Medical Neglect in Prison is Abusive, and Counter to International Laws
It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside the jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.
Nelson Mandela wrote that, after serving 27 years in South Africa prisons for crimes against the apartheid policies of the white-led government. When he was released, he was elected the president of South Africa and served in that role for five years, until 1999.
Largely due to his influence, the international community began to reconsider best practices for managing prisons. The UN General Assembly had, in 1957, voted to enact Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. The Mandela-inspired study and book: A Human Rights Approach to Prison Management Handbook for Prison Staff was published in 2002 and updated in 2009.
Here are a couple of paragraphs from that book, to contrast with what happens in America’s worst prisons.
The essence of imprisonment is deprivation of liberty and the task of the prison authorities is to ensure that this is implemented in a manner which is no more restrictive than is necessary. It is not the function of the prison authority to impose additional deprivations on those in its care.
The full contribution which our prisons can make towards a permanent reduction in the country’s crime-rate lies also in the way in which they treat prisoners. We cannot emphasize enough the importance of both professionalism and respect for human rights.
The last quote was also from President Nelson Mandela, speaking to prison staff in South Africa in 1998.
Fast forward to this year, and a case brought by inmates at a state prison near Boise, Idaho. Beginning in 1981, prisoners there began to file law suits about overcrowding and excessive violence due to limited medical care. In 2014 – 32 years later – a settlement was reached. The state said it would improve medical care, and the state judicial department said it would oversee the changes.
Get ready for this…if you are squeamish…you might want to stop reading here.
Since the so-called change of policy in 2014, inmates say that the settlement agreement has been violated more than 100 times. Here are a few recent instances cited in the case:
- An inmate’s pneumonia was ignored and he died of sepsis, after a flesh-eating infection was also left untreated.
- Another inmate with an open wound on an intestinal injury cleaned his own wound with a paper towel and tap water, because that was all that was made available.
- A doctor, whose medical license was restricted due to his having been accused of sexual abuse and incompetence, was transferred to another prison when inmates complained.
- Multiple prisoners were subjected to amputations of body parts after their blisters and bedsores went untreated and began to rot.
The private contractor handling medical care at the prison goes by the name Corazon, which means “heart” in Spanish. Their response to recent and long term allegations was that “the existence of a lawsuit doesn’t necessarily mean there was wrongdoing,” according to the Associate Press story in late March, 2017.
The corrections director said his agency has been making an “all out effort to bring the 36 year-old case to a successful resolution.” This was said in all seriousness after court documents showed that the prison’s death rate outpaced the national rate, and that of other prisons in Idaho.
It turns out that, when Corazon officials filed reports to the institution claiming “100 percent compliant with state health care requirements,” the state did not check the claim for accuracy. At the same time, the state was filing falsified documents to make it appear that all employees were trained in suicide prevention, when in fact many were not.