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Steven Hsieh

Steven Hsieh

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Despite SCOTUS Ban, 15 States Still Have Not Passed Laws Ending Mandatory Life Without Parole for Juveniles

Juvenile facility

A juvenile offender mops the floor during his work program at Circleville Youth Center in Ohio. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato)

Exactly two years after the US Supreme Court ruled against mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles convicted of murder, the majority of states affected by the ruling have not passed laws banning the practice, according to a report by the Sentencing Project.

The Supreme Court ruled five-to-four in Miller v. Arizona that mandatory life without parole (LWOP) sentences for minors violate the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment. In her majority opinion, Justice Kagan cited research that found that “only a relatively small proportion of adolescents who experiment in risky or illegal activities develop entrenched patterns of problem behavior that persist into adulthood.”

Only thirteen of twenty-eight states that had locked up minors for life without a chance for release have passed laws to comply with the Court’s decision. Several of the states that amended their sentencing laws, however, set lengthy requirements that some juvenile advocates are still calling inhumane. For example, both Texas and Nebraska set new minimum sentences of forty years, practically guaranteeing that some juvenile offenders will spend the majority of their lives behind bars.

“It appears that many states are disregarding the spirit of the Court’s ruling. Of the states that have passed legislative responses to Miller, many replaced their laws with sentences that are as nearly as narrow-minded,” said Ashley Nellis, a senior analyst at the Sentencing Project, in a statement.

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The Miller decision did not determine whether the estimated 2,000 prisoners already serving mandatory LWOP sentences would be eligible for re-sentencing. Ten of the twenty-eight affected states have addressed this issue, passing laws or issuing court decisions that apply Miller retroactively.

The Sentencing Project's report notes that states do not necessarily have to pass new legislation to comply with Miller, but 

States’ practices of sending children to die in prison puts the United States at odds with international standards. In fact, ours is the only nation in the world that sends minors to die in prison, and is one of few that refuses to sign the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which bans the practice.

(CORRECTION, 6/26/2014): An earlier version of this post suggested that states must pass legislation to comply with Miller. In fact, some states have ended mandatory life without parole for juveniles through litigation. The headline and first paragraph of this post have been updated for clarification.


Read Next: A new report criticizes the increasing militarization of American police departments.

Report: SWAT Teams Armed With Military Equipment Spend Most of Their Time Waging the Drug War


Police stand next to a SWAT robot in Sanford, Maine, during a media demonstration. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

Seven-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones was shot to death by a SWAT officer during a midnight raid in Detroit, moments after a flashbang grenade lit her blanket on fire. The mayor of a small Maryland town and his spouse were held at gunpoint for hours on unfounded drug allegations, during which time officers shot and killed their two dogs. A SWAT officer’s flashbang landed in a baby’s crib, blowing a hole in the 19-month-old’s face and chest.

In a new report, the American Civil Liberties Union ties each of these tragic stories to the increasing militarization of America’s police forces, a trend financially and materially supported by the federal government. The report, titled “War Comes Home,” finds that SWAT teams, equipped with assault rifles and armored vehicles, are mostly used to search suspected drug offenders’ homes, rather than rescuing hostages or stopping active shooters.

“Our police are trampling on our civil rights and turning communities of color into war zones,” ACLU Senior Counsel Kara Dansky said in a statement. “We all pay for it with our tax dollars.”

ACLU Researchers examined 818 SWAT incident reports, filed between 2011 and 2012, from twenty police departments in eleven states. The data, obtained through public records requests, was collected by local ACLU affiliates over the span of a year.

The data lends credence to long-held assumptions that SWAT teams primarily serve to fight the War on Drugs. Of the deployments examined by the ACLU, 62 percent were for drug searches, while nearly 80 percent involved search warrants. In contrast, only 7 percent of deployments responded to hostage, barricade or active shooters, the types of emergency situations for which SWAT teams were originally created. At least 36 percent of drug search deployments, and as many as 65 percent, turned up no evidence of contraband.


