WASHINGTON — A judge has granted the request of the department and Dallas County to end court supervision of a lawsuit concerning conditions at the Dallas County Jail.
The department and the county reached an agreement in 2007 that required Dallas County Jail to take action regarding the inadequate conditions of the facility’s medical care, mental health care, sanitation, and environmental health. The conditions violated the constitutional rights of inmates at the jail in Texas.
Dallas County Jail is the seventh largest jail in the country. The average daily total number of inmates is more than 6,300 and exceeds 100,000 people per year.
Approximately 50 percent of its inmates receive medical attention due to chronic medical and mental health conditions. Over 22 percent receive mental health care for various conditions.
Recently, Dallas County Jail and the United States have worked together to file a notice of termination ending the court oversight. Dallas County Jail had made significant progress in complying with the agreed order and has implemented remedial measures so that inmates at the jail are safe and receive the services necessary to meet their constitutional rights.
“This agreed order was designed to protect the rights of inmates at the Dallas County Jail,” said Sarah Saladana, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas. “We thank the county and the sheriff for their cooperation in achieving this important goal.”
Dallas County Jail officials have worked hard to significantly improve conditions at the jail. Prior service was deemed unsanitary and inhumane according to a court document.
In 2005, a Dallas County Jail inmate filed a lawsuit against various Dallas County Commissioners, UTMB doctors, and the Dallas County Sheriff.
According to the court document, the plaintiff filed for a motion asking for class action status on his lawsuit and complained of inadequate care and neglect, but the motion was denied.
“Defendants failed to adequately provide medical attention to tumors that he claims are growing in his body and to his Hepatitis C condition. He also complains of the level and quality of health care generally at the Dallas County Jail and alleges that the medical needs of its prisoners are neglected,” according to a public court document.
The Dallas County Jail no longer is in contract with the former medical service provider, UTMB, and has since formed a partnership with Parkland Hospital for their medical needs and services at the jail.
According to the filing, the jail not only failed to treat inmates but also neglected to inspect inmates during a health screening process for incoming inmates. Also according to the filing, health assessments were rarely completed for incoming inmates, and that proved to be a danger to them and the rest of the population at the jail. As a result of the inadequate health screening, many inmates failed to receive care for urgent and emergent medical conditions. Inmates with communicable diseases, such as tuberculosis and other infectious diseases, were not appropriately screened, treated, or isolated.
Fresh Start for Dallas Jail
As a result of the agreed order, more than 6,000 inmates are now seen monthly in 12 jail clinics for conditions ranging from dialysis, respiratory care, dental, and orthopedic to HIV and infection disease management. The facility supplies medication each day to more than 3,200 inmates. Since the order was agreed upon, the number of medical staff has almost doubled, and deaths at the jail have decreased by 45 percent.
The medical unit is now able to provide key essential health services, including health screening for all inmates upon arrival as well as on a yearly basis, TB screening for all inmates, acute and intermediate medical in-patient care, chronic and urgent in-patient care, crisis stabilization, chronic mental health care, and a nationally recognized suicide prevention program.
The change in care is significant considering the conditions noted in a 2006 filing with the Justice Department prior to the agreed order highlighted that inmates had died and suffered unnecessary injuries due to the lack of adequate medical and mental health care at the jail. Deaths have now decreased by 45 percent.
“We commend Sheriff Valdez, Dallas County, Parkland Hospital, and jail staff for their willingness to work aggressively to address the problems found. It is a jurisdiction’s basic responsibility to protect those persons in custody from harm. We have worked cooperatively with Dallas County officials to ensure that the constitutional rights of Dallas County inmates are protected,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. “We also want to make sure that jurisdictions understand that when they act in good faith and comply with a settlement, the United States will join in seeking the end of court oversight,” said Perez.
Sheriff Lupe Valdez is the only female sheriff in the state of Texas and the only Hispanic female sheriff in the United States. She has worked diligently with the U.S. Attorney to improve the jail and care for the well-being of the inmates and the facility.