For more than a year, Atlanta-based freelance journalist and AHCJ member Max Blau investigated the troublesome health care delivery in jails across his state.
He filed records requests, conducted tough interviews and weaved together a series about his findings — all while reporting and writing other stories at the same time to pay his bills. Continue reading
Gary Harki of The Virginian-Pilot came to his team’s sweeping series on mental illness, death and U.S. jails by way of a single incident: a young man who died in jail from direct neglect and bureaucratic incompetence for the crime of stealing a zebra cake and a Mountain Dew from a local convenience store.
The young man, Jamycheal Mitchell, had both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and his death, Harki says, was “just appalling,” especially as Mitchell was supposed to have been transferred to a mental health care facility. That incident led Harki to wonder how often people like Mitchell met this fate in America’s jails. And from that, the “Jailed in Crisis” series was born. Continue reading
From time to time, the tabs in my web browser taunt me with the stories I’ve saved to read later. Fairly frequently, those stories have a theme, usually a subject that I’ve seen a spate of in-depth coverage on. Lately, those browser tabs have been filled with stories about health care in jails, a topic that also got some recent mentions on AHCJ’s electronic discussion list.
There are a lot of aspects to cover here: mental health, privatization, the money involved and the care decisions based on those budgets and, of course, the people affected by all of those decisions – inmates and their families. You might even think about reporting on the mental health of corrections officers. So, here are some stories I’ve been paying attention to and some resources to use as a jumping off point for your own reporting – which I hope you will send to me or post a link to in the comments.
In Modern Healthcare, Beth Kutscher writes about the privatization of jailhouse health care and critics’ questions about the quality of care and cost savings. Her story starts with a focus on Florida but points out that about 20 states have outsource all or part of their prison health care. Florida’s five-year contract for prison health care is $230 million. One expert “estimated that half of all state and local prisons and jails have outsourced healthcare services, and that these contracts are worth roughly $3 billion a year.”
Last month, ProPublica’s Christie Thompson compiled a list of reporting on mental illness in prisons that includes “the best deep-dive reporting on the mentally ill in U.S. prisons” and goes back to 2000. Continue reading
A number of medical professionals working for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections have “less-than-spotless pasts,” according to Oklahoman reporter Andrew Knittle.
Knittle’s report, based on public records, spotlights doctors and a physician’s assistant who have been disciplined for things that include substance abuse and sexual improprieties.
The executive director of the Oklahoma Board of Medical Licensure and Supervision points out that discipline doctors can have trouble finding a job and may find they can’t be network providers on insurance programs, so they turn to jobs working for the government:
Medical professionals with disciplinary records also work at the state Department of Veterans Affairs and medical facilities at Fort Sill, a federal installation.
The story includes links to the complaints mentioned in the article.
After years of failing to prevent preventable inmate deaths, the California Department of Corrections health system was placed under a federal receivership in 2005. Soon after, state officials claimed that the system had reached an “acceptable standard,” and that they were ready to take control back from the feds.
Over the course of a year, Southern California Public Radio’s Julie Small has been digging deep into the system to determine if it’s really as acceptable as the Schwarzenegger administration claims. You can see the whole series here. There are five main installments, four of which come with sidebars. Everything comes in text and audio with a little video and photo mixed in.
Chino Prison’s medical system from 89.3 KPCC on Vimeo.
ReportingOnHealth.org has a conversation with Small about the subject.
Hear Small talk about her reporting process and the difficulties of covering prison health with our friends at Reporting on Health, and check out this related Q and A.
Poynter’s Al Tompkins spotted a new U.S. Department of Justice report (PDF) on HIV in American prisons. Among other things, the report finds 22,000 HIV-positive inmates, a number which Tompkins points out may be even higher because fewer than half of American states test every inmate that comes through their doors. About 5,672 prisoners have confirmed AIDS, a disease whose complications killed 130 inmates in 2007, the most recent year for which numbers are available.
Here’s Tompkins quoting some particularly interesting numbers from DOJ:
The Justice Department said just three states account for 46 percent of all of the HIV cases in state prisons:
“Florida (3,626), New York (3,500) and Texas (2,450) reported the largest number of HIV/AIDS cases. While these three states account for 24 percent of the total state custody population, together they account for 46 percent of HIV/AIDS cases in state prison. New York continues to report large decreases (down 450) in the number of HIV/AIDS cases. Notable increases between 2007 and 2008 were in California (up 246), Missouri (up 169) and Florida (up 166).
The report breaks down how many HIV cases are in each state, by gender, how manyAIDS-related deaths were in each state and the circumstances under which inmates were tested.