In 1998 Degan's nose and jaw were broken in a fight with another prisoner while Degan was imprisoned at the West Tennessee Detention Facility in Macon. His jaw was supposed to remain wired shut for five to six weeks while it healed. Instead, CCA doctors refused to unwire his jaw. After more than ten weeks with his jaw wired shut, Degan began experiencing excruciating pain. Degan eventually removed the wires himself using a pair of nail clippers. The wires had been in place so long by that point that they were embedded in his gums.
Degan filed suit claiming that CCA's refusal to attend to his medical needs violated the Eighth Amendment. The jury agreed and found CCA liable for the incident. The jury awarded Degan $35,000 in compensatory damages and $200,000 in punitive damages.
In an unusual move, the jury entered a page long letter into the court record along with their verdict. The jury wrote that they hoped to send CCA a message that would "echo throughout the halls of your corporate offices as well as your corporate housing facilities.
"That message is that the medical needs of those you serve is a right not to be forgotten, omitted, lost, delayed or otherwise denied. This is a basic human right, as important as providing nourishment or shelter to those who are entrusted to your care."
Stuart Breakstone, the attorney who represented Degan, said he was pleased with the verdict as it was a reminder that "prisoners are people like anybody else."
Nashville based CCA had no comment on the jury's verdict or their message. It appears that juries readily draw a connection between profit driven private prison companies and denial of basic services such as medical care.
Source: The Tennessean
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