Retiring Arizona Prison Watch...

This site was originally started in July 2009 as an independent endeavor to monitor conditions in Arizona's criminal justice system, as well as offer some critical analysis of the prison industrial complex from a prison abolitionist/anarchist's perspective. It was begun in the aftermath of the death of Marcia Powell, a 48 year old AZ state prisoner who was left in an outdoor cage in the desert sun for over four hours while on a 10-minute suicide watch. That was at ASPC-Perryville, in Goodyear, AZ, in May 2009.

Marcia, a seriously mentally ill woman with a meth habit sentenced to the minimum mandatory 27 months in prison for prostitution was already deemed by society as disposable. She was therefore easily ignored by numerous prison officers as she pleaded for water and relief from the sun for four hours. She was ultimately found collapsed in her own feces, with second degree burns on her body, her organs failing, and her body exceeding the 108 degrees the thermometer would record. 16 officers and staff were disciplined for her death, but no one was ever prosecuted for her homicide. Her story is here.

Marcia's death and this blog compelled me to work for the next 5 1/2 years to document and challenge the prison industrial complex in AZ, most specifically as manifested in the Arizona Department of Corrections. I corresponded with over 1,000 prisoners in that time, as well as many of their loved ones, offering all what resources I could find for fighting the AZ DOC themselves - most regarding their health or matters of personal safety.

I also began to work with the survivors of prison violence, as I often heard from the loved ones of the dead, and learned their stories. During that time I memorialized the Ghosts of Jan Brewer - state prisoners under her regime who were lost to neglect, suicide or violence - across the city's sidewalks in large chalk murals. Some of that art is here.

In November 2014 I left Phoenix abruptly to care for my family. By early 2015 I was no longer keeping up this blog site, save occasional posts about a young prisoner in solitary confinement in Arpaio's jail, Jessie B.

I'm deeply grateful to the prisoners who educated, confided in, and encouraged me throughout the years I did this work. My life has been made all the more rich and meaningful by their engagement.

I've linked to some posts about advocating for state prisoner health and safety to the right, as well as other resources for families and friends. If you are in need of additional assistance fighting the prison industrial complex in Arizona - or if you care to offer some aid to the cause - please contact the Phoenix Anarchist Black Cross at PO Box 7241 / Tempe, AZ 85281.

until all are free -

MARGARET J PLEWS (June 1, 2015)


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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Courtney's Scar: Deeper than we will ever know.

I gave The Phoenix New Times a hard time in December over their treatment of sex workers, but I have to tell you, Stephen Lemons has been writing on Courtney's innocence for several years now, taking an unpopular position, considering how Thomas goes after resistance... thank you Stephen.

We need to fix this injustice before anyone else changes office this year. We need to get Courtney home to her family.

How promptly and responsibly these wrongful convictions in Arizona are handled should have direct bearing on who ends up getting elected and who doesn't.

Courtney's unjust incarceration and vulnerability to assault strike me as a law enforcement emergency, and Courtney and her daughter have been separated far too long already...I think the Maricopa County Attorney's office could spring her within a week if they really wanted (that's the link to their "comment" page).

He's supposed to be a powerful man, right?

Hang in there, Courtney and Camille.

Above: "Letter From the Son of Dorothy Gaines": a child's plea to a judge to not send his mother off to prison. It's tragic how many judges do so anyway - despite begging children, dying loved ones, even dying prisoners...they even ignore these kids when evidence of their parents' innocence arises. Ego and politics trumps what really matters in this state, once again.


Courtney Bisbee Is Assaulted in Prison...
Stephen Lemons / Phoenix New Times
March 18, 2010


A trip to Goodyear's Perryville Prison can be a deceiving experience. On any given Sunday, family members visit moms, sisters, and daughters warehoused at Perryville. The female convicts in their orange jumpsuits seem happy for the respite from serving their time, short-lived though it may be.
Even Courtney Bisbee, who is doing 11 years on bogus child-molestation charges detailed in my October 2008 New Times cover story "Nursing Injustice," seems pleasant and untroubled at times, even though she's still fighting to clear her name.

In 2006, Bisbee, then a school nurse, was convicted in a bench trial of touching 13-year-old Jon Valles inappropriately. The case of he said/she said was heard by Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Warren Granville.

Granville believed Bisbee's accuser. But Jon's brother Nik Valles — a key prosecution witness — has since recanted his testimony, saying his mother put Jon up to lie on the stand.

Still, despite a petition for post-conviction relief, which documented many of the problems of the case and introduced new evidence arguing for Bisbee's innocence, Granville refused to reverse his finding of guilt. Bisbee's challenging his ruling before the Court of Appeals, asking for a new hearing, possibly a new trial.

The appeals court probably will rule on Bisbee's challenge later this year. Meanwhile, Bisbee waits and fights in court to have a relationship with her daughter, Taylor Lee, who lives with her father and has had no contact with her imprisoned mother or her maternal grandparents for more than four years now.

If Taylor Lee ever sees her mother again, Bisbee will look different. Not only will she be older, there may well be a 2½-inch scar running from her scalp to her left eyebrow.

The gash, which is on the mend, went all the way to her skull, severing muscle and causing nerve damage. Bisbee suffered it March 1, as she was putting away equipment from an aerobics class she teaches at Perryville.

Another inmate, whom Bisbee had not dealt with before, called her from behind. Bisbee turned and was immediately punched in the face. Bisbee's assailant then grabbed her and flung her off her feet and into a metal door, opening up a gaping head wound. Bisbee was treated with 11 stitches at a hospital.

Two weeks later, when I visited her at Perryville, Bisbee's eye was still bruised and swollen, and the head wound was shockingly thick.

"They were big stitches, not the little kind," Bisbee said, pulling back a lock of hair to show me. Bisbee explained that the doctors wanted room for the wound to drain.

Though she was given painkillers at the hospital and was prescribed more, she says she's received none in prison. The left side of her scalp is still numb from the injury, she says, and she has painful headaches. Her left eye is also sensitive to light, and her eyesight has not fully recovered.

But she's more concerned about receiving the prescribed ointment Mederma, which is supposed to lessen scarring. This, too, prison authorities have withheld, though Bisbee's parents are willing to pay for it.

She playfully chastises her mother, Camille Tilley, for referring to the wound as a "Frankenstein scar" in an e-mail to Bisbee's hundreds of supporters. The wound might fit the description if Bisbee's bangs didn't hide it.

Fortunately, the attack on Bisbee was carried out in plain view of a Perryville guard, who immediately arrested the other inmate.

Why was she attacked? The scuttlebutt is that her assailant wanted to be written up and transferred to a high-security yard, where the assailant's girlfriend was assigned.

Bisbee says she gets along with most of the other inmates but says there is a small group whose members might think badly of her because she maintains her innocence.

"I don't fit in," she told me. "It's like I have one foot in this world, and one foot in the outside world."

