Saturday, July 26, 2008

Jail deaths due to medical neglect seem too frequent this year; Should state regulators do more?

Inmate deaths in county jails may be bubbling to the surface as a statewide issue of concern in 2008. Several recent cases collectively give me the sense that we're starting to see patterns that inevitably will become more common with so many people locked up. Most famously, the feds are investigating the Harris County jail after 12 inmates died and two more committed suicide during a 12-month span, but that's just the tip of the iceberg to judge by recent revelations.

In Potter County (Amarillo), a double murder suspect hung himself in the jail recently, and more troubling, a mentally ill probation revokee died after two use of force incidents, apparently spending at least two to three days in what a doctor said would have been excruciating pain leading up to his death without receiving proper medical attention. Reported the Amarillo Globe News ("Potter Sheriff defends lockup," July 24):

Michael Lee Dick, 33, was found dead in an isolation cell Saturday during a routine check. A preliminary autopsy Tuesday revealed he died of peritonitis caused by a perforated ulcer that could have caused severe pain in the hours leading up to his death.

The condition is irritating and can cause excruciating abdominal pain, said Dr. Kuldip Banwait, a gastroenterologist with Amarillo Endoscopy Center.

Jail staff is required to check inmates at least every 30 minutes, Boyter said, and Dick was on a 10-minute watch.

"As far as I know, he really didn't show any signs of medical problems," Boyter said.

The first time an officer checked on Dick in the isolation cell he was fine and sitting on the bed, Boyter said. He was lying on the bed 10 minutes later, so the officer went into his cell and found him unresponsive.

Banwait said peritonitis is an inflammation of the lining of the abdominal cavity. The lining supports abdominal organs and serves as a conduit for their blood vessels. He said someone suffering from peritonitis could die quickly.

"It depends on how young the person is," Banwait said. "It could be two to three days if not treated."

An Amarillo police lieutenant told a TV station, "we know that there was force used on him two different times and we know that injuries can linger, but we were told it wasn't an injury caused by assault but medically, but we are still investigating." Whether Dick's death resulted from injuries at the hands of officers or a pre-existing medical condition that jailers ignored, the county jail is still on the hook.

We still haven't learned much about the recent death of a 21-year old woman in the Travis County jail.

Meanwhile, in East Texas we find a case where a woman being held pretrial on a drug case in Henderson County was released on personal bond, driven immediately to the hospital and left there where she died eight days later. Reported the Athens Review:
Henderson County Sheriff Ronny Brownlow on Wednesday responded publicly about allegations he is retiring early in connection to the death investigation of a former county jail inmate. ... The 10-year sheriff said Wednesday that his plan to retire dates back at least until last fall, when he began serious discussions about it with those close to him.

Brownlow sent a letter to county officials earlier this month informing them of his intention to step down from office on July 31 — roughly five months before the official end of his term. The letter is dated July 8.

The announcement came during a time when information regarding the death of 56-year-old Debra Lee Newton began to surface. Newton was arrested on a charge of possession of a controlled substance on Feb. 18. Sometime in April, she allegedly became ill while incarcerated in the Henderson County Jail.

On April 25, the sheriff’s department asked that Newton be released on a personal recognizance bond. That request was granted, and Newton was taken to East Texas Medical Center Athens. She died eight days later, on May 3 — prompting allegations of impropriety on the part of sheriff’s department officials in their handling of Newton.

Henderson County District Attorney Donna Bennett’s office subsequently asked the Texas Rangers to investigate the circumstances of the death. That investigation is ongoing with Athens-based Ranger Trace McDonald. Lt. Pat McWilliams, a public relations officer, said the sheriff’s department welcomes the investigation.

“... We’re certain there’s no conspiracy and that the patient received adequate medical treatment,” McWilliams said last week.
Maybe there was "no conspiracy," but clearly the patient did not receive "adequate health care." She was in her death throes already when they released her on personal bond after two months in jail to take her to hospital. Surely it was clear she needed significant medical care well before that panicked, last-ditch decision!

At a time when the Texas Commission on Jail Standards is undergoing Sunset review, this news makes me wonder whether the state's inspections adequately assess county jails' healthcare delivery or even track the number and causes of jail deaths. That's a lot of deaths recently attributed to inadequate jail medical care. Will it just be tolerated?


Anonymous said...

There are significant concerns among officials about which government agency is responsible for medical costs. Judges, DA's, Sheriffs and Guards are exceptionally well educated on the subject.

There is a strong drive to put considerations of who will pay ahead of the welfare of individuals who may be in need of care.

Counties and the State should provide for medical care regardless of which agency had control of an individual. This would go a long way to improve the timely delivery of medical care and ultimately reduce costs. Prevention and early treatment reduces medical costs.

The entire problem of millions of Americans who do not have health insurance has spread like an infectious disease to the justice system.

People are dying from neglect and I truly hope sensible solutions to this problem can be realized soon!

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately the writer of this story does not seem to understand that in custody deaths occur regularly. This article also does not address the types of offenders that police routinely arrest. These people are often drunkards and dope users that are not healthy to begin with. So who do liberals blame when these people die? Well we can't blame the inmates for their own poor health choices, no, no.... That would be common sense. It must be the government's fault. It must the fault of the police, the sheriff's departments in Texas. Jail standards in Texas are some of the most staunch in the nation, and if a jail does not abide by those standards they are shut down. So out of a population of 20,851,820 in Texas there are going to be a number people in jail in Texas, and we can look at each of these individual occurrences as it is or we can throw them all together in one article and create a problem where none exists for the left wing weirdos to go nuts about. Please, a Sheriff lets an inmate out of jail for health purposes and that inmate dies while in private care AND THAT IS THE SHERIFF’S FAULT?! Hey go after the health care industry, and leave the hard working people that guard the most nightmarish people in existence alone!

Anonymous said...

So who do liberals blame when these people die? Well we can't blame the inmates for their own poor health choices, no, no.... That would be common sense.

So you have access to their medical records?

Anonymous said...

deputylestritis makes my point. The millions of people in the United States without healthcare frequently do not receive preventative care. Drug and alchahol addiction are medical conditions that require treatment. So is mental illness.

Jail is not the place for healthcare treatment. That is why medicalcare should be provided by the county regardless of agency that has "control". That way an indegent person without medical insurance could receive the same care regardless of their status.

It would remove the reason for their being in jail in the first place and emphasis could be placed on prevention rather than punishment.

An ounce of prevention in the care of our poor who cannot obtain or afford health insurance would create a few pounds of crime prevention!

Anonymous said...

Also, addiction and mental illness are not choices!

These conditions require treatment, not blame.

Anonymous said...

deputylastrites ~ it certainly would not be your fault if an inmate died of liver disease while in your care, but it COULD be your fault if that inmate hung himself, or if the inmate sustained an injury while in your care that went untreated and resulted in death. I feel THOSE are the deaths Scott was referring to, rather than the numerous deaths due to either natural causes or lifestyles prior to incarceration.

hahajohnnyb said...

In the case of Michael Dick, he died of Peritonitis resulting from a bacterial infection. Michael Dick's family is affluent and could have easily afforded to pay for the treatment that he needed to live.

Michael's death is the result of intentional and malicious negligence on the part of Potter County Jail, likely because Michael was a pain in ass as an inmate. I knew Michael in life, he was a friend of mine, and I am certain that he was a terrible inmate mostly as a symptom of his mental disease.

A few days before he died, Michael had a siezure during a visit with his sister, and the family was fighting to get him out of jail and placed in a hospital. The day of his death, his family was up at the jail trying to visit him and check up on his condition and was denied by the jail staff stating that "He did not want to see any visitors."

There is something very scary going on at Potter County Jail and the Sheriff is in on some sort of cover up, which is obvious after talking to the family, who are good upstanding members of the community, and weighing the medical evidence against the statements from the Sheriff department.

