Jail Standards and Inspection Programs

A jail cell
A jail cell

A substantial body of law protects the rights of the accused and incarcerated as well as those of the victims of crimes. All citizens enjoy the right to due process, to a fair and speedy trial, and to appeal a verdict all the way to the Supreme Court, if necessary. The decision to prosecute is based on the sufficiency of the evidence the police have uncovered and on a grand jury process.

Trial is by a jury of one’s peers, which hears the evidence and decides guilt or innocence based on the facts presented. Although not perfect, the system has checks and balances and has as its goal fairness and equal treatment for all. Unfortunately, conditions in some U.S. jails do not reflect the enlightenment of the nation’s legal system.

Appalling conditions, including overcrowding, a lack of sanitation and appropriate medical care, and poorly trained and abusive guards can still be found in jails that are subject to little or no regulatory oversight or that have no set of standards to follow.
Stakeholders responsible for building, funding, operating, or working in a jail and citizens in communities in which jails are located should be aware of the following facts:

  • Jails hold a wide variety of inmates. Often the public thinks that all the “really bad people” are in a prison somewhere in another part of the state. In fact, every person who goes to prison has spent time in a local com- munity jail while awaiting trial and sentenc- ing. This means that a neighbor sent to jail for shoplifting may be in jail with someone accused of rape or murder.
  • Inmates need to be protected while in custody. An inmate has a right to a safe environment while in jail. This objective is advanced by placing an inmate in a housing area that is appropriate for his/her unique set of characteristics (e.g., handicapped, developmentally disabled, suicidal, in need of special medical attention).
  • Most inmates will return to the commu­nity. Jails do not simply lock inmates up and toss away the key, and inmates who are not treated properly while in custody will likely continue to have the same problems that resulted in their arrest once they are back in the community.
  • People with mental health problems con­stitute a large portion of the jail population. Surveys indicate that many inmates in the United States have a diagnosable mental health problem (James and Glaze, 2006). Returning them to the community without a plan for continued counseling and medication often sets them up for failure and a quick return to jail.
  • Inmates lose very few basic individual rights when they are incarcerated. Felons may lose the right to vote, to own firearms, and to obtain certain professional licenses. They do not lose the right to be free of abuse, to contact and retain legal counsel, and to converse with and visit their friends and relatives under defined conditions.
  • The jail setting and conditions are not meant to be punishment. The function of a jail is to safely and humanely hold inmates remanded to its custody by the courts. Some of these inmates have only been charged with a crime but not yet adjudicated. The jail holds these inmates to ensure their appearance in court and/or to protect the community until their next court appearance or until they are otherwise released (e.g., bail). For jail inmates who have been convicted of crimes, the punishment is isolation from society rather than the conditions of confinement. Holding inmates under inhumane conditions (i.e., cold, dark, dank cells) is inappropriate and illegal.
  • Inmates have a right to medical treat­ment. All inmates deserve an acceptable standard of medical care. Because inmates are unable to access medical treatment in the community the way that free persons can, the courts have determined that it is the responsibility of the jail to provide this medical care.
  • Inmates must be provided with adequate, nutritional meals. Dieticians should ensure that each meal provides inmates with a balanced diet appropriate to their age and medical conditions. Teenagers may need a different caloric intake than older inmates. Diabetics, inmates on dialysis, and those with food allergies all need to have medically approved and appropriate diets. Inmates with legitimate religious dietary restrictions also must be accommodated.
  • Inmates must be provided with clean clothes and bedding. Clothing, towels, and bedding must be exchanged, laundered, and inspected on a regular basis. Failing to do so will result in an unhygienic facility for both the inmates and the staff.
  • Inmates are not the only ones in the facility. Besides the inmates, there are the officers who work with and supervise them, cooks and maintenance people, nurses, ven- dors, educators, and volunteers. An unsafe facility puts community members at risk. Facilities operate around the clock, without time off for holidays or weekends. Those who work in the jail are entitled to a work setting that is safe, stable, and healthy.
  • Inmates are at a higher risk of attempt­ing or actually committing suicide than the general population. Research indicates that the suicide rate in jails is 47 deaths per 100,000 population, compared with approximately 11 deaths per 100,000 in the community at large (Mumola, 2005). Factors associated with inmate suicide and suicide attempts include isolation, the prospect of spending large amounts of time locked up, and mental health problems.

