Sunday, November 17, 2013

Dying for Health Care? "Just Pray."

We don't talk enough in this country about "inhumanity." Both in the sense of denying certain "different" human beings the status of full humanity, and in the sense of the inhuman treatment we deal out to those we view as less than human.

From Salon:

A new report alleges illegal and deadly mistreatment of Arizona inmates whose medical care the state contracted out to the country’s largest private prison health care provider.

The report, released last week by the American Friends Service Committee, a progressive Quaker group, comes as an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit against the Arizona Department of Corrections awaits an appeals court ruling over the state’s challenge to its class action status. The ACLU alleges “grossly inadequate” care that creates “grave danger” for inmates, including “critically ill” people who were told to “be patient” or “pray” for healing, or that “it’s all in your head.”


In 2011 and 2012, the deaths of thirty-seven total inmates were reported in the Arizona Republic. In contrast, writes the AFSC, fifty people have died in custody in the first two-thirds of this year. Last year, the Arizona Republic charged that “Arizona’s prison system has two death rows”: Those “officially sentenced to death” and those who “die as victims of prison violence, neglect and mistreatment.”

AFDC argues that the privatization of medical services exacerbates such ills. The report notes that the state’s budget bill for fiscal year 2010 included language requiring the Department of Corrections to “issue a request for proposal to privatize correctional health services” and stated that the new contract must “Cost less than these services did in FY 2007-08…” After two years, with no such contract secured, the legislative requirement was changed and the government issued a request for proposals stating the winning contractor would be “the most qualified bidder.” AFDC concludes that “Contracting out the medical care at ADC has resulted in more bureaucracy, less efficiency, and decreased quality of care. What is required to correct the problem is transparency and accountability. Privatization functions only to hinder those processes.”

“I am a 58 year old man who is classified as SMI [Seriously Mentally Ill], my mental impairment is such, that I recognize that without the assistance of an advocate helping me to maneuver through this web of misdirection, confusion, and uncaring medical caregivers, I will simply be allowed to continue deteriorating at a fatally unhealthy rate,” an inmate diagnosed with cancer wrote to the Faith Lutheran Church’s prison ministry in a January letter cited by AFDC. “To say that I’m terrified would be an understatement. But I simply do not know what to do.” The man, Mackie McCabe, died in June.
But hey, he was a criminal who deserved whatever torture he suffered in prison, right?

At about 12.40pm on 2 January 1996, Timothy Jackson took a jacket from the Maison Blanche department store in New Orleans, draped it over his arm, and walked out of the store without paying for it. When he was accosted by a security guard, Jackson said: “I just needed another jacket, man.”

A few months later Jackson was convicted of shoplifting and sent to Angola prison in Louisiana. That was 16 years ago. Today he is still incarcerated in Angola, and will stay there for the rest of his natural life having been condemned to die in jail. All for the theft of a jacket, worth $159.

Jackson, 53, is one of 3,281 prisoners in America serving life sentences with no chance of parole for non-violent crimes. Some, like him, were given the most extreme punishment short of execution for shoplifting; one was condemned to die in prison for siphoning petrol from a truck; another for stealing tools from a tool shed; yet another for attempting to cash a stolen cheque.

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