Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Coronavirus COVID-19 in GCCC

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Clayton received a call from a good friend at Goose Creek Correctional Center (GCCC) on Saturday, April 25th, with grave news--an inmate at the facility had tested positive for Coronavirus (COVID-19) in H Mod and the entire housing unit was on lockdown. This was disturbing. Not only because of the obvious difficulties containing the spread of a virus in a crowded facility, but also because, due to budget related decisions, sanitation had already deteriorated severely at GCCC mere months before.

A History of Bad Health Practices

In early July, 2019, sanitation at GCCC became a major source of panic among prisoners and their families without the scare of a global pandemic. The prison had begun rationing cleaning supplies including basic hand soap, toilet paper and even the cleaners used for bathroom surfaces, needed to prevent the spread of infection and illness. This created a need for prisoners to self-purchase and even hoard items that were otherwise being withheld to achieve even basic cleanliness. With virulent communicable conditions like MRSA and Hepatitis frequently being placed into the population, the problem was a serious health risk not only to the inmates within the facility, but to the communities they returned to. The Allisons as well as other inmates and families were fighting for a return to normal institutional sanitation practices.

Then something amazing happened. Clayton’s appeal overturned his conviction, and he returned home to his family on September 4, 2019. This was an exciting time for his family, but the timing also provided a rare opportunity.

Months before, when Mrs. Allison had reached out to her local legislator--Representative Cathy Tilton--about the sanitation concerns as well as long-standing medical neglect within the facility, Rep. Tilton had helped schedule a conversation with the Commissioner and staff of DOC. Clayton returned home in time to attend the meeting in person, and explain in detail as an eyewitness to what was happening within the facility!

After the meeting, the Allison’s followed up with specifics on a second major concern--long-standing medical neglect. This neglect had specifically left inmates suffering severe symptoms of illness and infection for days or weeks before even being seen. Often illnesses were ignored until they resolved on their own when more suffering and spread would have been avoidable. Even when treated, inmates were provided little to no information about their condition or instruction on what they should do to help recovery. Both inmates with acute and chronic conditions were sometimes forced to go without prescribed essential medications. DOC staff reacted to this news as if it was something they had not heard before, yet the State had lost a lawsuit filed by a former Spring Creek inmate who suffers permanent paralysis from an untreated infection mere months before, and they had lost another suit like this years in the past.

The Allisons attended a follow up meeting to address both issues--which the Commissioner and the GCCC representative did not attend--where they were told by staff that the “issues had been resolved.” Yet, no concrete information was provided on HOW the issues had been resolved. On the issues of medical neglect and providing inmates with information about their own health status and treatment options, they were simply told that “staff had been talked to.” The response to the sanitation rationing was the same. The “issue has been corrected.” There were no details given on steps that had been taken, policy changes, employee training, or responses from facility management. It was a very hollow answer to a very serious danger to health and safety. The history of bad health practices clearly extends across multiple Alaska DOC facilities.

Enter Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Saturday’s news also came with details about what’s going on within the prison walls now. Visitation and volunteer programs at all Alaska prisons were suspended in March, but the families of inmates across the state knew that wouldn’t prevent the virus from getting into the facilities. The staff who work there go in and out every single day. The suspension of visitation and these support services (such as religious services and substance abuse treatment programs) has been extremely taxing over such a long period with no end in sight. To our knowledge, no distance delivered services or treatment options have been provided to prisoners. 

Mods (housing units) are being segregated from one another for recreation and meals, which is an incredible complication for both inmates and staff, making processes like meals take hours more than normal. However, as is illustrated by the COVID-19 crisis in prisons across the country, there is no way for inmates to social distance within their own mods so the infection can burn through the crowded population incredibly fast. It was also pointed out that the mods are still being mingled through inmate workers--such as kitchen workers. Inmates all come together to provide meals for the facility and work in tight quarters before returning home to their mods. This situation makes it nearly impossible to keep the mods from mingling.

DOC has also expressed that they are “adhering to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommendations for cleaning and disinfection during the COVID-19 response. Sufficient stocks of cleaning supplies are on hand, though not unlimited, and are being provided to inmates as needed.” We can only hope that since the discussions around sanitation in September and November, this is actually happening. One inmate working in environmental services (ES) has expressed major concern about the sanitation of the Special Management Unit (SMU) Mod. The SMU has become the new quarantine mod for segregating inmates that test positive or who are awaiting test results. Yet, the ES worker said that they were not being given any special cleaning supplies to use, and they were highly concerned about catching the illness themselves. This is another example of inmate workers navigating between one mod and another.

A fairly simple action that may limit person-to-person spread of the virus, is requiring the use of face masks. DOC told a local advocate for inmates that they “can also confirm that all inmates have each been issued at least one cloth face mask.” No doubt this looks different from one facility to another, but we now know how it is being facilitated at GCCC. Inmates are being hired into temporary positions--paid at a higher wage than normal to make the position attractive--and provided all the equipment and supplies to make face masks within the mods. We have been able to confirm that in at least one mod, inmates had each been provided with two masks.

Initially DOC stated, “It is the department’s expectation that DOC institutional staff wear cloth face masks while inside the facility. Incidents of specific staff refusing to wear face masks would be addressed by the appropriate supervisor.”

Yet, this is NOT happening at GCCC. As of the call last Saturday, staff were explaining to inmates that it was not mandatory for guards to wear face masks, although some of them do. As of yesterday, some mods were reporting that not a single guard was wearing one. The same advocate who followed up on the issue of face masks was told later that it is up to the direct supervisors whether or not staff are required to wear face masks. These staff travel from mod to mod throughout the facility daily--undoing the effectiveness of segregating the mods at a staff level as well as the mix occurring with inmate workers.

The current Superintendent at GCCC is Earl Houser, and concerns about the COVID-19 situation can be sent to him at earl.houser@alaska.gov

Awaiting Word From Our Loved Ones

All of this is incredibly stressful for the inmates and their loved ones on the outside. Inmates with health conditions or age that make them vulnerable to COVID-19 have little they can do but pray. Family and friends have to wait for letters and phone calls to know our loved ones are still okay. Even though Clayton is home--Praise Jesus!--he left many people he cares about behind. We care for them deeply and want to make sure they are safe and cared for like human beings. As DOC continues to resist the idea of reducing population in the prisons through options like electronic monitoring and early release, it emphasizes that the health and safety of us and our loved ones is not the priority. And the problem is not limited to us. The community is exposed as well by the daily comings and goings of staff and prisoners.

Please join with us to advocate for this critical issue. As one step, you can consider signing ACLU Alaska’s petition that the State take action to save lives, as another you can contact your legislator, and of course we know personally the power of prayer.

Monday, July 8, 2019

#VisitAPrison and Feel the HEAT

July 8, 2019

This will be a fairly short post, but a new health risk and humane treatment issue has arisen at Goose Creek Correctional Center (GCCC) due to the current heat wave. Please ask your legislators to #VisitAPrison and specifically request to tour the Administrative Segregation (AdSeg) unit as soon as possible!

Can't Take the HEAT

We've received word from inmates, family members and staff at the facility that the temperature inside the AdSeg unit at GCCC has been hovering at 95 degrees and higher for more than a week. Inmates and staff alike are suffering in the inhumane conditions! 

