The U.S. Department of Justice has issued yet another scathing assessment of the Grant County Detention Center.
The latest report concludes that inmates remain at “risk of serious harm” due to the county’s persistent failure to meet “minimum constitutional standards” for medical and mental health care.
But the department continues to show no sign of forcing the county’s compliance in what is one of the longest-running federal civil-rights investigations of any local jail in the country. And key Grant County officials, who took office nearly two years ago pledging reforms and cooperation, now are at loggerheads, blaming each other for the jail’s problems.
Last October, WFPL’s Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting disclosed more than a decade of abuse, indifference, ineptitude and malfeasance at the jail. The litany of failures, including three preventable inmate deaths, had occurred largely under the watch of the DOJ, the Kentucky Department of Corrections and Grant County government. (Read “Remedies Rare in Kentucky Jail Plagued By Death, Abuse“)
Among the department’s latest findings:
- The jail now has a physician or nurse-practitioner on site for about eight hours per month, which the DOJ characterized as a slight increase since its last inspection in June 2014. However, that provider presence is still only one-fifth the frequency recommended by the National Commission on Correctional Health Care.
- The jail doctor’s mental health practices are “highly problematic,” with medications being ordered for “months at a time” without the doctor seeing the patients or monitoring them for drug-related side effects.
- Jail record-keeping is “poor and disorganized,” with key documents missing from the medical files of inmates who have “complex and serious conditions.”
The federal investigation, one of only two involving a Kentucky jail or prison since 1980, led to a blanket condemnation of the Grant County Detention Center by the department in 2005. Although the county agreed in 2009 to address the myriad shortcomings, the DOJ’s first three follow-up inspections found barely any improvement in jail conditions, or none at all.
Asked last year by KyCIR why it had not acted more aggressively, the department refused to discuss the case. Instead, it issued a statement that said the DOJ continues to be “actively engaged in the monitoring of its agreement with the Grant County Jail,” and that constitutional violations “do not develop overnight and often require years to correct.”
The DOJ’s fourth assessment, conducted last January, essentially amounted to more of the same. While the department found “some improvements,” it also concluded that the county “has not fully implemented any of our major recommendations.”
DOJ attorney Christopher Cheng, who provided the county with the department’s latest findings in a June 6 letter, referred inquiries about it to the department’s Office of Public Affairs. DOJ spokesman David Jacobs told KyCIR “the department will decline to comment.”
The only action promised in Cheng’s letter to remedy the jail’s numerous shortcomings was that the department would be in touch with the county “shortly to discuss next steps.”
Grant County Jailer Chris Hankins did not respond to calls for comment. Hankins’ brother, Jason Hankins, a jail employee, replied instead and said Chris Hankins has designated him as “the PR person for the jail.”
Jason Hankins said he wasn’t familiar with the latest DOJ assessment. But he blamed the jail’s problems on Grant County fiscal court for what he asserted was inadequate funding for the jail.
Grant County Judge-Executive Steve Wood said that’s nonsense.
“I think it’s his (Chris Hankins’) fault,” Wood said. “He’s running the jail. I don’t know why he could blame us. It’s an ongoing thing.”
A lawsuit stemming from one jail inmate’s death, that of Danny Ray Burden in 2013, was settled recently. Burden, a diabetic, died after he was not given insulin that had been ordered by a doctor.
The insurance provider for the former county officials named in the suit agreed in March to pay $110,000 to settle the case. An attorney for Advanced Correctional Healthcare, the jail’s former medical provider, declined to comment on the settlement.
This pushes Grant County still farther ahead of 19 similarly sized jails in litigation-related payouts during the past 16 years.
Reporter R.G. Dunlop can be reached at email@example.com or (502) 814.6533.