As with other components of the War on Drugs, the SWAT raids examined by the ACLU disproportionately targeted people of color. Of people impacted by the ACLU’s sample of paramilitary deployments, 37 percent are black, 12 percent are Latino and 19 percent are white. Another 32 percent are of unknown race, because some police departments failed to record that information.


The scope of police militarization in America would not be possible without the help of the federal government. Programs run by the Defense Department and Department of Homeland Security provide millions of dollars’ worth of military equipment to police departments every year, while grant money from the Justice Department is often used to buy weapons and body armor. For example, the North Little Rock Police Department in Arkansas received thirty-four semi-automatic rifles from the DOD, along with two MARCbots (military robots used in Afghanistan), ground troop helmets and a Mamba tactical vehicle.

The ACLU’s report builds on the research of Peter Kraska, an Eastern Kentucky University professor who found a 1,400 percent increase in the total number of SWAT deployments between 1989 and 2000. Kraska concluded that SWAT teams have evolved from “strictly reactive components” of police departments to proactive units “actively engaged in fighting the drug war.”

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“The ACLU’s data demonstrates what we’ve known for a long time, though it certainly provides updated information,” Kraska told The Nation. “Police departments are not sitting back and responding to serious situations underway. They’re actually going out and manufacturing very risky and dangerous situations by choosing to use the military special operations model approach to police the drug problem inside people’s private residences.”

Kara Dansky, senior counsel at the ACLU and the report’s lead writer, said it is currently impossible to conduct a comprehensive analysis of police militarization nationwide, because there is very little public oversight of SWAT teams. Researchers found that data collection among police departments was “at best sporadic and at worst virtually nonexistent” in the context of SWAT.

“If we could get police departments to mandate reporting, this necessary information would be more readily available and someone could conduct a more thorough study,” Dansky told The Nation. “The people have a right to know when police are raiding homes for nonviolent drug allegations, using excessively aggressive and militarized tactics.”


Read Next: Human rights groups fight the opening of new immigrant family detention centers

Human Rights Groups Blast Obama’s Plan to Open New Immigrant Family Detention Centers

Brownsville detention center

Child detainees sleep in a holding cell at a US Customs and Border Protection processing facility in Brownsville, Texas. (Reuters/Eric Gay/Pool)

The Obama administration on Friday announced a plan to open new detention facilities to house families apprehended while crossing the southwest border, drawing criticism from congressional Democrats and immigrant rights groups who say there are more humane ways to handle migrants.

“Human rights require that detention be the last resort, not the first,” said ACLU Legislative Counsel Joanne Lin in a statement. “Families should be moved out of detention as soon as possible and be released under humane and reasonable supervision, including community-based alternatives to detention which have proven to be cost-effective and efficient.”

The push for ramped-up detention is the federal government’s response to an unprecedented surge of migrant children crossing the US-Mexico border, which both Democrats and Republicans are calling a humanitarian crisis. The plan also calls for more judges and immigration officials in the area to expedite deportation proceedings. While the majority of children detained near the border are traveling alone, the new detention centers will specifically house children who came with families.

Clara Long, an immigration policy researcher at Human Rights Watch told The Nation, “We’re really concerned that, especially where children are detained, that these centers will not be under compliance with international law.”

“The underlying approach to such a program should be ‘care’ and not ‘detention,’” Long said, stressing that children under detention are entitled to education, legal aid, counseling and recreation. Alternatives to detention, such as electronic monitoring via ankle bracelets, should be considered, Long added.

US Border Patrol says it has captured 47,000 unaccompanied minors since October 1 and estimates say that number could reach 90,000 by the end of this fiscal year. Most of the minors arrived from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, countries plagued by rampant gang violence. Researchers for the UN human rights commissioner for refugees found that many of the children crossing the border are fleeing threats of violence in their home countries. Fifty-eight percent of 400 unaccompanied minors interviewed by researchers “raise potential international protection needs.” UNHCR guidelines minors who are seeking asylum “should not, as a general rule, be detained.”