We all realize with the current heat wave in Alaska that many of our buildings are not built with air conditioning or air exchange systems capable of handling this type of weather. GCCC is no exception. 

If you discover that your home is heating to more than 95 degrees inside, you have options. You can go out to purchase an air conditioning unit (if you could find one) or fans to increase the air flow in your home. You could open the windows or go outside. You could choose to head to the lake, the pool, or a store you know has air conditioning. 

The corrections officers in AdSeg are having to work 12-hour shifts in the sweltering heat, right alongside the inmates. One described it as, "like working in hell." 

The inmates have it even worse. They are locked into an 8' by 10' cell, usually with another person, without any means of escaping or dealing with the conditions for 23-hours per day. They have the opportunity for one hour a day to go into a locked cage-like area for relief down to only what the temperature is outside. Family members are attending video visits with their loved ones in that area and their loved one is showing up completely drenched in sweat and visibly suffering. (They do not leave the housing unit for a video visit.) Keep in mind, some of these inmates are locked in there for punitive reasons, but some of them are also in there simply because they have been identified as needing protection and reclassified as "Protective Custody." Clayton himself was trapped in these conditions for weeks for that very reason. 

Invite Your Legislators to #VisitAPrison Today! 

It just so happens that today - July 8th - is the start of the #VisitAPrison challenge by FAMM, encouraging individuals to ask your legislators and policymakers to visit a prison and experience the conditions for themselves. Please take this opportunity to ask your own legislator to complete that challenge by visiting GCCC and asking to tour AdSeg and experience the heat themselves. These types of conditions are known in areas like Texas and other southern states to cause heat stroke and death in corrections officers and inmates alike. It is inhumane. Even if the temperatures cool in the coming days, DOC needs to have procedures in place to regulate the temperatures inside their facilities to humane ranges. This is how it is managed in those other states. Demand action and accountability! Inmates and corrections officers are human beings, and should be treated as such! 

Saturday, July 6, 2019

July 5 - Unsanitary Housing

Friday, July 5, 2019

There are lots of things we take for granted in the Western world and that we assume those maintaining institutions and public facilities do also. One of those things is basic sanitation. We take for granted that there will be toilet paper somewhere in the bathroom after we enter. We take for granted that someone will make sure there is soap available to wash our hands and prevent the spread of disease. We expect to be able to take a public shower at a pool or athletic facility without the risk of picking up serious communicable infections. Usually, we don’t even think about it.

Lately, at Goose Creek Correctional Center (GCCC) all of these assumptions have no longer been true. It’s a major health and safety hazard, not just to the inmates, but to every community across Alaska those inmates return to.

Rationing Sanitation

In the middle of May 2019, an announcement was posted for the housing units in GCCC in the form of two memos. The second memo appears to have a much earlier date, but they were posted together. (These memos are recreated, and do not reflect an exact copy.)

Memo #1 Content: 

To: Housing Staff & Inmate Population
From: Environmental Services
Through: Houser, Superintendent III


The institution has made changes to the way supplies from Environmental Services are issued to the mods [housing units]. Each mod’s core area supplies will be addressed in a separate memo. The mod officer will no longer need to place orders to Environmental Services for janitorial or cleaning supplies. Maximum levels of supplies will be set for each item. Environmental Services will check each mod’s supplies on Thursday mornings and resupply each mod Thursday afternoon to the maximum amount set. Each mod will be provided the maximum level of weekly supplies. Staff working in these mods and the inmate population will need to be conscientious about the amount of these supplies used and know that once they run out of an item, they will not receive a new supply until next Thursday. [emphasis added] All Environmental Services supplies will be secured in the supply closet within each mod. The officer will ensure that the items are being maintained and distributed according to this plan:
  • The mod officer will distribute toilet paper every Thursday night. Two rolls per inmate, per week.
  • One-gallon hand soap jugs will be used to fill the soap dispensers in the bathroom by a mod janitor once every three days. A one-gallon jug will fill all six dispensers. Inmates are not to use the soap for anything other than washing their hands.
  • To clean and sanitize a mod, inmates should use the purple A456 disinfectant cleaner (use to clean toilets, table tops, chairs, any surface) and the yellow peroxide cleaner (use to clean glass). The showers will still be cleaned once a week by Environmental Services with the foaming acid wash that kills major disease and bacteria. When mopping the floor in the mods, the neutral floor pellets will be used with only one pellet per full mop bucket. 
### End of Memo ###

Memo #2 Content:

Created on 11/22/2013
Please Post In All Mods

Maximum Levels for Mod Supply Storage
Yellow chemical gloves
4 (pairs)
Green scrub pads
10 (each)
Liquid hand soap
2 (each)
Neutral floor cleaner pellets
1 (each [container])
Large trash bags
4 (roll)
Inmate toilet paper
3 (case)
Medium disposable gloves
2 (box)
Large disposable gloves
3 (box)
Extra-large disposable gloves
3 (box)
Paper towel rolls
2 (roll)
Small trash bags
2 (roll)

### End of Memo ###

A Run on Toilet Paper

The result of these memos being posted was terribly predictable. If you tell a community that their bank is going to run out of money, you cause a phenomenon called “a run on the bank” where everyone panics and attempts to withdraw their money before it runs out. They don’t actually need that much money, but the fear of not having what they need causes people to hoard.

Added to the basic psychology of the problem, the announcement came at a time when the stomach flu was actively burning its way through the inmate population and staff. In posting that the toilet paper was at risk of running out, the prison ensured toilet paper’s new status as a valuable commodity. People began stealing, hoarding, and selling it almost immediately. Within a couple of days of the announcement, you could no longer find toilet paper or hand soap in the inmate bathrooms.

With limited options, inmates began using the showers to try and deal with the problem - which of course left the showers everyone has to use in an unsanitary condition that was worsened by cuts to other sanitation supplies. Formerly, inmate janitors were able to wash these shower floors daily with Comet cleanser. The Comet was no longer made available at the same time inmates were “wiping” their backsides after bowel movements with the showers. As stated, many of those inmates had the flu.

The facility issued two toilet paper rolls to each individual. That would seem to place the responsibility on each for their needs. However, with the flu in the mods, inmates with diarrhea or a head cold will obviously use tissue much more quickly. If not provided sufficient supply, they cannot take care of their basic sanitation needs, and needlessly increase the risk of infection to others. Even in normal circumstances, this policy has a serious flaw. It did nothing to protect inmates from having their supply stolen or “taxed” by other inmates. “Taxing” is a constant problem in all prisons where some inmates will force others to give them items of value with threats of violence or other punishment.

After weeks of this situation, we’ve heard that some inmates have been able to get a resupply of toilet paper before the next week starts by presenting the inner cardboard tube of their previous rolls to the corrections officer. However, we do not know if this reflects a change in policy, so we do not yet know if this has been instituted prison-wide. 

Skipping the Hand-Washing

Toilet paper is the most obvious and panic-inducing problem in the mix, but it’s far from being the only consideration. Hand soap is an equal health risk and an even more complicated issue to address. Two jugs of hand soap are not enough for 100-150 inmates in a housing unit to use for an entire week. Partially, this is due to the soap being used for other purposes as well.

