Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Bad inmate! No blankie for you.

Last Friday I stopped by Suzanne Kays to visit James. I noticed he looked cold.

Seems that there was a fight in his tank, which resulted in everyone's bunks being searched and every inmate being strip-searched. James' extra blanket (he had to actually fill out a request form to get it - diabetics have poor leg circulation and subsequently cold legs) was taken during the search.

However, the prison guards made no effort to actually stop the fight.

The logic behind this escapes me.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Smile ... you're brushing with antifreeze

During one conversation last month, James mentioned that the jail hands out extremely cheap toothpaste with the brand name Amerfresh. This name sounded familiar, so when I got home I Googled it.

Turns out that Amerfresh toothpaste was pulled out of quite a few prisons and jails earlier this year, Spokane being one of the jails. Made in China, Amerfresh is light on the flouride, but heavy in diethylene glycol - aka antifreeze. The antifreeze is added because it tastes sweet, but is less expensive than other (safe) sweeteners.

Other contaminated toothpastes have odd-sounding names like Mr. Cool, and are found in dollar stores and similar places.

If you managed to ingest enough diethylene glycol, your liver and kidneys will shut down slowly but surely, which is a particularly nasty way to die. Vets sometimes see dogs and cats poisoned by antifreeze, as it tastes good, but just licking a puddle of the stuff is enough to kill.

Lights out at the Dallas County Jail ... for four days

Earlier this week I went to visit James at Suzanne Kays. I noticed that, behind the visitation area, the jail looked strangely dark.

It turns out it was dark, as the lights in some sections of the jail weren't working.

I asked how long the lights had been off - turns out the blackout lasted for almost five days. No explanation was given, so I think it's safe to assume that the Deliberate Indifference code of conduct was in force as usual.

Considering that the jail has no clocks or calendars, and that sitting in the dark is not good for anyone (Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is one form of proof), I cannot help but wonder if forcing inmates to be stuck in almost-total darkness for over four days can't help but damage their physical and psychological health.

"Brent Van Dorsten, Ph.D., a behavioral health psychologist at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center explains: “While SAD’s exact cause is unknown, it is generally accepted that nerve centers in the brain that moderate mood and energy are affected by the eye’s exposure to bright light. During darkness, the pineal gland produces the hormone melatonin, which increases drowsiness. Light halts production. People with SAD may have longer periods of melatonin production and higher daytime levels in winter. Extended darkness may also be associated with decreased production of the neurotransmitter serotonin.”

The taxes on the house I bought in 1999 have literally doubled since I moved in. Why can't a few of those be applied to providing inmates with basic necessities - like lights?

Monday, November 12, 2007

I'll believe it when it happens

Why can't that $3.5 million be used for something worthwhile?

From the Dallas Morning News archive
10:34 PM CDT on Tuesday, October 30, 2007
By KEVIN KRAUSE / The Dallas Morning News

Dallas County is getting closer to offering cheaper phone service for inmates, cutting in half the fees families must pay to receive collect calls from the jail.

Vendors vying for the lucrative jail phone contract say they also can offer an additional service – recording systems that can be programmed not to tape phone conversations between inmates and their attorneys.

Accepting a collect call from a Dallas County Jail inmate costs an automatic $4.10 for up to 15 minutes. Dallas County got 55 percent of the revenue that AT&T generated from those calls, which last year came to $3.5 million.

Earlier this year, the contract came back up for grabs after AT&T told county officials that it would not renew its 13-year agreement under the same terms when the deal expired in April.

Commissioner John Wiley Price has led the effort to cut the collect call fee to $2, saying families shouldn't have to pay an exorbitant amount to talk to loved ones in jail.

"That's going to make all the difference in the world," he said last week.

This summer, four firms were chosen to negotiate their final and best offers with county staff. Negotiations are still under way.

Calls between inmates and their lawyers have been recorded at the jail for more than a dozen years.

Public Defender Brad Lollar said he only recently learned about it. He said he and the criminal-defense bar have serious concerns about the taping.

The taping of inmate calls has been highlighted by the recent disclosure that Hunt County prosecutors have been listening to recorded conversations between inmates and their attorneys.

Mr. Lollar said he was told that detectives listen to some inmate phone conversations for investigative purposes. He said the Sheriff's Department told him that investigators don't listen if the conversation is with an attorney.

But he said he wants more of a guarantee.

Lost in translation

A couple of weeks ago, I was standing in line during visitors' hours at Suzanne Kays (the minimum security jail). I noticed that the zip code for the address for prisoners' mail was wrong. It should be 75266 but it had 75222. The address is taped up on the glass window labeled Information.

Since the mail goes to a post office box, it isn't going to get there if the zip code is wrong - I had found this out the hard way when I sent my first letter to James, as the wrong address is also attached to the DCJ visitor's handbook.

I pointed this out to an employee and all I got was a dirty look. Then the employee proceeded to give the wrong address to someone who had attempted to visit someone, but had been turned away as the inmate she wanted to visit didn't know about completing visitors cards. (Generally, if an inmate hasn't recorded details of potential visitors, he isn't going to be allowed visitors.)

So when the would-be visitor mails the letter, she should get it back in about 2 weeks. Like the first one I sent.

Monday, November 5, 2007

What the Feds are so upset about

Last December, the Feds sent County Judge Margaret Keliher (who has since left office) a 40+ page document outlining the problems at the Dallas County Jail. It makes pretty disturbing reading, especially when you begin to count up the number of unnecessary deaths (hint: you'll run out of fingers):


However, the folks at the jail obviously didn't think the document's recommendations were worth bothering with, even though it contained a clear warning that a lawsuit would follow if things didn't change.

They didn't, hence the lawsuit filed in September 2007 by the US Attorney General's office. It described the defendants, ie the Dallas County Sheriff's Office, as acting with "deliberate indifference".

I incorporated the phrase into this blog's name for this reason.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

An introduction to Dallas County Jails (DCJ)

Until about two months ago, I'd never set foot in a Dallas jail, or in any other for that matter. Unless you count the time I bailed a friend out of jail in Manila.

The depressing thing is that after having compared the two, I've come to the conclusion that the Manila jail was run better in 1993 than the Dallas County Jail system is in 2007.

My fiance James is currently being held in the Suzanne Kays Jail, the minimum security unit of Dallas County Jail (DCJ). He turned himself in about two months ago after learning that an ex-employer had accused him of theft, and that a grand jury had indicted him. (More about grand juries later.)

Although he informed the jail staff of his diabetes and gastric bypass surgery when he was booked in, he wasn't given any diabetes medication or edible food for five days. During a space of two weeks, he lost just over 14 pounds. Over the next few weeks, medicine and sugar-free food was provided either sporadically or not at all. It took almost two months for the jail folks to finally get it together enough to provide him with daily medication and edible meals most days.

Before I go any further, please keep in mind that James has had no trial or preliminary hearing, so he hasn't been convicted of anything. His only bail hearing was nonsense, as the indictment contained a "typo" (the DA's words, not mine) that made the charge a first-degree felony. So bailing him was not an option. Like almost everyone else in DJC, he'll probably be kept in jail until his charges or dismissed, or his health fails to the point where the jail staff panic and transfer him to Parkland.

Moreover, most people who are admitted to DJC aren't sentenced to jail time. They're found innocent, charges are dropped, or the DA decides the whole mess isn't worth pursuing.