Nassau County Jail Suicides Spur New York Civil Liberties Union Lawsuit
An Iraq war vet and inmate at Nassau County Correctional Center committed suicide Feb. 24 -- making him the fifth prisoner to take his own life in the facility since 2010. Seven inmates in total have died in this period, and state authorities have determined that several of these incidents were preventable.
In response to these deaths, as well as continued claims of prisoner mistreatment, the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a State Supreme Court lawsuit against Nassau County today, demanding that the district establish an oversight committee to monitor jail conditions.
The NYCLU wants the county to establish a Board of Visitors, which the group says is requirement of a policy created in 1990.
That 7-person cohort would address inmate grievances.
The lawsuit has been filed on behalf of two current inmates -- Joseph Marone and Paul Nantista.
Both claim that they were denied timely, proper medical treatment. Marone was bleeding from his ear for weeks before seeing a nurse. By the time the practitioner saw him, the bleeding had stopped, but he thinks that he now has permanent hearing loss, according to the NYCLU.
Shortly after, he visited the infirmary for a hand and rib injury, and was given over-the-counter meds which did not alleviate his pain, Marone says. His ribs were never x-rayed, he says, and he still has trouble breathing.
Narista claims that he experienced a similar situation: after breaking his toe, he was "unable" to get examined by a doctor.
Since at least 1981, the jail has been under intense scrutiny for its treatment of prisoners. Then, the county sheriff agreed to a "consent judgment" with "inmate plaintiffs who had complained of unconstitutional conditions of confinement in the jail."
Complaints have continued until the present day, with the U.S. Department of Justice determining in 1999 that conditions at the facility were unconstitutional "due to deliberate indifference towards inmates' serious medical needs and incidents of excessive use of force against inmates," the NYCLU notes.
In 2002, the county told the Department of Justice that it would address these concerns, but a state report found in 2009 that the jail didn't meet New York Department of Corrections standards.
Nassau County has responded to the filing. In an e-mailed statement sent to Runnin' Scared, Elizabeth J. Loconsolo, general counsel for corrections, said:
"With respect to the Board of Visitors, although it was established 21 years ago, the Board positions have never been filled since that time and that Board has never met. However, there has been, and continues to be, a Jail Advisory Committee since the late 1980's that serves in a similar capacity. The Sheriff convenes a monthly meeting with the Committee to discuss whatever concerns and/or suggestions they may have.
By Nassau County Charter, the Board's duties include: investigating inmate complaints; making recommendations to the Sheriff concerning operational aspects of the jail and coordinate such recommended changes; and access to the jail without notice. The Board's duties are in many ways duplicative of the New York State Commission of Correction (SCOC), an agency established by New York State law. The Nassau County Correctional Center is subject to the oversight of the New York State Commission of Correction, as are all correctional facilities throughout the State, which has broad statutory powers in terms of access to NCCC, monitoring its operations and its compliance with the more than three hundred (300) standards and subsections it has enacted - including reporting requirements - for the care, custody and supervision of inmates in all local and State-operated correctional facilities.
The Charter provisions concerning the Board basically mirror the SCOC's Citizens Policy and Compliant Review Council (CPCRC) provisions in the State legislation establishing the SCOC. The SCOC reviews a number of aspects of the jail's operations annually. They monitor compliance with their established minimum standards and investigate inmate complaints. They oversee and must authorize various operational changes that we want to implement, and any and all physical plant changes at Nassau County Correctional Center (NCCC).
Additionally, the Nassau County Commission on Human Rights investigates inmate complaints and provides information to NCCC so that we can do internal investigations as well. This Department itself has an Internal Affairs unit which investigates inmate complaints, some of which are made directly by the inmates to Internal Affairs, and others which are referred to the County by the Nassau County Civil Liberties Union, Legal Aid Society, the Nassau County Defense Bar, and the Nassau County District Attorney's Office. Complaints alleging conduct that could be criminal are investigated by the Sheriff's Department in coordination with the District Attorney's Office.
Moreover, the Sheriff's Department operates a separate Inmate Grievance Unit, which functions in accordance with the SCOC's standards and is subject to the SCOC's oversight. The process provides for an administrative review, an appeal process and, if the inmate is not satisfied, a referral to the SCOC.
The Department already works with and responds to a number of oversights at this point. It may be that the Board of Visitors was never constituted as it would just create additional, duplicative work and constitute an unwarranted burden on limited County resources.
With respect to the specific allegations in the pending lawsuit, the County will respond, in court, through the legal process."
Check back to Runnin' Scared for updates.
Follow Victoria Bekiempis @vicbekiempis.