For example, inmates who do not have enough income or help from family are restricted to indigent rations which include a singular, miniature bar of soap to use for their entire body. This soap is notorious for causing inmates to “shed their skin” or have other reactions, so some indigent inmates supplement it with the hand soap as well as using the hand soap for shampoo. Additionally, many inmates have personal dishes that have been purchased through the commissary such as a bowl, cup, or spoon. There has been no form of dish soap available on the commissary so most inmates have used the hand soap to clean them. Only in the last week, word went out that dish soap was now going to be available at GCCC through the inmate store - of course, only to those who can afford it.

As would be expected, a run on hand soap was also created by the announcement. Some inmates are able to bring bar soap to the bathrooms if they have enough money to purchase their own supply. Many, many others have simply been going more than one day a week with running their hands under tap water only, or with skipping hand-washing entirely. 

Sanitation Curbed on Multiple Fronts

Multiple other janitorial items have been cut as well, causing more complex problems. Previously, inmate janitors used Comet cleaner to clean the shower floors, bathroom floors, sinks and urinals every day. Obviously, this becomes more necessary when inmates are using the showers as an alternative to toilet paper.

Yet, the Comet cleaner is no longer provided at all. Janitors instead have turned to using the purple A456 disinfectant cleaner. This is the cleaner that inmates use to clean all hard surfaces including toilet seats, telephones, and handrails. Sadly, toilet seats are one of the most common places for inmates to pick up infections, including MRSA. The housing units are still being given the same amount of this cleaner as they were before, but with the new use in the daily cleaning of the bathroom common areas, there is no longer enough to make it through the week. (The disinfectant is not even good for this purpose, and leaves a purple residue behind.) Inmates are having to use telephones and toilet seats shared by those who have influenza and MRSA without anything available to disinfect them as they normally would.

Lastly, the housing units are now getting half the amount of packets used for creating cleansing water for use with the floor mops. Due to the reduced supply, janitors are saving and reusing old mop water when cleaning floors. 

Communicable Disease

Prisons are notorious for the communication of disease. Consider pathogens transmitted through bodily fluids and other infections spread by touch. In Clayton’s housing unit alone, we are aware of at least one inmate with Hepatitis B, one with HIV, and two with active outbreaks of MRSA infection. Since the new sanitation restrictions were implemented, one inmate was shocked and angered to learn that they’ve been diagnosed with Hepatitis A - a condition specifically communicated through exposure to contaminated water or food.

If any inmates with these types of conditions inside the facility are having to find alternatives to toilet paper, hand soap, and disinfectant cleanser it is a serious risk of communicating that infection to new people. The Center for Disease Control explains that MRSA alone can live on surfaces for “hours, days, or even weeks.”

In fact, the Federal Bureau of Prisons has a lot to say about sanitation measures that should be taken in prisons to prevent the spread of MRSA alone (Management of Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) Infections, April 2012):
“Regular hand washing should be emphasized as the most important intervention for preventing a MRSA outbreak. Emphasis should also be placed on the importance of inmates with skin infections being promptly referred for a medical evaluation.” (Pg. 9) “Adequate hand washing supplies for inmates diagnosed with MRSA, and for the staff who are in contact with them, is critical. The availability of these supplies should be regularly assessed and remedied as necessary.” (Pg. 10) “Sanitation measures used for primary prevention of MRSA infections should be strictly enforced. Prioritize the cleaning of rooms that are used to house inmates who are placed on contact precautions—with focus on cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces (e.g., bedrails, bedside commodes, bathroom fixtures in patient room, and door knobs). All rooms of infected inmates should be decontaminated (“terminally cleaned”) prior to occupancy by another inmate.” (Pg. 11)
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), in partnership with the Center for Disease Control (CDC), also has recommendations due to the risk to corrections officers and other staff (NIOSH FACT SHEET, Managers: Protect Correctional Staff from MRSA, January 2013):
“Handwashing is the most important way to stop the spread of staph/ MRSA. (It also reduces the flu.) Encourage staff and inmates to wash their hands frequently. Place liquid soap dispensers by all communal sinks used by staff or inmates. It is important that hands are dried with a towel (either paper or individual-use cloth).” (Pg. 2)
“Encourage inmates to shower daily and wash their hands frequently. Tell inmates not to share soap or towels with other inmates. Inmates should put on clean clothes often, preferably daily. Inmates should shower after vigorous exercise or heavy sweating”. (Pg. 2)
“Facility Cleaning: Depending on conditions, MRSA can survive on some surfaces for hours, days, or months. That is why cleaning is so important. Keep surfaces that are frequently touched clean. Do not forget about shower handles, faucets, toilets, doorknobs, banisters, exercise equipment, and other surfaces that come into contact with bare skin. Use cleaners or detergents to remove dust and dirt. Sanitizers reduce but do not eliminate germs on surfaces. EPA-registered disinfectants kill germs.” (Pg. 2)
“Taking steps to prevent infections among inmates and staff should save money compared to treating them. Miami-Dade County Corrections implemented an infection control plan in 2007, reducing occupational infections and saving over $93,000 in workers’ compensation costs from 2007 through 2010.* (Pg. 1, *Miami-Dade Corrections and Rehabilitation Department Infectious Disease Group. Miami-Dade Corrections and Rehabilitation 2010 Annual Progress Report of the Infectious Disease Group)
“Releasing Infected Inmates: If inmates are released while infected, provide them with the remainder of their medications whenever possible and instructions to take all the pills. Also provide information on wound care and how to keep the infection from spreading to household contacts.” (Pg. 4)

One study suggests that prisons may be one of the primary sources of MRSA infections in U.S. communities (The Rise of Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus in U.S. Correctional Populations, May 2011):
“Correctional populations may be an important source for CA-MRSA transmission because of the presence of numerous risk factors for MRSA infection and colonization. The United States has the second highest rate of incarceration in the world (1 per 136 adults in 2005) and this rate has grown 300% since 1980. Each year about 10 million people are processed in the U.S. correctional system and nearly 600,000 state prison inmates are released into the community annually. More than 2.5 million adults are incarcerated in U.S. correctional facilities (Aiello et al., 2006; U.S. Department of Justice, 2008). The correctional system may therefore be an important reservoir of MRSA colonization and infection in the community.”
To our knowledge, DOC does not actively assist inmates in being screened for disease before they are released back into their communities, and may ignore the outbreaks it does identify. If you are unfamiliar with DOC’s history of medical neglect, check out our earlier blog post and this ADN article on “a lawsuit filed by a former Alaska inmate who suffered paralysis from an untreated infection, despite days of repeated pleas to prison officials for help.

This Problem Was Created

In any environment, these conditions would be cause for major concern. In a prison setting, however, the affected human beings are forced to live in these conditions with little to no transparency to the outside world. Inmate families and friends are not allowed to report such inhumane treatment and public safety risks to the state Ombudsman because they are not being “personally impacted.” Yet, for a personally impacted inmate to report to the same organization, they must first complete a multi-level paperwork process within the prison that usually takes weeks if not months to complete. Thus, such blatant health and safety violations are rarely reported or corrected.

It is essential to keep in mind that before the release of the May memos, none of these basic sanitation issues existed. Inmates assumed - just like we do - that when the toilet paper, hand soap, and disinfectants ran out, someone would replace them. Toilet paper and hand soap were not valuable items, more readily available to inmates with money than those who were poor. Inmates had at least the comfort of knowing that their showers were being cleaned daily instead of weekly. Knowing the constant risk of spreading infections in prisons, they could proactively protect themselves by cleaning off the toilet or the telephone before each use.

