The Dirty 30 | #7 - Denial and Death: Cutting Operational Costs Through Basic Medical Care

In 2013, Corrections Corporation of America is "celebrating" its thirtieth anniversary.  We believe there is nothing to celebrate about 30 years of profiting off of incarceration.  In response Grassroots Leadership and Public Safety and Justice Campaign published "The Dirty Thirty: Nothing to Celebrate About Thirty Years of Corrections Corporation of America," a list of thirty stories that exhibit the most troubling aspects of the company's history.  Each week we'll highlight one of these stories.  Click here to view the full report.  Printed copies are available in limited quanitity.  For more information please contact Kymberlie Quong Charles.

Over the course of its history, Corrections Corporation of America’s failure to provide adequate medical care to people in prisons has been called into question far too often. Rather than fulfilling its original promise of raising standards in corrections, the frequency of allegations of poor medical care belies the extent to which CCA shirks providing necessary medical attention in even the direst of situations.

CCA was hit with its first major lawsuit in 1988 when the company was accused of failing to provide adequate medical care to pregnant 23-year-old Rosalind Bradford. Bradford was held in CCA’s Silverdale facility in Tennessee, where she died from pregnancy complications. A shift supervisor later testified that Bradford had suffered in agony for at least twelve hours before staff agreed for her transferal to a hospital. The supervisor said in a deposition, “Rosalind Bradford died out there, in my opinion, of criminal neglect.”[1] CCA agreed to pay $100,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by her family.

Gross denial of medical care is exemplified by a federal lawsuit filed against CCA by Tamara Schlitters in March 2003, charging that prison officials refused to fill a prescription for her 26-year-old son Jeffrey Buller, resulting in his death at Colorado’s Kit Carson Correctional Center. Buller suffered from hereditary angioedema, causing his breathing passages to swell, but which could be controlled effectively with medication. Buller had been supplied with medication throughout his incarceration but in the last few weeks of his stay the supply ran out and, despite repeatedly pleading with CCA medical staff for a new prescription, no new supply was reordered. Buller died a day before he was supposed to be released. CCA settled the lawsuit out of court in 2004.[3]

Amongst a string of incidents across its centers, CCA settled a lawsuit of extreme medical negligence in 2004 over the death of Jonathan Magbie, a 27-year-old quadriplegic. Magbie died of respiratory failure just four days into a ten-day sentence at CCA’s Correctional Treatment Center in DC, where he was not provided with his diaphragmic ventilator.[4] In September 2006, Jose Lopez-Gregario committed suicide at Arizona’s Eloy Detention Center. Lopez-Gregario was on suicide watch, known to be despondent and had made medical requests to staff who failed to respond.

Even when CCA provides medical care, incidents of grave negligence have all too frequently demonstrated the absence of proper medical protocols. The death of Justin Sturgis, who swallowed multiple Ecstasy pills before being arrested and incarcerated in 2001, is a case in point. While grand jurors found no criminal liability in the death of the Bay County prisoner, they concluded that “serious deficiencies” by CCA personnel, including a nurse, contributed to his death. The jury’s presentment stated that, “correctional personnel failed to demonstrate adequate health training in responding to the level of distress evidenced by Justin Sturgis.”[5] The hearing found that medical protocols within the jail were inadequate and were not followed, while other prisoners reported that guards taunted and laughed at Sturgis for several hours before calling an ambulance, by which time it was too late to prevent his death.[6]

Whether it’s outright denial of care or insufficient medical protocols, these cases serve as a testament to CCA’s drastic efforts to cut operating costs and maximize profits at the expense of people’s lives.[7]

  1. Erica Bates, “Private Prisons,” The Nation, 1997.
  2. Federal Contractor Misconduct Database – POGO, “Tamara L. Schlitters vs. Corrections Corporation of America (Death at Kit Carson Correction Center),” March 24, 2003.
  3. Henri E. Cauvin, “D.C. Jail Stay Ends in Death For Quadriplegic Md. Man,” The Washington Post, October 1, 2004.
  4. News Herald, August 19, 2002. Cited in
  5. News Herald, July 12, 2002. Cited in
  6. Elizabeth Alexander, “Private Prisons and Health Care: The HMO from Hell,” in Andrew Coyle et al., eds., Capitalist Punishment: Prison Privatization & Human Rights, Atlanta: Clarity Press, 2003, pg. 67.