by Lynette Holloway
Lynette Holloway is a frequent contributor to The Root. The Chicago-based writer is a former New York Times reporter and associate editor for Ebony magazine.
Eighteen-year-old Aleshia Napier didn’t have to die the way that she did.
The troubled young African-American woman hanged herself with a bed sheet five years ago in solitary confinement while incarcerated at Broward Correctional Institution in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., her family’s lawyer, Randall Berg Jr., executive director of the Florida Justice Institute, told The Root. Dogged by omnipotent and omnipresent demons, she had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and clinical depression with psychotic features.
Her family recently settled a $500,000 lawsuit over her death with the Florida Department of Corrections as well as PHS Correctional Healthcare and MHM Services, the private companies contracted to provide medical and mental-health services, respectively, to inmates at the prison, Berg said.
“She was suicidal, and they did not provide her with mental-health services,” Berg said. “They took her off suicide watch and put her in solitary confinement. They put her in a cell with all the potential protrusions to help her commit suicide. They gave her a bed sheet instead of a shroud or tear-away clothes. The psychiatrist was deliberately indifferent to her mental health care needs.”
Napier’s family is not alone. Scores of inmates across the nation are suffering at the hands of medical and mental health care contractors in prisons, where substandard or no treatment at all is received, according to Berg and other prisoner-rights advocates. While this has been a common lament during the more than two decades since the private prison health care industry sprung up, advocates are finding evidence of mounting violence resulting from improper medical care, as well as deaths because providers are understaffed or doctors are under qualified for their positions.
All of this comes at a time when companies across the nation are tightening their belts during one of the most obstinate recessions in recent history.
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