Rationale for Jail Standards and Inspection Programs

  • Most people see the value of standards as a guide to how jails should be operated and maintained. The rationale for independent inspections and regulatory oversight to ensure that these standards are met is more difficult for some to accept. However, it is in society’s best interest to ensure that jails are used and operated properly. This can be achieved only by establishing a clear set of standards coupled with a process of inspections and followup to see that any identified deficiencies are corrected.


St. Clair Dorm
St. Clair Dorm

A federal court ruled yesterday that Alabama fails to provide constitutionally adequate mental health care to people in state prisons, finding that mental health services are “horrendously inadequate” and have led to a “skyrocketing suicide rate” among incarcerated people.

In a 302-page opinion, the court detailed “serious systemic deficiencies,” including the failure to identify prisoners with serious mental health needs and inadequate treatment for suicidal prisoners. It found that Alabama prisons discipline mentally ill prisoners for the symptoms of their illnesses and segregate them for prolonged periods. Rather than providing effective treatment, Alabama prisons are “warehousing” the mentally ill, the court wrote.

Evidence presented during a two-month trial that ended in February demonstrated that the state has shown “deliberate indifference” to the unconstitutional conditions in state prisons. “Officials admitted on the stand that they have done little to nothing to fix problems on the ground, despite their knowledge that those problems may be putting lives at risk,” the court found.

The court further found that “staffing shortages, combined with persistent and significant overcrowding, contribute to serious systemic deficiencies in the delivery of mental-health care.” Alabama is an outlier in its refusal to enact meaningful sentencing reforms to address its prison overcrowding crisis, and so the state’s prisons continue to hold double (190 percent) their design capacity and have the highest inmate-to-officer ratio in the country.

During the trial, Jamie Wallace testified about the Department of Corrections’s failure to provide him with treatment, telling the court he received only minimal attention from mental health staff even when he was on suicide watch. Less than a month after he testified, Mr. Wallace died by suicide, alone and unmonitored in his prison cell. The court wrote that Mr. Wallace’s case “is powerful evidence of the real, concrete and terribly permanent harms that woefully inadequate mental-health care inflicts on mentally ill prisoners in Alabama.”

The court ordered the parties to discuss a remedy, emphasizing that “given the severity and urgency of the need for mental-health care explained in this opinion, the proposed relief must be both immediate and long term.”

The ruling caps the second of three phases of a lawsuit filed in 2014 by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program, and the law firms Baker Donelson, and Zarzaur Mujumdar & Debrosse.

For far too long, Alabama prisons have been little more than warehouses where many people struggling with mental illness have been hidden away and abandoned by the state,” said Lisa Borden, an attorney with Baker Donelson. “Once locked behind prison walls, in deplorable conditions with little or no treatment, any hope for improvement or recovery was lost, and many became more profoundly ill. We look forward to now having the opportunity for our clients to receive real treatment for their illnesses, and to seeing them afforded the basic dignity to which any human being is entitled.

The lack of mental health care in Alabama’s prison system is representative of broader systemic failures that subject inmates to unconstitutional conditionsEJI’s federal class action lawsuit  on behalf of prisoners at St. Clair Correctional Facility challenges the corrections department’s failure to remedy violent conditions there, and violence, abuses, and poor conditions throughout the state prison system prompted an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice.

SPLC, other civil rights groups challenge wealth-based bail system in impoverished Alabama county

Article originally published here
Jails are not meant to warehouse poor people who have not been convicted of a crime
Jails are not meant to warehouse poor people who have not been convicted of a crime.

Editor’s note: Within hours of the lawsuit’s filing, a federal judge granted a temporary restraining order preventing officials from continuing to jail Kandace Edwards for her inability to pay bail. 

The money bail system in Randolph County, Alabama, violates the constitutional rights of people charged with misdemeanors or felonies because it creates a “two-tiered” system of justice based on wealth, according to a federal class action lawsuit filed today by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU of Alabama, and the Civil Rights Corps.

The suit is among the first to challenge the constitutionality of felony bail practices.

As in many other jurisdictions across the country, people charged with crimes in Randolph County are jailed following arrest if they can’t afford to pay bail. Those who face the same charges but can afford to pay are freed until trial.

