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Speeding got two Kansas City sisters pulled over in western Kansas. The marijuana they’d purchased in Colorado, just weeks after it became legal there, got them thrown in jail.

What’s unclear is why one of the sisters died Wednesday in the Sherman County, Kansas, jail.

This could be a diary about the fault of the war on drugs, the disaster of an ongoing desire to punish people for handling medical ailments as they see fit, and robbing the US economy.   But I wanted to really address this as a problem with the US Prison & Jail system - which thanks to funding cuts and less resources is putting more and more prisoners at risk.   The easy out is to say "they deserve it", but minor criminals - and those who are innocent until found otherwise - they don't deserve to have their life put at risk because we don't want to pay for proper services.

Sewell, a recent widow who had one son, died Wednesday at the Goodland Regional Medical Center. She and her sister, Joy Biggs, had been pulled over Monday by the Kansas Highway Patrol in Goodland, Kan., suspected of speeding. A trooper arrested them after finding a small amount of marijuana, relatives said.

The Sherman County Sheriff’s Office won’t be commenting until an investigation is completed.

It could be several days before the investigation, by Goodland police, is finished, said Goodland Police Chief Cliff Couch.

For about a decade, Sewell had been treated for hepatitis C, thyroid problems and fibromyalgia, said her younger brother, Rick Ray, of Kansas City. She was carrying several medications for the ailments, Ray said.

“She had some health problems but nothing that was life-threatening; it was under control,” he said.

But Ray said that jailers would not give Sewell her medications because she kept them in a daily pill container instead of the original bottles, and jailers were unable to identify the pills.

Unable to identify her drugs to treat ailment, they simply denied them.   But, can't most pharmacists and doctors identify many drugs?   Of course.

Sherman county isn't alone, though, in cutting resources to jails to provide adequate medical services.

The 8th Amendment guarantees people against cruel & unusual treatment.   But as cuts have come about, more Americans who run afoul of any law find themselves with odds that put them at a severe disadvantage.

The 2.3 million Americans currently being held in correctional facilities across the country suffer a much higher rate of serious and chronic illness than the general population does, a new report finds.
But even getting information on the current status is difficult.
Prisoners have a constitutional right to health care via the Eighth Amendment concerning cruel and unusual punishment, yet such services are often sorely lacking, the report's authors contend.

Good data on the subject is also lacking, Wilper added. He said that he filed two federal government freedom-of-information requests -- both of which were denied -- to review copies of an U.S. Surgeon General's report on prison health care.

In their study, the authors analyzed responses contained in two Bureau of Justice Statistics surveys: the 2002 Survey of Inmates in Local Jails and the 2004 Survey of Inmates in State and Federal Correctional Facilities.

"Of these roughly 2 million inmates, about 800,000 suffered from a chronic condition that generally requires medical attention: diabetes, hypertension, a prior heart attack or a previously diagnosed cancer, among a few other diagnoses," Wilper said.
"There's some alarming data that suggests that those [inmates] with chronic conditions don't get the care they need when incarcerated and that's Eighth-Amendment illegal," Blakely said. "The whole war on drugs has made a disaster of our judicial system and created a nightmare we can't control."

"Given the huge cost of incarceration, we're foolish not to ensure that inmates get the basic care that would allow them to have a better chance of rehabilitation," he continued. "This suggests the need for universal access to health care."

Jails have cut funds, and faced outsourcing.

Healthcare takes a big chunk of correctional budgets, so the market is potentially lucrative. For example, according to 2011-12 statistics from the Florida Department of Corrections, healthcare represented 19%, or $408.6 million, of its $2.1 billion budget—the largest line item after security and institutional operations. '


Correctional healthcare providers have a challenging patient population. Prisoners have higher rates of infectious disease, chronic conditions, mental illness, and alcohol and substance-abuse problems. Also, prison populations are getting older: Nearly 8% of inmates were 55 or older in 2011, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. A report by Human Rights Watch found that aging inmates incur costs that are nine times higher than those for younger inmates.