Bisbee contends she's "feisty" and can tough out the situation. She doesn't have much choice.

The recent attack should light a fire under those who believe she's innocent and, at the very least, deserves a new trial. Until she's released, all those concerned for justice in her case can only hope for her safety.

Prisoner of the War on Drugs: Letter to the President

This was in the Huffington Post, originally published last month (just now discovered by me). Still topical and well-articulated. We need to hear and support these voices more often.

This grandmother, by the way, appears to still be in prison.

We need to get these people home.

This would be a good model letter to send friends and family in prison,
by the way, for them to appeal their sentencing. Just cut and paste it, so it doesn't look printed up from a website (some prisons have rules about website material, to keep prisoners out of trouble) - just put it in a word doc like an essay - I think that's totally legitimate.

Anyone who does write a letter like this to a judge, the governor, a legislator (particularly Cecil Ash's House Study Committee on Sentencing), or Obama, we'd love a copy to publish - your letter in turn emboldens other prisoners and family members to write in. That's how we begin to build critical mass.


A Letter from Behind Bars on President's Day

Hamedah Hasan
Posted: February 15, 2010 08:41 AM

As we celebrate President's Day, one prisoner asks President Obama to exercise his clemency power to commute the remaining 10 years of her 27-year sentence, which she received for a first time, non-violent drug offense. Hamedah Hasan, who is represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, filed a formal commutation petition today and included a letter addressed directly to President Obama. Below is a condensed version of her letter, adapted especially for Huffington Post. To read Hamedah's full letter and learn more about her story and the President's unique power to send her home, click here.

Dear Mr. President,

Today is President's Day. As the President of the United States, you have the unique and absolute power to commute the sentence of any federal prisoner. That means you could send me home today, and that is what I am asking you to do.

From everything I have observed, you are a compassionate and just man. I pray that if you learn of the story behind my sentence, you will be moved to exercise your clemency power to give me a second chance.

I am a mother and grandmother serving my 17th year of a 27-year federal prison sentence for a first time, nonviolent crack cocaine offense. I never used or sold drugs, but I was convicted under conspiracy laws for participating in a drug organization by running errands and wiring money. Had I been convicted of a powder cocaine offense, I would be home with my three daughters and two grandchildren by now. I have had a lot of time to think about where I went wrong, and I genuinely take full responsibility for my actions. But I hope you will see that over 16 years in prison is enough time for me to pay my debt to society.

When I was 21 years old, I found myself in a horridly abusive relationship with a man in Portland, Oregon, who intimidated, cursed, slapped, punched and kicked me. I had my first child, Kasaundra, when I was 16 years old, and this man was the father to my second child, Ayesha. Even though my self-esteem at this point in my life was virtually nonexistent, in my heart I knew that this life wasn't what I wanted for myself or -- most importantly -- for my children.

The only option I could see was to go live with my cousin, Ahad, in Omaha, Nebraska. Ahad set me up with a safe place to live, and most importantly, it was hundreds of miles away from my violent ex-boyfriend. Ahad recently wrote a letter in support of my commutation petition. In it, he accurately summed up the situation:

Her boyfriend was a gang member and his main goal in life was to be the best gang member he could be. He beat Hamedah all the time and threatened to kill her. She could not hide from him in Portland - he knew where everybody lived. He drank a lot and used drugs. It was not a good environment for Hamedah to raise her kids in, and it wasn't safe for Hamedah either. So she came to me in Omaha.

The thing is, Ahad was dealing crack cocaine. Although I never used drugs myself, it wasn't long before he asked me to run various errands and to transfer some money. He never held a gun to my head; I knew what I was doing, and I regret my poor decisions during this period of my life more than anything else. At the time, I felt out of options, and I believed that I needed to perform these tasks to show my gratitude for Ahad's help in escaping my abusive relationship.

After less than two years, I decided to move back to my hometown in order to get away from the drug operation. I wanted my girls to grow up with their mother earning an honest living and leading by example. I enrolled in a welfare-to-work program and was getting back on my feet.

But soon after I returned home, I was arrested, indicted and convicted of conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine from my time in Omaha with Ahad. I was sentenced to life in prison (later reduced to 27 years), based on the total quantity of drugs involved in the operation. I gave birth to Kamyra, my youngest child, in prison. That was one of the hardest experiences of my life.

During my more than 16 years of incarceration, I have taken long, hard looks at myself. I've done everything in my power to redeem myself and to demonstrate through deeds that upon release, I will be a community asset, not a community liability.

If you commute my sentence, I could have 10 years back on my life. Ten more years to make up for being so far apart from my daughters. Ten more years to realize my dream of starting a nonprofit dedicated to providing community services for the children of incarcerated parents. Ten more years to make a real, positive difference in the world.

I hope you will give me that chance. You have said you believe the crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity should be eliminated. I know Congress is considering legislation to equalize the federal sentences. You should understand, however, that none of the legislation being considered would apply retroactively to me.

As much as I am cheering -- even from behind prison bars -- for a reform in the federal laws, I don't want to fall through the cracks. I still have a lot of living, mothering and giving to do.

I would not be writing to you today unless I had no other option. I have appealed my case to the highest courts in the land, and you, and you alone, Mr. President, can send me home by exercising your executive clemency power to commute my sentence.


Hamedah Hasan

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Haunting Death of Adam Montoya.

This is about a recent death in federal prison in Pekin, Illinois...all too common an ending to a prisoner's life. I'm glad to see that it bothers someone else.

Montoya's Death...

an inexcusable injustice.

PEKIN DAILY TIMES editorial (Friday, March 5, 2010.)

The story of the death of Adam Montoya, an inmate at the Federal Correctional Institution-Pekin, has got to be one of the most troubling and unsettling reports to appear in the pages of the Pekin Daily Times in quite some time.

As reported in Thursday’s edition, an autopsy and toxicology tests revealed that when Montoya died on Nov. 13, 2009, the only trace of medication in his system was a little Tylenol. Montoya was very sick, so where were all the medications that should have been in his system?

Montoya’s family and some of his fellow inmates allege that FCI-Pekin was not providing him the meds he needed. Their claims standing alone would have to be treated with skepticism — after all, you can’t safely trust the word of a prison inmate, and maybe the family was just angling to win a huge civil settlement against the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

But the autopsy results confirm that Montoya really was a gravely sick man, and toxicology has confirmed that he was not getting his meds. The inmates are right: Montoya’s last days had to have been spent in the most excruciating pain, with no one to provide comfort or solace.

We all should be outraged. No one, not even a convicted criminal, no matter how heinous his crimes, should be left to die in agony and alone — not when we have it in our power to prevent it.

As Tazewell County Coroner Dennis Conover said to me, “He should have died under medication in a hospital, and not in agony in a prison.”

There’s just no other way to say it: the uncompassionate way Adam Montoya was treated in his last days, and the manner of his death, is an inexcusable injustice. It doesn’t matter what Montoya did — he was sentenced to 27 months in prison, not to a miserable death.

All of that is bad enough by itself, but the way FCI-Pekin responded after discovering Montoya dead in his cell is even more damning. Instead of notifying the coroner and leaving the death scene intact, the prison ordered paramedics to start an IV — after rigor had plainly set in — and transport the body to a hospital emergency room, despite the paramedics’ objections.

Transporting a dead body violates the most basic protocols in handling a death, interfering with a possible crime scene and making it difficult if not impossible for investigators to establish the true circumstances of a death.

It smells of a cover-up, as did the transfer of inmates such as Randy Rader and Jae Eads, and the prison’s actions couldn’t help but raise suspicions about how Montoya had died. At first Conover thought he might be dealing with a homicide, because when he arrived at Pekin’s ER he saw terrible bruising across Montoya’s abdomen. Thanks to the autopsy, it was determined that Montoya hadn’t been beaten, but instead had suffered a ruptured spleen, a result of his illness.

Conover attributes the prison’s improper response to Montoya’s death to something that has become ingrained in the culture of our federal prisons. Conover calls it the “no one dies in a federal prison” adage.

Conover tells me that in the 13 years that he has worked in the Tazewell County Coroner’s Office (first as chief deputy coroner, then as coroner), the coroner has been asked to respond to the death of an FCI-Pekin inmate only twice. Rather than have an inmate be pronounced dead in prison, the usual practice has been to have an ambulance take the inmate to a hospital — but sometimes, as in the Montoya case, the inmate was already dead before the ambulance was called, Conover says.

Because federal prisons have a high turnover rate for wardens and assistant wardens, more than once the coroner has had to explain proper protocols to new wardens.

It is very encouraging that the new administration at FCI-Pekin has pledged full cooperation with the coroner, but something needs to change in the FBOP’s culture to ensure that the next warden also will be cooperative.

Changes also are needed to ensure that the rights and dignity of the prison inmates are always respected. Yes, convicted criminals have violated the rights and dignity of others, but that cannot excuse our doing the same to them.

When we violate their rights, it’s everyone’s rights that are endangered.

Community editor Jared Olar may be reached at 346-1111, ext. 660, or at

The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the Pekin Daily Times.

The following article is the story that precipitated the above editorial.

It's pretty gut-wrenching.

---this is why letters from prisoners and family members are so important to take seriously---

FBI Investigating Prison Death

By Sharon Woods Harris
Pekin Daily Times

PEKIN, Ill. -

A former inmate of the Federal Correctional Institute-Pekin alleges in letters to his mother that inmate Adam Montoya begged for medication while in excruciating pain for several days prior to his death on Nov. 13.

Randy Rader was transferred to a California medium-security prison shortly after the death of Montoya, 36, of Albuquerque, N.M., with no explanation for the transfer. He later learned the transfer was for disciplinary reasons, though he claims he did nothing wrong except push the issue about Montoya’s death.

Rader is not alone. Former Pekin prison inmate Jae Eads is now in a Pennsylvania prison. He too believes he was transferred because of his knowledge of what happened at the prison with Montoya, he said.

On Nov. 14, 2009, Rader wrote to his mother, Debbie Rader, in Michigan. He told his mother, “Look, something really bad happened here on 11-13-09. I’m going to give you this name (and prison ID) number. I want you to get Brandon to Google it or whatever on (the) computer for references to this guy’s last name. Try to find his people.”

Montoya arrived at FCI-Pekin on Oct. 26 to serve a 27-month sentence for counterfeiting-related offenses. His scheduled release date was April 18, 2011. Previously he had been incarcerated in a Texas jail, where, according to his father, Juan Montoya, he received all of his medications.

Rader tells his mother that Montoya was his roommate in the “yard” prior to Montoya’s death.

“(Montoya) had only been here for a month or so. (He) just got locked up (for the) first time. He was 37 years old. He was a good guy in for a white-collar crime — stole money from some firm or other embezzlement,” said Rader. “He had a medical condition when he came — a tumor in his head.

“He begged them people to do something for him — over and over. They took him to medical a few days after he begged them so much. He went for about five minutes, maybe 10. He just got worse for the next six days. He pressed the panic button — begged them, told everyone to do something. Mom, he died between 10 p.m. and 6:30 a.m. on Nov. 12 and Nov. 13 sitting up on his bed. I don’t want to go into all of the details, but I would like to tell his people what I know.”

Tazewell County Coroner Dennis Conover said Montoya was bruised in a continuous band around his waist. He said it looked as if Montoya had been beaten, but once the autopsy was completed it was easy to see the bruising was from the internal bleeding.

A Tazewell County coroner’s autopsy report for Montoya revealed that internal bleeding was due to, or a consequence of, a rupture of the spleen. The ruptured spleen was due to or a consequence of B-Cell non-Hodgkins Lymphoma — a cancer of the lymphatic system.

The autopsy showed that 754 milliliters, or 25.49 ounces, of blood had leaked from the spleen into the abdominal cavity. Tumors were noted on the kidney and spleen, and Montoya had multiple enlarged lymph nodes.

Part of autopsy protocol is a toxicology screen. Despite Montoya’s many health issues, the only drug in his system was regular Tylenol, which had not been taken immediately prior to his death because it was found in his urine. There were no prescription pain medications or condition-related drugs in his system, according to the autopsy report.

Montoya’s father, Juan Montoya, said immediately after the death that his son was on medications while at a Texas jail prior to being sent to an Oklahoma prison before being assigned his final destination at the Pekin prison.

Federal Correctional Institution-Pekin Public Information Officer Jay Henderson said Wednesday that he could not answer questions about inmate transfers or inmate health issues, even for Montoya, who is now dead.

Henderson said there have been no changes to protocol for medicine disbursement at the prison because, “There was nothing wrong with the protocol (the prison officials) were using at the time.”

Henderson also said he does not know of any investigation into Montoya’s death. Previously, after the autopsy, Henderson had said there was no need for one because, according to Henderson, the autopsy report labeled the death accidental.

Conover said there is nowhere on the autopsy report that says accidental death. Patients with diseases such as Montoya’s are typically on medication of some kind, said Conover.

Conover has issued protocols to all departments with first responders that in the event of a death the body is not to be moved until the coroner arrives on scene. The prison, he said, ignored those protocols after Montoya died.

Prison personnel, said Conover, ordered paramedics to remove the body from the cell even after the paramedics said they could not. An IV line was started and the body was moved to the outside of the prison gate. Paramedics then called OSF Saint Francis Medical Center and were told to take the body to Pekin Hospital, where Montoya was pronounced dead immediately.

“(Montoya’s) arm was sticking up in the air,” said Conover. “Of course he was dead. He had been dead all night.”

