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By Who's Definition: Cruel and Unusual Punishment Vol. 3 Medical Malpractice

What do the words “cruel and unusual,” mean? What do they mean to you? At what point do we determine that’s too much? Or do we actually have any say at all?

Imagine this: Someone who’s been serving time for years already and has worked hard to turn their lives around. They’re on the last leg of their sentence, participating in a nine-month residential drug abuse program, when they get sick. Next thing they know, they’re having to go to the hospital for an appendectomy, typically a fairly routine surgery. Only this time it doesn’t go so routine.

Sean Ingram was that person. The doctor performing the surgery botched the job. Ingram came back from the hospital and started going downhill quickly. After repeated trips, over four days to medical to tell them something was wrong, they finally sent him to the hospital, but it was too late.

The doctor had nicked Ingram’s intestine, and fecal matter was seeping into his system, poisoning him. Had BOP staff done their jobs, he likely would still be here today,  but BOP staff operates under the notion that part of their job is to punish incarcerated individuals further (it is THE culture in the BOP). They do this without consequences or repercussions either.

This is the state of medical care in the Federal Bureau of Prisons: DEATH

Then there’s Brooke Beckley, one of our participants diagnosed with MS only through a chance glimpse on a nurse's computer, because the nurse told her the doctor had to provide her that information, and she never saw the doctor. It took nearly a year for her to get basic medication, and then there were constant struggles for regular doses, and missed appointments with specialists due to staffing shortages. This is the fight for basic healthcare, for one’s life, and a fight with little hope in a system lacking any vestige of oversight and accountability.

Here’s some statistics that were easy to find online. Why are these statistics so easy to find? Because its so obvious that our justice system is doing more harm than good that it’s all right there in our faces. Most of us don’t want to look though.

Hospital Monitor

  • Deaths in custody: According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, an average of 340 inmates die in BOP custody each year. This number has been steadily increasing in recent years, with 475 deaths reported in 2021.

  • Delayed care: A 2022 report by the Office of Inspector General found that inmates often face significant delays in receiving medical care. The report found that the average wait time for a non-emergency appointment was 58 days.

  • Inadequate treatment: The OIG report also found that inmates often receive inadequate or inappropriate treatment. The report cited instances of inmates being denied necessary medications, being treated by unqualified personnel, and receiving substandard care.

  • Mental health neglect: A 2021 report by the National Commission on Correctional Health Care found that the BOP is failing to meet the mental health needs of inmates. The report found that the BOP has a shortage of mental health professionals and that inmates often lack access to necessary mental health services.

  • Denial of necessary medications: A 2022 report by the Prison Policy Initiative found that 1 in 5 inmates reported being denied necessary medications.

  • Unqualified medical staff: The OIG report found that many BOP medical facilities are staffed by personnel who lack the necessary training and experience.

  • Substandard care: Inmates have reported receiving inadequate or inappropriate treatment, such as being treated with expired medications or receiving incorrect dosages.

Mental health neglect:

  • Shortage of mental health professionals: The BOP has a shortage of approximately 1,000 mental health professionals.

  • Lack of access to mental health services: Inmates often have to wait months or even years to receive mental health treatment.

  • Use of solitary confinement: The BOP has been criticized for its use of solitary confinement, which can exacerbate mental health problems.

It is a constant fight to be heard and receive care. In a bureaucracy where there is no oversight or consequences for staff’s actions, there is no incentive for them to do their jobs except for human decency and if you’ve never been inside of a federal prison, there isn’t a lot of that going around.

And there isn’t going to be so long as we continue on this path of mass incarceration, and demonizing those who have been incarcerated. Have you looked around at the world lately? It’s rough out there, especially if you’re struggling and/or trying to rebuild your life. Couple that with being in prison and you’ve got some real challenges trying to make it in the world.

What if that was one of your loved ones in there, suffering from Multiple Sclerosis and couldn’t get any medication or treatment? You’d be on the phone to everyone  you could think of trying to find out why your loved one can’t get the medical attention required for them to live. We need to re-discover our compassion as a nation and stop ostracizing those who struggle in a clearly unfair and biased system. 

That person going through homelessness and addiction, or incarceration is going through that for reasons. There are reasons and almost all of them stem from living in a society that rewards only specific behaviors and lifestyles. If you don’t fit into that, you’re ostracized, outcast, ridiculed and made to live on the fringes of society. We give people a very narrow pathway to success, and kick the shit out of them if they don’t make it through. That’s why people withdraw, become addicted, and commit crimes. I think we can do better than this.

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