Death and Neglect at Rikers Island Women’s Jail
Eichelberger writes: "After Judy Jean Caquias died in Rikers Island custody last year, her youngest sister received a box from her old apartment with all of her personal belongings. Her whole life distilled into a pile of odds and ends: pictures of family, old papers from school, an iron on patch of a woman with a rainbow flag flying."
A view of buildings at the Rikers Island penitentiary complex in New York on May 17, 2011. (photo: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images)
fter Judy Jean Caquias died in Rikers Island custody last year, her youngest sister received a box from her old apartment with all of her personal belongings. Her whole life distilled into a pile of odds and ends: pictures of family, old papers from school, an iron on patch of a woman with a rainbow flag flying. Yankees memorabilia, an Obama sticker, a political flier: "Demand housing for the homeless." A program for a community play she’d been cast in, and on the cover, a picture of her as a sad clown holding an American flag. And photos of herself: a grainy selfie she took in her bedroom wearing a gray tank top and gold chain, with close cut gray hair and reading glasses. Another where she’s a little thinner, in a white baseball cap and gray hoodie, eyebrows raised and mouth slightly open as if she’s about to say something.
On May 6 of last year, Caquias who everyone knew as Jackie was incarcerated at Rikers on a years old warrant for having missed drug court dates. She was a tough lady at 61, according to the defense lawyer in her criminal case. But she had a history of liver disease, including a bout of Hep C, and in her 20s and 30s she had been addicted to heroin, which can also cause liver damage. Jackie had done time before on drug related charges but that was long ago. "She was very frightened of spending time in jail after all that time out," her former lawyer Ilissa Brownstein says.
On Jackie’s second day at the Rose M. Singer Center, the island’s only women’s facility, the medical clinic ran lab tests that showed Jackie’s liver was severely stressed. Blood work two weeks later showed the same. Yet the doctors at Rikers didn’t send Jackie to a gastroenterologist for a liver exam. Instead, they prescribed her Tylenol 3 and iron, both dangerous for people with liver problems. The Tylenol 3 was discontinued after a week, but even after medical staff ordered the iron be stopped, the pharmacy continued dispensing it. Less than a month after Jackie arrived at Rose M. Singer, her system began to fail. She grew disoriented and delusional, and began
replica ray ban sunglasses vomiting so severely that blood and bodily tissue came up all signs of acute liver failure. On June 25, 2014, after spending weeks in Elmhurst Hospital comatose and hooked up to machines, Jackie died. This according to a proposed amended notice of claim for a lawsuit to be filed this summer by her sister Daria Widing, and an analysis of health records by the medical expert hired for the case. The lawsuit, which will seek $20 million in damages, will charge that negligence by the City of New York contributed to Jackie’s death.
New York City’s chief medical examiner listed Jackie’s cause of death as "complications of upper gastrointestinal hemorrhage complicating hepatic cirrhosis due to Hepatitis C due to chronic substance abuse," according to the medical expert. The New York State Commission of Correction, which conducts inmate mortality reviews, determined that Jackie’s cause of death was natural, and the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), in charge of overseeing Rikers medical care, reviewed Jackie’s case and closed it shortly after her death.
Both DOHMH and Corizon, the private company that runs medical services at Rikers, say that privacy law prohibits them from commenting on the medical care of individuals. Corizon says it is "deeply saddened by any death."
I asked several former Rose M. Singer inmates if they had known Jackie. When I asked Namala Conteh, there was silence on the line. Then the memory filtered back: "Oh my god, the one that passed away? Oh my you just reopened my wound again. The crazy thing is I I mmmmmm, fuck. It’s crazy. That Oh my god."
Conteh was there at the clinic when Jackie was finally taken in. "They were so neglectful," she says of the staff. "They had that blood all over their hands."
Jackie’s death appears to fit a pattern; a series of health care related deaths alongside the never ending reports of brutality in the Rikers men’s jails have dominated headlines in recent months. Last year, the AP reported that poor medical care at Rikers had helped precipitate at least 15 inmate deaths over the past five years. After medical staff failed to treat a 59 year old inmate for constipation, he died of complications from an infected bowel. Another man went into a diabetic coma and died within two days of being incarcerated. According to a complaint filed by his family, a 19 year old boy who complained of chest pain for seven months was never given an X ray and died in 2013 from a tear in his aorta. The New York Times recently detailed another death, that of Bradley Ballard, an inmate with schizophrenia and diabetes who died after being locked in his cell for six days without medication or running water.
But "women prisoners often get overlooked," says Amy Fettig, a senior counsel at the ACLU’s National Prison Project. The island’s women’s jail, known as Rosie, is home to about 600 of the 11,000 inmates at Rikers. "In some facilities you might not see beat ups, but you’ll see the violence of not receiving appropriate health care," she says. Medical records, inmate complaint data, and interviews with current and former inmates bear this out.
Pharmaceutical errors like the ones that may have contributed to Jackie’s death aren’t uncommon at Rosie. Between July of last year and April 2015, the Legal Aid Society the largest provider of legal services to the city’s poor received complaints from 17 Rosie inmates who said their prescriptions had gone unfilled or their meds were discontinued for no apparent reason. Two Rosie inmates The Intercept spoke with described recent instances in which they received the wrong medication or the wrong dosage.
Last September, Kim Midyett went down to the clinic because she was feeling sweaty and shaky. According to medical records, her blood sugar had plummeted. Midyett told a doctor that earlier that morning, a nurse had injected her with 12 units of insulin instead of the prescribed six. That’s not a trivial error, says Dr. Josiah Rich, a prison health care expert at Brown University. "The wrong dose of insulin can kill you."
