Sunday, November 14, 2010

Tribune: Jail deaths reflect on medical care

The Texas Tribune's Brandi Grissom reports that:
more than 280 Texas county jail inmates ... died from illnesses while in custody over a four-and-a-half year period, according to data provided by the Texas attorney general and analyzed by The Texas Tribune. The number of illness-related deaths in county jails comes close to the number of deaths in state penitentiaries — despite the fact that county lockups house half as many inmates, on average, and keep them for much shorter periods.

Sheriffs say that they are doing everything they can to care for people who come to them with a multitude of physical and mental illnesses that are exacerbated by drug and alcohol addiction. And, they say, they are struggling to meet the health care needs of more inmates at a time when budgets are dwindling.

There are no state standards for health care in county jails, but criminal justice advocates and correctional facility experts say the large number of illness-related deaths prove they are needed. “People aren’t dying of old age in jails,” said Michele Deitch, a jail conditions expert and professor at the University of Texas at Austin’s Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. “Those numbers are more likely to be reflective of medical care concerns.”

The data analyzed by the Tribune related to more than 1,500 deaths that occurred in law enforcement custody statewide from January 2005 through September 2009. Nearly 500 of those deaths were inmates who were in the custody of the state’s 254 sheriff’s departments. Some were the result of high-intensity pursuits or suicides that occurred before an offender was arrested. Some happened during the course of the arrest, when a person was shot, tased or restrained by officers.

But more than half of the deaths reported by county law enforcement — 282 — happened as a result of an illness contracted before or during incarceration. Many inmates died of heart conditions; some of cancer or liver and kidney problems; and others of afflictions ranging from AIDS to seizure disorders and pneumonia.
When the state assumes custody of an individual it becomes responsible for their healthcare, which requires greater expertise and is a bigger expense than some counties are prepared to handle. Though of course he died in TDCJ, this story reminds me of Timothy Cole dying of an asthma attack, a chronic circumstance he had when he was convicted but which probably wouldn't have been fatal if he'd been in the free world with access to his family and ready medical care.


Anonymous said...

Since 2004 Wichita County has had four to die from illnesses while being "watched" by medically untrained detention officers at the direction of LVN's. TCLEOSE does not train jailers to recognize when a person is seriously ill, and the State Jail Commission allows County Jails to rely on LVN's to act as doctors, to "triage" inmates and prescribe medical treatments, medications, and act "on call" all in violation of the Nurse Practice Act. The Jail Commission, TCLEOSE and State Boaed of Nursing need to work together to stop these practices. bill

Anonymous said...

My husband told me to tell you, 'grits' to look at the number of colon cancer cases out of Wayne Scott Unit out in Brazoria County; he says the victims are transferred out, once they are diagnosed to keep the cases 'under the radar.' Also, my husband had seen medical personnel just stand by, while an inmate in their care dies. Since the budget was cut so bad that medical care inside went South, it would be interesting to note just how many inmates are dying because of lack of medical care, or quality medical care for them! It isn't as if they can "shop around" for medical care! In addition, my husband says they are being seen by a PA and then recommended to see a VIDDOC (Video Doctor), no matter how serious their case is! It bears looking into!!!

Anonymous said...

I watched a women die in the Gatesville SAFP unit about 10 years ago--a women in her 30's, otherwise in good health, who contracted pneumonia and was brutally ignored by the medical personnel (who prescribed "decongestant" tablets)until her condition was so grave that she could not walk to pill call and had to be dragged there by two other inmates (who risked getting a case for "physical contact"), where she was, again, ignored. Later that day she was left in the dorm with an officer while the rest of us went to a group meeting in the gym. ANother inmate, also on a lay-in, reported that she began to cry out that she needed help and could not breathe. The officer on duty yelled out "Awwwww, you ain't dyin! Shut up and go to sleep!"

When we returned, we found her dead. CPR was attempted by one of the inmates who was a nurse, without success. The lieutenant took us all back to the gym and gave us a speech that these things sometimes happen, and it was for the best, and that she was now "at that great rehab in the sky".

This was just one totally unnecessary death.