Jails are not meant to warehouse poor people who have not been convicted of a crime,” said SPLC Deputy Legal Director Sam Brooke. “Keeping people in jail cells for weeks or months simply because they can’t afford to pay for their freedom coerces people to plead guilty even if they are innocent, wastes taxpayer money on unnecessary detention, and is a form of wealth-based discrimination prohibited by the Constitution.”

The suit was filed on behalf of 29-year-old Kandace Edwards in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, Eastern Division. It accuses judicial and county officials of violating Edwards’ due process and equal protection rights.

Edwards, who has two young children and is seven months pregnant, was arrested yesterday for forging a $75 check. She is currently being held in jail because she cannot afford to pay $7,500 required by the court’s bail schedule.

“I am concerned about my health because I am currently sleeping on a mat on the floor in the jail,” she wrote in a declaration accompanying the complaint. “I am indigent. I have no assets.”

Edwards, who served in the Army National Guard from 2006 until 2010, wrote in the document that she recently lost her job due to her high-risk pregnancy and has been homeless since December.

In Randolph County, each offense has an assigned dollar amount. Anyone who can pay the full amount or arrange for payment through a bail bond company or other third party, is released automatically, without regard to whether they are likely to flee before trial or be a danger to the community. Those who cannot pay must remain in jail for up to a month for a release hearing. If they are not released after the hearing, they face six months in jail – or longer – until trial, because trials are scheduled only twice per year.

Studies show that money bail systems like Randolph County’s make it more likely that innocent people will plead guilty before trial so they can get out of jail.

Nationwide, as in Randolph County, the ability to pay is the most important factor in determining whether someone is released. Yet research demonstrates that money bail does not improve public safety or court appearance rates. Non-financial conditions of release – such as unsecured bond, reporting obligations, and phone and text message reminders of court dates – are more effective.

In Randolph County, money bail has a devastating impact. Nearly one out of every five people in the county lives in poverty. Almost half of the residents 17 and older are unemployed. The system is also particularly costly for the county. The Legislature recently passed a sales tax increase to build a new jail. The current jail is operating at more than three times capacity, and the vast majority of the people detained there are being held prior to trial.

Over the past two years, lawsuits have successfully challenged wealth-based detention in a number of municipal courts, resulting in reform and judicial orders condemning these practicesin Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee and Texas. In 2014, an Alabama federal judge held in one such case that “[j]ustice that is blind to poverty and indiscriminately forces defendants to pay for their physical liberty is no justice at all.

Following that decision, the SPLC and Civil Rights Corps worked with the 75 largest municipal courts in Alabama to reform their practices. Those courts no longer require most arrestees to pay for their release, resulting in a dramatic decrease in the state’s municipal court jail population. In the city of Hoover, the jail population dropped by almost 90 percent.

Bill giving Alabama jail inmates free feminine hygiene products moves forward

Article originally posted here on April 12, 2017
Jail Cell
Jail Cell (Wikimedia Commons)

Houston County Jail inmates have long complained at the atrocious and unsanitary conditions in which they are confined, many being held for years, unable to bond out and denied basic human rights, as they await trial.

Today, Alabama lawmakers have passed a bill requiring county jails to give inmates feminine hygiene products for free.

The House Public Safety Committee unanimously passed the motion on Wednesday.

Legislators said the bill was a “common sense” measure and questioned why some jails weren’t already providing female inmates with such products.

Arley Republican Rep. Tim Wadsworth is sponsoring the bill and says some smaller county jails aren’t giving the products to women who cannot provide them for themselves. Lawmakers asked the sponsor to compile a list of those facilities.

The legislation will now move to the full House of Representatives.

Wife of jail commander arrested on felony theft charge

Denise Reed, wife of Houston County Jail Commander Keith Reed was arrested Monday on felony theft charges
Denise Reed, wife of Houston County Jail Commander Keith Reed was arrested Monday on felony theft charges

Arrested by the Dothan Police Department, Denise Reed, wife of Houston County Jail Commander Keith Reed was arrested Monday on felony theft charges. Reed, according to investigators, is accused of stealing jewelry valued at almost $4000.00 dollars from a Dothan jewelry store.

It is alleged that Keith Reed has been running the jail with an iron fist, violating inmates civil and constitutional rights by incorrectly assuming that every inmate is guilty assigning himself as judge and jury without due process and denying them exercise, religious materials, maintaining a freezing cold living environment and failing to protect inmates under PREA (Prison Rape Elimination Act) laws, creating an environment hazardous to mental and physical health.

