Prisoners have to hurt themselves to get needed medical care

A recent news story about an Idaho prisoner, who ate razor blades in order to go to the hospital sounds ridiculous right? Well the story is not as far-fetched as you think. I’ve talked to a number of incarcerated individuals who had to injury themselves in order to see non-prison medical provider (hospital) for serious medical conditions.

The Story

Like many of these stories, it starts with a for-profit prison healthcare company. In this story, it is Corizon. However, in your story, it could be Wexford or Centurion or Armor or one of a dozen other companies that provide medical care in US prisons and jails.

Gary Merchant, a 65-year-old guy who had underlying Crohn’s disease had an infection in his leg. He developed an infection in his leg and made a minimum of five requests to get medical attention. When he didn’t get treatment, Merchant took matters into his own hands. He swallowed a razor blade, which triggered a medical emergency.  The prison transferred him to a local hospital.

In the hospital, he was diagnosed with severe sepsis and septic shock. Sepsis is an infection that has made it into the bloodstream and is traveling around the body. Septic shock happens when the body’s systems and organs become overloaded with the infection and start to shut down.

Merchant went from the emergency room into surgery. The doctor cut off his leg above the knee.  He also had to have surgery on his bowel because of the razor blade and underlying Crohn’s disease.

This happens Way Too Often

Folks end up in prison because they have done something wrong. The system is such that guards and healthcare providers that work in prisons become jaded. Many prison employees no longer see inmates as people who made a mistake and are paying their debt. Instead, the employees become apathetic and believe that every inmate is lying and trying to game the system. To some extent this is human nature and happens all the time in institutions.

When you couple human nature with companies that profit from providing medical care in prisons, many folks just don’t get the care that they deserve and the constitution requires. Our constitution doesn’t require A+ or B care, it only requires C- or D care and these private companies can’t even provide that.

DOES A PRISONER HAVE ANY RECOURSE?

If an incarcerated individual believes he did not get treated properly in the prison system, he can bring two types of claims. The first could be a civil rights claim for deliberate indifference under the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution. Deliberate indifference claims require conduct that is much more than negligence (prison medical malpractice). Actually, medical malpractice against a prisoner is a defense to a deliberate indifference claim. The second claim could be medical malpractice. This is a claim based on state law and the State’s medical malpractice statute will need to be followed.