Dying To Get Out of Buffalo

What’s wrong with the Erie County Holding Center that people would rather kill themselves than remain there?  Since December, there have been 5 suicide attempts, three of which were successful.  That’s an extraordinary number, both for the number of people trying to commit suicide as well as the correctional facility’s inability to stop them.

The problem is that no one can say what the cause of this is, because the sheriff won’t let inspectors into the facility.  He tells the Buffalo News that he welcomes them, but then bars them from entry.  The inspectors were forced to get an emergency order from federal court to let them inside the facility. 

At the bottom of this appears to be the County Attorney, Cheryl Green, who is under fire all around:

Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature approved a statement, 11-4, imploring the sheriff, County Executive Chris Collins and County Attorney Cheryl A. Green to, among other things, open the jails to the suicide-prevention expert. So did Comptroller Mark C. Poloncarz, who repeated his call for Green to resign, saying she has given poor advice in the matter.

“It is time for the confrontational stance of this administration to end,” Poloncarz said, “and for the county to allow the federal and state governments complete and unfettered access to the jails to help the county address the issues and problems at each facility.”

What does Green think about the problems at the Holding Center?

The allegations have been vehemently denied by County Executive Chris Collins, Sheriff Timothy B. Howard and County Attorney Cheryl A. Green. Collins last October contended that the federal lawsuit is based on “hearsay and fictionalized events passed off as reality.”

Green said the federal government is trying to force the county to provide jail prisoners with “the amenities, conveniences and services of a good hotel.”

Maybe those really aren’t dead bodies, just fictionalized events passed off as suicides.

When our hinterlands correspondent, Kathleen Casey, first told me about the problems at the Holding Center, my first reaction was to pass it off as a joke; they’d rather be dead than in Buffalo.  But as the bodies began stacking up, this was clearly no laughing matter.

Green’s reaction, reminiscent of the old welfare queen argument against providing food to the starving, is designed to play the locals at a time when cupboards are bare and people are hurting.  The old lie that life in jails is better than that enjoyed by law-abiding, hard-working folk, got a lot of mileage when it came time to making sure that people held against their will, convicted of nothing, managed to live long enough to make it to court. 

The idea that state inspectors are unable to see what’s happening inside this facility is shocking.  That they would require a federal court order is incredible.  And what if the sheriff refuses to honor the order.  His people have guns.  The state inspectors don’t.  It clearly appears that something is horribly wrong in Erie County, and has been for quite a while.  It is unfathomable that they won’t let inspectors in.  It’s merely offensive that the County Attorney describes efforts to keep their inmates alive as “the amenities . . . of a good hotel.”  Maybe Green needs to stay at better hotels if she finds suicides that commonplace.

2 thoughts on “Dying To Get Out of Buffalo

  1. Kathleen Casey

    Can a county attorney be present during interviews? DOJ plans to ask the question, it appears.

    Legally and practically, is there a 100% safe answer while inmates remain inmates?

    This is in the context of a DOJ motion to expedite discovery.

    The county filed a motion to dismiss the complaint last October, which DOJ opposed, and the court has reserved decision.

  2. John

    From what I have seen on the net, most of the time suicides are caused BY the jails, when abusing people under the “color of law”.

    One sheriff even had this posted on his website:

    QUOTE “The last successful hanging in the Stark County Jail was in 2005. This inmate had visited the Stark County Jail 26 times prior and never exhibited any suicidal tendencies. This time he too was placed on suicide precautions and was still able to take his own life.”

    This guy must have known them all by name, and THEY are the ones saying that he “NEVER EXHIBITED ANY SUICIDAL TENDENCIES” …UNTIL he was put on suicide precautions!!
    (BTW this was taken down after I stated that this was proof of their actions contributing to the deaths of inmates.)

    I have no doubt that this sheriff has a LOT of stuff he don’t want people to find out about!!!

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