What do you get when two bad systems combine?


There are two terrible systems in the US that I have been highlighting: health care and criminal justice. The first is more focused on squeezing money out of people to provide profits for the health insurance, pharmaceutical, and hospital industries, and for high salaries to executives and health care professionals than in serving the needs of people. The second is more focused on squeezing money out of taxpayers and the people caught in its web in order to provide revenue for the private prison industry and local police forces and government than in treating prisoners humanely in order to rehabilitate them. The investigative journalism outfit ProPublica reports on what happens when these two systems come together. As you might expect, the outcomes are not good.

In this report, it says that some sheriffs release sick inmates to avoid paying for their medical treatment and < hen re-arrest them when they have recovered. They highlighted the case of Michael Tidwell who was barely conscious when he was released, spent two days in a diabetic coma in an intensive care unit, and then was re-arrested. This practice is so common, it even has a name.

Tidwell had been on the receiving end of a practice referred to by many in law enforcement as a “medical bond.” Sheriffs across Alabama are increasingly deploying the tactic to avoid having to pay when inmates face medical emergencies or require expensive procedures — even ones that are necessary only because an inmate received inadequate care while incarcerated.

What’s more, once they recover, some inmates are quickly rearrested and booked back into the jail from which they were released.

Typically the process works like this: When an inmate awaiting trial is in a medical crisis, a sheriff or jail staffer requests that a judge allow him or her to be released on bond just before, or shortly after, the inmate is taken to a hospital. If the request is granted, the inmate typically signs the document granting the release.

They also report on another case about an inmate needed emergency medical help. The jail authorities’ first response was to ask if they had health insurance..

A 43-year-old inmate named Tracie Weaver had been vomiting for hours and her blood pressure was dangerously high, a dispatcher told then-jail administrator Arthur Ray Busby.

Weaver had been booked into the Washington County Jail a week prior and was awaiting trial on a charge of illegal possession of a credit or debit card.

The nearest hospital is only 1½ miles away, but Weaver remained in the jail as Busby directed staff to first figure out who would pay for her medical care.

At one point, Busby told the dispatcher to otherwise “wait on a county unit” to take Weaver to the hospital. Weaver was driven to the hospital later that evening in a sheriff’s office vehicle. By the following evening, she was dead. A state autopsy report said that she had suffered from a “massive cerebral hemorrhage” and that her cause of death was a “cerebrovascular accident,” the medical term for a stroke.

“From the point she began her stay in the Jail, fellow inmates who were familiar with her described her as physically and mentally weak and in distress,” the suit states. “She appeared underweight, ill, and unstable.”

Weaver’s health deteriorated further over the ensuing week as jail staff failed to provide her the medications she required, according to the lawsuit. Stringer, who denied wrongdoing in connection with her death, said that inmates in his jail have never been denied prescribed drugs.

“She suffered seizures and could barely talk. She suffered debilitating headaches and she cried constantly,” the lawsuit states. “One inmate described that she ‘wasn’t in reality.’ She could hardly eat on her own. She was drooling constantly.”

Weaver was eventually placed in solitary confinement, and a week after her booking, an inmate told jail staff that it appeared that Weaver was having a stroke, the lawsuit states. A guard went to her cell shortly afterward and told her that he was going to “knock the fuck out of her if she didn’t shut up,” threatened to pepper-spray her, then closed the door and walked away, the lawsuit said.

Local news reporting has been severely cutback because of the decline in newspaper revenues especially in the smaller markets. But such local reporting is essential for oversight of government. One of the things ProPublica does is to team up with local reporters to provide additional resources and make their stories, like the ones above, more widely known.