This crisis is a direct result of the actions of DOC and GCCC. It is inexcusable and creates a risk not only for the inmates but for prison staff, prisoners’ families, and home communities as well. Sanitation is not a privilege. It is a necessity that protects us all.

Photo by hermaion from Pexels

Monday, June 17, 2019

June 14 - Father’s Day Event Cancelled

Monday, June 17, 2019

On Wednesday morning, June 12, 2019, Clayton’s wife awoke to terrible news. Clayton called to say a major family event at Goose Creek Correctional Center (GCCC) - the annual Father’s Day event - was being canceled with less than 48 hours of notice. No matter what, the disappointment to the inmates who had earned approval and their families would be crushing. To make matters worse, the insufficient notification window practically ensured that many families would not receive word about the cancellation before arriving for the event with their loved ones and excited children. Many would have come the two hours from Anchorage, but those families from rural Alaska and out of state would have spent the money and time to come much further. Father’s Day is one of only three special visitation events a year where extra security measures are in place so that families can spend more than an hour with their loved one and the only one minors are able to attend.

Originally inmates were told the event had been canceled by the Governor’s office. It took until late that day to reach someone from the Governor’s staff, and a response was received late the day after that the decision had actually been made by the Commissioner of DOC, Nancy Dahlstrom.

As soon as she got word Wednesday morning, Clayton’s wife immediately notified his family members who had been approved to attend and then set about spreading the word in every way that she could. The night before the event, the cancellation was covered by both KTUU (TV) and KSKA (radio). It was her hope that family members who had not yet heard the news might see the coverage before showing up the next morning. She also hoped to raise understanding about the importance of events of this nature and the impact of cancellations like this on families; especially when the cancellation is so close to the event without any attempt by DOC to notify approved visitors other than notifying the inmates themselves.

Not Enough Advanced Notice

Among inmate families, Clayton’s family has a highly unusual level of communication with him. His wife and other family members can visit regularly because they live only about an hour from the facility. Most other families, however, have to travel much larger distances (the drive from Anchorage alone is two hours each way) and have to absorb the costs of transportation. For some, that is the cost of gas and mileage on their vehicle, for others, it involves plane tickets from rural Alaska or even from outside. Due to this, some very fortunate and determined families visit as often as once a week, where others with higher costs and travel burdens may visit once per year or less.

Most of the households in Clayton’s family also have a Securus account that they pay for which allows Clayton to call them. The cost is exorbitant. Even local phone calls now cost $1 per 15-minute call due to an agreement between Alaska’s DOC and Securus which places the burden of security costs directly and intentionally onto families while providing kickbacks and rewards to DOC. Many families cannot afford this cost. Even a family that does have Securus may miss the call when it comes. If so, there is no way for the inmate to leave a message and no way for the family to call back. All this means many, many inmates in the facility are restricted to reaching their families with news and important information by mail instead.

The combination of these factors ensures that short-notice announcements are not able to be communicated to families in a timely manner, especially when DOC makes no effort to notify the approved visitors. We were not there when families would have arrived for the event, but are aware of at least one family that came from out of state, expecting to participate in the festivities. Visitation staff worked diligently that day to try and afford those affected who traveled great distances with slightly longer visitation periods according to procedure (two hours instead of one), but it was too late to save these families the expense of the trip. 

The Importance of Family Events

Inmate families are exploited by the corrections system in the United States and are typically underrepresented to their governments. Families have to pay for everything from visitation costs, to constant commissary needs (for medical items and allergy needs not provided for by the facility), to the extreme costs of phone calls through Securus. In addition, these individuals are commonly treated in their communities with disdain or even violence and threats of violence, as is described in more detail in our post about Prejudice Inside and Out.

Yet, maintaining the connection between inmates and their families is essential to communities. “Studies have consistently found that prisoners who maintain close contact with their family members while incarcerated have better post-release outcomes and lower recidivism rates.” (Prison Legal News, 2014) Fostering and strengthening these connections should be one of the highest priorities of Alaska’s DOC. Their mission statement says, “The Alaska Department of Corrections provides secure confinement, reformative programs, and a process of supervised community reintegration to enhance the safety of our communities.” Releasing inmates who have been severed from all community and family ties is setting up the inmates and the communities themselves for failure and further trauma.

Events like the Summer Festival and Father’s Day provide a supervised and secure, but also outdoor and more natural environment for loved ones to come together. They can feel like a real family without the extreme institutional environment of daily visitation. They have the opportunity to eat a meal together, play bean-bag toss games, listen to music, and walk and talk surrounded by nature. (Click here for a more detailed description from our post about the Summer Festival in 2017.) Family members can get a huge boost to endurance for their wait, and inmates get a critical reminder of what real life on the outside is like.

“It’s hard sometimes to remember that everything that happens in here isn’t real,” Clayton told his family. “The rules, the politics, and the way everything is done is so foreign to daily life outside of this place. It gets hard to remember when you live and breathe those expectations every day.” 

DOC’s Explanation vs. Visitor Experiences

According to KTUU, “A Department of Corrections spokesperson told Channel 2 that the decision to cancel the event came after misconduct by inmates and guests involving contraband at a cultural event last Friday.” (The event being referenced was the 2019 Cultural/Summer Festival the week before.)

This news was very interesting to family members who attended the earlier event and noted bizarre changes in security that day compared to previous years, specifically:

  • A drug dog is normally observed at these events as visitors come in and later as inmates return to the inside of the facility. We’ve been told that a drug dog was present that day, yet neither Clayton nor his guests ever saw one in any of the normal places.
  • Staff are usually placed at the front gate to warn visitors that their vehicles are subject to search when on prison grounds for the event. If they do not wish to submit to such a search, they have to leave. People have turned around and left in previous years, but this year no one provided the standard warning.
  • In prior years, administrators on site from both DOC and the facility made a much-appreciated effort to be present and available for inmates and families to speak with. This year, they were mostly absent and noticeably more hurried in the short periods they did appear.
  • Corrections officers normally man the tops of the buildings and the watchtowers in a very obvious way, surveying all that goes on during the event. This year, none were observed in those elevated locations.
  • Perhaps the most bizarre of all, a very standard route is always used to bring visitors into the back ballfield area for events. The route skirts the outside of the prison yard and leads families into the ballfield by an outside gate. This year even though the bus, as usual, stopped at the external gate, visitors were brought through the inner prison yard to access the field. Clayton’s family never imagined they would ever set foot in the prison yard, and many visitors commented on it as they were brought through.

Obvious deviations from normal procedure were noted from the inmate side as well:
  • GCCC has at least two body scanners which are utilized at the facility to check inmates for contraband. These scanners are similar to those used by TSA, and actually allow corrections officers to identify if someone has hidden contraband inside their bodies as well as within their clothes. Normally, it takes a significant period of time for the inmates to be processed back into the prison after an event, because they are all scanned and searched. Yet this year, after the event, multiple inmates discussed that they and others around them had not been scanned back in.
  • Some inmates observed that equipment utilized at the event, which is always checked for contraband, had not been inspected this year during takedown.

