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Report: Excessive Use of Force in Westchester County Jail

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By Kamika Dunlap on December 04, 2009 8:55 AM

A judge called the use of excessive force used on New York's Westchester County jail inmates "disturbing," bringing attention to violent encounters by correction officers and inmates.

A 42-page report released recently by the Department of Justice describes how Westchester County jail failed to protect inmates.

According to the New York Times, excessive force was used on inmates who were sometimes already restrained or compliant, dousing their faces with excessive amounts of pepper spray or, in one case, slamming a prisoner's head into a wall.

The Department of Justice also is threatening to sue Westchester County after finding inadequate medical care at the facility in Valhalla.

In the letter, Justice Department lawyers said the county had failed to protect inmates from injuries caused by officers' use of excessive force and failed to provide acceptable medical and mental-health care -- especially to juvenile inmates.

Preet Bharara, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York in a statement describes conditions as "woefully inadequate," and calls for the civil rights of every member of society to be respected. 

This report comes after a two year federal investigation. The impetus for the investigation was the 2000 beating and kicking of a mentally ill inmate who eventually died of his injuries.

The report outlines how 1,693-inmate facility were subject to unconstitutional living conditions.

Investigators who visited the facility reviewed hundreds of reports of use of force by correction officers, including dozens that were captured on video.

In addition to use of excessive force, investigators noted that an internal report by the officers understated the force used, and that the video was not reviewed by their superiors.

Lastly, the report made several recommendations, including developing new policies for when force should be used, how those cases should be reviewed, and strengthening the system for inmates to file grievances.

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