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Oversight board needed for troubled Nassau County jail - New York judge

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Thu, 4 Apr 2013 20:36 GMT
Author: Reuters
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By Jessica Dye

NEW YORK, April 4 (Reuters) - A New York judge has ordered suburban Nassau County to appoint an independent panel to oversee its jail, following decades of complaints about conditions at the facility.

In a ruling released on Wednesday, Acting Supreme Court Justice James McCormack gave County Executive Edward Mangano 90 days to make nominations to fill all seven seats on the Nassau County Correctional Board of Visitors, which was created in 1990 to monitor the jail.

Conditions at the Nassau County Correctional Center have prompted frequent complaints for several decades, McCormack wrote.

In 2012, the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in the wake of the death of Bartholomew Ryan, an Iraq War veteran who committed suicide while in custody. The suit asked the county to comply with its charter and appoint seven members to the Board of Visitors.

No county executive has ever appointed seven members to the board, which has never met, the judge noted in his order.

In the two years beginning January 2010, seven people died in jail custody, including five suicides, according to the NYCLU. Authorities indicated that some of those deaths might have been prevented if the jail had provided adequate medical and mental health care, the NYCLU said in its lawsuit.

The jail, with a capacity of 1,900, houses mostly those detained before trial and convicted criminals serving sentences of one year or less.

The county had argued that appointments to the board were discretionary.

The NYCLU cheered the decision. "More than 20 years after Nassau County voters overwhelmingly approved this charter amendment, there will finally be much-needed oversight at the jail," said NYCLU Nassau County Chapter director Jason Starr.

A spokeswoman for the county did not immediately return a request for comment on Thursday.

Ryan, 32, hung himself shortly after being jailed on a drunken driving charge, according to the lawsuit.

Prescription medications were not given to some inmates, and wheelchairs were taken away from handicapped inmates, it said.

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst; and Jackie Frank)

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