The U.S Department of Justice has concluded the first part of its investigation of the Dallas County jail system, which for years has been a veritable house of horrors for inmates with chronic medical conditions. Even after Dallas County commissioners voted to fund a more expensive budget for the sheriff's office, inmates continued to die or fall gravely ill after not receiving adequate medical care. Last November the feds finally decided it was time to check out the place for themselves.
After their first visit—they plan to come back later this month—DOJ officials have indicated to Dallas County Judge Margaret Keliher that the county shouldn't expect a federal lawsuit over constitutional violations at the jail, but they have expressed concerns about the conduct of the facility's most recent medical provider, the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. Keliher declined to go into the details of her briefing with the feds, insisting that she needed to talk with her attorney about whether the details of their conversations are privileged, but she did say that from what she learned from investigators, "some of the health care that is given out by UTMB is not what I would like it to be." This week, Parkland Hospital became the jail's new medical provider.
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Overall, Keliher says she doesn't expect the feds to drop the hammer on the sheriff's office, which is not directly in charge of health care but has been found in the past to be recklessly indifferent to the plight of ailing inmates. "I think they will tell us we will suggest you make these changes but we don't see any constitutional violations here," Keliher says. —Matt Pulle