Feds in­ves­ti­gat­ing con­di­tions at jail af­ter in­mate deaths

The Washington Times Daily - - METRO - BY BEN FIN­LEY

NOR­FOLK, VA. | The Jus­tice Depart­ment will in­ves­ti­gate a Vir­ginia jail af­ter the deaths of two in­mates and crit­i­cism of health care ser­vices con­tin­ued to mount from state of­fi­cials and civil rights groups.

The depart­ment said Mon­day that it will de­ter­mine if pris­on­ers at the Hamp­ton Roads Re­gional Jail in Portsmouth re­ceive proper med­i­cal treat­ment and psy­cho­log­i­cal ser­vices. In par­tic­u­lar, the probe will fo­cus on whether the jail vi­o­lated the rights of men­tally ill in­mates.

Jamy­cheal Mitchell, 24, an in­mate with bipo­lar dis­or­der and schizophre­nia, died there last year. A med­i­cal ex­am­iner said the cause was heart fail­ure ac­com­pa­nied by se­vere weight loss.

His fam­ily filed a law­suit in May in which other in­mates said cor­rec­tional of­fi­cials phys­i­cally abused him and with­held food.

Ear­lier this year, in­mate Henry Ste­wart, 60, filled out an emer­gency griev­ance form say­ing he had blacked out twice in less than 24 hours and couldn’t hold down food or wa­ter. He died two days later.

The griev­ance form said a nurse de­ter­mined his con­cerns “not to be an emer­gency.” It said Ste­wart had re­fused med­i­ca­tion and had been eval­u­ated by off-site spe­cial­ists. Ste­wart’s fam­ily found the form among his be­long­ings at the jail.

“All pris­on­ers, in­clud­ing those with men­tal ill­ness, have a con­sti­tu­tional right to re­ceive nec­es­sary med­i­cal care, treat­ment and ser­vices,” Vanita Gupta, head of the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s Civil Rights Di­vi­sion, said in state­ment.

The jail has de­nied any wrong­do­ing. It is run by a lo­cal board, and med­i­cal ser­vice is pro­vided by a con­trac­tor. The fa­cil­ity has been un­der new lead­er­ship since Septem­ber.

In­terim Su­per­in­ten­dent Robert J. McCabe said in a state­ment that the jail is work­ing to im­prove ser­vices and wel­comes the probe.

“We are con­fi­dent that DOJ will rec­og­nize the pos­i­tive ef­forts be­ing made,” Su­per­in­ten­dent McCabe wrote.

Vir­ginia At­tor­ney Gen­eral Mark Her­ring had asked the Jus­tice Depart­ment to in­ves­ti­gate ear­lier this year. He praised its de­ci­sion, say­ing in a state­ment that the pub­lic “needs to know what has been go­ing on in this fa­cil­ity.”

For months, ad­vo­cates for the men­tally ill and civil rights groups had been ex­press­ing con­cerns about the “like­li­hood of fu­ture deaths” at the jail. The Vir­ginia chap­ter of the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union re­it­er­ated that stance, say­ing in­mates there are at “se­ri­ous, im­mi­nent risk.”

Mark Krudys, an at­tor­ney rep­re­sent­ing the fam­i­lies of both men who died, said in a phone in­ter­view that they’re happy about the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into what they be­lieve is a “sys­temic prob­lem.”

Since the Mitchell fam­ily filed its law­suit, Mr. Krudys said his firm has re­ceived nu­mer­ous in­quiries from other in­mates and their fam­i­lies.

Jef­frey Ian Ross, a crim­i­nol­o­gist at the Uni­ver­sity of Bal­ti­more, said fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tions can re­sult in rec­om­men­da­tions for more staffing to a gov­ern­ment takeover of health care ser­vices.

“I’ve never known one of these in­ves­ti­ga­tions not to find some­thing prob­lem­atic,” Mr. Ross said. “It just de­pends on how much.”

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