Please do not allow this case to fall into obscurity. Police abuse cannot be allowed to go unchecked when it results in the agonizing death of a young man regardless his mental condition or state of incarceration.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

deputy lastrites, when somebody wallows on the floor in pain for two or three days without receiving medical attention, yes that's the jail's fault. When they fail to treat inmates' health problems then dump them in the emergency room (on a hastily gotten personal bond) so they'll be somebody else's problem, that is also the jailers' fault.

Prisons and jails must clean up many of society's failures - crappy parenting, poor education, unavailable healthcare, inadequate mental health services - so saying people are sick when they come in won't cut it. The job includes providing healthcare if they need it, like it or not. If you want to jail them, that makes you responsible for them (which is the cynical reason why the Henderson woman got a PO bond when she was really sick).

Anonymous said...

Deputy and Medical Staff. Please understand that this not a personal attack but factual information. Your disregard of human life and to slate it to "liberals" is saddening under thought that you have a badge and the opportunity to "protect and serve". Just for the records a drug addict, the prostitute, the transient are all people that once booked into the sytem you should want to aid with a zest and zeal that hell can't touch. Unfortunately, by your writings the substandard quality of care and the deaths that you want to point fingers on...are yours and mine responsibility. In Collin County the inmate deaths have increased. Bill Baumbach published that. These deaths are the result of squawlered standards that guards and staff fraudently post healthy ratings on the cell checks. Yes, they are incarcerated or being detained...that doesn't give any other human the right to allow anyone to wallow in pain, bleed to death, hang themselves, OD or anything else once in custody. Stop taking it personally and most definitely stop the thought process that the jailed or incarcerated deserve subhuman treatment or they "deserve what they get." Remember there are plenty of people, even with badges, gavels, robes and degress, that do so much wrong that people like you cover for them simply because of the backwards thinking that they are better then the incarcerated. The incarcerated don't deserve it. The job includes providing healthcare if they need it, like it or not. If you want to jail them, that makes you responsible for them.

Anonymous said...

As a health care worker, I find it disturbing that when an inmate becomes ill or has a chronic illness they are left to the mercy of the system which may or may not provide needed health care.

The authorities that watch people die and do not seek appropriate care are themselves criminals and no better than the inmates in their custody.

masonic said...

Maybe if MD's parents had tried so hard to get him placed in a hospital AFTER HE HAD ALREADY HURT SOMEONE TO GET PLACED ON PROBATION - BUT _ before he assaulted a deputy, took his weapon and threatend the lives of people at the probation department he would still be here today - blame his parents - too little, too late!

masonic said...


hahajohnnyb said...

Masonic, what is your problem? You were at spewing you hatred and ignorance, now you have to infect the rest of Internet with your vile blather?

Do you represent the Free Masons? Is this hate filled view that you keep going on and on about the official view of the Masonic Order? My Grandpa was a 33rd degree Mason and I never heard such hate filled garbage coming out of his mouth.

To become a Shriner, don't you have to be a Mason first? Do the Shriner's blame the burn victims for playing with matches in the first place?

Do you have any back ground in psychiatry? Did you know the victim? Or are you worried because you have something to do with Michael's death?

Even if Michael was on drugs, which I doubt, but even if he were, with his psychiatric history he should have been at the very least kept in the Pavilion until his mental condition was stabilized. This should have been done, not only for Michael's protection, but also for the safety of Potter County jail personal and other inmates. Michael was about 6'3" and clearly psychotic.

Michael needed to be taken into custody. The officers needed to use violence to accomplish this, and I have no criticism of the arrest or the tactics used to take him into custody. My problem is what happened after the cops had him.

I agree, with you that someone like Michael would have been impossible to treat if he insisted on going on and off of his medication, but everyone knows that this as well as illegal drug use is a common problem with Paranoid Schizophrenics. In my opinion, the guy should have been in an insane asylum, but I know for a fact that Michael's mental illness came out during the trial. (I was close with both of the "victims" at the time.) Why did the Judge and the State of Texas not choose at the time to place Michael in a mental institution?

After going berserk in the Probation office, why was he not placed in a mental institution?

Failing to place Michael in the Nut House was the first act of medical negligence by everyone who had custody of Michael.

The second failure was Potter County not picking up the booking officer's mistake and calling State Authorities when Michael had to be restrained in the jail.

The third act was failing to get Michael medical attention when he first started to become ill as a result of his peritonitis.

I'm sorry that you hate the mentally ill. I agree that they can be a major pain in the ass and even dangerous, but I do not condone their mistreatment, nor the mistreatment of any prisoner in custody, insane or not.

Sorry, but I would like to think that my government is more humane than the terrorist regimes that we have been fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, and when mentally disabled hometown boys are dropping dead in the local county jail of apparent medical neglect then heads should roll. This is the United States after all where we are supposed to be free from tyranny and oppression, and we are guaranteed equality Justice and Equality under the Law. Sometimes this means that Law Enforcement goes to jail.

Anonymous said...

Well I do enjoy all of this intellectual debating. I must make a few things clear however.

Addiction is a choice. If a sane person uses illegal drugs without someone placing a gun to their head it is their fault. If a sane person drinks themselves into a stupor and drives around in a vehicle it is their fault. Who is to blame? Is anyone accountable for their own actions anymore? Maybe it is jailer's fault, maybe it is the fault of the police, maybe it is the fault of the education system or maybe their mothers didn't give them enough love. Is it sad that people do this to themselves, yes it is. Should the police or the jails be blamed for the poor health decisions of their wards, no. They should give them basic health care, but people will still die.

Oh this is for Lucille, yes I have access by request of medical records. When I worked for a Sheriff's Office medical records were common to come by due to the fact that I transported inmates to the hospital on a regular basis.

Now, jails do what they can to prevent suicide if not for any other reason it is the right thing to do. Also for a much more objective reason, death investigations in a jail cost quite a bit of money. Under Texas law the reporting and investigation requirements are immense and their are criminal penalties for not doing them correctly.

In Texas, jails are required to give inmate access to health care which in every jail I have ever worked with (I now work for a state agency that investigates abuses in incarceration). Those abuses are the exception to the rule not the rule itself. Inmates do have access to medical care, if they are being denied basic or emergency medical care there will be consequences for the incarcerating agency or individuals responsible, I will see to that personally.

However I would like to touch on something that I think does warrant attention. Jails have been a dumping ground for mentally ill persons ever since the 1960's and possibly earlier. This practice has to stop. I remember when I was working on the streets that I would often have to incarcerate a person for the night for their own safety. Perhaps they were threatening people walking down the street or in one case calling 911 so that he could speak to President Bush. I tried and I tried and I could not get mental health facilities to accept them. I think this is where many suicides happen in jail. Jails are designed to assure people show up for court, secure prisoners for transfer to TDCJ, and to carry out misdemeanor incarceration sentences. They are not designed with the mentally ill in mind and until this stops, you will continue to see suicides in jails regularly. Small jails may only have suicides every decade or so but you will see suicides occur all to frequently in large jail facilities.

Oh one response said "Your disregard of human life and to slate it to "liberals" is saddening under thought that you have a badge and the opportunity to "protect and serve"."

I do value all human life, however there are some people that you cannot save from themselves. Put on a badge and gun and work the streets or work in a jail and you will understand. There are human monsters among us and there are some people who just made mistakes. There is a difference. I have tried to help all that I have come across in my career but I must admit that I do have more compassion for the victim of a rape, robbery, murder, burglary, than I do for the perpetrator of these crimes.

Please understand it is not fair to the law enforcement community in general to lump unfortunate incidents or suicides on everyone who wears a badge. In a way, jails do not have a choice of who they have in their custody. I do not hear any reports of the hundreds of lives officers save everyday nor do I hear anything about the thousands of suicides good jailers prevent. That is what I hear from the liberal bias.

hahajohnnyb said...

In large measure I agree with you deputylastrights. The thing that I cannot wrap my mind around is why we ever closed our mental institutions and what we need to do to open them back up.

I agree that that criminals should be in jail, and that there are some people out there who are just monsters as you call them.