Conover said a new warden has been assigned to the prison, Ricardo Rios. Conover met with him earlier this month. Conover said Rios guaranteed him that the coroner’s office will have total cooperation in the future regarding inmate deaths.

There will be no Tazewell County coroner’s inquest into Montoya’s death, said Conover, but there is an ongoing FBI investigation into the death. FCI-Pekin's new warden and assistant warden recently met with Conover and confirmed to him the existence of the investigation.

Conover said an FBI investigation had been started immediately after Montoya’s death, but it was halted quickly after the prison said it was a natural death.

“This office did everything it could do without a warden or assistant warden at the prison (at that time),” said Conover. “I just want people to know we’ve done our job.

“My problem is that this man died in agony, asking for medication, and it wasn’t given to him.”

Prisoners’ accounts

Excerpts from prison letters about the death of inmate Adam Montoya, and the removal to other prisons of inmates who witnessed the alleged events:

• “(Montoya) spoke to his dad on the phone (and) told him he wasn’t getting medical attention at one point. His dad has got money and knows some big people. Mom, something needs to be done. This is the fifth person to get denied medical attention in the last two years that died. They just tell us to drink water, take Ibuprofen — stuff like that. Not all the time, but it goes through spells where they just don’t give a ...” Former Pekin inmate Randy Rader to his mother, Debbie Rader, Nov. 14, 2009.

• “They let him die. I’m scared, I was right there and heard it all.” Randy Rader to his mother, Nov. 14, 2009.

• “It’s really messed up to send (Randy Rader) all the way out there (to a California prison) because he’s standing up for Adam. It’s the right thing to do because (Adam) was just allowed to die.” Jae Eads, former Pekin inmate, to Rader’s mother, undated.

• “They might put me on diesel therapy. ... Diesel therapy is when they move (an) inmate around for a while — go from one jail to another, so on and so forth on the road. A lot don’t stay in one spot for long. I hope not, but if they do they (are) just digging a bigger hole because I didn’t do what they wanted me to do and because I’m in contact with (Adam Montoya’s mother).” Randy Rader, to his mother, Feb. 2.

• “I filed a (complaint) to region on 2-03-10 and sent it out about (Pekin) transferring me because of me pushing the issue about Adam Montoya dying! A lieutenant pretty much told me, ‘We said you got to know how to pick your battles.’” Randy Rader, Feb. 4, 2010, to his mother.


The New Jim Crow...

From the SF Bay View:

The new Jim Crow: How the war on drugs gave birth to a permanent American undercaste

Posted By mary On March 25, 2010 @ 4:26 pm In Prison Stories

Introduction by Andy Kroll

The California State Prison at Lancaster outside Los Angeles is at double capacity, with 150 triple-bunked here in the gym. Michelle Alexander says, “There are more African Americans under correctional control today – in prison or jail, on probation or parole – than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began” and that more Black men were disenfranchised in 2004 than “in 1870, when the 15th Amendment was ratified, prohibiting laws that explicitly deny the right to vote on the basis of race.” – Photo: by Ann Johansson, New York Times

California is, as the time-worn adage has it, our nation’s bellwether, and nowhere is that truer than in the Golden State’s prison crisis. California’s inmate population is among the highest in the nation. Its complex of prisons spills over with tens of thousands of inmates housed in every available inch of space and sleep-stacked three-high [3]. So overcrowded are California’s prisons that the state penal system has been successfully sued for violating the constitutional rights of inmates – essentially by subjecting them to a public health crisis. That its inmates consistently resort [4] to violence in prison should come as no surprise.

The dire state of California’s prisons can, in part, be traced to its draconian “three-strikes law [5],” which throws three-time felons behind bars for a mandatory 25 years. Overflowing prison populations have, in turn, contributed to that state’s bleak economic future, helping consign California to a perpetual budget deficit, annual financial crises, and repeated deep cuts in education and social funding. The state currently spends [6] a staggering 10 percent of its annual operating budget, or $10.8 billion, on its prison system and its nearly 170,000 prisoners – more than it spends on the University of California system, once the jewel in the crown of American public higher education.

And which Americans have borne the brunt of California’s prison boom? Mostly minorities, African Americans especially. In 2005, the state was incarcerating [7], on average, 5,125 for every 100,000 male adult Blacks in the population – nearly four and a half times more than for Latino men and six and a half times more than for white men. California’s prisons are also notorious for separating their prisoners by skin color, a form of segregation that was, one lawyer remarked [8], “not tolerated in any other aspect of American life and hasn’t been for 50 years. It’s the shame of California.”

As Michelle Alexander, legal expert and author of a startling just-published book, “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness [9],” points out in her first TomDispatch post, California’s racially infused prison quagmire is only a snapshot of a growing racial divide, one which includes the formation of a new undercaste in America that loses its normal rights at the prison gates and often never recovers them. To check out the latest TomCast, Timothy MacBain’s striking audio interview with Alexander in which she explains how she came to realize that this country was bringing Jim Crow into the Age of Obama, click here [10].

by Michelle Alexander

Ever since Barack Obama lifted his right hand and took his oath of office, pledging to serve the United States as its 44th president, ordinary people and their leaders around the globe have been celebrating our nation’s “triumph over race.” Obama’s election has been touted as the final nail in the coffin of Jim Crow, the bookend placed on the history of racial caste in America.

Obama’s mere presence in the Oval Office is offered as proof that “the land of the free” has finally made good on its promise of equality. There’s an implicit yet undeniable message embedded in his appearance on the world stage: This is what freedom looks like; this is what democracy can do for you. If you are poor, marginalized or relegated to an inferior caste, there is hope for you. Trust us. Trust our rules, laws, customs and wars. You, too, can get to the promised land.

Perhaps greater lies have been told in the past century, but they can be counted on one hand. Racial caste is alive and well in America.

Cover designed by Jamaal Bell

Most people don’t like it when I say this. It makes them angry. In the “era of colorblindness” there’s a nearly fanatical desire to cling to the myth that we as a nation have “moved beyond” race. Here are a few facts that run counter to that triumphant racial narrative:

*There are more African Americans under correctional control today – in prison or jail, on probation or parole – than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began.

*As of 2004, more African American men were disenfranchised (due to felon disenfranchisement laws) than in 1870, the year the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified, prohibiting laws that explicitly deny the right to vote on the basis of race.

* A Black child born today is less likely to be raised by both parents than a Black child born during slavery. The recent disintegration of the African American family is due in large part to the mass imprisonment of Black fathers.

*If you take into account prisoners, a large majority of African American men in some urban areas have been labeled felons for life. (In the Chicago area, the figure is nearly 80 percent.) These men are part of a growing undercaste – not class, caste – permanently relegated, by law, to a second-class status. They can be denied the right to vote, automatically excluded from juries, and legally discriminated against in employment, housing, access to education and public benefits, much as their grandparents and great-grandparents were during the Jim Crow era.

