Federal prosecutors allege in a lawsuit that inmates at the Dallas County Jail are at risk of harm because of unsafe jail conditions and a lack of proper health care.
The U.S. Attorney's Office asked the court to require Dallas County to take actions to correct deficiencies at the jail, among the largest complexes in the country. In a lawsuit filed Wednesday, the federal government contends Dallas County and Sheriff Lupe Valdez have known about problems at the jail for some time but have failed to address them adequately.
By failing to fix the inadequacies, the rights of the inmates were violated, the suit said.
"Through the acts and omissions...Defendants have exhibited deliberate indifference to the health and safety of Dallas County Jail inmates," the suit said. The federal government says court action is necessary to effect change. ...
Federal officials contend the jail hasn't provided adequate medical and mental health care to inmates and hasn't ensured a safe and sanitary environment for detainees, the lawsuit contends.
"This problem has been simmering and festering for at least 10 years," said David Finn, a Dallas attorney and former judge.
Earlier this year, county officials approved a nearly $1 million settlement with the families of three mentally ill inmates who were denied medication while in the jail. A little more than half of the award went to James Mims, a jail inmate whose psychiatric medications were withheld for two months in 2004. Mims nearly died when water was shut off in his cell for two weeks, said Finn, who represented the inmate.
The problems aren't just in dealing with mentally ill inmates, but also extend to people who require medication, such as diabetics, said Finn.
"We're talking about basic health care. If people treated animals this way, they would be ... prosecuted," he said.
A federal report sent to Dallas officials in December said the jail violated the constitutional rights of inmates by failing to provide adequate medical and mental health care.
A separate report from February 2005 found that lapses in medical care in the Dallas County jail system resulted in undetected illnesses, excess costs and risks to the public.
The only thing I find puzzling is why it took the feds this long to sue? A year and a half ago we already knew that "For every month spent in the Dallas County Jail, you're more likely to get a staph infection (~3.4% chance) than you are to hit 'snake eyes' when playing craps in a Vegas casino (~2.77%)." As I asked then, "Wanna roll the dice?"Well, roll the dice is exactly what the Sheriff and Dallas County Commissioners Court chose to do. The result was worsening problems that caused a tax increase. And it's not just health care, but overcrowding and overall management. They occasionally just lose people in the jail. The feds issued their own criticisms jail healthcare in December, and already have monitors at the Dallas jail.
Incidentally, last year as complaints mounted, the Sheriff transferred responsibility for Dallas jail healthcare from UTMB-Galveston to a local provider, Parkland hospital. But even today, similar problems exist in other facilities where UTMB operates, particularly Texas' adult and youth prison systems (TDCJ and TYC). While the feds are at it, they should investigate healthcare in other carceral settings where UTMB operates, and I'll bet they'd find similar results.
RELATED: See Part One and Part Two of the 47 page report by the feds from December '06.