Detention Victims Have Rights: Inmate Neglect and Abuse

We, as a society, typically do not think of our incarcerated population as victims – but sometimes they are. It is easy for us to write-off injured inmates – to think of all inmates as hardened criminals deserving of hardened punishment. But this perspective ignores the fact that the vast majority of our incarcerated population consists of non-violent offenders . . . not the hardened criminals we envision. While incarcerated, all offenders have the right to basic medical needs, freedom from physical abuse, and access to necessary medical care. A prison sentence should not be a death sentence.

A man sits in a jail cell with his head in his hands.

Prisoner Abuse Problems

The neglect and abuse some prisoners face can be shockingly scary and hard to comprehend. Unfortunately it does happen, some of the common prisoner abuse problems are:

Medical Neglect– Many inmates are neglected. This is a fact. Inmates who need specialized medical care don’t get it. Inmates prescribed psychiatric medication, don’t receive it. Inmates who become ill, aren’t treated. Inmates who are injured aren’t examined. Inmates who complain of severe pain are ignored. I hear it all the time.

Mental Illness – Mental Illness often goes untreated or undiagnosed. Similarly, prison staff often fail to protect emotionally disturbed inmates from themselves or predatory cellmates. The manifestation of these failures appears most often in inmates that do not receive the psychological treatment they need and commit suicide.

Examples for our Community

Wrongful death in prisons can happen anywhere, for example:

  • David Jones, 42, Greensville Virginia Correctional Center died of blood poisoning after a diabetic ulcer on his foot became infected. CMS comment: The for-profit-company said “health care professionals were attentive to Mr. Jones’ medical needs”. Lawsuit filed; final order pending.
  • Henry Simmons Jr.died of a heart attack in a Virginia prison when a doctor’s orders for tests were ignored.
  • Jerome Walton, 28, was jailed on February 14 and told officials he had an appointment for kidney dialysis later that afternoon. He was taken for dialysis two days later when he was already very ill. CMS comment: “The company said its medical staff ‘responded promptly’ after Walton had a seizure and suffered cardiac arrest.” It said “the autopsy results showed Walton had cocaine in his system and had a history of previous seizures.” His mother sued CMS and settled confidentially.

Regional Facts

The Richmond jail is notorious for prison inmate deaths. The death rate for inmates at the Richmond jail was 2.5 times higher than the national average at similar jails across the country (2000 through 2007).

  • At Riverside Regional Jail in Hopewell, 15 people have died since 2006. This includes three suicides — two hangings and one who died of car fumes while on work release.
  • At Henrico County’s two jails, 12 inmates have died since 2006, including five suicides, a heroin overdose, and six deaths linked to illness or other natural causes.
  • At the Chesterfield County jail, two people died since 2006. This includes one suicide.
  • At Pamunkey Regional Jail, two inmates have died since 2006. One of the two deaths was suicide by hanging.

The Reasons:

Neglect and abuse happen for many reasons. One reason is that many prison systems are now privately run. This means that profits have a direct and negative correlation with care — the less money spent on inmate health care, the more profit a prison facility makes. This “less is more” reality incentivizes prison companies to cut corners, staff, and medical assistance at the expense of inmate safety and well-being.

Correctional Medical Services (CMS), mentioned above, and Prison Health Services (PHS), merged to form Corizon, the nation’s largest for-profit medical services provider for prisons, jails and other detention facilities. Corizon is a billion dollar business that styles itself as “Your Correctional Healthcare Partner.” This year Corizon was awarded a seven-year, $1.1 billion contract to care for inmates in Missouri. (It has contracts throughout the United States including Virginia).

Prison culture also contributes to abuse and neglect. Often prison culture dictates how inmates are treated and cared for. This starts at the top, with management, and it works its way down to the bottom, the guards. When prison guards are not disciplined for bad behavior, the bad behavior continues. When inmate complaints are not treated seriously, the complained of circumstances persist. When a prison culture does not respect the people it is charged to protect, it shows — the result is abuse, neglect, injuries, and death.

The Solution:

Accountability- Correctional facilities are not above the law. In fact, as discussed above, many are for-profit corporations. These corporations are responsible for their negligent acts just like the rest of us. If correctional facilities are held accountable for their action or inaction, they will be incentivized to improve inmate care.

If you or a loved one has been injured or has died at the hands of abuse or neglect at a correctional facility, Call Cuthbert Law Offices, together we can break this cycle of neglect, abuse, and apathy in our jailing systems.

 

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