Excuses for the lockdown

There is, of course, a colorblind explanation for all this: crime rates. Our prison population has exploded from about 300,000 to more than 2 million in a few short decades, it is said, because of rampant crime. We’re told that the reason so many Black and Brown men find themselves behind bars and ushered into a permanent, second-class status is because they happen to be the bad guys.

The uncomfortable truth, however, is that crime rates do not explain the sudden and dramatic mass incarceration of African Americans during the past 30 years. Crime rates have fluctuated over the last few decades – they are currently at historical lows – but imprisonment rates have consistently soared. Quintupled, in fact. And the vast majority of that increase is due to the War on Drugs. Drug offenses alone account for about two-thirds of the increase in the federal inmate population and more than half of the increase in the state prison population.

The drug war has been brutal – complete with SWAT teams, tanks, bazookas, grenade launchers, and sweeps of entire neighborhoods – but those who live in white communities have little clue to the devastation wrought. This war has been waged almost exclusively in poor communities of color, even though studies consistently show that people of all colors use and sell illegal drugs at remarkably similar rates. In fact, some studies indicate that white youth are significantly more likely to engage in illegal drug dealing than Black youth. Any notion that drug use among African Americans is more severe or dangerous is belied by the data. White youth, for example, have about three times the number of drug-related visits to the emergency room as their African American counterparts.

That is not what you would guess, though, when entering our nation’s prisons and jails, overflowing as they are with Black and Brown drug offenders. In some states, African Americans comprise 80 percent to 90 percent of all drug offenders sent to prison.

This is the point at which I am typically interrupted and reminded that Black men have higher rates of violent crime. That’s why the drug war is waged in poor communities of color and not middle-class suburbs. Drug warriors are trying to get rid of those drug kingpins and violent offenders who make ghetto communities a living hell. It has nothing to do with race; it’s all about violent crime.

Again, not so. President Ronald Reagan officially declared the current drug war in 1982, when drug crime was declining, not rising. From the outset, the war had little to do with drug crime and nearly everything to do with racial politics. The drug war was part of a grand and highly successful Republican Party strategy of using racially coded political appeals on issues of crime and welfare to attract poor and working class white voters who were resentful of, and threatened by, desegregation, busing and affirmative action. In the words of H.R. Haldeman, President Richard Nixon’s White House chief of staff: “[T]he whole problem is really the Blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to.”

A few years after the drug war was announced, crack cocaine hit the streets of inner-city communities. The Reagan administration seized on this development with glee, hiring staff who were to be responsible for publicizing inner-city crack babies, crack mothers, crack whores and drug-related violence. The goal was to make inner-city crack abuse and violence a media sensation, bolstering public support for the drug war which, it was hoped, would lead Congress to devote millions of dollars in additional funding to it.

The plan worked like a charm. For more than a decade, Black drug dealers and users would be regulars in newspaper stories and would saturate the evening TV news. Congress and state legislatures nationwide would devote billions of dollars to the drug war and pass harsh mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes – sentences longer than murderers receive in many countries.

Democrats began competing with Republicans to prove that they could be even tougher on the dark-skinned pariahs. In President Bill Clinton’s boastful words, “I can be nicked a lot, but no one can say I’m soft on crime.” The facts bear him out. Clinton’s “tough on crime” policies resulted in the largest increase in federal and state prison inmates of any president in American history. But Clinton was not satisfied with exploding prison populations. He and the “New Democrats” championed legislation banning drug felons from public housing (no matter how minor the offense) and denying them basic public benefits, including food stamps, for life. Discrimination in virtually every aspect of political, economic and social life is now perfectly legal, if you’ve been labeled a felon.

Facing facts

But what about all those violent criminals and drug kingpins? Isn’t the drug war waged in ghetto communities because that’s where the violent offenders can be found? The answer is yes … in made-for-TV movies. In real life, the answer is no.

The drug war has never been focused on rooting out drug kingpins or violent offenders. Federal funding flows to those agencies that increase dramatically the volume of drug arrests, not the agencies most successful in bringing down the bosses. What gets rewarded in this war is sheer numbers of drug arrests. To make matters worse, federal drug forfeiture laws allow state and local law enforcement agencies to keep for their own use 80 percent of the cash, cars and homes seized from drug suspects, thus granting law enforcement a direct monetary interest in the profitability of the drug market.

The results have been predictable: People of color rounded up en masse for relatively minor, non-violent drug offenses. In 2005, four out of five drug arrests were for possession, only one out of five for sales. Most people in state prison have no history of violence or even of significant selling activity. In fact, during the 1990s – the period of the most dramatic expansion of the drug war – nearly 80 percent of the increase in drug arrests was for marijuana possession, a drug generally considered less harmful than alcohol or tobacco and at least as prevalent in middle-class white communities as in the inner city.

Federal drug forfeiture laws allow state and local law enforcement agencies to keep for their own use 80 percent of the cash, cars and homes seized from drug suspects, thus granting law enforcement a direct monetary interest in the profitability of the drug market.

In this way, a new racial undercaste has been created in an astonishingly short period of time – a new Jim Crow system. Millions of people of color are now saddled with criminal records and legally denied the very rights that their parents and grandparents fought for and, in some cases, died for.

Affirmative action, though, has put a happy face on this racial reality. Seeing Black people graduate from Harvard and Yale and become CEOs or corporate lawyers – not to mention president of the United States – causes us all to marvel at what a long way we’ve come.

Recent data shows, though, that much of Black progress is a myth. In many respects, African Americans are doing no better than they were when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated and uprisings swept inner cities across America. Nearly a quarter of African Americans live below the poverty line today, approximately the same percentage as in 1968. The Black child poverty rate is actually higher now than it was then. Unemployment rates in Black communities rival those in Third World countries. And that’s with affirmative action!

Michelle Alexander
When we pull back the curtain and take a look at what our “colorblind” society creates without affirmative action, we see a familiar social, political and economic structure – the structure of racial caste. The entrance into this new caste system can be found at the prison gate.

This is not Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream. This is not the promised land. The cyclical rebirth of caste in America is a recurring racial nightmare.

Michelle Alexander is the author of “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness [9]” (The New Press, 2010). The former director of the Racial Justice Project of the ACLU in Northern California, she also served as a law clerk to Justice Harry Blackmun on the U.S. Supreme Court. Currently, she holds a joint appointment with the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity and the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University. To listen to a TomCast audio interview in which Alexander explains how she came to realize that this country was bringing Jim Crow into the Age of Obama, click here [10]. © Copyright 2010 Michelle Alexander. This story first appeared on TomDispatch [13] and, without the introduction, on the Huffington Post [14]. Andy Kroll, who wrote the introduction, is a writer based in San Francisco, an associate editor at TomDispatch and a staffer at Mother Jones magazine.