DOC is now telling the press that not only was the Father’s Day event canceled, but all special visitation events of this nature are on hold indefinitely. The reason provided is “misconduct by inmates and guests involving contraband” at the earlier event. Security at that event appeared to be dramatically more lax than what families and inmates are used to seeing. So, it leaves us with the distinct impression that we are being punished for a lapse in security beyond our control when the prison has proven for years that security can be successfully maintained with proper measures.

Additional Information to Consider

Since the time of the event, we have heard a scenario of what was happening the day of the security breach that we have no way to confirm but seems to fit what the family observed enough that we think it may have validity.

We have heard that GCCC had been warned that a specific visitor would be bringing a large drug drop into the event. Instead of denying the visitor (mule) access to the facility, we’ve heard the event was turned into a sting by officials. Troopers were supposedly present. The mule was said to have shown up for the event already under the influence (a state in which a visitor would normally automatically be turned away), but when staff questioned whether to allow them entrance, they were given clearance to do so at a higher level than the facility. Then, despite knowingly allowing this person entry, the drop was made successfully and the mule left without being caught.

We have heard that a housing unit was searched immediately after the event because the staff already suspected they hadn’t stopped the drug drop, and the housing unit had more than a dozen inmates fail drug urinalysis even before the event had taken place. In the search after the event, a very large amount of various types of drugs were discovered and removed, and more inmates were screened and failed drug urinalysis than ever before at the facility. Now, inmates are also failing screenings in other housing units as well. However, with failed screenings occurring both before and after the event, it is likely that at least some of the drugs discovered were in the prison before the event.

We want to emphasize that we do not know that any of this scenario is true. We wonder, however, if a sting going on might be why we observed that obvious normal security measures were not in place during the event, and why we were led through the prison yard, where perhaps there are more cameras than the normal route. However, this scenario fails to explain how the drop could still be made, or why inmates and equipment that are always scanned and inspected after these events were allowed back into the inner facility without scans or inspections. It seems like something that should be investigated. 

Families Paying the Price

If the sting scenario is untrue, then families and inmates are still being penalized for newly lax security, which we had no control over. If the drug dog was there, where was it? Why was it never seen? Why were there no corrections officers on the roofs? GCCC staff have a proven track record of being able to maintain safety and security at events like this when conducting security by the normal means. The individual(s) who introduced the drugs do not represent the vast majority of inmate families.

If the scenario or something like it is true, then security was knowingly allowed to be compromised to achieve some goal of law enforcement. Normal security would have prevented the drugs from getting through. We have personally witnessed the visitation staff intercepting contraband and turning away visitors according to security policies on dozens of occasions. They are diligent and very good at what they do.

The new DOC Commissioner claims to prioritize health and safety at the facilities while making contraband interception a priority. Yet, she herself shut down the Professional Conduct Unit (PCU) within DOC as her very first act in office. The PCU specifically investigated allegations of staff misconduct, including assisting in the introduction of contraband. One corrections officer at the facility was intercepted doing exactly that. The Commissioner claims that the PCU is unneeded because the Alaska State Troopers can and will handle these issues, but this claim is ludicrous when compared against the actual events in the report, Alaska Department of Corrections: An Administrative Review (Nov. 2015). This investigation discovered that, in cases as extreme as inmate deaths, troopers neglected to interview witnesses, watch security footage, or collect evidence. We shouldn’t allow people to get away with crimes simply because they’re State of Alaska staff.

Families should not be punished because DOC mismanaged an event. These events are vital to the well-being of families and happen very infrequently. The Father’s Day Event that allows the participation of children only happens once a year. The staff at GCCC do their jobs well and have proven for years that these events can be conducted safely and securely.

While much of what you see posted to this blog is in response to serious issues that have occurred at the facility, the overall conditions and culture of the facility had radically improved. Until very recently, and largely in relation to the shift in DOC’s higher-level administration, we had very little negative issues to report. In more peaceful periods, we are forced to hold back much of our positive feedback due to fear of retaliation against the many, MANY wonderful corrections officers at GCCC who make visitation and daily life at GCCC more peaceful and secure for families and inmates alike. Unfortunately, we’ve been informed that a good word from us can be just as harmful to the staff as when we expose those intentionally causing harm. We hope that those we interact with each day know how much we appreciate their kindness and hard work. To any of the corrections officers who read this blog, and strive to treat inmates and their families with compassion in your daily stress-filled job - Thank you. Sincerely. Life is so much more difficult without people like you in these critically important positions.

UPDATE: 7/8/2019

We have received word from multiple sources at GCCC that two corrections officers have been let go due to smuggling drugs (contraband) into the facility at the Summer/Cultural Festival. This is a confirmation that DOC is taking punitive action against families who have no control over the actions of the staff and administration. 

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Nov 9 - The Eyeglasses Saga of 2017

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Today’s blog post continues the theme of the prison mantra “there’s a form for that,” with the brand new element of “no one actually knows how anything works.” In fact, Clayton Allison has discovered throughout his time served that the requirement of a form is so much of an expectation, it’s often quoted even when it’s not true. Clayton’s 2017 saga of how to obtain new eyeglasses is the prime example.

In June 2017, shortly after the Summer Festival and Father’s Day events were held at GCCC, Clayton broke the pair of glasses he had been using since first arriving at the prison. He accidentally sat on them while they were up in his bunk, and they were so spectacularly broken that there was no chance of wearing them again. He disposed of them before realizing what a monumental effort would be required to obtain a new pair.

Getting a New Prescription

The prison allows sentenced inmates to have access to an eye exam once every two years; except in instances where their existing eyewear has been damaged beyond use. Upon submitting the appropriate request by paperwork, Clayton was soon scheduled for an eye examination with the approved vendor – The Eye Guys. The vendor brings all the necessary equipment and supplies directly to the prison, and conducts the eye exams on site.

The process seemed fairly simple and efficient. The Eye Guys had a stack of Offender Trust Account (OTA) forms, which an inmate uses to authorize purchases from their account, already partially filled out and available for inmates to use during their visit. They had cases of glasses for the inmates to try on; just like they would at their normal optometrist’s office.

Clayton’s primary concerns with new glasses related to durability. He wears his glasses every day. The ones he came to prison with had been a pair of flexible metal frames that he’d had since 2014. The Eye Guys encouraged him that bendable titanium, or some other form of flexible metal frame, was likely to last him the longest. This is a major issue because when a pair of glasses breaks there is a waiting period inmates must go through to obtain new ones. They can’t simply walk out to their local eye doctor and pick out another pair.

Clayton was also interested in getting transition lenses. Sunglasses are something that any inmate can purchase through the commissary, but they’re not the form of sunglasses they can actually fit over a pair of regular glasses. The commissary does not carry an option for sunglasses for those who wear prescription glasses. The glasses Clayton had come to prison with were already transitions, so it had not been an issue for him previously. The vendor highly encouraged Clayton that transitions were also recommended, given these considerations.

The Recommendation

When all was said and done, the vendor put together a glasses package that included flexible metal frames, transition lenses, and his updated prescription. Unfortunately, Clayton was floored by the cost. Medical and vision insurance do not exist in conversations about care in a prison environment. Everything that is purchased by an inmate, must be paid for out of pocket; unless it is a direct medical expense being paid for by the prison.

The total bill Clayton was presented with was more than $550.

