Jennifer Addison died at the Virginia Correctional Center for Women in March after asking for medical help several times. Brenda Dain, seen here, describes Jennifer as someone who was artistic but struggled with a lifelong drug addiction, at her Chesapeake home on Monday, Oct. 1, 2018. Brenda has been taking care of Jennifer Addison's daughter, Victoria Addison, not seen, since she was a baby.
Victoria, now 25, was born a few weeks after her mother was released from jail. Jennifer, meanwhile, went into rehab but left soon afterward to go back on the streets, a cycle she would never break.
“When I did get out I tried to do better and I did for awhile but I got dored(sic) with that life and went back to do what I knew the only way to live,” she wrote. “And that was prostitute and drugs.”
Dain said she understands and agrees that people who commit crimes should be punished and shouldn’t expect indulgences while they’re locked up.
“I don’t think they should have the luxuries of home,” she said. “But everybody deserves to have medical care.”
Jennifer likely had untreated mental illness, she said, but did not appear to have other chronic medical conditions.
“Jennifer did nothing to get (the) death penalty for,” Dain said. “But she got it.”
The Virginia Correctional Center for Women, where Addison died, houses almost 100 female inmates from Hampton Roads, about a quarter of the women from the region who are in state prison. It sits along the James River in Goochland, 15 minutes off Interstate 64.
Just 35 miles away lies the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women, once held up as DOC’s model facility.
Constant denials of medication, refusing requests to see a doctor and missed appointments for chronic care helped prompt a 2012 lawsuit against Fluvanna in federal court alleging a “systemic, pervasive and on-going” failure to meet minimum standards of inmate care.
In February 2016, Fluvanna prison officials and inmates finalized a settlement that installed a compliance monitor over the prison, which did not admit wrongdoing. The terms were designed to bring the level of care up to the bare minimum a state must provide for those it imprisons.
But more than two years later, the people who brought the lawsuit say Fluvanna officials have yet to meet that standard. This summer, they brought the DOC back to court, arguing that it has not complied with the settlement agreement.
“The women at the Fluvanna have been punished twice – once for their crimes and a second time by DOC's poor medical care,” Angela Ciolfi, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said at the trial in June, according to transcripts.
A Miami-based contractor, Armor Correctional Health Services, took over at Fluvanna in 2014, two years after the lawsuit was filed against the prison. Its contract was renewed in 2015 for $81.8 million, a bid that attorneys now argue Armor accepted “knowing it could not provide adequate services at that price.”
DOC officials waited for the situation to get better under Armor, with a compliance monitor watching closely. Soon the state started discussing taking over prisoner health care itself.
According to court documents, officials did step in earlier this year, but it’s unclear what role Armor still plays. The company’s contract is up this month, and the DOC did not respond to questions about whether it will be renewed.
”We do not have the resources to adequately address this settlement agreement,” Fluvanna’s then-Warden Jeffrey Dillman said in an internal letter from 2017, according to court documents. “...We are destined to fail.”
In addition to the federal lawsuit, a host of other legal challenges have been filed relating to DOC’s treatment of inmates.
Just last month a Suffolk family sued the department, alleging that Arlene Duke died in 2016 at Fluvanna after officials failed to provide her with sufficient medical care.
Another lawsuit claims that a mentally ill inmate at Red Onion State Prison in Wise County was housed in isolation for more than a decade, an allegation the state denies. Another charges that Virginia’s DOC does not adequately treat inmates – as much as 40 percent of the total state prison population – who have hepatitis C.
The department also came under scrutiny recently for announcing that it was banning women who visit its facilities from wearing tampons in an effort to prevent smuggling of contraband. The ban was put on hold a day later after women’s rights groups and several state delegates decried the policy in formal letters and on social media.
Ciolfi does not believe that any improvements made at Fluvanna in response to the federal lawsuit have carried over to the rest of Virginia’s prison system.
“We get correspondence from prisoners all over the state,” she said. “We hear about many of the same problems. It wouldn't surprise me if they are even worse in some other places. I think the state truly has not grappled with the consequences of locking so many people up for so long and the extraordinary cost – both the human cost and fiscal cost of what that means. I think there is a culture that this is the way that it is.”
At the heart of both the Fluvanna lawsuit and Addison’s death is a grievance system that determines who receives emergency medical care and when.
Once a prisoner asks in writing for help, the form is reviewed by prison staff, who accept or reject the request. Previously at Fluvanna, a prison guard, not a doctor or nurse, frequently made that decision.
“I think the system set in place for people to seek care has all been really designed to discourage people from seeking care and to encourage staff to find the quickest, least expensive way to get rid of the complaints,” Ciolfi told The Pilot. “I think it's designed that way and there’s a culture that supports it.”
DOC officials have resisted changes to the grievance system, she said.
“In order to be considered an emergency – and this is DOC policy – it has to be imminently life-threatening or in danger of loss of limb,” she said. “Basically, if it were a true emergency you probably wouldn't be able to fill out an emergency grievance.”
Still, the grievance policy changed at Fluvanna before the June trial in which inmates sued the DOC for alleged contempt of the consent agreement that had settled their previous lawsuit.
Dr. Robert Greifinger, former chief medical officer for the New York state prison system and an expert witness for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, testified that the DOC was working hard to fix the problem with grievances at Fluvanna. Now, a registered nurse must look over each form and someone must examine the inmate. An ombudsman also reviews the form.
But it remains unclear whether that system or the old one is being used elsewhere in Virginia – and which was in force when Addison pleaded for help in Goochland. Addison's request did appear to have been rejected by a registered nurse.
DOC officials did not respond to an emailed question about which system is used at Goochland.
Complaints about the old grievance system resurfaced during the trial.
Greifinger testified about a woman with a longstanding blood clotting disorder who could not get her medicine.
“She filed an emergency grievance saying why am I not getting my medicine, and their response was this does not meet the definition of an emergency,” he testified during the trial. “This is another example of the cynicism. … This is a woman who will develop blood clots if she doesn't take that medication. It is a life-threatening emergency not to get that medication.”
The next day, her leg was purple, warm and swollen – symptoms consistent with a blood clot. She was taken to the hospital, put back on her medications and discharged.
Ciolfi questions whether the improved grievance process at Fluvanna is sustainable.
“The legislature hasn’t been asked to increase funding. They’ve been asking the Department of Corrections to bring health care costs down" she said. "They only act when there's outside pressure. When their feet are held to the fire. It's really tragic that it takes that kind of pressure to move the needle on what they are obviously capable of doing. “
During the federal trial, held in the Western District of Virginia in Charlottesville, U.S. District Judge Norman K. Moon, in apparent frustration with the DOC, questioned the department's actions.
“It's sort of like they're – it's complaining,” Moon said of DOC officials, according to court transcripts. “It looks like somebody should have gone to the legislature three or four years ago and asked for the money. … It should be, you would think, just in the ordinary course of, we've got to care for these patients.”
Source : https://pilotonline.com/news/government/virginia/article_10cf75de-cc92-11e8-976c-97a5782cdd41.html
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