Magazine article Corrections Forum

Dispensing Medications

Magazine article Corrections Forum

Dispensing Medications

Article excerpt

Thereare a lot of incarc e r a t ed people in the U.S., and many of them require medications. According to Justice Department data, in 2012 there were more than 1,570,000 people in state and federal prisons, and more than a third of those inmates required medication for chronic conditions such as hypertension, asthma, arthritis, hepatitis and cervical cancer. When including jails, that number is closer to 2.3 million.

There have been lawsuits. In Prewitt v. Roos, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reviewed a case in which it was alleged that jail officials failed to administer pain medication following Prewitt's hand surgery, which he had undergone while incarcerated. He had received discharge instructions from the hospital. The Court rejected the defense that the officers in charge were following the jail's medication schedule rather than the doctor's.

In Benge v. Scalzo, plaintiffJoseph Benge filed a civil rights action claiming that when he was transferred from a state prison to a jail, he was not given the medications he had been prescribed for a psychological condition while in prison. The plaintiffwent for 423 days before being seen by a psychiatrist who pre- scribed similar medication and treatment that he had been receiving in the state facility.

In May 2014, a family filed a civil rights lawsuit against the Spokane County Jail over delays in providing mental health medication to their 19-year-old son, who was serving time for shooting bystanders with paintballs. Before his incarceration began, the man's father ordered the three medications the inmate took for bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Without these meds, says the man's father, his son suffers "horrific" anxiety and violent mood swings, and the medications are essential to his own and others' safety. When they arrived at the jail, the suit alleges, a corrections deputy refused to accept the medications.

There have been other claims against the facility in recent years. The family of Amanda Cook, who committed suicide while in custody, has also voiced frustration with the jail's delays in mental health treatment and denial of medication.

A 2014 lawsuit was filed against the Washington County Jail in Oregon by an inmate who claimed that workers failed to treat his schizophrenia, tuberculosis, anxiety, and other disorders. The complaint, which was filed in U.S. District Court, alleges that the plaintiff, Marco Antonio Jiminez Ramos, was forced to take the wrong medications, which has resulted in numerous additional health problems.

The list goes on, but there are avenues to comply with the law, protocol, and avoiding litigation. In a 2011 article called "The Main Areas of Inmate Litigation in the 21st Century" by Gerard Horgan, superintendent, Suffolk County House of Correction in Boston, noted that with the continued rise of inmates with mental illness landing in correctional facilities he recommended "A strong sick call practice and medical rounds in housing units will limit the possibility of a lawsuit on medical grounds. Inmates who are suicidal or ideate suicidal thoughts should be kept on special watch until they are cleared by mental health staff." He furthered, "Good communication between security staffand mental health can only help to keep inmates safe and staffout of court."

In the Department of Justice's National Institute of Correction's publication "Effective Prison Mental Health Services," the department notes that the distribution of medications in correctional facilities should be consistent with that in the community. That is, prescriptions should only be ordered after an adequate psychiatric evaluation dispensed only by licensed healthcare professionals. Inappropriate use includes excessive dosing with the intent to control an inmate or for population management. While that may seem self-evident, a lawsuit filed by the ACLU against East Mississippi Correctional Facility alleges that an inmate named Jermaine Dockery had his medication increased without first seeing a psychiatrist. …

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