By Jacob Kaye
A Bronx Supreme Court judge recently found that New York City Corrections had failed to provide medical care to inmates in city jails, a complaint long filed by those inmates over the course of the last year.
The ruling, rendered by Justice Elizabeth Taylor, in the class action lawsuit, orders the DOC to implement a series of measures to provide medical services to inmates who say they have not been able to see a doctor or receive medical care when needed.
In 2021, more than a dozen people died in detention at DOC, making it the deadliest year in the city’s prisons since 2016. At least seven of those deaths were linked to health issues, according to the latest Nunez report published Monday by the federal monitor. appointed to oversee Rikers Island.
“After this tragic year, when at least fourteen New Yorkers have died on Rikers Island and other local prisons, we are grateful that the court has taken swift action to order the DOC to fulfill its obligation to provide the thousands of New Yorkers who remain in prisons with access to medical care, “said Veronica Vela, the supervising lawyer of the Legal Aid Society’s Prisoners’ Rights Project.” While the DOC is still unable to cope with comply with this decision, he does not have the power to detain, and the city and state must act immediately to release those in his custody in order to avoid further suffering. ”
The ruling applies to all current and future incarcerated inside DOC facilities, all of whom will be represented by lawyers from the Legal Aid Society, Brooklyn Defender Services and Milbank LLP.
Taylor ordered DOC to provide inmates with access to a weekday sickness call and make it available at least five days a week within 24 hours of the request, to provide security to allow inmates to be move to and from health facilities in prisons and not to prohibit or delay inmates’ access to medical care.
“Thousands of people are suffering because the Department of Corrections still fails to meet basic human needs and ensure the health and safety of those in its care,” said Brooke Menschel, director of civil rights and justice. law reform at Brooklyn Defender Services. “It’s not just inhuman and morally wrong, it’s illegal and the court agreed.”
A DOC spokesperson said the department is striving to provide health services despite the complications posed by the pandemic and the resulting staff shortage.
“We fully agree that health care is a human right and we are doing our best to ensure that this right is respected,” said the spokesperson. “While COVID and related personnel issues have challenged us, we are committed to providing service to those entrusted to us to the best of our ability. “
The trial involved a man identified as JA, a 23-year-old man detained by DOC since mid-September.
Prior to his incarceration, JA, who suffers from asthma and has a history of seizures, was stabbed in the side, puncturing a lung.
During his arrest in September, police allegedly hit JA with a car, knocked him to the ground and stepped on his leg, according to the prosecution. He attended his arraignment in a wheelchair, according to his lawyers.
Upon arrival at Rikers Island, he remained handcuffed on a bus for 14 hours and was reportedly denied access to food, water, toilets and medical treatment.
After spending almost a week on admission and having pepper spray sprayed on his cell, which complicated his asthma, JA was moved to more permanent accommodation.
While there, he says he was systematically denied medical treatment. His lawyers said the applicant repeatedly called the Correctional Health Services hotline and asked DOC officers to take him to a medical facility.
At one point, CHS told him that he had received an appointment and that a DOC officer would escort him to the facility. However, when the time came, no officer arrived, according to the lawsuit.
JA also claims that an officer told him that in order to get to the clinic, the inmate would have to pretend to have a heart attack or some sort of medical emergency.
“Every day we hear about people in distress, requiring both emergency and routine medical care, and yet these calls for help regularly go unanswered,” Menschel said. “The results are devastation, suffering and death. “
The DOC has a week to prove to the court that it has implemented practices to ensure that detainees are treated for medical issues.
Public defense lawyers have said if the order is not followed, they will seek a judge to order the release of people who risk life-threatening medical consequences if left untreated.