards themselves. On September 23, 2002, without provocation, guards John Nygard and Sean Hetrick “willfully, maliciously, and intentionally attacked [Nieves], pushing his face and head into the wall, throwing him to the floor, and striking him with their fists and feet causing [Nieves] to suffer contusions and lacerations.”

Afterwards, Nieves was handcuffed and beaten again, causing injuries to his back and neck. His subsequent federal lawsuit stated that LCP staff wrote investigative reports “to vindicate the use of force.” Lancaster County settled the case on November 20, 2007 for $7,500. See: Nieves v. Lancaster County, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Penn.), Case No. 2:04-cv-04452.

Warden Guarini, of course, considered Nieves’ suit to be a “nuisance.” Guarini conducted an investigation into allega-tions that LCP guards had beaten Nieves. “We wanted to make sure they were not heavy handed. They were clean,” he said. “Basically, [Nieves] had a disciplinary write-up and the two officers escorted him and they all went down in a hump. They did not use unnecessary force.”

In June 2008, James Wilson settled a federal lawsuit against LCP for $20,000. His claim concerned a lack of medical treatment provided by prison nurse Stephanie Brodt after Wilson complained of stabbing pains in his stomach.

“There is nothing wrong,” Brodt told him. Despite pain so severe that he “cried himself to sleep,” the following day Brodt insisted Wilson wasn’t sick, but gave him Mylanta. She told a guard that Wilson was “another inmate trying to get medication.”

Then Wilson began throwing up blood. Brodt gave him two injections of medication. Another nurse saw Wilson the next day; she had him taken to a local hospital, where a doctor ordered emergency surgery for a perforated appendix with multiple abscesses. Wilson had been incarcerated at LCP following his arrest for possession of a small amount of marijuana. See: Wilson v. Lancaster County, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Penn.), Case No. 2:07-cv-01488-TMG.

On July 20, 2009, LCP prisoner Luis Rivera Marquez settled his federal lawsuit against Lancaster County and prison guard James G. Hinkson, Jr. for a total of $45,000. Marquez was being held at LCP when he was sexually assaulted by Hinkson in a supply room in October 2006. Hinkson was later fired, then charged with institutional sexual assault; he pleaded guilty and was sentenced on August 8, 2008 to 4 years probation. The County agreed to pay $20,000 and Hink-son will pay $25,000 to settle Marquez’s lawsuit. See: Marquez v. Lancaster County, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Penn.), Case No. 5:08-cv-05152-JS.

A class-action strip search suit was filed against Lancaster County by Sajan Kurian and Michael Rhodes on October 22, 2007. Their suit alleged that all prisoners who entered LCP were required to undergo a strip search and visual body cavity search “absent particularized suspicion that those detainees possess weapons or contraband.” Without such particularized suspicion, arrestees booked into jail on charges that do not involve drugs or violence generally cannot be strip searched.

Kurian, who was arrested on a parole violation due to a DUI offense, claimed it was “particularly troubling” that LCP had “continued to engage in this misconduct [strip searches] notwithstanding an overwhelming number of cases ... that have squarely declared these practices to be unlawful and unconstitutional.” Rhodes was strip searched twice at LCP, both times after he was arrested on a bench warrant for missing a domestic relations hearing.

The class-action suit settled in July 2009, with Lancaster County agreeing to pay a maximum of $2,507,200 to the class members – the total amount of the settlement will depend on the number of current and former prisoners who file claims. The county paid an initial $1.9 million into the settlement fund. Previously, in April 2009, LCP had made policy changes to ensure that arrestees were not subject to blanket strip searches absent reasonable suspicion. Class counsel will be paid up to $750,000 from the settlement; Kurian received $15,000 and Rhodes received $7,500 as class representatives. See: Kurian v. Lancaster County, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Penn.), Case No. 2:07-cv-03482-PD.

When Lancaster County settles prisoner lawsuits it is only responsible for paying up to $25,000, which is its insurance deductible. The county’s insurer, Travelers Insurance, pays the remainder. Thus, there is little incentive for county officials to force LCP to remedy problems and conditions that result in litigation. How long they keep their insurance remains to be seen.

