Brooklyn detainees have succeeded in an appeal against the borough’s central pretrial booking center. The plaintiffs claimed that they had been forced into jail cells like sardines for up to twenty-four hours at a time.
On Tuesday, a Circuit Court of Appeals panel in Manhattan struck down a ruling by a federal judge in Brooklyn. The federal judge had said the city of New York couldn’t be held liable for damages when inmates were held for less than a day. In an unsurprising twist of justice, the panel opined that no law exists which strips individuals of their constitutional rights within a certain timeframe.
The ruling means that the group of detainees can continue litigation against the city.
Reuters reports that the group had said their due process rights had been violated when they were placed into “crowded, infested, and garbage- and urine-caked cells with broken toilets and a lack of toilet paper, soap, toothbrushes, and toothpaste.”
The initial complaint also says detainees weren’t provided access to edible food or potable water. Although none of the plaintiffs wound up ill or hospitalized after their release or transfer, they maintain the conditions at Brooklyn Central Booking are wholly inhumane. If the claims made can be verified beyond any reasonable doubt, then a very bleak picture of a broken system comes into view.
The booking center is designed to hold persons pre-trial. It is designed to hold individuals unable to post bail and should not serve an inherently punitive function.
Men who hadn’t been found guilty or convicted of a crime were forced to sleep on hard benches under bright lights the day before they were due to present themselves before a judge. The detainees had to deal with clogged toilets, scampering rodents, sporadic violence, and wildly fluctuating temperatures.
Attorney Richard Cardinale, who represents the names, acknowledged that Brooklyn Central Booking had moved to a new building after the original lawsuit was drawn up. Regardless of what improvements were made at first, Cardinale says little has changed.
It “started out much better than the old facility, but it got bad again,” Cardinale said. “It’s still inadequate.”
Reuters pointed out that New York City has a long history of having lawsuits filed against it by former inmates and detainees. In September, it paid $5.75 million dollars to the relatives of a mentally ill man found dead in his cell, “found naked and covered in feces after being locked up for six days in Rikers Island.”
The successful appeal and overturning of the first ruling means that inmates and their counsel will have the opportunity to substantiate their claims in court.