I can understand the social dislike of prisons.   In my life, I've put four people in prison for violent crimes.   And, my anger in many moments may have wanted bad things.   But as a society, our continual cuts and lack of adequate care.  The goal of prisons is part punishment, part rehabilitation.   But no party of it is to be cruel & unusual.

Last year, Kansas Governor Brownback veto'd the budget request by Kansas Prison & Jail authority, cutting their budget about 15%, below their minimum.

The Kansas corrections secretary pressed lawmakers Thursday to wipe out $1.1 million in budget cuts and embrace an investment strategy that delivers on the promise of a new state law designed to diminish recidivism and restrain soaring prison costs.
The director of prisons warned the public..
“We know what we need,” Roberts said. “I understand we only have so much money in the bank. I want to see our money spent wisely. You’ve got to spend some money sometimes to save money.”

Failure to stabilize the corrections budget will have detrimental consequences statewide, he said.

"It will impact not only our operations," the secretary said. "It will impact public safety."

It's easy to cut funding for people who don't have a voice, no matter what the warning.   But for the family of Brenda Sewell, there are no easy answers.  An arrest for holding less than an ounce of pot was enough to put her in jail and deny her proper medical care; attention to her care was delayed as prisons work on skeleton crews with lesser services.

Because this is austerity.   And a few lives here and there, a few violations of the 8th amendment don't seem to mean much.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (34+ / 0-)

    Gandhi's Seven Sins: Wealth without work; Pleasure without conscience; Knowledge without character; Commerce without morality; Science without humanity; Worship without sacrifice; Politics without principle

    by Chris Reeves on Wed Jan 29, 2014 at 10:02:13 AM PST

  •  Someone in CLE died from drug withdrawl; he was in (8+ / 0-)

    Jail for not paying child support. The county had to pay big for failure to provide adequate medical care & negligence. It's ok to do whatever because we cease being citizens once the evil criminal injustice system gets a hold of us. Hope the family sues the hell out of the police, city, county.

    The only important amendments are the first & second because evil rich people make money off of those. Can't make money off of human rights; that costs money.

    nosotros no somos estúpidos

    by a2nite on Wed Jan 29, 2014 at 10:19:44 AM PST

    •  However you treat the least of my people (5+ / 0-)

      I'm sure in a few days things will say 'well, it's a freak incident', but the denial of treatment and services is becoming common.

      The lack of resources.   Documented outbreaks of MRSA in Florida and Arizona, where all medical services have been outsourced.

      We are a country desperate to save money with by saving a few pennies today at an incredible cost tomorrow.   We save a few pennies not just at the cost of long term loss, but at the cost of what makes America what it is.

      But I guess it's a case for some to just say more people should be shot dead before they get to prison.

      Gandhi's Seven Sins: Wealth without work; Pleasure without conscience; Knowledge without character; Commerce without morality; Science without humanity; Worship without sacrifice; Politics without principle

      by Chris Reeves on Wed Jan 29, 2014 at 10:24:50 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  It is common practice (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    tmservo433, lina, rocksout

    to not allow inmates to take pills that are not in clearly labeled prescription bottles, not to mention- it's a REALLY bad idea.

    What if the pills were a poison of some kind? She takes them and dies- then the jail gets sued for allowing that to happen.  

    What if the pills weren't hers to begin with? She takes them, has an adverse reaction and dies.

    There are all sorts of reasons why allowing an inmate in your custody to take an unknown pill is a super bad idea.

    Jails don't (typically) have doctors and pharmacists on staff, they usually have an RN of some sort. If they are lucky, a PA.  Any emergency is handled by calling 911 and having the inmate transported to a hospital, under guard. If they pill isn't in a clearly marked bottle with that person's name on it, how would anyone (doctor or not) know if it's okay to take that pill? Sure, a doctor could identify the pill (so could a pharmacist) but how, without seeing the patients medical history, could they know if it was safe for the patient to take the pill?

