Oversight board needed for Nassau County jail: NY judge

NEW YORK Thu Apr 4, 2013 5:33pm EDT

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NEW YORK (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 after 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 2010 and 2011, 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 healthcare, the NYCLU said in its lawsuit.

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

Nassau County Attorney John Ciampoli said correctional officers had expressed concerns that the board would create a redundant layer of bureaucracy, a view he said was shared by several past administrations.

"We're reviewing the decision right now to determine whether it's appropriate for us to pursue an appeal," he said.

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.

Ryan, 32, hanged 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, Jackie Frank and ohammad Zargham)

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