Other Lawsuits Filed Against LCP

In addition to the settlements in the above cases, at least nine other lawsuits are pending against LCP that involve claims of abusive guards, inadequate medical care, suicides, and injuries caused by an accident in the prison’s kitchen. Notably, the plaintiffs in all of these suits are represented by attorneys – which is unusual given the reluctance of most lawyers to take prison-related cases.

The parents of Juan Martinez, Jr. filed suit against Lancaster County, LCP guards and prison medical staff in January 2009. Their lawsuit claims that Martinez was denied proper medical treatment and monitoring, which resulted in his death. Martinez, 23, was arrested on January 5, 2007 for public drunkenness and possession of a small amount of marijuana; he had ingested narcotics when he was arrested, which posed “an imminent danger to his health.” Prison staff placed Marti-nez in general population and failed to provide him with medical care, which led to seizures, a coma and Martinez’s death on January 12, 2007. See: Martinez v. Lancaster County, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Penn.), Case No. 09-cv-00026-LS.

Another lawsuit was brought by LCP prisoner Talmadge Johnson, who slipped while working in the prison’s kitchen, which is operated by Aramark Correctional Services. The suit, filed on July 20, 2007, alleges that Johnson suffered injuries to his head, neck, back and elbow as a result of the fall on a wet floor, and that LCP “failed to use ordinary care in maintaining the premises to prevent an unreasonable risk of harm....” The case is still pending. See: Johnson v. Lancaster County, Lancaster County Court of Common Pleas (PA), Case No. CI-07-07227.

LCP is also facing three federal suits that claim prison staff failed to properly treat and watch prisoners who committed suicide. The first involves the death of James Hodapp, Jr., who hanged himself with a sheet from the bars of his cell on December 14, 2003. A lawsuit filed by his estate claims that LCP staff failed to provide Hodapp with medication needed to treat his clinical depression and ignored his threats to commit suicide. Further, the suit alleges that Hodapp was “subjected to excessive use of force” by LCP guards.

According to the complaint, LCP “permitted, encouraged, tolerated and ratified a pattern and practice of unjustified, unreasonable and illegal use of force as well as a pattern and practice of unjustified, unreasonable deliberate indifference to the serious medical needs of inmates.”

Claims against several defendants, including prison nurse Stephanie Brodt, were dismissed between March and May, 2007. The case remains open but is in inactive status because one of the principal defendants, an LCP guard, is serving overseas with the U.S. military. See: DeMascolo v. Lancaster County, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Penn.), Case No. 2:04-cv-03557-TMG.

The second prisoner suicide case involves the death of Joseph Keohane, 22, who was found hanging from a sheet at-tached to the vent grate of his cell on November 23, 2006. After spending two days in LCP’s medical unit for “consistently threatening to commit suicide,” Keohane killed himself within hours after being released to general population. In addition to failing to provide “appropriate monitoring for a suicide watch,” LCP “established a system which fails to identify, track or report instances of improper denial of medical or psychiatric care,” according to the suit filed by Keohane’s parents. See: Keohane v. Lancaster County, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Penn.), Case No. 2:07-cv-03175-MSG.

On June 17, 2009, Marva Baez, who represents the estate of former LCP prisoner Luis Villafane, filed a federal suit against Lancaster County, Warden Guarini, and prison security and medical staff. Villafane was violently assaulted by LCP guards in November 2008 when he requested to see a supervisor after being ordered to return to his cell; following that incident he was placed on suicide watch in LCP’s mental health unit.

Vallafane was removed from suicide watch on November 19, 2008 and put in a segregation cell, which was not “suicide proof.” Prior to his placement in segregation, Villafane was informed (incorrectly) that his mother had died. Other prisoners stated that Villafane had told an LCP guard he was going to commit suicide, but prison and medical staff failed to take any action. Nor did guards respond when Villafane hung himself while other prisoners screamed for help. A prison nurse was reportedly overheard saying, “we shouldn’t have taken him off suicide watch.” See: Baez v. Lancaster County, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Penn.), Case No. 5:09-cv-02745-LS.