Article printed from San Francisco Bay View:

URL to article:

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[1] [Translate]: http://www.sfbayview.comjavascript:show_translate_popup(

[2] Image:

[3] sleep-stacked three-high:

[4] consistently resort:

[5] three-strikes law:

[6] spends:

[7] incarcerating:

[8] remarked:

[9] The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness:

[10] here:

[11] Image:

[12] Image:

[13] TomDispatch:,_the_age_of_obama_as_a_racial_nightmare/

[14] Huffington Post:

[15] here:

[16] here:

[17] Image:

[18] America’s war in Central Africa:

[19] Black flight:

[20] The Census form: Send it back!:

[21] Time for a U.S. revolution: 15 reasons:

[22] Rwandan opposition parties condemn grenade attacks in Kigali:

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Wexford , Mississippi & Jamie Scott: Cruel and Unusual Health Care.

from the day of Blogging (March 25) for Jamie Scott at Mother Jones.
Thank you both for being in on this one:


Mother    Jones

Cruel and Unusual Health Care

How Mississippi prisoner Jamie Scott's life sentence could turn into a death sentence.
[15] 2011 Budget Presentation.pdf
[26] Board Parole.htm

Profiting from the suffering of others.

This kind of thing really sickens me. Any savings realized by taxpayers in AZ by privatization of correctional health care better go into better care for prisoners, not legislators' and investors' pockets.

No one escapes accountability for the neglect and abuse people are experiencing, including the Governor.

We'll be paying attention.

Let that be a heads-up to whomever picks up that contract, too. You will have a formidable prisoner rights lobby to go up against by the time you move in. I'd suggest you work with instead of against us.


Valitas locks in contracts worth $100 million

St. Louis Business Journal - by Angela Mueller

Friday, March 19, 2010 | Modified: Monday, March 22, 2010, 6:00am CDT

Although the loss of two major contracts cost Valitas Health Services Inc. more than $100 million in revenue last year, the company is already recovering lost ground.

Revenue at Valitas, which provides health-care services to inmates in correctional facilities, dropped 17 percent in 2009 to $730 million. However, President and Chief Executive Dick Miles expects the Creve Coeur-based company to be back above the $800 million mark in 2010, coming close to matching Valitas’ record-setting revenue of $880 million in 2008.

In the past 12 months, Valitas has landed multiyear contracts worth more than $100 million in annual revenue. This includes a statewide contract to provide medical services to all Tennessee prisons, a deal that will bring in more than $50 million a year. Valitas was also awarded a contract worth about $4 million annually with the jail system in Galveston, Texas.

Valitas’ pharmacy subsidiary, PharmaCorr, earned two contracts worth a combined $20 million with the state prison systems in Oklahoma and Louisiana. The company’s Genesis Behavioral Services subsidiary was awarded a contract worth $15 million annually to provide mental health services to prison inmates in the southern region of Florida.

Valitas’ main subsidiary is Correctional Medical Services Inc. (CMS). In the past, PharmaCorr and Genesis provided additional services to existing CMS clients. These new contracts represent the first time Valitas has unbundled the pharmacy and mental health components.

“There are other states looking at these type of pharmacy-only or mental health-only contracts, and we are open to bidding on those,” Miles said.

Valitas, which has 300 local employees and 6,300 total employees, recently extended its existing statewide contract with Missouri for four years. The company also extended statewide contracts in Indiana, Idaho, Delaware and Maine.

Valitas could have another major contract waiting in the wings. For the first time, Arizona has issued a request for proposals to outsource health-care services for its correctional facilities. Miles estimated the contract would be worth about $100 million annually. Valitas’ staff members have been touring correctional facilities in Arizona to understand the scope of the contract, and the company is preparing a bid to submit by the April deadline.

The pressure on states’ budgets across the country is prompting more states to consider privatizing health-care services at their correctional facilities as a way to save money, Miles said. Health-care services at about 60 percent of correctional facilities, whether state prison systems or city or county jails, are managed by government agencies. The remaining 40 percent outsource health care to private companies such as Valitas.

“There’s a lot of room for growth,” Miles said. “States that have not looked at privatization in the past, like Arizona, are looking at it, which is a good thing for us.”

Valitas competitor America Service Group Inc. (ASG), a publicly traded company based in Brentwood, Tenn., also has its eye on the Arizona contract. In a recent conference call with investors, ASG President, Chief Executive and Chief Operating Officer Rich Hallworth called Arizona’s RFP a “watershed event.”

“We look for other states to follow suit in the next year or two,” Hallworth said. If Arizona is able to record savings from outsourcing health care in its prisons, Hallworth expects it to “open the floodgates” for other states to consider privatization.

“If they show savings, it’s going to be very difficult for other governors not to have to answer to taxpayers and legislators about why are they spending extra money,” Hallworth said. ASG reported $610.5 million in 2009 revenue.

The overall correctional facilities industry is expected to continue to grow as inmate populations continue to increase in prisons and jails. Industry research firm IBISWorld has forecast that the correctional facilities industry will generate revenue of $22.7 billion in 2010, representing an increase of 2.5 percent from 2009.

In 2008, more than 7.3 million people in the United States were under some form of correctional supervision, including inmates in prisons and jails and individuals on probation or parole, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Of that number, 1.6 million were prison or jail inmates, up 25.2 percent from 1998.

Valitas currently provides health-care services in 336 correctional facilities across the country, treating more than 274,000 inmate patients each day.

Miles said the company is interested in diversifying its offerings, either through adding services or acquiring existing companies. Valitas specifically is looking at adding services focused on transitional living programs that help former inmates re-enter the community.

Chicago-based Beecken Petty O’Keefe & Co. increased its stake in Valitas in January 2008 to become the majority owner.

Dying in Cell 40

Just a little piece on profiting from mass incarceration - this is what's wrong with it (highlighted for our legislators). Please keep that in mind, ADC, as you look at who might do prisoner health care next.

Who pays for their profits?

I think it will be us.


Dying in Cell 40: VERMONT hired for-profit firm with rap sheet of death and lawsuits

By Terry J. Allen on December 14, 2009

Ashley Ellis seemed to trip into more than her share. Her 2007 car accident was just that, an accident. Her auto insurance had expired two days before, but she was not speeding or impaired when she got distracted by one of her dogs, and hit a man on a motorcycle. He suffered terrible injuries, was put on a ventilator, and is in a wheelchair.

Ellis’ own injuries emerged over time. “Ashley was horrified by what she had done,” said Sandra Gipe, Ellis’ grandmother. In the two years between the accident and her incarceration in the Northwestern Correctional Facility in Swanton, Ellis became a licensed nursing aide, and “took care of people on ventilators,” said Mary Kay Lanthier, her lawyer. “That was all she knew to do, since she couldn’t help the man she hit.”

