Two prison inmates have died at two separate facilities where inmates were participating in a national prison strike, and organizers say the deaths were preventable.
Charles Lee Johnson died Oct. 10 at Kinross Correctional Facility in Kincheloe, Mich., and his death is being investigated by police, BuzzFeed News reports. Last month, 400 Kinross inmates took part in a protest, and they have since added inadequate medical care to their list of grievances and corresponding demands.
In an email to the press, activists with the group Michigan Prison Abolition said that Johnson asked for medical attention, but medical staff did not arrive until approximately 15 minutes after he became unresponsive.
Michigan Department of Corrections spokesman Chris Gautz told the Detroit News that medical staff “raced in and began rendering aid” within minutes after Johnson’s bunkmates reported him appearing to have a medical issue.
“We called 911 right away and the ambulance and EMT were inside in a very short period and were able to get him into the ambulance and to a local hospital,” Gautz said. “The staff responded in a prompt and professional manner.”
A county medical examiner will determine the cause of death for Johnson, and the Michigan State Police are investigating.
Robert Deangelo Carter, an inmate at the Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, Ala., committed suicide in his cell Oct. 9.
According to the Free Alabama Movement, Carter had a long history of mental illness and had recently struck a deal with the warden to start taking his medication again if he was released back into general population.
Unfortunately, Carter was not released from solitary confinement. He reportedly requested to see the warden and a mental-health specialist, and eyewitnesses report that after officers ignored his requests, Carter told them he would kill himself if they did not let him out.
According to BuzzFeed News, organizers and former Alabama corrections officers have said that Carter’s death was partly a result of dangerous understaffing at Holman. They maintain that Carter would have received proper medication and adequate medical checks that could have prevented his death if the facility were properly staffed.
The Department of Justice announced earlier this month that it would begin an investigation into the conditions at Alabama men’s prisons.
The Southern Poverty Law Center is currently litigating a class action lawsuit on behalf of all inmates in the custody of Alabama Department of Corrections, alleging denial of medical and mental-health care. Lisa Graybill, the deputy legal director for criminal-justice reform at the SPLC, told BuzzFeed News that Alabama DOC has chronic and acute understaffing issues.
“They literally don’t have enough correctional officers to maintain facilities that are safe for inmates or guards,” Graybill said. “Prisoner advocates and constitutional-rights litigators have known for a long time that Alabama’s prison system has been teetering on the brink of total collapse.”