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On August 30, 2007 the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) notified the County of Westchester that it was opening an investigation into the conditions of the Westchester County Jail (“WCJ”) in Valhalla, New York , pursuant to the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1997 et seq. On November 19, 2009, the DOJ sent it its Findings Letter to the WCJ. The letter stated that certain conditions at the jail violated the constitutional rights of inmates. In particular, the WCJ failed to (1) provide inmates with adequate medical and mental health care and (2) adequately protect inmates from harm and serious risk of harm from excessive force by staff.
The WCJ has three divisions including a women’s unit, with an overall operating capacity of 1,693 beds. In February 2008, the DOJ--jointly, the Civil Rights Division in DC and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York--conducted inspections of the WCJ, interviewing inmates and various staff members. After reviewing videotapes, the DOJ found a pattern and practice of use of excessive force by staff members when responding to emergencies. Officers would use tactics of threat and aggression that tended to escalate rather than de-escalate a tense situation. Some particularly troubling incidents were not reported to the Special Investigations Unit, a unit responsible for investigating allegations of inappropriate or unlawful use of force. The DOJ found that many of these incidents were inadequately reviewed by the WCJ, thus leading to a pattern of use of excessive force against inmates—in 2007, only two such investigations of excessive force ever occurred, despite dozens of incidents that the DOJ found by reviewing videotapes.
The DOJ also found WCJ’s standards of medical care unconstitutional. The WCJ provided inadequate infection control, access to dental care, and an inadequate medical grievance process. As for mental health services, the DOJ found deficiencies in the area of forced medication and also found that the WCJ had inadequate mental health treatment and suicide prevention measures for juveniles housed in its facility.
In 2015, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York announced an agreement with Westchester County Jail resolving the investigation. The agreement required that the Jail cease its practice of placing minors under 18 years old in isolation or punitive segregation, and that it develop systems to address disciplinary issues in a manner that is consistent with minors’ needs and that does not deprive them of access to certain programs and services. The agreement also required the development and implementation of alternative approaches to discipline for 18-year-old inmates. Other provisions related to avoiding excessive force and providing better medical and mental health care for both minors and adults.
Finally, the agreement mandated the appointment of an independent monitor to assist the County in achieving compliance with the provisions of the agreement, to make reports concerning the status and progress of compliance, and to provide the County with technical assistance to comply with the provisions of the agreement. The United States and the monitor had full access to the Jail and its records, staff, and inmates for the life of the agreement.
On October 15, 2020, the US Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York notified Westchester County that DOJ terminated the 2015 settlement because the County had successfully achieved and maintained substantial compliance with the requirements of the agreement.
Abigail DeHart (5/16/2017)
Michelle Wolk (8/29/2023)
Bharara, Preetinder S. (New York)
Gupta, Vanita (New York)
La Morte, Tara Marie (New York)
Martin, Rebecca C. (New York)
Perez, Thomas E. (District of Columbia)
Last updated Aug. 30, 2023, 1:32 p.m.Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.
State / Territory: New York
Closing Date: Oct. 15, 2020
Case Ongoing: No
U.S. Department of Justice, enforcing the rights of inmates at the Westchester County Jail.
Public Interest Lawyer: Yes
Filed Pro Se: No
Class Action Sought: No
Class Action Outcome: Not sought
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Prevailing Party: Plaintiff
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Order Duration: 2015 - 2020
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