Dig DeeperDocuments

•Department of Corrections 2007 contract with Prison Health Systems with four amendments (5.5MB)

•Investigation of seven inmate deaths

•2004 Audit Report of the Department of Corrections

•Department of Corrections 2009 RFP for inmate care

She also dropped almost 40 pounds from her already thin 126-pound frame, and her eating disorder became so severe she sought treatment. With a suspended driver’s license, her local options were few, and her state health insurance would cover only 10 days hospitalization in a specialized center. At some point she developed a drug dependency, and the doctor performing her autopsy, according to the police report, found 17 cigarettes and some Suboxone pills (prescribed to treat opiate dependence) wrapped in electrical tape in her vagina.

But if Ellis was flawed and fatally unlucky, PHS and the Vermont Department of Corrections had their own problems. They knew the system was full of holes: From January 2008 to May 2009, PHS reported 169 sick-call and pharmacy violations system-wide, and Corrections imposed $19,200 in fines. From August — the month Ellis died — through October, Northwest alone racked up 43 additional penalties.

The contractor and the state were also unlucky. Other deaths under PHS have created only passing media ripples. But Ellis, a pretty young woman incarcerated on a misdemeanor, was an easy object of press attention and public sympathy.

“People admitted in newspaper comments,” says Vermont’s Defender General Matthew Valerio, “that ‘I wouldn’t give a damn’ if it had been a sex offender” who died.

This time, Vermonters wanted to know who to blame, and the prison nurses were the easiest target. “My analogy is guards at Abu Ghraib,” said Mary Kay Lanthier, Ellis’ lawyer. “Sure the LPNs bear responsibility, but there is a systemic problem.”

It took Valerio a bit longer to reach that conclusion. When Ellis died, he said, “I pointed the finger directly at [Connie Hall] the nurse on duty, but realized she was just the last one in line. Now I think PHS is to blame. … Profit-driven organizations are prone to cut costs. The system failed.”

STAFFING ISSUES That system began in 1996, when Vermont stopped running the prison health care system, privatized the service and opened it up to bids from out-of-state, for-profit companies. Darla Lawton, an investigator with the Defender General’s office attended a contract pitch that PHS won. “You had these companies saying, ‘We can take care of Vermont’s inmates,’ and I’m thinking you can’t even make your PowerPoint work. If nothing else, PHS is slick.”

Vermont has a moral responsibility because they know what’s going on and closed their eyes to it and that responsibility extends to all of us.” ~Seth Lipschutz Attorney for the Vermont Defender General’s office While slickness may play in comfortable meeting rooms, it doesn’t go far in prisons where ill and impaired inmates have few options. “Low staffing levels put Ellis in a position of not getting what she needed,” said Defender General Valerio. “It frequently happens, but usually no one dies.”

PHS’s $16.4 million a year contract allows it to staff Northwest and some other facilities on weekends (and many weekday shifts) with no one above the level of LPN. From Friday evening to Monday morning, only one PHS doctor is on call, by phone, to cover the more than 2,000 inmates incarcerated in 2009, and many of the 7,000 to 8,000 people who pass through the state’s eight jails annually. Dr. John Leppman, a PHS physician, says he typically fields 20 to 30 calls on a weekend. Nurses can work 12-hour shifts. One nurse said she was ordered to work 36 hours straight because no one else was available.

In all but one prison, PHS’ contract allows it to substitute LPNs “without penalty if an RN is not available.”

The substitution is not trivial: Lower paid LPNs are less trained. “It is not clear,” says Valerio, “that an LPN would know that it would be life threatening” to delay potassium.

Martha Israel, former PHS nurse. Photo by Terry J. Allen Martha Israel, an RN, quit her job at the women’s prison after “PHS hired an LPN to be nurse manager and my supervisor,” she said. “At the prison, nurse managers have to make patient assessments regularly, but I thought that was incredibly unsafe — and illegal,” since the State Board of Nursing allows only RNs and (others more highly trained) to make patient assessments.

When PHS’ contract was coming up for renewal in 2007, Israel warned then-DOC head Robert Hofmann, the Board of Nursing and the media about the use of under-qualified staff. “No one listened,” she said.

Staffing problems are exacerbated by turnover rates, said Israel, and “PHS’ reputation is so bad that good people don’t want to work with them, or stay.”

Lorene Gendron, who worked for PHS for two years as an inmate advocate in Vermont, says that poor support, salaries and working conditions translate into high turnover. “They will hire any friggin’ warm body because they go through staff so much,” Gendron says.

Northwest “was understaffed and had trouble keeping people,” confirmed Dr. Charles Gluck, who retired several years ago. He worked one day a week at the women’s prison, typically seeing 20 to 30 patients. “If a patient comes in with that kind of background,” he said, referring to severe anorexia, “they should never have been admitted on a weekend, because no one is available. … “The poor LPN [on duty when Ellis died] was stuck with it, and probably not qualified.”

DRUG DELAYS Fewer highly trained medical staff means cheaper operating costs, a goal that can also impact the quality and timeliness of care. Failing to treat inmates who carry infectious diseases, for example, saves money. “Treating people with hepatitis C is a very expensive procedure,” said Gluck. “I had to argue adamantly, and talked about preventing patients from taking hep-C back out into the community. But they [PHS] were just not going to do it.”

Gluck said his fight for better care was also frustrated by delays for meds and X-rays. Since prisoners are not allowed to bring in their own prescriptions, new ones must be obtained either from PHS’ Texas-based supplier or in-house stocks. When neither is available, nurses, and sometimes even corrections officers, go to the local Rite Aid. Police reported Connie Hall as describing these pick-ups as “a courtesy thing that the staff does for inmates.”

Vermont’s contract with PHS allows entering inmates to go two to three days without medication, except when orders are labeled “stat.” Then, even out-of-stock medications must be administered within two hours. Dr. John Leppman, the PHS physician on call the weekend Ellis died, would not say if his Saturday meds order carried that automatic trigger word, but Burroughs-Biron said that no available prison records included an order that Ellis’ potassium should be administered “stat.”

“There appears to have been a delay,” said Leppman. “If there was an unacceptable delay, then that was unacceptable.”

Some caregivers will not tolerate the unacceptable. One RN, who did not want to be named, said she risked her career to deliver prescribed meds. In 2006 one of her patients was in pain, but the prescribed Tylenol 3 would not arrive at the prison for days. The nurse knowingly violated the rules by taking Tylenol 3 another prisoner had left behind on release, and giving it to the suffering woman. “I did the wrong thing legally,” she said, “but I was trying to do what was right for my patient.” PHS fired her.

“When I heard about Ashley’s death, and the failure to provide meds,” said the woman, who is still in nursing, “I thought: ‘Here we go again.’ They don’t have enough staff, so they push people to the ultimate. I’ll bet a dollar to a dime that’s what happened to the LPN on the weekend Ellis died.”