“As a human rights organization, it bothers us that they see detention as the only option. It doesn’t matter how many more beds they have, this will continue to happen,” said Fernando Garcia, executive director of the Texas-based Border Network For Human Rights. “We need policy solutions, not just infrastructure.”

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Garcia told The Nation that the federal government should find a way to grant asylum to migrants fleeing violence in their home countries. There should also be legal path for migrants to reunite with families are already living in the US, he added.

Congressional Democrats, including Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Representative Luiz Guiterrez (D-IL), also spoke out against the detention plan. In a statement offered to BuzzFeed, Senator Menendez said, “Using up our nation’s resources to jail families will not be a deterrent—these kids are fleeing violence and are willing to risk their lives to cross the border. The threat of a jail will not stop these families from coming here. Instead, we need to fully address the root causes of the crisis.”

On Thursday, Senator Menendez released a twenty-point plan to address the border crisis. The plan recommends Obama administration to continue cracking down on human smugglers and traffickers taking advantage of the surge. It also calls for increased efforts to provide detainee children with legal representation.


Read Next: This Is what an overcrowded holding center for migrant children looks like

This Is What an Overcrowded Holding Center for Migrant Children Looks Like

Brownsville, TX

Detainees sleep in a holding cell at a US Customs and Border Protection processing facility in Brownsville, Texas. (Reuters/Eric Gay/Pool)

Under mounting pressure from lawmakers and immigrant rights groups, Border Patrol officials on Wednesday finally let reporters visit two processing facilities where hundreds of unaccompanied migrant youth are being detained.

Some 900 children are being housed at a former warehouse in Nogales, Arizona, which was recently outfitted to handle an unprecedented surge of mostly Central American child migrants across the US-Mexico border. Another facility in Brownsville, Texas, is holding around 500 children, double its intended capacity. The Los Angeles Times described conditions there as “overcrowded and unsanitary.” CBP is required by law to turn over any migrant children to the Department of Health and Human Services within seventy-two hours of detaining them. Officials at the Nogales and Brownsville facilities told reporters they are struggling to meet this requirement.

Earlier this month, the White House requested $2 billion to handle the surge of migrant youths, which President Obama has declared an “urgent humanitarian situation.” US Customs and Border Protection reports that around 47,000 unaccompanied children have crossed the border since October 1, 2013, nearly double the amount of last year. A majority of the migrant children arrived from Central American countries, seeking refuge from rampant violence or hoping to reconnect with family members already in the states.

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CBP officials took reporters on highly controlled tours of the Brownsville and Nogales facilities, in which visitors were prohibited from bringing cellphones and sound recorders, or speaking with any of the children. Only two photographers, one for each facility, were allowed to bring a camera. Here are some of their photos:

Some 900 unaccompanied children are being held at a converted warehouse in Nogales. Border Patrol officials set up the Arizona facility after a similiar processing center in Texas ran out of space. (Reuters/Ross D. Franklin/Pool)

Female detainees sleep in a holding cell. According to The New York Times, children held at the Nogales facility are allowed just forty-five minutes of outdoor time a day. (Reuters/Ross D. Franklin/Pool)

Child detainees are escorted to make phone calls. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)

Child detainees wait to use a portable restroom, as a World Cup match plays on a suspended television. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)


Read Next: “Will the Death Penalty Return to the US This Week?”

Will the Death Penalty Return to the US This Week?

Georgia death penalty

This 2001 photo shows the death chamber at the state prison in Jackson, Georgia. (AP Photo/Ric Feld, File)

Three prisoners could be executed in the coming days, ending a nearly two-month, de facto moratorium on American capital punishment since a gruesomely botched attempt in Oklahoma renewed national debates over death penalty procedures.

Georgia inmate Marcus Wellons is set to die today at 7 pm ET. The Florida execution of John Ruthell Henry is scheduled for 6 pm Wednesday. A stayed execution in Missouri, originally scheduled for midnight tonight, could still proceed if state prosecutors succeed in appealing a federal judge’s decision.

If Wellons’s execution goes as planned, it will be the first to take place in the United States since Oklahoma officials botched the execution of Lockett on April 29. Lockett “writhed and grimaced,” apparently in pain, during a forty-three-minute procedure, even after he was already declared unconscious.

Lockett’s gruesome death prompted calls for increased transparency over death penalty procedures. President Obama last month asked the Justice Department to investigate the implementation of capital punishment throughout the country, calling the situation in Oklahoma “deeply troubling.” Judges have stayed or delayed eight executions since April’s botched lethal injection.

“Oklahoma turned the corner. People are more skeptical of how reliable the whole process is. That puts a high burden on Georgia and Florida to be prepared,” said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. “Now, with executions, everybody is watching to see if anything goes wrong.”

As with Oklahoma, the three states set to execute prisoners this week won’t disclose where they procured their lethal injection drugs. Georgia’s Supreme Court most recently upheld a law protecting the anonymity of the state’s drug source, arguing that secrecy makes the execution process “more timely and orderly.”

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Wellons’s attorneys cited Oklahoma’s botched execution in arguing that Georgia’s secrecy statute “deprives him and this court of the information necessary to determine whether those procedures present a ‘substantial risk of significant harm’ in violation of his Eighth Amendment rights.” Wellons was sentenced to death for the 1989 rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl.

A federal judge last week temporarily halted the execution of John Winfield, originally scheduled to die in Missouri at 12:01 am Wednesday, but state prosecutors are appealing that decision. Winfield’s lawyers presented evidence that state prison officials had unlawfully interfered in his clemency process. Winfield was convicted of shooting three women in the head, killing two, during a 1996 rampage against an ex-girlfriend.

Florida’s Supreme Court last week rejected an appeal from John Henry, whose attorneys argued that he is not mentally fit for execution. Henry stabbed his estranged wife and 5-year-old son to death in 1989. He has an IQ of 78, according to a test, but attorneys said his “abhorrent childhood, extensive personal and family mental health history, poor social adjustment, and lack of rational thinking and reasoning skills so impaired his adaptive functioning that he was actually performing at the level of a person with an IQ of 70,” the state’s cutoff for executions.


Read Next: “Autposy Report Reveals Oklahoma Officials Botched Execution.”

Autopsy Report: Oklahoma Officials Failed to Properly Insert IV During Botched Execution

OK death chamber

The gurney in the execution chamber at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary (AP Photo, File)

Oklahoma officials failed to properly insert an IV into death row prisoner Clayton Lockett, despite his having healthy veins, according to a preliminary autopsy report released by attorneys Friday.

Lockett, a convicted murderer and rapist, died during a botched lethal injection that the White House said fell short of “humane” standards. Media witnesses saw Lockett writhe and kick, apparently in pain, after he was already declared unconscious. He died forty-three minutes after the procedure began.

An independent autopsy, performed by Dr. Joseph Cohen, revealed that Lockett’s veins were in excellent condition for the injection procedure. Despite that, punctures on Lockett’s arms and groin area indicate that medical professionals failed in multiple attempts to set an IV in his veins. Attorneys say Dr. Cohen’s findings contradict official claims that Lockett’s vein collapsed during the procedure.

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Little is known about the medical professionals who botched Lockett’s procedure, since Oklahoma law shields the identities of execution team personnel. An initial report from Oklahoma’s Department of Corrections said a phlebotomist placed the IV into Lockett, in violation of the state’s execution protocol. When asked by Tulsa World in May, DOC officials reversed this claim, saying that the person was actually an EMT.