Other lawsuits pending against LCP allege physical abuse by guards, including a case filed by prisoner Paul Barba-cano, who said he was handcuffed when he was beaten by prison guards Villarreal, Riley and Wolfe (whose first names were not included in the suit).

Villarreal said Barbacano was resisting him. To remedy that, Villarreal slammed Barbacano’s head onto a desk several times. On the way to an elevator, Riley and Wolfe continued to bang Barbacano’s head against a wall; once inside the elevator they “pummeled Barbacano with closed-fist punches to the head.” He was then placed naked in solitary confinement, where he was repeatedly punched in the face.

Barbacano alleges that “Lancaster County Prison has implemented policies and acquiesced to a culture of violence in its prison,” and “has fostered an environment and culture of abuse.” The suit, which was filed on October 24, 2008, is still ongoing. See: Barbacano v. Guarini, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Penn.), Case No. 5:08-cv-05098-AB.

In January 2006, former LCP prisoner Robert M. Bourne filed a lawsuit against the prison, Warden Guarini and former LCP employee Troy Waltz. After more than two years of litigating the case pro se, the court appointed an attorney to rep-resent Bourne on February 12, 2008.

Bourne stated that while he was held at LCP on March 29, 2005, he was taken to the infirmary to see a doctor regarding his medication. When Bourne refused to sign a medical malpractice waiver form, Waltz “brutally assaulted him ... lifting him into the air, and throwing him to the ground violently.” The attack was witnessed by the doctor.

According to his complaint, Bourne was then placed in disciplinary confinement for more than 100 days; he did not have a disciplinary hearing, was denied access to grievance forms, and did not receive medical treatment. Waltz was reportedly fired by LCP “because he suffered from extreme emotional problems and anger management deficiencies ....” The case is presently pending a ruling on the defendants’ motion for summary judgment. See: Bourne v. Lancaster County Prison, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Penn.), Case No. 2:06-cv-00293-WY.

LCP prisoner Charles Anton filed a federal lawsuit on June 29, 2009, claiming the prison had “implemented policies and acquiesced to a culture of violence,” which led to a brutal beating by LCP guards. Anton’s complaint noted that such assaults not only violate the U.S. Constitution but also the U.N. Convention Against Torture, which prohibits the intentional infliction of severe physical or mental pain or suffering.

Anton was complying with a strip search during the intake process at LCP when guard James Zimmerman, the brother of the police detective who had arrested Anton, slammed Anton’s face into a wall. When Anton called for help, other guards restrained him while Zimmerman punched him in the face; Anton was stripped naked, handcuffed, and then beaten some more and placed in segregation for 45 days. He also was denied his prescription medication. See: Anton v. Guarini, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Penn.), Case No. 5:09-cv-02899-LS.

The final suit pending against LCP involves former prisoner Vance Laughman, who was assaulted by prison guard Silvestre Villarreal, 57, on August 5, 2008. According to Laughman’s complaint, he was shackled to a bed at Lancaster General Hospital when Villarreal climbed onto the bed, straddled him, and “repeatedly punch[ed] him about the face, head and shoulders” until nurses intervened. Villarreal reportedly broke his hand while beating Laughman, who claimed that prison officials offered him $5,000 if he didn’t report the incident. Villarreal was criminally charged and released on bond.

Laughman stated he was at the hospital because prison staff had substituted “a cheaper, less effective drug” for his prescription for Depakote, a medication used to treat seizures. As a result he developed pancreatitis, which will require the removal of his pancreas. His lawsuit includes claims related to denial of adequate medical care. See: Laughman v. Guarini, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Penn.), Case No. 5:09-cv-02252-AB.

Some Cases Dismissed, Lose at Trial

Lancaster County has prevailed in several other lawsuits, including one filed by LCP prisoner Andrey Yudenko, who incurred serious injuries at the facility. While walking on an injured ankle, Yudenko fell on the medical housing unit’s steps, injuring his back. That, however, was not the only claim in his suit.

When he was moved to a general population cell on August 4, 2006, Yudenko leaned against the bunk bed for support. The whole structure fell off the wall, taking Yudenko with it and causing additional injuries. “My face hit the sharp edge of [the bunk bed] and I injured my head against the wall,” Yudenko stated in his complaint. “After I fell, I could not move my legs and there was severe pain in my lower back.” He also alleged that his pain medications were discontinued.

Following the dismissal of several defendants in the case, an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) claim went to a jury trial on August 25, 2009. U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence F. Stengel allowed the defendants to present evidence related to five of Yudenko’s past criminal charges, and the jury found in favor of the defendants at trial. Yudenko was rep-resented by the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project. See: Yudenko v. Guarini, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Penn.), Case No. 2:06-cv-04161-LS.

Traci M. Guynup, 40, alleged that while incarcerated at LCP following an arrest in December 2005, guards assaulted her, called her names, stepped on her toes, bruised her arm and harassed her in various other ways. She said she was subjected to solid door segregation and given an inadequate diet that caused her to lose 25 pounds. The case went to trial in December 2008, and the jury found for Lancaster County and the other defendants. On September 24, 2009, costs were assessed against Guynup in the amount of $4,511.68, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1920. See: Guynup v. Lancaster County Prison, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Penn.), Case No. 2:06-cv-04315-MMB.

Melody M. Martinez, 25, was on probation when she was mistakenly arrested on August 7, 2005 and strip searched when she entered LCP. According to her complaint, Martinez was five months pregnant and LCP medical staff told her she was dehydrated and should drink water; however, prison employees refused to give her water. The strip search claim survived a motion to dismiss but the case was later voluntarily dismissed in November 2008. See: Martinez v. Warner, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Penn.), Case No. 2:07-cv-03213-GP.

On February 10, 2009, a federal suit filed by the estate of LCP prisoner Devon Lee Reid went to a bench trial, and the U.S. District Court found in favor of the sole remaining defendant in the case, prison guard James Flaherty.

Reid died at LCP on September 17, 2004; he had a history of mental illness, was on medication, and had been placed on suicide watch multiple times. In the weeks prior to his death, Reid had exhibited “bizarre behavior,” urinating and defecating on himself, singing, refusing to eat, and drinking his own urine. He was not seen by medical staff during the three days before he died.

Video footage indicated that while making his rounds, Flaherty saw Reid was unresponsive in his cell but did not take immediate action to summon medical assistance. According to the coroner’s report, Reid died due to massive pulmonary emboli. At trial, the district court found Flaherty was not liable for Reid’s death; Reid’s estate has since appealed the trial verdict to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. See: Wood v. City of Lancaster, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Penn.), Case Nos. 2:06-cv-03033-SD and 2:06-cv-04135.

MRSA Litigation

The failure by corrections officials to treat prisoners for Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA), and to correct deplorable conditions that spread the infection, has resulted in lawsuits against several other Pennsylvania county prisons. One suit ended in improved conditions and $60,000 in attorney fees, while at least 34 current and former prisoners have filed separate cases that remain pending.

In 2002, attorneys representing prisoners at the Bucks County Correctional Facility (BCCF) filed a federal class action lawsuit to stem the spread of MRSA at the prison. The lawsuit was not about money; rather, it was about enacting changes to stop rampant MRSA infections and ensure medical treatment for prisoners.

Prior to the class action suit being filed, it was the official policy of Bucks County to “do nothing to prevent infectious disease at BCCF unless specifically ordered to take precautions by a federal judge.” On August 27, 2002, the U.S. District Court did just that, ordering all BCCF prisoners and guards to be tested for MRSA and the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections to be informed about the MRSA outbreak.

Of the approximately 1,100 people who were tested, 34 were positive for MRSA. What no one was told, including those who tested positive, was that 376 other individuals had tested positive for Methicillin Susceptible Staphylococcus Aureus (MSSA). The test results were kept “confidential” without regard to public health implications.

