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Democratic lawmakers want federal oversight of Nassau jail

Nassau County Democratic Legislators Carrié Solages, left, Siela

Nassau County Democratic Legislators Carrié Solages, left, Siela Bynoe, Kevan Abrahams, who is the legislature's minority leader, and Laura Curran appear outside the county jail in East Meadow on March 11, 2016, to call for a federal investigation of medical care at the facility. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Democrats in Nassau’s legislature called Friday on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate what they called an “ongoing civil rights crisis” involving inadequate medical care at the county jail after a series of inmate deaths.

The lawmakers in the minority party also demanded an end to the contract of the jail’s private medical provider, Armor Correctional Health Services, and appealed for federal officials to oversee a transition to a new vendor.

“Regardless of what they have done or regardless of what they are being accused of doing, they deserve a greater quality of care,” Legis. Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport), the minority leader, said of inmates as legislators stood in front of the jail.

The East Meadow facility has come under previous federal monitoring, most recently after a 2002 consent decree that in part addressed medical care deficiencies. That oversight completely ended in 2008.

Abrahams called the current situation “intolerable” in a letter to Robert Capers, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District, and U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch. He said the jail had “fallen far out of compliance” with the last decree, saying “a resumption of federal oversight is the only viable alternative.”

The call for action follows what the state Commission of Correction found last year to be a pattern of neglectful inmate care on the part of Armor.

“For inmates that have medical issues, I truly believe that the current care being provided to them is cruel and unusual treatment,” said Legis. Carrié Solages (D-Elmont).

The state attorney general’s office also is investigating Armor’s medical practices at the jail.

Legis. Laura Curran (D-Baldwin) said that considering “the fragile state” of the Nassau’s finances, “it’s not worth the risk to keep Armor.”

Since Armor got a Nassau contract in mid-2011, the Commission of Correction has found the company provided inadequate care in the deaths of four inmates — including two 2014 fatalities it found “may have been prevented.”

County Executive Edward Mangano’s administration said after the state’s findings on the 2014 cases that Armor’s contract — just renewed in June — couldn’t be canceled “without subjecting taxpayers to significant liability as the allegations have not been substantiated to date.”

The administration has said that a request for proposals for jail health services was being prepared, but didn’t comment Friday.

But sheriff’s department spokesman Capt. Michael Golio said the county would be issuing that RFP shortly, and added that the previous RFP that led to Armor’s contract “was in large part based upon the language” of the consent decree.

Armor spokeswoman Teresa Estefan said the company had treated more than 200,000 patients at Nassau’s jail, and “sadly, there are deaths which are not preventable as is the case in some of the most prestigious hospitals.”

Armor “oftentimes does not agree” with the state’s findings, she said. “We would suggest coroner findings be given due consideration in formulating a politically unbiased opinion of the quality of care.”

The call for a federal probe follows a former Armor nurse’s arrest last month for allegedly smuggling razors and drugs to inmates, and recent gang-related inmate slashings that have raised security questions.

The families of four inmates who have died at the jail since 2011 have sued Armor and the county. The father one of those inmates, John Gleeson, said Friday he would welcome a federal probe.

“What I want is justice for my son and what that means to me now is reform,” said the elder John Gleeson of Oceanside. “It’s unbelievable that no changes have been made whatsoever.”

Legis. Siela Bynoe (D-Westbury) said Mangano should appoint a public health official to fill the vacant position of correction commissioner to supervise jail medical care as part of an Armor “exit strategy.”

Federal officials didn’t immediately comment Friday.

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