Jefferson County to pay legal bill for jail inmate’s lawsuit over drug treatment

Published: May. 31, 2023 at 4:17 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - A judge’s order helps Jefferson County Jail inmates have more access to drug addiction services. It comes at a cost to the county, which was ordered to pay some legal bills.

The county faced two lawsuits over this. One is over with. The other is still going. Those suing say denying drug treatment to inmates can lead to irreparable harm.

If a jail inmate needs treatment to wean off a drug problem, they should get that treatment behind bars says the New York Civil Liberties Union or NYCLU.

“If someone is receiving those treatments and those treatments suddenly end, they are at a very high likelihood of relapsing into addiction and dying,” said Antony Gemmell, NYCLU detention litigation director.

The NYCLU claims that wasn’t happening at the Jefferson County Jail and was part of two lawsuits.

One, filed in 2021, represented a client identified as P.G. and aimed to preserve an inmate’s ability to get treatment for opioid addiction. A judge said the county must comply.

“That decision was important because it said a couple of things. It said, number one, that the court, at least at that stage, agreed that we’ve shown evidence that jail had a policy denying this life-sustaining for our client’s disability; two, that the decision that our client faced irreparable harm if he didn’t receive this treatment,” said Gemmell.

In a judge’s order from 2 weeks ago, the county has been ordered to pay the inmate’s $160,000 legal bill.

County Attorney David Paulsen says Jefferson County was never opposed to providing the medical treatment, it just was limited, saying it wasn’t available on Sundays and holidays, but that has now changed.

“We wound up having to provide those services through another opioid treatment program in Syracuse so that the individual was transported on those days when they couldn’t receive the medication locally. That has since then changed so that our local provider is now working seven days a week,” said Paulsen.

The other lawsuit with the NYCLU covered clients named M.C. and T.G. and aimed to ensure all inmates in similar situations were guaranteed medical treatment.