Audrey Strauss, the Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced the successful conclusion of the United States’ long-running investigation into Westchester County Jail (the “Jail”) under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (“CRIPA”). After conducting an investigation and issuing a Findings Letter in January 2016, the United States entered into an agreement with Westchester County regarding the Jail’s use of force against inmates, its use of isolation as a method of discipline for minors incarcerated at the jail, and its provision of inadequate medical and mental health care to inmates. The Agreement required the appointment of an independent Monitor to ensure that the Jail complied with the agreement. The Monitor’s most recent compliance report concluded that the Jail is in full compliance with every provision of the Agreement, and recommends its termination. Today, the United States accepts the Monitor’s recommendation, agrees to terminate the Agreement, and commends the Jail on its achievement.
Acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said: “Since the commencement of our investigation in 2007, Westchester County Jail has worked steadily and in good faith to implement sweeping reforms that have significantly improved the treatment of inmates at the facility. The Jail is a completely transformed institution, having implemented every provision of the agreement and even creating policies and programs that go beyond what the agreement requires. At every step along the way, the Jail’s leadership and staff have been a willing partner in creating lasting reforms that have significantly improved the quality of life for inmates and detainees within the facility. I commend Westchester County Jail for its efforts.”
The Jail, located in Valhalla, New York, houses pretrial detainees and sentenced inmates. The Jail also housed minors before the State of New York enacted “Raise the Age” in October 2018, prohibiting minors from being housed in adult corrections facilities. The final minor housed in the Jail was transferred to a juvenile facility on November 8, 2019.
The successful conclusion of the Agreement between the United States and the Jail resolves a long-running investigation into the Jail. In 2009, the United States issued a letter setting forth the Government’s findings regarding constitutional violations at the Jail. Key findings included that the Jail had failed to adequately protect inmates from physical harm caused by inappropriate and excessive force used by staff and failed to provide adequate medical and mental health care, particularly with respect to minors housed in isolation in the punitive segregation unit, all resulting in unconstitutional living conditions.
Following extensive negotiations between the Government and Westchester County, on November 24, 2015, the parties entered into an Agreement with an effective date of January 1, 2016. The Agreement contains 25 provisions with 82 sub-provisions relating to protection from harm, medical care, mental health care, and minors. The Agreement requires the Jail to take measures designed to ensure that its use of force is not excessive and consistent with the law; to implement appropriate policies and practices concerning review of all uses of force, training of staff, and supervision of inmates; and to improve the provision of medical and mental health care for both minors and adults. In addition, the Agreement mandates 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. Finally, the Agreement provides for termination once the United States agrees that the County is in substantial compliance with all provisions and has maintained substantial compliance with all provisions for 24 months.
Since the Agreement was enacted, the United States and the Monitor have had full access to the Jail and its records, staff and inmates. The Monitor has issued nine bi-annual compliance reports, reviewing the Jail’s non-, partial-, or substantial-compliance with each of the provisions in the Agreement, noting where the Jail has succeeded and where the Jail must improve. In the ninth and most recent compliance report, the Monitor determined that the Jail had achieved substantial compliance with each and every provision, and had maintained such substantial compliance for at least a 24-month period. Accordingly, consistent with the terms of the Agreement, the Monitor recommended its full termination.
The Jail has been transformed since the initiation of the Government’s investigation. For example, use of force incidents have plummeted and continued to decrease significantly each reporting period. Indeed, potential use of force incidents are de-escalated and resolved without resorting to any use of force the vast majority of the time – recently, more than 80% of the time. Moreover, staff are now consistently and routinely trained in de-escalation tactics; use of force incidents are immediately reviewed; and staff are swiftly disciplined for any deviation from reporting requirements and de-escalation procedures. Mental health care and medical care has likewise improved dramatically, and the Jail has placed particular emphasis on rehabilitative care for inmates with mental health issues, instead of focusing on purely punitive measures.
The Jail has also implemented changes beyond what was required by the Agreement. For example, in a joint venture with Legal Aid of Westchester County, the Jail opened a Legal Aid office within the facility, allowing inmates frequent access to legal resources. In addition, the Jail partnered with Westchester County Social Services to embed staff in the jail for discharge planning, which allows inmates to plan for their lives after being released from custody. Indeed, the Jail has focused extensively on rehabilitation and reentry and provides a number of programming options to inmates, including culinary, civil engagement, and college programs, as well as a nationally-recognized parenting program, “Parenting, Prison and Pups,” which pairs female inmates with foster dogs and garnered a National Jefferson Award. And on November 18, 2018, The Obama Foundation announced that Westchester County Jail, in partnership with the Nepperhan Community Center of Yonkers and the City of Yonkers, was selected as one of only ten nationwide winners – and the only one with ties to a jail or prison population – of the Foundation’s My Brother’s Keeper Community Alliance Challenge as one of the National Impact Communities awardees for its job readiness program.
The Jail’s leadership has been instrumental in making these changes. Ms. Strauss praised the work of Westchester County Executive George Latimer, Westchester County Department of Corrections Commissioner Joseph Spano, Westchester County Department of Corrections First Deputy Commissioner Louis A. Molina, and the entire staff at Westchester County Jail. Acting U.S. Attorney Strauss also praised the work of the Monitor, David Bogard, and his team at Pulitzer/Bogard & Associates.
The case is being handled by the Office’s Civil Rights Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorney Ellen Blain is charge of the case.