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Deaths in Custody: 1980s–2020s

By Loyola University on Tue, 10/26/2021 - 18:07

Presented by Loyola Law and the Arthur Liman Center for Public Interest Law, Yale Law School

Please join us for Deaths in Custody: 1980s–2020s, on Wednesday, November 3, from 6:10–7:40 p.m., via Zoom, You can register for the event here.

Loyola Law Professor Andrea Armstrong 
November 3, 2021
6:10 to 7:40 p.m. via Zoom

Arthur Liman Center for Public Interest Law
Yale Law School

In this panel, Andrea Armstrong, Law Visiting Committee Distinguished Professor of Law at Loyola University New Orleans, and Homer Venters, Adjunct Clinical Associate Professor at the School of Global Public Health at New York University, will explore what has happened and can happen to halt the debilitation and death of people detained in jails, prisons, and detention centers. The discussion will be co-moderated by Jenny Carroll, Visiting Professor of Law at Yale Law School and Director of the Arthur Liman Center for Public Interest Law, Wiggins, Child, Quinn, and Pantazis Professor of Law at the University of Alabama School of Law, and Judith Resnik, Arthur Liman Professor of Law at Yale Law School and the Founding Director of the Arthur Liman Center for Public Interest Law. This event is co-sponsored by the Orville H. Schell, Jr. Center for International Human Rights, the Solomon Center for Health Law and Policy, and the Yale Law School Defenders.

 

People have been dying in custody for decades. Recent tragedies in Rikers Island, Baltimore city, and the East Baton Rouge Parish jail have spurred renewed concern, research, and advocacy. The public health crisis of COVID has highlighted the heightened risk that close quarters imposes for incarcerated individuals. Yet long before COVID, disease and death were constant threats to people detained or held by the government, whether in police custody or in carceral facilities, including jails, prisons, and youth and immigration detention centers.  

In 2019, Andrea Armstrong, launched the Incarceration Transparency project, recently profiled in the New Yorker. The project excavates and analyzes deaths in custody in prisons, jails, and youth detention centers in Louisiana; soon to be launched is an “In Memoriam” series documenting many of the individual lives lost while incarcerated in the New Orleans jail. Professor Armstrong holds the Law Visiting Committee Distinguished Professor of Law at Loyola University New Orleans and is a 2007 graduate of Yale Law School. More on her  innovative and ambitious project, including the first report analyzing deaths behind bars in Louisiana from 2015–2019, can be found here.

Homer Venters, who is now an Adjunct Clinical Associate Professor at the School of Global Public Health at New York University, was the former chief medical officer for New York City’s jails. He has spent the past year performing inspections of jails, prisons, and immigration detention facilities around the country to assess the adequacy of COVID-19 responses. This past April, he submitted a statement on his investigations, which revealed substandard health services across many Federal Bureau of Prisons settings, to the United States Senate Judiciary Committee. He has devoted a significant portion of his career to monitoring and improving correctional health quality. His book, Life and Death in Rikers Island, details the profound health risks associated with incarceration. 

In 1986, another set of deaths prompted Ed Koch, then New York City’s mayor, to appoint Arthur Liman to head a commission to investigate deaths in police custody. The New York Times had reported claims that the New York City medical examiner’s office provided false autopsy reports on individuals who had died while in police custody in the early 1980s. The investigation was prompted in part from the high profile death of Michael Stewart, a 25-year-old graffiti artist who died in September of 1983 after being beaten by transit police. Stewart’s work and death has been chronicled by many other artists, including fellow street artist Jean-Michel Basquiat in Defacement: The Death of Michael Stewart. 

The New York City investigation gathered information from 156 witnesses and more than 100,000 documents. That commission concluded that the medical examiner’s office was “devoid of collegiality,” the staff was “frustrated, rebellious and suspicious of its head,” and the chief medical examiner was “mistrustful of, and lacking confidence in, many of his subordinates.” Even though this dysfunction contributed to the mishandling of several cases of deaths in police custody, no one involved was prosecuted.    

As is sadly now familiar, a long list of more deaths, increasingly from suicide and drugs, has pushed protest, prosecutions, and some efforts to alter detention practices. Deaths in custody are somewhat less obscure, though as Professor Armstrong and Dr. Venters have documented, governments continue to hide them from view. This panel explores what has happened and can happen to halt the debilitation and death of people detained by the State through connecting the work of Arthur Liman with efforts to document and disrupt carceral deaths. 

The discussion will be co-moderated by Jenny Carroll, Visiting Professor of Law at Yale Law School and Director of the Arthur Liman Center for Public Interest Law, Wiggins, Child, Quinn, and Pantazis Professor of Law at the University of Alabama School of Law, and Judith Resnik, Arthur Liman Professor of Law at Yale Law School and the Founding Director of the Arthur Liman Center for Public Interest Law. This event is co-sponsored by the Orville H. Schell, Jr. Center for International Human Rights, the Solomon Center for Health Law and Policy, and the Yale Law School Defenders.