I also understand that otherwise good people do alot of damage when they are screwed up on drugs and alcohol, yet all people who use drugs or alcohol are not addicts. Something with lunatics, I feel really sorry for the insane, but my libertarian principles are really getting in the way of creating a realistic solution for the problems that they create and dealing with the humanitarian issues of dealing with people who cannot care for themselves.

If we lived in a perfect world full of perfect people, there would be no need for cops, jails or lunatic asylums. I recognize that we do not live in a perfect world, but I do not want jail inmates to be treated in an inhumane way, and I certainly want drunks, druggies and lunatics to be locked up in an asylum where they can get the help that they need.

Truly this is a tough problem, too bad its not part of the national debate. said...


sent from:

Anonymous said...

In the early 80’s as a cost saving measure, “jails” and some prisons throughout our nation began the process of contracting medical services. One of the largest companies in our country is Correctional Medical Services. In California, California Forensic Medical Group has taken over almost every County, providing medical services for jail inmates. Because of strong unions, our California Prisons medical care has not been impacted and privatized, as yet.
I have had the opportunity to work, as a nurse in a jail alone on PM shift both in the late 70’s and early 80’ (I could write a book!), then again in 93’-2000. When I returned in 93’, someone had taught the Correctional Staff professionalism! They were amazing. In complete contrast to my first employment.
However the number of inmates and the acuity had risen astronomically.
Attempting to accomplish the job was impossible! Nurses were quitting, in fear of loosing their license! With short staff, double shifts were mandatory. If you said no, you lost your license for abandonment and were subject to arrest! Revolving door Administration with no oversight became the status quo. In the course of 18 months we had 6 deaths., all reviewed without negligence! The basic job is as follows… Inmates seen by both the MD and the FNP with written orders need to be noted, meds to pass twice a shift to about 200 + inmates, vitals to take, diabetic checks, detox checks, labs, supplies, charting, sic call rounds each shift, “man down” medical response, safety cell checks, infirmary inmate checks….
The building housed 790 with the opening of the new extension in 97’. You had 2 LVN’s on Days and PM’s , 1 LVN at noc, with an RN in booking, doing intakes.
In June of 98’ I ruptured two cervical discs in my neck working this job. Post surgery I was placed on limited duty. It was at that time I had to opportunity to slow down enough to look around. What I observed I wrote into a formal written complaint to the Regional Manager of Correctional Medical Services. In response I received a letter thanking me for my observations and opinions! I took the letter to the Captain of the jail, going outside corporate. He shook my hand congratulating me for my courage and asked what I was going to do with the letter. I took my letter to Mike Reilly, 5th District Supervisor who oversaw the jail contract. March 16th 1999, Correctional Medical Services lost their contract and it was awarded to California Forensic Medical Group. In Feb. of 2000 CFMG took over. The Vice President of CFMG Elaine Husted RN, called me to the office and said, “we made a decision, we are letting you go. Please collect your belongings and leave”!
I am but one of many that knows about the atrocities in these settings, due to “profit and gain” via private companies at the expense of human life.
Providing adequate medical care is one aspect of our institutional setting that needs to be addressed. If not people die!
Between 94’ and 03’ there were 4,506 in custody deaths in California alone!

Anonymous said...

All people are entitled to healthcare even inmates,especially in emergency situations where they don't have the choice to drive themself to the hospital. My husband died oct 07 in a texas county jail. Yes, he was an alcoholic, but once he was incarcerated it was the responsibility of the sheriff's dept to see to his welfare. When he became violently ill, they just sat there and watched him suffer. They knew how sick he was but did nothing..He died after going thru Dt's for a couple of days,,not hours, but days..These inmates are people too, yes they have made mistakes,,but a punishment of death should not have been given by the deputy's in charge of him. When are we going to wake up and realize inmates have rights too..when did we as a society decide that deliberate indifference to an inmate was acceptable?? if you have an answer,, tell our 4 children and all our grandkids that it was ok for grandpa to die

Booth said...

Yea my brother died in travis county jail due to medical neglect i visit him twice the week he died he was having trouble breathing I ask the front desk he needed medical treatment i was told they knew what he needed then i got a call later that week that he died from blood clot in his lungs if they would treated him he probably would still be alive ..