While the private prison healthcare system has come in for its fair share of criticism on the way inmates receive health care, it’s not the only culprit in the inmate medical system. Many local jails, especially in the South, simply do not want to deal with sick inmates.
A process known as medical bond, which releases inmates from jail so that they can receive medical treatment without incurring costs to the prison, is increasingly common. So is re-arrest once the inmate has adequately recovered.
A Medical Emergency
In 2013, Michael Tidwell, an inmate in Alabama’s Washington County Jail, became desperately ill. His blood sugar level was 15 times higher than normal, and he was drifting in and out of consciousness. While sheriff’s deputies did take him to the emergency room, they also made him sign a medical bond release just before he lost consciousness.
Tidwell spent two days in the hospital in a diabetic coma. It wasn’t until much later that the uninsured man realized what he had signed – a release stating the jail was not responsible for the costs of his medical care.
See If She Has Insurance
In another Washington County Jail incident in 2016, an inmate named Tracie Weaver, 43, was very sick. Her blood pressure had skyrocketed, and she was vomiting continuously. Weaver had been in jail for just a week, awaiting trial on illegal credit card possession. Still, her health had deteriorated noticeably while she was there.
Before ordering an ambulance for a trip to a nearby hospital, the jail administrator asked the dispatcher relaying the emergency call whether Weaver had insurance or was on Medicaid. If she was covered by either private or government insurance, the county would not prove responsible for her medical expenses.
The administrator wanted to release Weaver on medical furlough, which is usually reserved for inmates suffering from terminal illnesses or who have chronic health issues. The administrator was similarly using medical furlough like a medical bond, and wanted Weaver’s family to come pick her up and take her for treatment. That didn’t happen, and Weaver, who was on Medicaid, was taken to the hospital a few hours later by a deputy.
Incoherent and failing, she too was forced to sign a medical release before her trip to the hospital. She died the next day. The autopsy report labeled her death a “cerebrovascular accident,” colloquially known as a stroke.
Who actually paid for her medical bills remains a mystery. Washington County Sheriff Richard Stringer says the jail did not pay for them, and the hospital did not send her estate the charges.
No Nurse, No Doctor, No Nothing
The same attorney representing Tidwell in his lawsuit against the county also represented Weaver’s family. According to the lawyer, there is severe understaffing at the jail and no medical care. “There’s no nurse, no doctor, no medical care, nothing at all. So, if there’s a medical emergency, they are just taken to the county hospital,” he told reporters for ProPublica. It is the jail administrator, with no medical background, who makes the majority of medical decisions for inmates.
When Stringer was asked about Weaver’s death, his response was, “Like any jail, you’re gonna have deaths.” However, the first item a health questionnaire given to inmates upon booking mentions is whether or not the inmates have insurance.
Weaver’s family settled their lawsuit against the county in May for an undisclosed amount. Three years after Tracie’s death, there is still no medical care available in the Washington County Jail.
Inmates have the right not to be abused. If you or a loved one has suffered mistreatment in jail or prison, you have legal options and may be entitled to compensation. CALL US at 866.836.4684 or Connect Online to learn how we can help you file a federal civil rights lawsuit.