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Articles by Tara Herivel

Ill-Equipped: U.S. Prisons and Offenders with Mental Illness

Human Rights Watch, 2003, 215 pp.

Reviewed by Tara Herivel

[In the interests of full disclosure, the author of this review contributed to the following Human Rights Watch Report as a source, and this magazine contributed to the gathering of testimonials for the report.]

It is deplorable that this state ...

Wreaking Medical Mayhem in Washington Prisons

In 1993, prisoner Gertrude Barrow crawled to the clinic at the Washington Corrections Center for Women. Her peptic ulcer ruptured, Barrow's requests for treatment had been dismissed by health care staff who diagnosed her ulcer as a bad case of gas. When Barrow vomited on the clinic floor, a ...

A Foul Trend Emerges

An 1996, the Department of Labor and Industry (L&I) fined McNeil Island Corrections Center (MICC) over $13,000 for health and safety violations. L & I investigator Jeff Spann unearthed a pattern of inadequate training for health care staff, use of faulty medical equipment, and retaliation against staff who complained about MICC methods. MICC, a Washington State mens' prison, was cited for failure to supervise or train staff effectively, or to establish an effective accident prevention program. L & I's violation report ( Inspection number 115369852) concluded that MICC's methods created an unsafe working environment, where "supervisory refusals to take action" on health and safety issues reported by staff resulted in "serious accidents" and "near-miss incidents" for both prisoners and staff.

The incident that prompted the investigation was a lurid blood spill. On September 11, 1996, prisoner Joseph Daniels, who was being treated for an infection, went to sleep with an intravenous tube secured in his arm. The tube, also called a heparin lock, was three years past its expiration date. That night a custody officer found Daniels saturated in blood: about a quart of blood had spilled out of the deteriorated heparin lock. A nurse with twelve years experience said that it was the worst blood spill she had ever seen.

Investigators found that health care staff were aware of the expired heparin locks at least two months previous to the incident, but that nursing supervisors had disregarded requests from nursing staff for new stock. Former MICC nurse Sherry VanHorn informed Chief Nurse Pat Callahan that the heparin locks were expired and prone to leakage months prior to Daniels' blood spill. Callahan ignored VanHorn's concerns. And five days after the spill, management still made no effort to replace the supply, and questionable heparin locks were still in use. When an inspector asked to see a heparin lock in good condition shortly after the incident, management tried to hide several seriously deteriorated heparin locks still in packages.

Staff at MICC also repeatedly complained to management about lack of safety and health care training. Numerous employees were exposed to toxic chemotherapy agents; nurses were expected to handle potentially lethal chemotherapy waste and ordered by management to administer chemotherapy drugs without proper training or equipment.

Employees who complained to management at MICC were most often reprimanded, publicly embarrassed, or harassed. Chief Nurse Pat Callahan ...