From: Huffington Post, Feb 17th 2012
ALBION, Pa. — A former correctional officer from the Pennsylvania State Correctional Institution in Albion said he is not surprised by the recent death of Dennis Austin, an inmate who suffered from grossly infected bedsores.
“It’s happened before. This is a pattern that’s been ongoing,” Kevin Barwell, the retired correctional officer from SCI Albion, said in an interview with The Huffington Post. “[Austin’s death] is a direct result of negligence. They’re not doing their job.”
Austin, 48, had been diagnosed in July 2010 with lung and bone cancer. The inmate died on New Year’s Day. According to the Erie County Coroner, Lyle Cook, Austin died as a result of stage-four metastatic lung cancer.
Committed to the prison in 1991 for rape and kidnapping, Austin was serving a 28- to 57-year sentence.
Austin’s sister, Paula Thomas, of Erie, Pa., previously provided The Huffington Post with post-mortem photos of her brother that showed bedsores covering a large portion of his body. Thomas said the photos show serious neglect. “It’s awful. It’s just awful,” said Thomas, who suspects the bedsores caused or contributed to her brother’s death.
Barwell, 48, said he had worked at SCI Albion, a medium-security correctional facility located 30 miles southwest of Erie, for about 14 years. He retired in 2008.
“I’m not a disgruntled employee,” Barwell said. “I did not get terminated or anything. I took an early retirement for personal reasons. I left the right way. I have commendables on my employee evaluations. My only sore spot is how they treat people.”
Barwell did not know Dennis Austin, but said he is familiar with the infirmary at SCI Albion where Austin received treatment.
“We had one inmate who was in the infirmary who was paralyzed from the waist down,” he said. “He had bedsores right down to the bone on his buttocks. I saw them and I could actually smell the flesh. He needed [rolling] several times a day. [The inmate] eventually started talking to an attorney and threatened to file a lawsuit. After that they started to [turn him regularly].”
The retired correctional officer said it was not unusual to walk through the infirmary and smell “feces or rotting flesh.” He said the medical staff can get “extremely busy” and that it was not uncommon for things to “fall between the cracks.”
“You’re not going to get the same level of care in that infirmary that you’ll get in the hospital,” Barwell said.
Susan Bensinger, deputy press secretary for the state Department of Corrections, would not comment on Austin’s death — citing privacy laws and the recent request for an investigation — but did defend the prison’s medical facilities.
“We have an extensive medical [staff] from LPNs up to and including medical doctors,” Bensinger told The Huffington Post. “All of our institutions are accredited by the American Correction Association [and] the Department of Health. There are extensive checks and balances in place to ensure we are providing the [same] care […] they would receive in the community.”
The former guard has a different opinion and said the attitude of some individuals while he was employed there was that they did not care if inmates like Austin received proper medical treatment.
“The general consensus, and I can hear this ringing in my head, is ‘F–k it, he’s a child molester or a sex offender, so he can lay there and die for all I care,'” Barwell said. “Sure, stuff like that is said. I don’t know if it was said in Mr. Austin’s case, but it was said in the past.”
On Wednesday, former federal prosecutor Jeffrey Del Fuoco asked Erie County District Attorney Jack Daneri to conduct a formal investigation. Daneri has not returned multiple calls for comment this week from The Huffington Post.
Del Fuoco had an opportunity to speak with Barwell Thursday afternoon and sent a synopsis to Daneri.
“According to the witness, care managers at the infirmary (who have recently been seen on television picketing the facility in light of planned privatization) appear to harbor the attitude, ‘he’s f–kin’ dying anyway, he’s a dirtbag, let ’em lay there.’ The witness suggests that this managerial attitude has now permeated the entire staff’s viewpoint,” Del Fuoco wrote.
“[Barwell] relates that had a proper medico-legal investigation been done, this would have ‘opened up a whole Pandora’s box all the way up to the Superintendent,'” the synopsis continued.
Del Fuoco said he has yet to receive a response from Daneri. In regard to Barwell, the veteran attorney said he commends his “courage and integrity” for coming forward.
“It’s important for, in essence, whistleblowers like this guy to come forward in cases like this where many times what goes on inside an organization can only be verified by somebody with personal knowledge,” Del Fuoco said.
[please continue to read here, but there is a warning for the extremely shocking graphic photos!]