    This was a tragic event- but even with a trillion dollar budget, there is little evidence this could have been avoided.

    Marijuana should be legal- if it were, the trooper would have had no reason to arrest.

    The tyranny of a prince in an oligarchy is not so dangerous to the public welfare as the apathy of a citizen in a democracy. -Charles de Montesquieu

    by dawgflyer13 on Wed Jan 29, 2014 at 10:34:37 AM PST

    •  Yes and no (8+ / 0-)

      In this case, I could understand them saying 'wait until we find out..'  A week goes by and she still hasn't taken meds?  Phone calls or assessments could quickly have fixed that.  A pharmacist could have helped.  

      There is  difference between saying 'she missed a dose' and saying 'she missed several days worth'.  

      All of these were options, provided that the jails had the right staffing, even if it just means someone to make phone calls to her doctors.  Or, aside from that, someone to get her to the hospital in a timely fashion rather then worry about getting another guard onsite because the jail is understaffed due to Brownback's budget cuts.

      Gandhi's Seven Sins: Wealth without work; Pleasure without conscience; Knowledge without character; Commerce without morality; Science without humanity; Worship without sacrifice; Politics without principle

      by Chris Reeves on Wed Jan 29, 2014 at 10:39:09 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I hear you (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        lina, HeyMikey

        and I don't want to nit pick the point too much


        It wasn't a week, it was a few days.  She was arrested Jan 20th and died on Jan 22- a few days later according to this article.  That's two days, tops.  Also, her brother says her illness weren't life threatening. If that's the case, why would she die from not taking her pills?

        She was vomiting on Tuesday and was taken to the emergency room that night when she started throwing up blood, but was sent back to the jail an hour later. - That's not the jail, that was the hospital.

        I am a fomer LEO who started off in the jail.  Too often people blame the jail officers for something that was beyond their control. I suspect that, when it all comes out, there was something else going on here, something unrelated to the pills or her illness.

        The tyranny of a prince in an oligarchy is not so dangerous to the public welfare as the apathy of a citizen in a democracy. -Charles de Montesquieu

        by dawgflyer13 on Wed Jan 29, 2014 at 10:53:49 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  There had to be something else (4+ / 0-)

          You do not die if you do not take medication for any of her ailments.  If they were treating the Hep c with ribivarin and pegelated interfereon it is not a good idea to skep but it is not fatal,  If she was vomiting blood something else was going on.

        •  I don't think anyone is blaming LEO.. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          I think LEO is put into an unbelievable position thanks to Austerity, which is why I brought it up as the diary title.   States like Kansas, Arizona, Florida have continuously cut funding to prisons and jails, meaning they have less resources.

          It's doubtful that she died thanks to missing these drugs.  And you're right on 3 days.   That said, this isn't really teh point of the diary to debate a single person's death.

          It is to highlight the fact that when needed, it's hard to get services because of lack of resources.   From all accounts, part of why her transport took a while was to make sure the facility was covered (had enough personell on hand) in order to arrange it.  This is in part thanks to staffing cutbacks statewide thanks to a 15% cut to the Department of Corrections in our state.

          Part of the reason many of these things happen - and were prevented in the past is that with the right amount of funding and adequate staff you can catch obscure problems before they become serious.

          It's also why, as I point out, you have increasing problems with communicable illness, failure to treat illness, etc.   The lack of staff, funding and resources makes all of those things far more likely and make the entire facility far less humane.

          Her death is a tragedy, and I'm sure we'll find out a lot of other things were going on.   But her odds of survival - no matter what the situation - would have been better had the facilities had the resources that governors like Brownback stripped of them.

          Gandhi's Seven Sins: Wealth without work; Pleasure without conscience; Knowledge without character; Commerce without morality; Science without humanity; Worship without sacrifice; Politics without principle

          by Chris Reeves on Wed Jan 29, 2014 at 11:16:26 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  I blame law enforcement. What is a state trooper (7+ / 0-)

            doing searching a car which is pulled over for speeding.

            Write the speeding ticket and let these citizens continue on their way.

            There is no reason for further action on the part of the state trooper. None.  

            Even less due to austerity -- they need to be out there patrolling the rest of the highways, instead of spending a huge amount of time on two women who may have been guilty of speeding (anyone been to western Kansas lately?).

            There are many abusive ways in which law enforcement obtains "permission" or "cause" to search vehicles. But the key word is abusive.

            This was an abuse of power at the beginning ... and all the way through.

            "The law is meant to be my servant and not my master, still less my torturer and my murderer." -- James Baldwin. July 11, 1966.

            by YucatanMan on Wed Jan 29, 2014 at 11:22:27 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  With the legalization in Colorado, apparently all (4+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              YucatanMan, RMForbes, OHdog, ladybug53

              border states have beefed up patrols looking for anyone they can pull over and check for pot possession.  It would be much better to have national legalization, but even then I'd bet there would be an effort made to arrest "pot heads" in spite of any legal possession.  

              •  I'm sure that is true. However, speeding is not (3+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                OHdog, ladybug53, Calamity Jean

                justification for a search.  Either probable cause or consent must exist. He was going too far from the start. The search was stepping over the line. Everything that follows from that is abuse resulting from abuse.


                "The law is meant to be my servant and not my master, still less my torturer and my murderer." -- James Baldwin. July 11, 1966.

                by YucatanMan on Wed Jan 29, 2014 at 02:01:35 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  There was likely more. (4+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  ColoTim, lina, tmservo433, YucatanMan

                  Betcha the trooper's report says something about odor of marijuana, red eyes, strange speech, acting nervous when subject of drugs was raised, etc. It may all be lies, but there's no way to prove that.

                  "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

                  by HeyMikey on Wed Jan 29, 2014 at 02:25:50 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  And that's just the point - police abuse of power (3+ / 0-)

                    has reached so far into our lives that they can do virtually anything to us. Are you familiar with civil forfeiture?

                    I'm sure the report says something. But what happened should not have happened. Never.  But it does every day, all over the country.

                    "The law is meant to be my servant and not my master, still less my torturer and my murderer." -- James Baldwin. July 11, 1966.

                    by YucatanMan on Wed Jan 29, 2014 at 06:21:42 PM PST

                    [ Parent ]

    •  With a trillion dollar budget, she would have (4+ / 0-)

      been interviewed by a medical professional when she was brought into jail. She would have explained to the professional what drugs she was taking -- quite possibly she would have been able to provide specific prescription/pharmacy information -- and the medical professional would have:

      a. confirmed the prescriptions.
      b. obtained the necessary medications
      c. ensured that the medications were provided to the inmate.

      the wellbeing -- including medical care -- of anyone being held by any institution against the person's will is 100% the obligation of that institution. if you can't afford to take care of them, you have no business putting them in a cell. period.

      too often, we hear about people who are tossed into a cell and then ignored for extended periods of time. it's outrageous and unacceptable.

      To put the torture behind us is, inevitably, to put it in front of us.

      by UntimelyRippd on Wed Jan 29, 2014 at 12:52:23 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  The article says SUSPECTED of speeding (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    OldDragon, Horace Boothroyd III

    You can get pulled over for that? I mean legally?

    "Onward through the fog!" - Oat Willie

    by rocksout on Wed Jan 29, 2014 at 11:31:47 AM PST

    •  You can contest the ticket (4+ / 0-)

      but if you're from out of state they know you probably won't bother to come back and go to court.

      It makes more sense if you think of it as legalized piracy.

      If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

      by Major Kong on Wed Jan 29, 2014 at 12:13:21 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  all pills have unique markings (4+ / 0-)

    With access to the internet anyone can identify the name and dose of any pill that has been ok'd by the FDA.  You don't have to be an MD, pharmacist, or RN to make the ID.  Just use Google.  Her death was inexcusable.

    Elizabeth Warren 2016!

    by windwardguy46 on Wed Jan 29, 2014 at 01:56:42 PM PST

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