Dr. Cohen is requesting additional information to complete the autopsy, including a medical examination of his heart and larynx, which were removed by officials after the execution. He is also asking for Oklahoma’s execution policies and procedures and Lockett’s complete medical and prison records.

“Dr. Cohen has begun a critically important inquiry into the botched execution of Clayton Lockett,” says Dr. Mark Heath, assistant professor of anesthesiology at Columbia University and expert in lethal injection executions, in a statement. “However, to complete this inquiry, Dr. Cohen will need the state to provide extensive additional information beyond what the body itself revealed. I hope that Oklahoma provides everything he asks for so that we can all understand what went so terribly wrong in Mr. Lockett’s execution.”

Read Next: “Migrant Children Accuse Border Patrol Agents of Physical and Sexual Assualt”

Migrant Children Accuse Border Patrol Agents of Physical and Sexual Assault

Border in Arizona

US Customs and Border Patrol Agents gather along the International border near Naco, Arizona. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Five immigrant rights groups filed a complaint Wednesday accusing US border officials of participating in the systemic abuse of unaccompanied migrant children detained near the southwest border, including physical and sexual abuse, painful shackling and denial of adequate food and water.

The complaint details alleged abuse and mistreatment suffered by 116 children detained by US Customs and Border Protection officials. One in four children said they experienced physical abuse, including kicking, beating and forced stress positions. More than half reported verbal abuse, including taunts, death threats and racist or sexually charged comments. A majority said they were held for longer than seventy-two hours, the maximum time permitted before CBP officials are required to transfer custody to the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

Cases of abuse and mistreatment are described in graphic detail. A sixteen-year-old Central American girl said agents “violently spread her legs” while searching her, touching her genitalia and making her scream. A seventeen-year-old boy detained near Hidalgo, Texas said he was forced to maintain a stress position for twenty minutes as punishment for laughing. A seventeen-year-old rape survivor who fled Guatemala said she was repeatedly harassed by CBP officials; one allegedly told her, “We’re going to put you on a plane, and I hope it explodes. That would be the happiest day of my life.”

Most of the children reported being held in frigid holding cells, nicknamed hieleras, Spanish for “freezers.” Interviewees described squalid conditions at these sites, including severe overcrowding and scarce food and water. In at least one facility, up to 100 children share a single toilet, exposed in plain view to everyone, including CBP officers.

The complaint was filed with the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, as well as the Office of the Inspector General. Its authors include the National Immigrant Justice Center, Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project, the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona and Americans for Immigrant Justice.

In response to the complaint, CBP spokesperson Michael Friel said, “While in temporary custody, CBP strives to protect unaccompanied children with special procedures and safeguards…. Mistreatment or misconduct is not tolerated.”

The accusations come as immigration officials struggle to deal with unprecedented influx of migrant children across the US-Mexico border, deemed an “urgent humanitarian crisis” by President Obama. CBP officials have apprehended more than 47,000 unaccompanied children since October, nearly double the number from last year. Experts tie the surge of child migrants to increasing gang violence in Central America, including Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Human and civil rights advocates say the recent influx of migrant youths highlights the need to address CBP’s systemic abuse.

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“Children are fleeing untenable conditions in their home countries, including pervasive violence and persecution, and are often re-victimized in transit to the United States,” said Joseph Anderson, director of litigation for Americans for Immigrant Justice, in a statement. “We need to ensure that these children are treated with dignity and respect and afforded all applicable legal protections while they are in US custody.”

CBP, the largest law enforcement agency in the nation, is no stranger to accusations of misconduct. The agency removed its top internal affairs chief this week over mounting criticism that he routinely refused to investigate use-of-force allegations.

The groups involved with the complaint are calling for immediate redress and reform, including enhanced oversight through an independent body and the creation of short-term detention standards, as well as a streamlined complaint process. They are also asking for an investigation into the abuse cases described in the complaint.

“This complaint is further proof that the CBP is an agency in need of massive reform,” said James Lyall of the ACLU Border Litigation Project. “This should be the final straw.”