In her two years as Vermont’s inmate advocate, Lorene Gendron visited prisons and fielded grievances that included charges of medical care on the cheap. “I would say: ‘Why can’t you just give the patient the med they need.’ And PHS would say: ‘It’s too expensive, or not on our formulary.’ It was hard to see something so simple to do for someone, and not be able to get it done. There was so much pressure not to prescribe.”

“The fewer services they provide, the more money they make,” said Lipschutz.


Andrew Pallito, commission of the Department of Corrections. Photo by Terry J. Allen I’m still reeling,” Corrections Commissioner Andrew Pallito said of Ashley Ellis’ death. “Up until that point, they [PHS] were doing satisfactory work.”

In fact, Ellis’ was one of a number of untimely deaths in Vermont under Prison Health Services. A week into PHS’ first contract in 2005, Robert Nichols, suffering heroin withdrawal, died the first day of his imprisonment at Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility in S. Burlington, according to an investigation by the nonprofit Vermont Protection and Advocacy. Nichols never saw a physician and didn’t get his prescribed meds, VPA reported. His wife sued PHS, and the 2007 settlement was sealed under a confidentiality agreement. The next year, the death of Michael Estabrook at the same prison sparked the state to fine PHS $36,000 for failing to follow department procedures.

Ten days after Ellis’ death, Michael Crosby, 49, died less than 12 hours after entering the South Burlington prison. An autopsy revealed multiple intoxicants and various serious conditions. “I saw the tapes [of his intake],” said Pallito. “He appeared OK. He wasn’t staggering.”

When PHS’s 2005 contract came up for renewal for 2007 — despite the deaths, the blistering New York Times exposé on PHS’s abuses nationwide, and warnings by nurses and others – Vermont renewed the contract. The new contract let PHS cut back on 160 hours — 20 shifts a week — of nursing care at the Northwest correctional facility alone. It eliminated the prisoner advocate position as a cost-cutting measure. Asked if money was the real reason, Gendron, who earned $14 an hour, said, “I’ll never be sure.”

Corrections, meanwhile, also allowed PHS to alter its contract so that it could use LPNs rather than RNs as clinical coordinators. Although Burroughs-Biron declined to say what reforms Vermont is considering for its next contractor, since the information might be used in litigation as a tacit admission of errors, the DOC head of health services acknowledged one change: “In future, the clinical coordinator, the person in charge of day-to-day functions, will be an RN.”

However, after clinic coordinator Renee Trombley was, as Burroughs-Biron put it, “removed from the facility” in the wake of Ellis’ death, another LPN, James Bessette, took over her position.

REVOLVING BARRED DOORS “Vermont has a moral responsibility because they know what’s going on and closed their eyes to it,” said Seth Lipschutz, supervising attorney at the Vermont Defender General’s office. “And that responsibility extends to all of us.”

If, as seems likely, Correct Care Solutions (CCS), based in Nashville, Tenn., succeeds PHS on Feb. 1, it will, like its four predecessors, be handed much of that responsibility.

In 1996, Vermont hired its first for-profit contractor, Florida-based EMSA Correctional Care. A few months before, a Massachusetts auditor’s report found that the company had overcharged that state $1.5 million for “unsubstantiated AIDS-related treatments,” according to The Boston Globe, which also reported charges that EMSA did a “poor job of caring for inmates.”

A guard locks a cell door at Northwest Correctional Facility. Photo by Terry J. Allen A year later, Lipschutz told the Globe that complaints of inadequate care in Vermont rose “exponentially” under EMSA.

In January 1999, EMSA was bought by PHS. In July 2000, Vermont moved on to Correctional Health Services, and six months later the contract was assigned to Correctional Medical Services (CMS). Vermont dumped CMS on Jan. 31, 2005 after a series of problems, including seven in-prison deaths in a year. The investigation that followed concluded that CMS had “inadequate staff [that] would lead to significant medical problems and errors in medication administration,” and called for “drastic measures to insure contract compliance.” [1]

CMS had also used unlicensed staff, and once, after a prison head objected, the company simply transferred the unqualified employee to a different facility.

An auditor’s report on CMS in 2004 concluded that Vermont had no real way to fulfill its responsibility to evaluate the quality of the company’s care. Pallito, the Corrections Department’s management executive at the time, acknowledged the department’s failings: “We didn’t belly up to the bar to monitor them,” the Web site reported him saying. “I think we have made some improvements.”

Now DOC commissioner, Pallito calls Ellis’ death “an isolated incident. … [PHS has] been in Vermont for four years,” he told The Burlington Free Press. “On balance, it was not bad.”

NEXT Bad or not, pushed or jumping, PHS is leaving on Jan. 31, and Correct Care Solutions is set to swing through the revolving barred door. It has much in common with its likely predecessor. Both PHS and Correct Care are for-profit, out-of-state providers based in Tennessee. And both have been led by the same CEO, Gerald (Jerry) Boyle.

Jerry Boyle, CEO of Prison Health Services Before founding Correct Care in 2003, Boyle headed Prison Health Services from 1998 to 2003. The New York Times found in a 2005 investigation that during much of that period PHS’ medical care “around the nation has provoked criticism from judges and sheriffs, lawsuits from inmates’ families and whistle-blowers, and condemnations by federal, state and local authorities. The company has paid millions of dollars in fines and settlements.”

Before he headed PHS, Boyle was a vice president at EMSA when it held the Vermont contract. Boyle visited the state several times, according CCS executive vice president Patrick Cummiskey.

Cummiskey also revealed that Correct Care will assume far more responsibility than PHS, taking charge not only of physical health services but also mental health care as well.

Correct Care will probably retain many of the same staff and—barring a quite different contract — the same potential for medical lapses and lax oversight.

Sandra Gipe hopes that her granddaughter’s death will spark reform. But an investigation of Ellis’ death that fails to reach beyond finger-pointing and narrow fact-finding, may end up obscuring the causes and extent of a systemic breakdown that was remarkable for its tragic outcome, rather than its particular errors.

No matter how good the investigation, the contract or the new provider, a fundamental contradiction will remain: For-profit companies pit the health care needs of an often despised population against their own need to turn a profit. In the latter, at least, PHS’ parent company, America Service Group, Inc. was successful: Healthcare revenues from continuing contracts for the third quarter of 2009 — the quarter when Ellis died from lack of a $4 bottle of pills — increased almost 28 percent over that quarter in the prior year, to $160 million.

Contact Terry J. Allen

Footnote [1] From Kurt Kuehl, DOC attorney, EMSA; August 7, 1996 – June 30, 2000. Correctional Health Services; original contract period was July 1, 2000 – June 30, 2003. However, the contract was amended to assign it to Correctional Medical Services and the amendment became effective on January 24, 2001. That contract was then amended two times to extend the end dates to June 30, 2004 and then January 31, 2005. Prison Health Services; February 1, 2005 – January 31, 2010.