« Spotlighting disconcerting comments after a disconcerting crime | Main | As summer ends, biggest US cities all still showing significant homicide declines »

September 24, 2023

Investigations of various prisons and jails reveal various unsettling stories

Recent days have brought a number of notable lengthy press investigations focused on a number of problems in a number of prisons and jails:

From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Hundreds of GA prison employees had a lucrative side hustle: They aided prisoners’ criminal schemes"

From the Kansas City Star, "Broken Government: Why are hundreds of Missourians stuck in jail, not treated for mental health issues?"

From NPR, "1 in 4 inmate deaths happens in the same federal prison. Why?"

UPDATE:  A bit more web surfing brought a few more notable recent pieces in this genre:

From the Anchorage Daily News, "‘Like a nursing home’: The realities of Alaska’s aging inmate population; More people are living out their final years in Alaska prisons — testing the balance between prison as punishment for serious crimes and the expensive realities of caring for infirm inmates."

From The Guardian, "US prison labor is cruel and pointless legalized slavery. I know first-hand"

From Set for Sentencing (podcast), "Bureau of Prisons (BOP) Means 'Backwards on Purpose'"

September 24, 2023 at 05:11 PM | Permalink


When I have more time, I will tell you about the Medical Director at FCI - Cumberland, Maryland (circa 2000 - 2001), who was from Africa and had attended an African medical school. He did not have a medical license and had failed the Maryland state licensing exam 3 times. Because Federal prisons are enclaves of Federal land and Federal jurisdiction (like D.C.), one need not have a state medical license to treat BOP inmates. The prison's dentist was offended that the BOP would let this man treat 1,600 inmates. The prison dentist was actually an oral surgeon, who also had a private practice in the community. He outed the medical director to the inmates, who began writing complaints about him not having a medical license. Ultimately, the BOP fired the Medical Director for using the letters {"M.D."] on his business cards, even though he didn't have a medical license. People who have never been an inmate or had a close relative who was an inmate would be shocked to find out about the BOP medical treatment of inmates. Because more than half of all inmates have abused their bodies with drugs and alcohol before coming to prison, the average inmate's body is 10 years older than his chronological age. I have a good friend who was a physician before going to Federal prison for 13.5 years. One a few occasions he saved the lives of other inmates by telling the prison doctor what the correct diagnosis was and how to treat the inmate. His written complaints against one incompetent BOP doctor led to an O.I.G. investigation and the prison doctor being fired.

Posted by: Jim Gormley | Sep 25, 2023 1:16:58 PM

One positive secret about BOP medical treatment of inmates is that the BOP employees a significant number of foreign trained physicians, who have not attended a U.S. residency program and don't have a medical license, as physician's assistants. Some of those foreigners had years of experience practicing medicine on their home countries, and they bring their knowledge and experience to treating inmates at an advanced level in prison. The other thing is that the foreign trained physician's assistants are more down to earth and less judgmental of their inmate-patients; they treat inmates like real people, as though they were patients in private practice on the street.

Posted by: Jim Gormley | Sep 25, 2023 7:52:46 PM

I recall a client recounting his experience with the 'dentist' employed full time at FCI Terminal Island who apparently suffered from 'Intermittent Explosive Disorder'. This was, according to the client, characterized by her loud, frequent and uncontrollable profanity-laced screaming/beratings, directed towards her two inmate assistants, as well as her inmate 'patients', and even towards correctional officers who happened to encounter her during their shifts.

It seems agencies such as the BOP have hiring practices based upon how unemployable a medical 'professional' may be. In another case, I recall a medical doctor who had lost his license for malpractice then being hired at a Central California hospital for the severly developmentally disabled. He was indicted for sexual abuse of a patient. A very sad case indeed.

Posted by: SG | Sep 25, 2023 11:16:37 PM

It has long befuddled me why the BOP can make convicted inmates (but not pretrial detainees) perform labor while not compensating them at all, or paying them a few dollars per month. One reason inmates should be paid at least minimum wage ($7.25 per hour) for their prison work is so they can pay their child support obligations, for children living in the "free world" with their mothers. Yet, if one does the legal research, there are several Federal court lawsuits where Judges have just refused to find that the Federal minimum wage statutes apply to inmates. And Congress has never stepped in to clarify this point. Like many Federal statutes, the Federal minimum wage statute contains a list of kinds of workers to whom it does not apply, and jail/ prison inmates are not on that list. There is a principle of statutory construction that says that when Congress has made a list of excluded parties, then the statute is presumed to include all classes that were not specifically excluded. Judges simply ignore the statute and fall back on that provision of the 14th Amendment that does away with slavery except for convicted felons. During my time in Federal prison, I was paid about $5 per month for sweeping up cigarette butts on the compound for 2 hours per night, 5 days per week. But then in 2006, the BOP commissaries quit selling cigarettes and snuff, so I had to find another menial job. I spent most of my time in the prison law library, doing legal research, writing and typing, to get men out of prison.

Posted by: Jim Gormley | Sep 26, 2023 11:43:26 AM

Thanks for noting the Alaska situation. The parole board has made less and less use of their ability to release people on any kind of parole. Alaska has had some version of medical parole for quite a few years, and it has almost never been granted.The article also points out the rapdily increasing expenses for medical care for people incarcerated in the state.

Posted by: Teri White Carns | Sep 26, 2023 5:04:57 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB