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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.

http://www.kansascity.com/...

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.

http://health.usnews.com/...
"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.

http://www.modernhealthcare.com/...

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.

http://cjonline.com/...

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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