Less Death and More Health:
An Action Plan for Broome County
Justice and Unity for the Southern Tier (JUST)
Facebook: Justice and Unity for the Southern Tier
Incarceration in a county jail should not end in death. Too often, death is how incarceration ends in the Broome County Jail. In 2011, Alvin Rios died “face down and shaking” in his cell. New York State faulted Broome County’s medical provider, Correctional Medical Care (CMC), which between 2009 and 2011 was implicated in nine deaths in jail facilities state wide. Since then, conditions have not improved: death has become even more common. Four people died while in custody at the Broome County Jail since January 2015: Salladin Barton, Denis Vachon, Kevin Carroll, and Kenneth Gummoe.
When asked about the deaths, long-time Broome County Sherriff, David Harder, remarked that “it [death] will happen” and found “no reason” to alter current policies and procedures. No local or county officials appear willing to acknowledge systemic problems (or any problem at all) in the jail. Indeed, the county gave an award for excellence to CMC in 2014.
These needless deaths stem from persistent problems in Broome County jail and our community. Death is the most dramatic outcome of an uncaring, dehumanizing, and overly punitive criminal justice system. Broome County’s jail incarceration rate is one of the state’s highest; over 70% of persons in jail have not been convicted of a crime and over 80% have substance use disorder (SUD), according to county officials. Addiction is treated as a crime instead of a manageable condition.
In light of these facts and the troubling absence of leadership from elected officials, we demand an end to jail deaths, over-incarceration, and a system that is only accountable to itself. We demand outside, independent oversight, and accountability for and by county residents. We urge every elected official in Broome County to support these demands. We specifically urge the Sherriff’s Department and those bodies that enable his jailing policies, the Broome County Legislature and the Broome County Executive, to take this matter and these demands seriously.
To prevent further death in the jail now, we demand:
- Adequate, timely, and appropriate medical attention provided by licensed, qualified medical professionals in accordance with best practices. Medical attention when requested or required should be provided swiftly, not in a matter of days or weeks as is common now.
- Evaluations for mental and physical health, including screenings for SUD, prior to incarceration. Those exhibiting signs of withdrawal should be properly monitored.
- Humane detoxification for those incarcerated with SUD. This includes treatment for dehydration, nausea, diarrhea, and pain. Medications to treat these symptoms should be provided by the jail. This includes suboxone and methodone if necessary.
- Access to any and all currently prescribed medications for those incarcerated in the jail. The medication regimen prior to incarceration should match the regimen during and after admission. Provisions should be made for prescription renewals. The person’s medical provider’s opinion should prevail on prescription matters. This includes medications such as suboxone and methadone, and any other prescribed medications for the incarcerated person.
- The removal of CMC and its replacement with medical services to be provided by the county or a local hospital, staffed with local doctors and nurses.
- Minimizing the jailing of persons with mental illness, developmental disabilities, and/or substance use disorders. Jail is not a therapeutic space. It exacerbates mental health problems. Not even the best trained correctional officer can replace mental health care providers and/or social workers. Furthermore, decarcerating people who are mentally ill, have developmental disabilities, and those with SUD will reduce county expenditures and maximize use of federal and state dollars and services.
- Transparent, independent oversight of the jail composed of representatives from community-based organizations. To prevent abuses in the jail, more information about the jail needs to be public. All jail deaths, physical altercations, admittance to the medical unit, and grievances should be reported to this committee. It should conduct unannounced inspections and report on the jail’s condition and procedures to the community regularly. It should also review all grievances and attend all grievance hearings.
- A committee to evaluate the fitness of the jail and its procedures. This committee will make recommendations on the jail and its use.
- Decreased reliance on isolation as a form of punishment and population management. This should include an absolute ban on isolation for persons under 21 years of age, the elderly, and people who have mental health conditions. To accomplish these things will require proper funding.
The above demands, however, are only improvements to a broken, ineffective system. Salladin, Denis, Kevin, and Kenneth would still be alive if they had not been incarcerated. Furthermore, as the number of incarcerated persons in Broome County goes up, the jail staff’s ability to provide proper services goes down. We also realize that the jail is not an isolated entity, but reflects the policies and failures of our community and local governments. So we further demand:
The reduction of the Broome County Jail population by at least 50%. This is to be accomplished by:
- The end of bail in Broome County in favor of Release on own Recognizance (ROR). The assigning of bail discriminates against the poor. Pretrial detention is associated with higher rates of conviction and longer sentences. Over 70% of the people in our jail have not been convicted of a crime. If a person is not deemed a danger to society, they should be released while awaiting court action.
- The end to incarceration for technical probation violations. Incarceration for probation violation is often unnecessary, inappropriate, and detracts from the probationer’s and society’s well-being. Currently, probation violators are remanded to custody and often face lengthy sentences for their original conviction.
- An end to housing Broome County inmates in other jurisdictions. Sending incarcerated people away from their families and legal counsel is unjust. It prevents effective defense and takes people away from their support systems.
- An end to housing people in from other counties or the federal government. The county should not be making money off of the misfortune of others. These practices encourage larger facilities and more incarceration for Broome County residents. It also raises the cost of irrational, over-incarceration practices, and thus perpetuates injustice.
Supporters of the Plan: Anthropologists for Direct Action, Broome County Peace Action, Broome/Tioga NAACP, The Workers Center of the Southern Tier, The Family Enrichment Network, Southern Tier Independence Center (STIC), Trinity AME Zion Church, TruthPharm, The Black Student Union of Binghamton University, the Women’s Student Union of Binghamton University, the Occupational Health Clinical Center of the Southern Tier, Citizen Action.