Clayton couldn’t imagine asking his family to pay that kind of money for his eyewear. Therefore, he asked medical for information on whether there were any other options. He was informed that The Eye Guys were only one of three approved vendors for eyeglasses; Prism Optical and 39DollarGlasses.com were also approved. Clayton was handed the basic information for the other two options, and sent back to his mod.

But Is There Really A Choice?

Shortly after Clayton’s glasses were broken, he began realizing how much he actually needed them. When he was younger, his prescription was weak enough that he could choose to go with the glasses or without, and suffer very little ill effects. However, he now began experiencing chronic migraines. He communicated that he hadn’t realized how difficult it really was for him to see without them, until he found himself continuously straining to see more clearly.

Clayton called his wife and provided her with the information on the three approved vendors. After doing some initial research, she quickly discovered that the cheapest option would be 39DollarGlasses.com. She was able to identify a set of options that matched what Clayton had been wanting to get from The Eye Guys, including: bendable titanium frames, transition lenses, and his updated prescription. Yet, they only cost $150. It took a couple of weeks for Clayton to receive through the mail all of the information she printed out. Then he attempted to order the glasses using an OTA form.

A few days later, Clayton received the OTA form back as denied for multiple reasons. All orders have to be approved and placed by the officers that work in the prison commissary. According to the commissary officer, 39DollarGlasses.com was not an approved vendor. They also said that both transition lenses and bendable metal frames were not permitted in eyeglasses orders.

Clayton was stumped.

He only knew about the existence of 39DollarGlasses.com, because the information had been provided to him by the medical staff. Bendable metal frames and transition lenses were not only offered, but recommended, by The Eye Guys. He wasn’t sure how to proceed.

What Now?

He submitted a Request For Information (RFI) form to medical, asking for some kind of documentation that confirmed that 39DollarGlasses.com was an approved vendor. Medical seemed shocked that Clayton was attempting to submit an order for glasses on his own at all, because they believed he was not supposed to have been given his prescription. It had simply been handed to him in the middle of the appointment. However, it was also communicated to him that medical was incredibly frustrated with the commissary staff about the glasses ordering process in general, and had plans to talk to facility administrators about sorting out the problem.

With the assistance of his wife, and a random CO who was observing the process from the sidelines, Clayton was soon able to confirm that 39DollarGlasses.com was, in fact, an approved vendor. He was also able to obtain grievance paperwork, which another inmate had filed, which indicated that transition lenses were allowable for purchase. He wasn’t sure what the problem was with the frames, but the documentation he’d received back said specifically that “titanium” frames were not allowed. Therefore, Clayton’s wife went back on the website to try and find a pair of metal frames that were not flexible or titanium to use in the order instead. Then he resubmitted the order.

Does Anyone Really Know How This Works?

Through the attempts to navigate this process, it appeared that glasses ordering became a major topic of conversation among the staff. Someone in commissary had communicated that they were going to talk to administrators about the aspects of the order that were and were not allowed. Medical staff had communicated that they were going to talk to administrators about the confusion with commissary, and the appropriate methods of ordering. By the time Clayton received his next denial, stating the transition lenses and metal frames were not allowed, a new memo had come out from the Superintendent himself; posted to every mod in the facility.

The memo detailed specific instructions for glasses ordering.

Sort of.

It declared that both transition lenses, and metal frames of any kind whatsoever were both prohibited from any glasses order. Additionally, inmates were not allowed to order glasses that were more than $100 in value. Inmates were only allowed to order glasses with plastic frames, and with the cheapest form of plastic lenses available on the market. Lastly, family members were not allowed to order inmate glasses for any reason. Orders by family members would promptly be rejected.

The memo was equally explanatory and disorienting.

Clayton had previously been informed by multiple staff that family members were allowed to order inmates glasses from the outside, or inmates could order them themselves. He had been electing to order it from his side because there was money on his books left over from his birthday that allowed him to afford the expense. He was surprised to find that yet another aspect of the ordering process was being changed from the instructions he had originally been given.

At this point, Clayton had been without glasses for two months. He was suffering chronic migraines, difficulty sleeping, and had injured himself numerous times while working in the kitchen. He was becoming desperate, but loathed the idea of ending up with a pair of the ugly coke-bottle glasses provided for indigent inmates. He was also sure he didn’t even qualify to receive them.

So, he tried for round three.

Now They’re Just Throwing Paperwork Away…

It took more time for Clayton’s wife to get him the information through the mail on a decent pair of basic black plastic frames with the cheapest lenses offered by the vendor. Once he received the information, he attempted placing a new order. He was very careful to package up every element of paperwork he could imagine he would need, including: a stamped envelope, and OTA form, and RFI form explaining what he wished to order, and the information about the vendor.

Weeks went by, and Clayton never heard a word back.

Normally, inmates are always supposed to hear back on paperwork in one way or another. If the request is being denied, they’re supposed to receive back official word stating so on the paperwork that was submitted. In this case, Clayton simply wasn’t hearing back at all. He eventually, after a couple of weeks, submitted another RFI requesting information on what happened to his request. However, that RFI was never returned to him either.

As far as we understand, all of these latest requests simply made their way into the circular file.

Only One Option Left

After weeks had gone by with no word on the glasses Clayton was attempting to order, Clayton’s wife had finally had enough. She decided to order the exact same pair of glasses, with the exact same attributes, from the website herself. They would be shipped directly to Clayton at the facility. They decided, because all other options have been exhausted, there was nothing else left to try. If the glasses ended up ultimately rejected, they would begin a battle on the outside.

On October 23rd, his wife’s order finally arrived at the prison. He was immediately told that the glasses would be rejected because family members were not allowed to order glasses on behalf of the inmates.

Clayton submitted grievance paperwork, asking either for the glasses to be given to him, or for someone at the facility to actually answer his questions on glasses ordering; which he detailed out in an extensively long list. Surprisingly, the staff member in charge of processing the grievances responded to Clayton immediately. He called Clayton in to discuss the issue with him face-to-face the very next morning.

Finally Some Answers

During the convoluted conversation, the staff member explained to Clayton once again that family members were under no circumstances allowed to order glasses on behalf of inmates. However, Clayton explained the extreme lengths he had gone to himself, over four months at this point, to try and order them on his own. He explained each stage where he had been shut down, and the various reasons he had been given. He additionally explained that there was no procedure, or specific set of instructions provided to inmates on how they were supposed to accomplish this process.

The staff member indicated that he believed the problem boiled down to, you guessed it, “there’s a form for that.” He said there was a specific order form that had to be used for 39DollarGlasses.com orders. Clayton explained his confusion at the possibility of using an order form for 39DollarGlasses.com. In all the research his wife had done, the website did not list any information about item numbers or product codes that could be used to list on an order form. Additionally, he did not believe there was a catalog available to browse through. The officer insisted that, indeed, there was an order form and catalog, and he would personally bring them to Clayton by the end of the day.

At this point, it was decided that the glasses Clayton’s wife had already ordered and had shipped to the facility, would be mailed back to her. The staff member suggested that she pursue getting a refund. She was, of course, furious at the entire series of events, and disbelieved she would actually be able to return the item that had been purchased.

Or Not…

Later that day, and before Clayton even had the opportunity to fully explain the conversation to his wife, he was pulled into yet another meeting. Apparently, after doing additional research into the subject, the officer explained that his previous beliefs about how the process of glasses ordering worked were, in fact, incorrect.