Some BCCF guards had tested negative for MRSA, but subsequent tests by a private doctor indicated they were positive for the infection. They were threatened with loss of their jobs if they identified themselves or their families as having MRSA.

The guards’ children attended public schools, which increased the risk of spreading MRSA infections. Moreover, the public was exposed by interactions among guards, prisoners and free world citizens when prisoners appeared at court hearings. To protect themselves from infection, some guards would kick open doors at BCCF to avoid touching door-knobs.

The deteriorated physical structure of BCCF increased the spread of MRSA, creating “an incubator for infectious disease.” For years BCCF had a leaky roof, discolored ceilings, dampness, rusted vents clogged with dirt, peeling paint, mold, and filthy showers. Bedding and laundry were not properly cleaned or disinfected. Women prisoners were forced to share razors.

After more than five years of litigation, the class members and county officials reached a settlement in March 2008 that included improved conditions at BCCF related to laundry, housing arrangements and screening for MRSA. The prisoners’ attorneys received $60,000 in fees as part of the settlement agreement. See: Inmates of the Bucks County Correctional Facility v. County of Bucks, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Penn.), Case No. 2:02-cv-07377-RB.

Separately, officials at the Northampton County Prison (NCP) in Easton are facing lawsuits filed by dozens of prison-ers who were infected with MRSA. Thirty-four former or current prisoners claim they contracted MRSA due to appalling conditions at NCP similar to those that existed at BCCF. Such conditions included water leaks, dirty blankets and cells, insufficient sanitation, and inadequate fresh air ventilation. The lawsuits allege that “Mattresses that had been defecated and urinated on were not cleaned or changed between inmates, and instead were quite often left in place for the next in-mate’s use.”

The individual suits, which are still pending, have been consolidated for discovery purposes. In addition to the county, the complaints name PrimeCare Medical, Inc., the county’s prison medical contractor. The NCP prisoners who most recently filed suit due to MRSA infections, in March 2009, include Ramon San Miguel, Alex Torres, Antonio Fucci and Dorian Rawlinson. See, e.g., Fernandez v. Northampton County, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Penn.), Case No. 5:09-cv-00320.

PLN has previously reported on serious MRSA problems in Pennsylvania county prisons, including a lawsuit filed by two former BCCF prisoners who won a $1.2 million jury award in 2005 for injuries suffered during a MRSA outbreak. [See: PLN, Feb. 2009, p.48; Dec. 2007, p.1; Aug. 2005, p.37; July 2005, p.20].

Seeking Solutions

Lancaster County commissioners realize that LCP is a problem and are seeking solutions. One proposal is to build a new prison at a cost of $150 million to accommodate an estimated population of 2,114 prisoners by 2025. The commissioners are looking at re-entry initiatives to reduce recidivism and are exploring options to avoid prison sentences through alternative sentencing. “We are doing everything we can to look at alternatives to relieve overcrowding without building a new prison,” said Lancaster County Commission Chairman Dennis Stuckey.

To curtail lawsuits related to medical care, in November 2007 the county entered into an $11.5 million, three-year con-tract with PrimeCare Medical to replace the jail’s healthcare employees. Under PrimeCare’s contract, the company is required to fully staff medical positions at the facility. Regardless, PrimeCare has since been named in several suits alleging inadequate medical treatment at LCP.

As for lawsuits regarding brutality by prison guards, that issue is still unresolved. Due to, or despite, the economic crisis, little money is available to reduce overcrowding at LCP – which creates tensions among both guards and prisoners. Further, some prison officials, including Warden Guarini, apparently prefer to ignore the systemic culture of abuse at LCP that has been cited in a number of the above cases.

In regard to MRSA infections at BCCF, infectious disease and sanitation experts will monitor the facility and prisoners’ medical care as part of the class action settlement. Bucks County “is more conscious of the transmission of the disease in the prison. But it doesn’t mean everything is addressed,” said class attorney Anita Alberts. “It’s hard. It’s ongoing, as it has to be.”

Sources: Lancaster New Era, Bucks County Courier Times, The Morning Call

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