Rotting away in jail

Kevin Young earned his trip to the Dallas County jail, but no one deserves what happened to him there

The public relations office of Parkland told the Observer it could not discuss Young's case specifically, but agreed to research the general policy issue of whose job it is to get prescribed medicine to a prisoner. Spokeswoman April Foran called back to say that Parkland does not provide medication to inmates. She says Parkland's policy calls for the medical staff to fax prescriptions to the jail, where the jail medical staff is supposed to fill the prescriptions from the jail's own pharmacy.

On July 22, after Howard Law demanded a copy of Young's jail medical records and after the Observer had asked to see him, Young was released from jail. Judge King was on vacation that week. Law and Greg Long, the assistant district attorney, persuaded a visiting judge to send him home.

No one told Kevin Young why, after nearly rotting to death for three months, he was suddenly being set free. All he knows is that he was in, and then he was out. His grandmother took him home for a few days and then took him to Tri-City Hospital for an examination. Dr. Silver, who saw him there, sent him straight to a room and told him that he could not possibly go home and that, after leaving Tri-City, he would require several weeks, possibly months, in a specialized wound-care clinic. Dr. Silver says now that Young is no longer suffering from gangrene but that he still has several large wounds that will need time to heal.

The hospital wing of the jail is run by the county health department, not the sheriff.
The hospital wing of the jail is run by the county health department, not the sheriff.

When the Observer asked Young why he thought he was out, he said, "They put me on probation."

But they didn't. They couldn't put him on probation, because he hasn't been tried. They reinstated his bond, which had been technically violated but not forfeited back when he missed his appointments.

Greg Long says Young will have his day in court. When the Observer first spoke to Long, he said the court date was August 5, but by the time this story went to press, that date had slipped, joining the fat file folder of other prior court dates that have never happened. At present, there seems to be no date set for Young to return to court, pending his medical recovery.

Long says that when Young does go to court, he expects him to "plead guilty to some type of offense" and then wait to see what the judge gives him.

Would he be given any kind of deal or agreement beforehand, so that he would have some inkling what his plea would bring him?

"No."

That was all news to Young when the Observer told him in his hospital bed. He thought he was done with it. He says Howard Law had not visited him or spoken to him since his release the week before. "Nobody never told me about no court date. I thought I got probation."


A reasonable person -- a person not familiar with jail or the criminal world -- might assume Kevin Young should have some kind of civil rights case against the county under the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. Not likely, says Professor Jordan Steiker, who is on the faculty of the University of Texas Law School.

"The court has been reluctant to find any prison conditions to be unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment," Steiker says.

Some of it has to do with the political mood of the country on crime and the kinds of laws Congress has been passing. "The Prison Reform Act of 1996 specifically addresses suits filed by prisoners challenging the conditions of their confinement and makes it much more difficult for them to prevail."

He pointed out that one of the conditions that must be met for execution is the future threat a convicted criminal may pose. But even when inmates sentenced to execution have later become paraplegics, clearly no longer able to pose a threat, the courts have not been interested in hearing about it.

That's how it is now.

Betty Culbreath says she thinks Kevin Young rotted away in her hospital because he didn't want to do the things he needed to do to stay alive.

"He was depressed. He was depressed about his mama dying, about what had happened to him, what had become of him. That's what happened."

Kevin Young is accused of a terrible crime -- taking part in a murder for gain. It's his fault he got shot. It's his fault he missed his appointments and had to go to jail. If everyone involved in his medical care isn't already covered by some kind of statement or story, they will be a week from now.

But all that means is that it can happen. That it does happen. Somebody else is up there now, waiting, convicted of no crime, rotting. Or will be soon.

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