FULTONVILLE - A class-action lawsuit against Montgomery County officials claims the county jail gives inmates food "comparable with what concentration camp prisoners received during World War II."
The lawsuit filed Friday claims the jail denies proper food to inmates and fails to give them enough calories per day, causing the inmates to suffer from illnesses related to malnutrition.
The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court's Northern District of New York by Attorney Elmer Robert Keach III names the county, Sheriff Michael Amato and Jail Administrator Michael Franko as defendants.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Perry Hill, a Montgomery County resident who was detained in the jail from October to March on a parole violation, and on behalf of others "similarly situated."
According to the lawsuit, the jail's inmates receive 1,700 calories a day. The lawsuit claims an active adult male needs to consume between 2,400 and 3,000 calories a day, depending on their level of activity. The lawsuit also claims the jail food is largely soy-based and has little protein.
The lack of proper food, the lawsuit claims, has led to Perry and other inmates losing weight, some in excess of 90 pounds in six months, developing skin conditions and showing other symptoms of malnutrition, including scurvy.
Among allegations in the lawsuit:
"Montgomery County Jail has a strict policy of providing detainees no more than 1,700 calories a day. This amount is slightly more than concentration camp prisoners received during the latter part of World War II."
"For the vast majority of detainees, this conduct has resulted in their losing substantial percentages of body weight and/or the development of symptoms and conditions associated with malnutrition."
"Forcing detainees to live on an unsustainable diet that results in the development of severe health conditions is blatantly illegal and is unacceptable in a civilized society."
"Almost all of the fights that occur at the jail are instigated by food, or the lack thereof."
"On several occasions, plaintiff was so hungry he consumed non-edible substances including toothpaste and coco-butter lotion."
"Plaintiff lost a significant amount of hair, experienced loosening of his teeth, pain and bleeding in his gums, and his gum line began to recede. He also suffered constantly from intense pains associated with constant hunger."
"A more abusive and inhumane environment is difficult to imagine," the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit claims Hill and other inmates filed grievances to the jail, but they were "categorically denied and/or ignored."
The lawsuit claims the jail has violated the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution and violates detainees' right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.
Amato today denied the allegations.
"We don't starve our inmates here, no," Amato said.
Amato said the jail follows state regulations, which detail the daily requirements for inmates.
"The [New York State] Commission of Corrections tells us what we feed our inmates, their caloric intake, and that's what we provide for them," Amato said.
The jail also has a dietitian on staff who monitors the meals.
Amato said every jail receives complaints from inmates regarding food.
"We actually give them more than the daily intake; we give them 2,900 calories a day," Amato said.
Amato said the jail commissary, a type of store, does not provide food.
"The commissary food is not required by law; it's just something some jails do," Amato said.
The lawsuit is seeking punitive damages as well as a trial by jury. The lawsuit also seeks a preliminary and permanent injunction preventing the defendants from continuing to enforce "its unconstitutional policies, customs and practices." The lawsuit includes no specific amount of money sought for damages.
Keach, who has represented Montgomery County Jail inmates in other lawsuits against the jail, could not be reached for comment for this story.
The lawsuit states, "Montgomery County has instituted a written and/or de facto policy, custom or practice of refusing to provide detainees adequate food in that they provide not more than 1,700 calories per day to all detainees. Further, the scant amount of food that is provided is substantially devoid of the protein, minerals, and vitamins necessary to human survival."
It further states, "Forcing detainees to live on an unsustainable diet, that results in the development of severe health conditions is blatantly illegal and is unacceptable in a civilized society."
The suit says every inmate loses weight at the jail. "In many cases, the weight loss is substantial," it states.
"During his admission at the Montgomery County Jail, plaintiff quickly learned that food dominates the culture of the jail. Almost all of the fights that occur at the jail are instigated by food, or the lack thereof. Oftentimes contraband in the form of food is smuggled into the jail, which causes serious fights because of the detainees' desperate hunger. Most detainees resort to the humiliating and debilitating practice of eating non-edible substances to fill their stomach," the lawsuit states.