Understanding the Patterns of Jail Violations Investigated by the Department of Justice

  1. Courts
  2. Criminal Justice Reform

Key Findings

  • Jails investigated in the latter part of the years studied (1993-2013) were found to have less violations around areas of care including food, hygiene, plumbing, ventilation, cell size and exercise.
  • The most frequent types of violations were found along the continuum of health care services such as mental health care, suicide prevention, health screenings and chronic care.


In the study, “An Analysis of CRIPA Findings Letters Issued to Jails for Constitutional Violations by the Department of Justice,” Mellow and his co-authors analyzed Findings Letters in jail Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA) cases for the years 1993 through 2013 to improve understanding of the Department of Justice investigations. CRIPA authorizes the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate and file suite against local jail facilities for the unconstitutional conditions of individuals in their care. These findings have important implications in understanding the environment of jails in the country and what, if any, changes have occurred over the last two decades. The analysis found that jails which were investigated in the latter part of the years studied (1993-2013) under CRIPA appear to have improved certain aspects of their care, safety, and program and activities. For example, fewer of the Findings Letters in recent times identified food, hygiene, plumbing, ventilation, cell size, and exercise violations. However, of 138 core standards, only 18 were found to have improved over time. This may indicate that jails are not learning from the mistakes of others, and continue to violate the same standards. Additionally, this study found that the continuum of health care services standards (mental health care, suicide prevention, access to care, health screens, communicable disease, and chronic care) continued to be the most frequent type of violation described in CRIPA finding letters. Given the prominence of suicide in jail inmate deaths, as well as the importance of violations related to mental health care in CRIPA investigations, it would behoove jail administrators to focus more resources on expanding their mental health services.

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