Pennsylvania Record

Monday, December 9, 2019

Court holds Berks County, warden in contempt for failing to protect 'Trusty' female inmates

Federal Court

By Charmaine Little | Sep 23, 2019

U.S. District Court Judge Mark A. Kearney

PHILADELPHIA -- Berks County and one of its wardens were found in contempt regarding rights of protection for “Trusty” inmates. 

As a result, Judge Mark A. Kearney of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ordered the county to pay one of the inmates $500 and her lawyer fees of $6,571.20 on July 11.

The court called out the county for housing women prisoners under its “carefully evaluated lowest-risk custody classification of ‘Trusty.’” The women in this category were said to be locked in their cells without being able to move with time outside of their cells limited to using the bathroom.

Their cells were unlocked at night ,along with visitations without glass barriers that it offers to the male inmates in the Community Reentry Center that’s nearby. Ultimately, the county has allegedly refused to give equal housing to the female Trusty inmates and has continuously postponed updating its policy for female Trusty inmates for the last 10 years.

The court said that it ordered the county to give a better plan to the Trusty female inmates twice. But instead of coming up with a new plan by the June 4 deadline, it transferred the female Trusty inmates to an overflow unit that the court had already rejected. The warden also wasn’t innocent as the court said they vowed that Berks County offered equal housing and services. 

Interestingly enough, it took a female Trusty inmate Alice Velazquez-Diaz waiting for weeks for an injunctive relief for Berks County to follow the rules on July 1.

The court said, “After evaluating the credibility of witnesses and all of Berks County’s flawed reasons, we today find Berks County and its Warden in civil contempt of our May 20, 2019 Order and require them to pay $500 to Ms. Velazquez-Diaz and her lawyer’s reasonable fees of $6,571.20.”

The court also shut down Berks County’s reason that it couldn’t follow its May 20 order. While the county said it couldn’t push forth a plan because of safety concerns, the court pointed out that it was able to do so on July 1.

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Berks CountyU.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania

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