When he went to find the appropriate order form and catalog for 39DollarGlasses.com, he instead found that there wasn’t one. Neither existed.

Confused, he then attempted to determine how inmates were ordering from that particular vendor. What he discovered was nothing shy of hilarious. 39DollarGlasses.com is an approved vendor for the facility for FAMILY ORDERS ONLY. Inmates have never had a way to directly order from this vendor. They have always been intended exclusively as a family resource.

Confused by this new revelation, he looked further into the procedures. He explained to Clayton that he had discovered that glasses were classified as prosthetic in policy; which is apparently a category that family members are ALWAYS allowed to order on behalf of an inmate. GCCC is not supposed to prohibit family members from ordering glasses for their loved ones. Yet, because of the faulty information inside of the Superintendent’s memo, it is unclear how many sets of glasses they may have already turned away which family members were attempting to order, and had to absorb the cost for.

FINALLY, A Breakthrough

After discovering this information, the staff were quick to communicate to Clayton that his wife’s 
order still had to meet the other requirements listed out in the Superintendent’s memo. Clayton emphasized – and the invoice proved - that the glasses ordered had been: plastic frames; with non-transition, standard, cheap plastic lenses; and hadn’t even totaled $50 in value with shipping.

It was then agreed that Clayton would be allowed to receive the glasses his wife ordered as soon as they had been processed through property. We are happy to announce that he actually received them two days later. He is no longer plagued by headaches and eye strain, and is amazed at how much he can see that he didn’t realize he couldn’t before.

This blog post probably would’ve been written because the entire series of events is so absolutely ridiculous that, if nothing else, the sheer stupidity of it all should provide a fair amount of humor. 
However, it also emphasizes a much more critical point.

Even the People In Charge Don’t Know the Rules

Alaska’s prisons represent the most extreme end of the spectrum of bureaucracy. There is a policy, procedure, and/or form for just about any action that ever needs to be taken inside of the facility. You not only have to know which forms to fill out for which processes, you also have to know which boxes to put which forms in, and which departments will eventually process them.

When you run into problems, you have to know whether to approach the department that rejected you, or whether you need to file different paperwork with a different department to try and seek a resolution to your problem. The staff members that handle these elements of paperwork are so narrowly pigeonholed that they rarely ever see the full process. They simply assume that what is written into policy, or more often their personal opinion of a policy they may have never actually read, is trucking along just fine. They may not see the hordes of frustrated people who were being denied access to the things that they need because they cannot overcome the barrier that the paperwork and bureaucracy form.

When attempting to summarize this problem, Clayton eloquently labeled it "the draconian obtuseness of prison paperwork and policy that is intended for use by a predominantly uneducated and/or illiterate population." It is ironic that the processes which need to be used by a largely under-educated, uneducated, or even illiterate population is being devised and crafted by a traditionally well educated staff and administration who do not even see the pitfalls they are creating. Even worse, staff who see them struggling act as if their non-compliance with a process they often don't understand is somehow justification for ignoring their plight. 

Why else would official paperwork, which requires official documented response, be making its way into the circular file simply because it is being filed in the wrong box? Clayton has an Associates Degree and was almost unable to leap over this hurdle with four months of effort. 

Clayton and his wife have had instances with multiple Superintendents at GCCC where they didn’t seem to know the content of statewide policy, or how it interacted with or even contradicted the policy they were writing at their own facility. Other staff members at the facility are often even further removed from those policies, and have even less understanding of them. This is not surprising when realizing that the administrative review of the Department of Corrections from two years ago specifically highlighted that policies at the statewide level had gone years without ever being updated or revised. However, these contradictions frequently mean that individual facilities are prohibiting inmates from having access to things that the Department of Corrections itself would not prohibit inmates from having access to.

It also creates the opportunity for inmates to be exploited.

For example, if Clayton had been able and willing to drop more than $550 during his initial visit with The Eye Guys, he could have gotten bendable titanium frames with transition lens glasses nearly immediately. The paperwork being processed by the vendor on-site is going directly through medical, without ever interacting with commissary. Therefore, it is never being reviewed for all of these additional restrictive elements that other glasses orders are being subjected to.

Less than three weeks ago, another inmate that Clayton works with had walked into the kitchen with brand-new transition lens glasses and flexible metal frames. He had simply been willing to pay the piper. Because Clayton had not, he ended up in this endless limbo, unable to get access to the basic thing he was trying to order for his own health and safety. In any other environment, the scenario would be called a racket.

Still Asking For Clarification

Clayton was extremely relieved after he learned that he would finally be able to get access to the glasses that were ordered for him. However, after this long of a battle, that was no longer the only recourse that was needed. He attempted to emphasize to the staff that the other inmates in the facility also needed to know this information. The memo that had come out from the Superintendent was incorrect. 

Family members are supposed to be able to order glasses for inmates, and should know that 39DollarGlasses.com is the appropriate resource. He requested that this information be posted in all of the mods, along with a detailed clarification on how the glasses ordering process actually works.
It is unclear at this time whether the staff at the prison will elect to post such information for the general population.

Additional questions have arisen since then about inmate contact lenses. They can receive a prescription in their appointment for contacts. They can buy lens cases and contact solution from the commissary. However, the general belief among the staff is that contact lenses are now allowed for purchase. But they’re also defined as a prosthetic. So, really?

Our best guess… no one actually knows the real answer. 

Monday, October 23, 2017

Medical Neglect

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Medical neglect and criminally negligent homicide are issues that have plagued prisons in the United States from coast to coast in recent decades. In modern discourse, this harm is often blamed on private prison organizations. It is absolutely true that medical neglect, and criminally negligent homicide, are rampant in private prisons, but they are also prevalent in state and federally run institutions.

Alaska is no exception to this trend.

In the time that Clayton Allison has spent in the Alaska prison system, he has been subjected to, and has witnessed, medical neglect on a nearly unbelievable scale. Numerous times, he has advocated on behalf of another inmate who was being neglected. It is a horrifying and frustrating experience; which, often leaves inmates feeling like they are seen as less than human.

Medical Neglect

High Fever

Nearly a year ago, Clayton fell prey to this negligence personally, and sadly, the cause usually boils down to paperwork.

In the outside world, people have come to use the phrase “there’s an app for that” to indicate that there is an application that can be used for just about any task an individual wants to do on a smartphone or tablet. In the prison system “there’s a form for that.” This includes medical help.

If an inmate needs to be seen for some kind of medical concern, they have a form they must fill out requesting to be seen. There is other paperwork that can be filed to expedite a medical concern, if the inmate believes that that concern is an emergency. These forms have to not only be received, but be fully processed by medical staff, before an inmate is actually allowed to be seen by medical staff.

When Clayton fell sick nearly a year ago, he submitted paperwork on the first day. It seemed to be a common cold, and he was hesitant to file the necessary forms because on previous occasions it had taken multiple days to actually be seen by a nurse. He feared he may be recovered before even being seen, and still be charged a fee for service anyway. However, the onset of the illness on this occasion seemed fairly extreme; so, he elected to file the paperwork and see if he was still stick by the time they got around to him.

