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Deplorable Delaware Prisoner Health Care; Another Prisoner Death Results

by David M. Reutter

Despite mainstream media pressure, public outcry, and a federal investigation, the Delaware Department of Corrections (DDOC) continues to keep its head in the sand about prisoner health care. Not surprisingly, it has resulted in another prisoner's death.

PLN reported the deplorable health care given to DDOC prisoners. See: PLN, Dec. 2005, pg 1. The Delaware Legislature, as we reported, refused to provide money to upgrade that care.

The latest DDOC prisoner death occurred at Young Correctional Institution (YCI). In the early morning hours on May 30, 2006, guards found Thomas J. Burns hanging in his cell. Burns had only been off suicide watch for a few hours.

Burns' saga began when police arrested him on a forgery arrant. When arrested, he was found at his sister's house in the midst of a suicide attempt, using pills and alcohol. He was taken to Christina Hospital, where he remained until taken to YCI.

Once at YCI, Burns, 56, was placed in a strip cell on suicide watch. Despite phone calls by mental health advocates to warn YCI that Burns would kill himself, a Correctional Medical Services counselor decided Burns could be removed from suicide watch. Within hours of being moved, Burns was found dead.

Initially, DDOC Commissioner Stan Taylor said, "The system did not fail Burns." Yet, YCI claimed to have no knowledge of Burns' earlier suicide attempt. That information was not available at that point in time.

In response to the federal investigation into health care services provided to DDOC prisoners, Delaware's Attorney General has hired a private attorney and his law firm to represent and advise the state in the federal investigation. Washington, D.C.-based attorney Michael Bromwich and his firm are charging Delaware $425 an hour.

Many think the money could be better spent. One could ask "why money has not been spent on an outside expert to evaluate the health care and see if improvements are needed," said Jules Epstien, associate professor at the Widener University of Law.

Perhaps, the answer is that privatized medical care is not the viable, money-saving alternative to providing prisoners with constitutional health services. For the prison industrial complex never concedes, it only circles the wagons.

Source: The News Journal

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