What It Means to Believe Prisoners

May 9, 2016

On January 19, Matthew McCain died in his cell at North Carolina’s Durham County Detention Facility. According to reports from the sheriff’s office, which oversees the jail, twenty-nine-year-old McCain was found unresponsive at 5:30 AM and pronounced dead after jail staff and EMS responders attempted “life-saving measures.”

What was omitted from the report, however, was as important as what was included: McCain’s fellow inmates repeatedly tried to alert staff using the emergency buttons in their cells. Their calls were ignored.

Inmates have long complained of similar abuse at the Durham County Detention Facility (DCDF). In fact, after a previous stint in jail, McCain tried to sue the county, arguing that his diabetes and epilepsy medications were repeatedly withheld. (He couldn’t find a lawyer to take the case.) In addition to medical neglect, inmates say they endure unsanitary living conditions, inadequate nutrition, and inflated commissary costs.

Charges of mistreatment don’t just rest on inmate testimony. Last December two guards were fired for holding an inmate down and repeatedly punching her in the head. And, more germane to McCain’s case, the most recent North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services inspection deemed the DCDF’s medical plan “not in compliance with state rules.” Meanwhile, Correct Care Solutions (the jail’s for-profit medical care provider) is being sued by a family from nearby Forsyth County for refusing to provide an inmate’s medication, leading to another death.

Read the rest at Jacobin. And shout out to the Inside-Outside Alliance and the Jail Investigation Team for all their work.