Why else would you prevent the toilets from flushing more than twice an hour even though they are used by up to 30 people in the same pod and are constantly full of blood, urine and faeces?

It would appear that Denise Reed was processed far quicker than most and released before being issued her orange jumpsuit, so she probably wasn’t subjected to those same degradations that the other inmates in the pods face, whilst awaiting trial, likewise she probably, and rightly so enjoyed the presumption of innocence that is seemingly absent for the rest of the people detained there. Reed posted a $5,000 bond and was released from the jail.

Why you should care about ensuring defendants get a fair trial

By Kira Fonteneau, Jefferson County Public Defender

On March 18, 1963, in “Gideon v. Wainwright,” the United States Supreme Court recognized that people who are charged with crimes are entitled to legal counsel even if they cannot afford to pay for it themselves. By upholding the constitutional right to an attorney, the Court empowered the justice system as a whole.

Kira Fonteneau, Jefferson County Public Defender c/o Kira Fonteneau
Kira Fonteneau, Jefferson County Public Defender c/o Kira Fonteneau

“Our state and national constitutions and laws have laid great emphasis on procedural and substantive safeguards designed to assure fair trials before impartial tribunals in which every defendant stands equal before the law,” declared Justice Hugo Black, an Alabama native, in the court’s opinion. “This noble ideal cannot be realized if the poor man charged with crime has to face his accusers without a lawyer to assist him.”

Since Gideon, a generation of lawyers and other professionals have worked tirelessly to defend clients who would otherwise be crushed under the weight of the criminal justice system.

As lawyers who represent the poor in Alabama, we know that many people have mixed feelings about the role criminal defense lawyers play in society.  It can be hard for the public to separate an individual from the grievous crimes he is accused of by the government. All too often, that societal distrust of alleged criminals is extended toward the people who defend them. As a result, there is a natural tendency to downplay the importance of providing a quality defense to those who are accused.

Justice is only possible when it is extended to all parties in the criminal system.

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A mothers cry for help

Kharon Davis has been held in the Houston County Jail for 9 years with no trial and no bond. The conditions within the jail are archaic, hateful, psychologically damaging and unconstitutional. Kharon is held in 23 hour lockdown for 4 years, in a constantly cold cell that is unhygienic, denied access to the law library, exercise yard and even the main inmate population.

Kharon Davis Initiative Flyer
Kharon Davis Initiative Flyer

Why has Kharon been denied his constitutional right to a fair and speedy trial? Please come and show your support for Kharon and the other inmates, many of whom have not even been to court yet, let alone been convicted of a crime, and to demand that Jail Commander Keith Reed drastically improve the conditions inline with the Department of Justices, National Institute Of Corrections, jails standards.

Inmate restrained in a chair and beaten unconscious, they broke his fingers too…

James Bailey in Houston County Jail
James Bailey in Houston County Jail

Jon B. Carroll from The Henry Report has obtained and released details of a horrific case of purposeful persecution and prosecution of a totally innocent man. James Bailey, in addition to being set up on drug charges, underwent a horrific and sustained beating, to the point of unconsciousness, he was taken to hospital and the following day, back at the jail, the beating continued including being handcuffed with his hands behind his back for 8-12 hours in a restraint chair, beaten with a metal pipe, maced, beaten around his head, punched and kicked all over his body, which resulted in brain and permanent nerve damage. They broke his fingers too, he also required stitches for some of his many injuries.  


C.J. Hatfield (age 22)
C.J. Hatfield (age 22)

Bailey was drugged at one point while he was in jail, given twice the allowable dosage and in the drug induced state (Prozac and Vistaril) gave what is interpreted by the Sheriff’s Dept as a confession to the murder of C.J. Hatfield. A murder, that he didn’t commit as he was in a different state at the time, which the Police, investigators and DA’s Office knew, but seemingly chose to prosecute him for it anyway. Click here to read the full story

When Carroll asked one of the former defence lawyers why was this not revealed, he said that Judge, Larry Anderson, would not do several things, he kept Bailey in chains and shackles in front of the jurors, we were given no money to hire a private investigator to simply verify the multiple alibis, nothing. We were scared, they wanted this guy guilty and we have to live here. The jury convicted Bailey after 15 minutes of deliberation, the exculpatory evidence was never shared. Bailey was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

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