April 30, 2014 — We don’t believe the Kentucky State Penitentiary at Eddyville will end up on the list of the world’s worst prisons but the recently disclosed starvation death of an inmate there didn’t help anyone’s reputation.
Human rights groups and federal and state courts have constantly forced states and the U. S. Bureau of Prisons to be more humane in the treatment of inmates.
The shock wave that followed the death of a mentally ill prisoner at Eddyville no doubt will continue to reverberate throughout the Kentucky Department of Corrections and the administration of Gov. Steve Beshear.
It is apparent that medical neglect of James Kenneth Embry, 57, was the cause of his death from malnutrition.
Perhaps even more of a concern is that those directly responsible for the health of our prison inmates are employees of an out-of-state contractor and not the Department of Corrections.
An enterprising reporter from The Associated used the state’s Open Records Act to examine dozens of documents detailing the inmate’s paranoid, suicidal behavior and the multiple opportunities the medical staff had to intervene between Dec. 10 when Embry all but stopped eating or drinking and his death on Jan. 13.
Despite the prisoner’s request to resume taking anti-anxiety medicine, coupled with suicide threats and head banging on his cell door, the meds were refused.
A prison doctor overseeing the case has since been fired from his $164,554 position. He told the reporter that he had never met Embry.
Granted, prison inmates have used hunger strikes for years and the institution had protocols for such situations.
However, those protocols were ignored and the prisoner died in his cell.
Fortunately for the state, the dead inmate had no living relatives so a costly legal judgment or settlement likely won’t happen.
Regardless, those responsible for inmate health must be held accountable so that such a tragedy doesn’t recur.