Read Next: Why hundreds of unaccompanied children are being held in border partol facility

Hundreds of Unaccompanied Children Are Being Held in a Makeshift Border Patrol Facility


The international border fence near Nogales, Arizona (AP Images/Matt York)

Immigrant advocates and public officials are raising concerns about the conditions at a makeshift Border Patrol facility in Arizona that is temporarily housing hundreds of unaccompanied children, part of an unprecedented surge of cross-border migration that President Obama has called an “urgent humanitarian situation.”

Officials say conditions at facility in Nogales, a warehouse, have improved since last week, when reports emerged that some children were sleeping on plastic containers, while others had gone ten days without showering. US Customs and Border Protection officials have secured mattresses and shower facilities for the children. Still, the warehouse does not have indoor plumbing and officials have raised questions about the food being served to the children.

Most of the thousand or so migrant children currently housed in the warehouse were apprehended in Texas and subsequently flown to Arizona due to space constraints. Officials said the children will eventually be transferred to military bases in Texas, California and Oklahoma.

In a letter to President Obama, Representative Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ) said the Nogales facility is not in a suitable condition to hold the unaccompanied children. Representative Grijalva requested details on improvements to the facility as well as a contingency location “in the event that the improvements necessary to make conditions habitable are not immediately possible.” He also asked the White House to allow humanitarian groups on the south side of the border to enter Arizona to help treat the unaccompanied children.

Federal law requires ICE officials to turn over unaccompanied children to the Office of Refugee Resettlement within seventy-two hours. The ORR is then tasked with finding adult relatives or foster families to look after the children as they await deportation proceedings.

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Immigration advocates have long predicted an influx of unaccompanied migrant children this month, owing to seasonal migration patterns and rising violence in Central America. Most of the children waiting in Nogales migrated from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, countries where gang violence is particularly prevalent.

A report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees found that many unaccompanied children apprehended at the US-Mexico border “may well be in need of international protection.” UNCHR researchers interviewed 402 children, finding that 58 percent left their home country after suffering, or being threatened with, gang violence, sexual abuse or exploitation by the smuggling industry.

US Customs and Border Protection reports that 47,017 unaccompanied children have been apprehended at the border this fiscal year, since October 1, nearly double the total number from FY2013. The number of unaccompanied children crossing the border from El Salvador, Guatemala or Honduras has increased by more than 1,000 percent since 2009.

White House officials told reporters that they expected an influx of migrant children, but were caught off guard by the magnitude of the surge. The Los Angeles Times reported Monday that the Obama administration is asking for about $2 billion dollars to handle the crisis.

Read Next: Max Blumenthal on the private-prison industry profiting off of immigrant detainees

The Real ‘Orange Is the New Black’ Jail Is a Health Hazard Filled With Mold and Human Feces

Suffolk County Jail

The Suffolk County Correctional Facility in Riverhead, New York (AP Photo/Ed Betz)

Orange is the New Black, the Netflix series returning Friday, explores the lives of women serving time at Litchfield Penitentiary, a fictional prison in upstate New York.

The series was partially filmed at Suffolk County jail in Riverhead, a men’s facility in Long Island. But when viewers stream Orange over the weekend, they likely won’t see—and certainly won’t smell—the overflow of feces Riverhead’s actual prisoners are exposed to every day.

To mark the season two premiere of Orange, prisoners’ rights advocates launched a campaign to raise awareness of the notoriously squalid conditions at Riverhead and Yaphank, another Suffolk County jail. Twitter users tweeted from the hashtag #HumanityIsTheNewBlack to spread the word. A call to action posted online by the New York Civil Liberties Union reads, “Suffolk County should take the energy it puts into wooing Hollywood into cleaning up the shocking conditions at the Riverhead and Yaphank jails.” NYCLU Senior Legal Adviser Corey Stoughton said the campaigners hope to connect viewers’ empathy for characters in the show with prisoners in real life.

“What I love about the show is how good it is at portraying the humanity of people who are flawed and have made mistakes, but are still human beings who deserve respect,” Stoughton told The Nation. “That’s true of the people housed at the real jail as it is of the characters in the show.”

The NYCLU and law firm Shearman & Sterling filed a class-action lawsuit in 2012 on behalf of current and former prisoners at Riverhead and Yaphank. The suit claims that prisoners housed at the jails live “amidst filth, overflowing sewage, and pervasive mold, rust, and vermin.” Tap water is regularly “brown or yellow in color,” and many inmates forgo drinking it to avoid getting sick.

The lawsuit describes a plumbing issue that causes sewage in one toilet to rise in another, sometimes overflowing onto cell floors, described as a health hazard by facility nurses. The accumulation of waste from so-called “ping-pong toilets” causes inmates “to regularly vomit, cough, and suffer from nausea and severe headaches due to the fumes,” the lawsuit states. In this video, former Riverhead detainee Jason Porter recounts an incident in which every toilet on a tier “exploded,” producing a flood of human waste reaching “about seven inches above the ground”

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The chief of staff for the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office, Michael Sharkey, told The Nation that the Orange crew filmed portions of one episode at Riverhead jail in “an area of the facility not populated at the time.” Sharkey declined to comment on the specifics of the lawsuit.

Unlike the women in Orange, most of the men detained at Riverhead are awaiting trial and have not been convicted of a crime, while others are serving short sentences for minor violations.


Read Next: Inmates slapped, beaten and tased without provocation in Los Angeles County.

Former Los Angeles Deputy: We Beat, Slapped and Tased Inmates Without Provocation

LA County Jail

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies inspect a cell block at the Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon, File)

An ex-deputy described in federal court Tuesday how he and his colleagues routinely abused inmates at LA County jails and falsified reports to justify their actions, the latest sign of a culture of brutality pervading the county’s jail system.

Former Sheriff’s Deputy Gilbert Michel, 40, described how guards would beat, slap and tase inmates unprovoked, knowing that they would receive total impunity for their actions, reports the Los Angeles Times. If inmates sustained injuries from abuse, deputies would simply make up scenarios to shift the blame onto their victims. Deputies didn’t bother writing reports if inmates didn’t display evidence of physical abuse. Michel added that he learned the abusive practice “on the job.”

Michel testified in the trial of six sheriff’s officials accused of obstructing a federal civil rights investigation of excessive force allegations. He described one incident in which an inmate refused to answer his questions, telling the deputy to “talk to my lawyer.” As the inmate headed back to his cell, another deputy told Michel that the inmate was laughing at him. Michel responded with violence:

Michel said he called the inmate back out into the hallway and told him to face the wall. He told the inmate to spread his legs—and when he didn’t, Michel said, he kicked the inmate’s leg to make him buckle, grabbed the back of his neck and shoved his face into the wall. He did it to provoke a fight and justify a beating, the former deputy said.

LA County jails have a history of pervasive deputy-on-inmate violence. A 2011 report by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California details the systematic use of excessive force by LA County sheriff’s officers, including dozens of accusations of abuse from inmates and former inmates. Peter Eliasberg, Legal Director of the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, said the abuse described in Michel’s testimony is not at all surprising.

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“Nothing he says is inconsistent with what we’ve been saying for a long time,” Eliasberg told The Nation. “There has been a long pattern of abuse in the jails by deputies to inmates. It is a culture thing. It’s not just a few isolated incidents, but it is in fact commonplace.”

Another report, commissioned by LA County, also found “a pattern of unreasonable force” in the jails, blaming it on a “failure of leadership” among the department’s top officials. The report was especially critical of former Sheriff Lee Baca, who retired earlier this year amid federal investigations of his department.


Read Next: At last, US border agency releases critical report of deadly force practices.

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