Virdie Emmanuel, who landed on Rikers in January 2014, has dark circles under her eyes, a sweet smile and a grand larceny conviction. Emmanuel’s health problems began at age 10, when her appendix ruptured. By 20, she had Crohn’s disease and says she "basically lived at Mount Sinai [Hospital] for weeks at a time." The diseases and disorders kept piling up. Now, on top of Crohn’s, the 41 year old has rheumatoid arthritis, hypertension, fibromyalgia, morbid obesity, anemia, asthma, PTSD, anxiety and depression, according to medical records. By 2013, Emmanuel says she was buried in hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of medical bills. She was arrested for and pleaded guilty to charging $1.3 million worth of personal expenses to her employer’s account. Emmanuel says it was to pay off her medical debt.
Once in jail, her health began to deteriorate further. Emmanuel takes about a dozen pills a day
discount ray bans to manage her conditions. Last winter, her prescription for Lyrica, a fibromyalgia drug, was allowed to lapse, causing her severe muscle pain and numbness.
cheap ray bans And she submitted complaints about receiving the wrong meds several times over the past year. In January, medical director Lisa Choleff admitted in a response to a complaint form Emmanuel had submitted that she had "received the wrong medication for several months, then when it was caught, medical did not prescribe it to her, yet pharmacy had been dispensing it to her."
After an inmate death in 2010, the New York State Commission of Correction ordered Corizon, which is the largest private correctional health care provider in the country, to evaluate why patients’ medications were often discontinued after admission. And in 2011, after another death, the commission demanded the company fix problems with its dispensation of psychotropic meds and review its pharmacists’ professional qualifications.
Corizon says its employees "work hard to provide our patients with appropriate care including providing all treatment and medication that is clinically indicated." And yet the company which services 345,000 inmates in 531 jails, prisons and detention facilities around the country has built itself a reputation for cutting costs and putting patients’ lives at risk. Corizon was reportedly sued 660 times for malpractice between 2008 and 2013, and has been implicated in class action lawsuits filed by the ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center. The company says its "patient population is highly litigious," and that the "existence of a suit is not necessarily indicative of quality of care or any wrongdoing."
New York City attempted to prevent the company from cutting corners when it hired Corizon’s corporate predecessor, Prison Health Services, in 2000. The city’s cost plus contract with the company keeps Corizon from skimping on lab tests or specialty care or prescriptions in order to jack up profits. And DOHMH provides heavy oversight of health care on the island.
But inmate medical care involves treating high volumes of very sick people in a grim and often can be hard for any jail health care operation. Since last fall, two Corizon staffers at Rikers have been arrested for smuggling contraband into the jail. In July 2010, a Rikers doctor was arrested for sexually abusing a female inmate. That same month, another doctor resigned over questions about the validity of his certification to provide medical care to inmates. And in 2000, before Corizon hired her, medical director Lisa Choleff had her license restricted for several years on a rare disciplinary action over charges of "gross negligence, gross incompetence and negligence, and incompetence on more than one occasion." She notes in her public profile at the New York State Department of Health that the disciplinary action "has now been resolved." She did not respond to a request for comment.
DOHMH notes that it conducts regular credentialing reviews of physicians and PAs. Corizon says its staff "have taken the same Hippocratic and nursing oaths as those in hospitals and medical facilities across the country."
The company emphasizes: "We consider it our mission to care for our patients as we would our own family." But at a recent city council hearing, Corizon’s chief medical officer, Dr. Calvin Johnson, was at a loss when a council member asked what specific reforms the company had recommended to improve care at Rikers in the wake of the recent string of deaths. Despite rephrasing the question six times, the council member never got a direct answer.
To get to Rikers, you have to wind your way to the top of Queens and then cross a long low bridge over Flushing Bay, which circles the island to the south. As Jackie crossed the bridge, she probably saw planes lifting off from LaGuardia for another coast or country rising over the wide bay, then over the mouth of the East River to the north of the island. She might have seen a diagonal of seagulls in the sky. She might have smelled the smell of the raw sewage overflow that empties into the bay after a rain before she headed toward the compound’s concentric fences and swirls of razor wire.
Jackie was arrested in Harlem last year while talking on the phone with her sister Daria Widing, waiting for a downtown bus. After a 2009 arrest for selling heroin, a judge had ordered Jackie to go to drug court, which required her to be free from painkillers. She was facing intense pain from an injured knee and back, and according to her former defense attorney, eventually decided to go back on her pain meds. A few months in, she started missing court dates and a warrant was issued. In May 2014, the police picked her up and Jackie was sentenced to jail.
Eighty four percent of women incarcerated nationwide are locked up for a nonviolent crimes. Most are
cheap ray bans poor. A disproportionate number are black or Hispanic.
Jackie grew up in the Washington Projects in Spanish Harlem in a big Catholic family. She was a teenager in the 1960s, a 20 something in the 1970s, and she was gay when being gay was fringe. So she fell in where she belonged. She was a hippie and did hippie things. She traveled the country. She used drugs. She did time here and there, usually on drug related charges. "She visited a great many states through their penal systems," Widing laughs.
And she became an activist. Jackie joined the Young Lords, a Puerto Rican nationalist group that worked on police brutality, education, health care and tenants’ rights. In the late’70s, she and some friends launched a crisis intervention service for teens called HOTLINE Cares.Articles Connexes：