Dying in prison
Grim report on HIV inmates is symptom of money woes
----- Original Message ----- 
From: Taoss - Sherry Swiney 
To: PATRICK Crusade 
Sent: Sunday, September 07, 2003 12:51 PM
Subject: [patrickcrusade] Dying in Prison

Dying in prison 

Grim report on HIV inmates is symptom of money woes 

09/01/03, Birmingham News

Alabama's prison spending ranks 50th in the nation. The state is also last in funding medical care for prisoners. 

That was the last paragraph of a story by News staff writer Carla Crowder about yet another report critical of the living conditions and the medical care provided inmates at the state prison that houses AIDS- and HIV-infected prisoners. It is the first paragraph in this editorial to help make crystal clear that the lack of money - and the resulting overcrowding and understaffing, which are problems that adversely affect every prison in Alabama - is at the root of what a federal class-action lawsuit says is egregious treatment. 

The report, issued last week, was in support of the lawsuit filed on behalf of inmates against the state Department of Corrections and NaphCare Inc., the company that provides medical care to inmates. It paints about as grim a picture imaginable of prison life in the AIDS unit at Limestone prison: 

Inmates housed in a cold, sheet-metal building where insects and spiders are rampant, aiding the spread of infections among a prison population with compromised immune systems. Bunk beds crammed closely together, also increasing the risk of infectious diseases. 

Then there were the horror stories: sick inmates dying of starvation; pneumonia going untreated; HIV-weakened inmates standing in long lines for pills they take on empty stomachs and then vomit. 

The kicker: Inmates are dying preventable deaths, the report says. 

Keep in mind that the report, by an infectious disease specialist from the University of Washington who visited Limestone earlier this year, was done for the attorneys suing the prison system. A gloomy report certainly helps the plaintiffs' case, as spokesmen for the prison system and NaphCare point out. NaphCare disputes some of the study's findings. 

But no one is arguing that conditions at Limestone are good. Naphcare, in fact, blames the condition of the prison facilities - an old warehouse - and Department of Corrections operations for many of the problems cited by the study. 

Overcrowding is another problem; Limestone houses more than twice as many prisoners as it was built to hold. The AIDS unit, where HIV-infected inmates are segregated from other prisoners, also exceeds capacity. 

It's a situation repeated throughout the prison system. In addition to the lawsuit over the treatment of AIDS and HIV patients at Limestone, the state is a defendant in two other cases over medical care of prisoners. Plus, prisons are under both federal and state court orders to remedy overcrowding. 

Chronic underfunding, coupled with wrongheaded "tough-on-crime" policies that packed prisons with nonviolent drug offenders, has come home to roost. The current state budget crisis - prisons need at least $126 million more next year than they received this year - means Alabama faces having to release thousands of inmates or risk having our prisons taken over by the federal government. The latter, according to state officials, could eventually cost the state up to $1 billion. 

The state can't afford either, another reason voters should approve Gov. Bob Riley's tax and accountability package.