DOJ: It’s long past time to CRIPA Mississippi.

These were collected from clippings saved by the guys at the Private Corrections Working Group. Obviously, there’s a pattern of medical neglect and institutional disregard for human life. The DOJ should already be in there investigating Mississippi’s health care for prisoners; if they aren’t yet, they’d best get on the ball before Jamie dies, because it would look really awful for Holder’s possible Supreme Court nomination to have her death on his head…

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Wexford Rap Sheet: Mississippi Department of Corrections

———————————-December 2, 2008 Clarion Ledger———————–

William Morris Byrd Jr. had been in and out of prison most of his life, but Charlotte Boyd, his sister, said he did not have to die there. Byrd, 53, died Nov. 21 after what Boyd described as months of wasting away at Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Pearl.

While the family is waiting for the autopsy, Boyd said the initial cause of death is Crohn’s Disease, a chronic but treatable inflammation of the digestive path that she said had blocked her brother’s esophagus. “He literally starved. We watched him turn into a skeleton,” she said. Byrd was serving a lengthy sentence for rape and was not eligible for parole until 2020. Boyd realizes her brother may not be a sympathetic figure to most, but after reading a story last week in The Clarion-Ledger, she said her brother may not be alone. “If they are doing him that way, they are going to let somebody else die, too,” she said. “Even a dog needs medical attention.”

Mississippi Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps said Byrd received appropriate medical care from the prison. “We provided timely, quality medical care for the inmate,” he said, “as we do for all of our inmates.”

 Mississippi’s per-capita death rate for prisoners has spiked in recent years. In 2001, the state’s death rate was at the national average, but in 2006 Mississippi’s inmate death rate was the second highest in the nation. In 2007, inmate deaths rose again. The majority of those deaths are from natural causes, and former inmates and family members of current inmates say medical care in the state’s prison system is inadequate.
 
Epps blames the higher death rate on several factors, including an increasingly aged prison population and generally unhealthy lifestyles that have made the state a leader in medical problems like heart disease and diabetes. Epps expressed confidence in MDOC’s medical contractor, Pittsburgh, Pa.-based Wexford Health Sources, but the Legislative Joint Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review last year released a report criticizing the prison system’s response to chronic-care issues.
 
PEER also found that Wexford’s medical staffing was not in compliance with the terms of its contract with the state. The report found 13 percent staffing shortages at the MDOC prisons in Pearl, Parchman and Leakesville. Officials at MDOC referred questions about current Wexford staffing levels to the contractor. Wexford did not return a telephone call Monday but last week referred questions to MDOC.

Senate Corrections Chairman Willie Simmons, D-Cleveland, said the increase in the prisoner death rate is worth keeping an eye on, but he said Epps’ explanation of the increase is plausible. It’s something lawmakers would want to pay attention to and monitor, “get a little more information on,” he said. “It didn’t come across as there was any kind of serious problem of neglect.”

But the rising number of deaths worries people like Diane Rowell, whose hypoglycemic son is in South Mississippi Correctional Facility serving a short sentence for a parole violation. She said her son has lost weight and complains of being tired. “It worries me. I cry a lot about it,” she said. “I know they broke the law, but they are still human beings.”

————————–November 23, 2008 Clarion Ledger————————-

Mississippi’s inmate mortality rate was second in the nation in 2006, the most recent year for which national data are available. And according to a review of state-level reports, Mississippi’s mortality rate rose in 2007.

It’s a situation that is raising legal concerns with lawmakers and moral questions with prison-reform advocates. Mississippi Department of Corrections officials say the high rate of in-custody deaths is the result of a number of factors: aging prisoners, drug and alcohol abuse prior to incarceration and the generally unhealthy lifestyles of Mississippians. But Patti Barber, executive director of the prison-reform group Mississippi CURE, said the state does a poor job of looking after the chronic health needs of inmates. “We are getting tons of letters from inmates, for instance, who have been diagnosed with diabetes. They are not getting their (blood) sugar checked daily, as they are supposed to,” she said. “Things just plain aren’t getting done.”
 
That is what the Mississippi Legislature’s Joint Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review found last December when it released a report on inmate health care. The PEER report found inmates did not receive timely medical treatment from MDOC’s medical contractor, Pittsburgh-based Wexford Health Sources, and that Wexford did not meet medical care standards set forth under its contract with the state. In addition, the PEER committee found Wexford did not adhere to its own standards in following up on inmates with chronic health problems.

Wexford, which took over inmate care in 2006, referred all questions to MDOC. Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps said he is satisfied with the contractor’s performance. Not maintaining suitable health care puts the state in greater legal liability, said Rep. Harvey Moss, D-Corinth, chairman of the PEER committee when the report on inmate health care was released. “We’re trying to keep the inmate care up and keep the state out of trouble from a lack-of-care standpoint,” he said.

A search of the federal court system found more than a dozen open lawsuits filed by inmates against MDOC on medical issues. A Clarion-Ledger analysis of inmate death data found the number of prisoners dying increased in 2003 and reaching its peak last year with 78 deaths. The system is projected to lose another 64 inmates this year, based on the rate of deaths. Mississippi is second only to Tennessee in per-capita deaths among inmates, based on the latest national data.

Five years earlier, the state ranked 23rd and was at the national average. “It alarms me very much,” Barber said of the inmate death rate. “We have to find out where this responsibility is falling between the cracks.”

————————January 14, 2008 Clarion Ledger——————————————-


A health-care company contracting with the Mississippi Department of Corrections has been lax about providing some inmates with timely medical treatment among other problems, a legislative oversight group says.
 
The Joint Legislative Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review also says the piecemeal contract with Wexford Health Services cost the state $1.1 million more than it would have for the same company’s turnkey model. The department is facing a shortfall of more than $19 million this year, some of that for overspending in medical costs, and PEER is recommending the state auditor investigate.

But Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps said the only issue he’s had with Wexford concerns the way the company keeps records. And, he said, PEER’s findings don’t take into account the savings the department has seen in medical costs throughout the years, despite the increasing number of sick and aging inmates it is holding.

Some lawmakers say they’re prepared to give the department a deficit appropriation. “I’m not trying to beat up on PEER,” Epps told The Clarion-Ledger. “All I’m saying is if you don’t deal with this stuff every day, you’re not comparing apples to apples.”

Issued to lawmakers last month, the PEER report reviews inmate medical expenses in fiscal year 2007, which began July 1, 2006 – the same day Wexford’s contract with the state began. The Pittsburgh-based company provides Corrections with only routine care, with the department handling specialty services and care for inmates referred to hospitals. A turnkey model was used previously in which another company provided services to all state institutions except the private prisons the department contracts with. Epps said the department switched from that model to keep costs down. “The medical care at the department is better than I’ve ever seen it, and I’ve been here 26 years,” Epps said.

But the PEER report said the current agreement is costing the department $1.1 million more than it would with Wexford’s turnkey model, and the department spent $2.8 million more than its appropriation in fiscal 2007. Spending more money isn’t earning the state better services either, the group says. The report indicates that during a five-month review period in the same fiscal year, Wexford was short on staff, and some employees without “proper credentials” provided medical care to inmates.

Also, PEER said many sick-call requests were not sorted by priority within 24 hours after they were submitted, which could have delayed treatment. Several deficiencies with the way medical records are stored were cited in the report as well, including no separation between physical- and mental-health records, which could affect the continuum of care.

 “These are people who have violated laws, but we are still responsible for their care and that’s just the way it is,” said Max Arinder, PEER’s executive director. “We need to get these things remedied, or it could lead to some legal problems.”