A couple of days into the cold, Clayton began to run a very high fever. Fortunately, he had a personal supply of Tylenol to use to try and keep the fever at bay; which, he had purchased through the commissary. Most inmates do not have access to such a luxury; especially inmates who are indigent (who have no personal money of their own). The fever eventually grew so bad that, even with taking the Tylenol, Clayton attempted to lower his body temperature by: stripping down; soaking his towel with water; and laying the towel across his body in his bunk. He literally felt like he was boiling alive.

It is important to note that, although fevers are common, very high fevers can have very serious consequences. An extremely high fever over a prolonged period of time, can leave a person deaf, blind, or with other more subtle permanent damage. Avoiding neglect of a medical issue like this can be as simple as actually taking the inmates temperature.

On the third or fourth day of his illness, Clayton received confirmation paperwork back from the facility that his medical paperwork had been processed, and he should appear before the nurses at the morning pill call line. He did as he was instructed, but when he arrived, he was told that they did not have his paperwork. It didn’t matter what paperwork he had received, and even brought with him as evidence. They wouldn’t see him. The nurse did not even so much as take his temperature while he was standing in front of them.

The guards became increasingly concerned with the severity of Clayton’s fever. He was visibly red. One of them even approached the nursing staff, on Clayton’s behalf, asking for help, and for him to be checked out. Apparently, the result was the guard getting “screamed out” by the nurse for interfering, and Clayton still being denied treatment.

After a couple more days, Clayton’s fever eventually broke. He had fought it off with everything he had: Tylenol, bed rest, and a wet towel. A day and a half after the fever broke, medical informed him again that his paperwork had been processed, and he could be seen. They even commented that he didn’t seem to be running a fever. This was eight days after he filed his initial paperwork, and four days after he’d been told it was processed.

A fever may not seem like it amounts to medical negligence, but in reality, that impression can only truly be determined by the outcome. If Clayton had been struck blind or deaf, what would the opinion be then? However, this is only Clayton’s personal experience. The negligence that occurs at the facility goes far beyond that.

Abdominal Infection

One of the other major issues that occurs within DOC is denial, or prolonged delay, of access to surgeries that are medically needed by inmates, or recommended by their personal physicians. When someone arrives in the prison system, DOC takes over responsibility of payment for that person’s medical needs, including people who arrive with pre-existing conditions. This is true even if that person could independently afford services.

One of the inmates in Clayton’s mod, who we will call Pedro, is a good example of this type of complication. Pedro has Crohn’s disease, and before he ran afoul of the law and wound up in prison, he required surgery to disconnect his intestines and use an ostomy bag. His doctors had informed him at the time that he was only supposed to use the ostomy bag for a year, and then come back in for an additional surgery to reconnect his intestines and attempt to use them again. However, once he arrived in prison, DOC was unwilling to make arrangements for the necessary surgery.

Part of the delay came from Pedro being in an unsentenced status. Then, after sentencing occurred and it was determined that Pedro would spend many years in prison, the battle continued. Clayton assisted Pedro in battling through the paperwork process, and trying to get access to the much needed surgery. Pedro didn’t even know if having his intestines disconnected for multiple years could lead to an inability to have the reconnection surgery he needed. Eventually, he was able to get permission to have the surgery three years after first arriving at the prison.

The days leading up to Pedro’s surgery had been both exciting and frightening. He would be taken to the hospital for surgery, and afterwards would go into the medical segregation mod at the prison during his recovery. The surgery seemed to go well, and after leaving medical segregation, he ended up back in Clayton’s mod once again.

Within a week or two, Pedro started developing symptoms that were concerning.

The extremely large incision on Pedro’s stomach began weeping clear fluid, and at first he was unsure whether this was normal or not. Then, by the next day, the incision began instead leaking pus. The entire surface of Pedro’s stomach grew fiery red and inflamed, and he spiked a high fever. It took two days before he was even seen by medical after filing his emergent paperwork.

Then, when he was seen, he was told it would “probably take a few days” before an appointment could be secured with the person who had done the surgery. He was given an injection of antibiotics, a prescription for pain medication, and sent back to his cell. The pain medication he was prescribed is one he cannot even take because of the Crohn’s disease, but he was marked down as refusing medication for pain; despite his pleas for an alternative.

Clayton and his wife know the seriousness of an abdominal infection that severe. Years ago, Clayton’s brother-in-law had developed appendicitis, at 11 years old, which was initially painless. Without pain as a warning, his appendix had burst and filled his abdomen with an infection that had also grown over a two day period before the problem was discovered. After a mere two days of leaving the infection unchecked, the young man’s fever had spiked to more than 105° and he had been rushed into surgery. The surgeon ultimately had removed more than 10 pounds of infection from inside his abdomen, and said the brother-in-law had been lucky to still be alive all those years ago.

With this context, Clayton and his wife were shocked that Pedro was not immediately being taken to a hospital, and terrified that Pedro could also pass away from this obviously severe abdominal infection; which was not even being constantly monitored. He could spike a debilitating fever, or pass away from the infection in the middle of the night while he had no one paying strict attention but his own cellmate. In contrast, Clayton’s brother-in-law had required constant monitoring in the hospital post-surgery, for more than a week, to ensure that his body was beating back and ridding itself of the infection.

When Pedro saw medical the next day, the infection still seemed to be rolling at full steam, and growing steadily worse. He continued to weep infection from the surgical site. He was given another injection, and given additional oral and topical antibiotics to apply directly to the wound.

Pedro was not transported to the hospital until he did manage to get an appointment with the surgeon several days later. It turns out, a loose staple had fallen inside of his abdomen during surgery, and was the source of the infection he was now battling. They elected to leave the staple inside, instead of opting for yet another surgery to remove it; unless it triggers another infection later on down the road.

If it does, however, Clayton and Pedro have no belief at this point that medical will respond with any form of urgency.

Facial Paralysis

Another man in his mod who also works with Clayton in the kitchen, and who we will call Caleb, was suddenly struck the Friday before last with partial paralysis on one side of his face. At first, Caleb had believed he was falling sick, then had a sudden severe headache and pain in his face that he couldn’t explain. The paralysis set in quickly after.

Clayton and many of the other men in the mod feared that Caleb was having a stroke. The paralysis was severe, affecting both his eye and his mouth on that side. The pain was a persistent headache. Caleb filled out the paperwork, and flagged it as an emergency request to see medical.

Then, he waited.

He worked his shift in the kitchen the next day, Saturday.

He worked his shift in the kitchen on Sunday.

On Monday, Clayton was furious that Caleb still had not been seen by medical. Caleb is generally a soft-spoken and introverted person, and it seemed that no one had even noticed his ailment. Clayton went with Caleb to one of the stewards (a staff member who is not an inmate) in the kitchen, and pointed out Caleb’s distress; emphasizing that the paralysis only appeared to be getting worse.

The steward was visibly shocked, and quickly brought it to the kitchen supervisor’s attention. The kitchen supervisor seemed nearly disbelieving that Caleb had been having such severe symptoms for such a long period of time without being seen, and personally walked him down to medical to insist that Caleb be evaluated immediately.

After work, Clayton was shocked to see that Caleb was right back in the mod. As soon as the kitchen supervisor had left, the nurse on shift had explained that they had received Caleb's paperwork, but not processed it yet, and would not see him until his paperwork had been processed.

Caleb had literally been standing in front of them, with one side of his face drooping to the point of drooling, and they hadn’t bothered to check him out; much less transport him to a hospital for evaluation.

At this point, the men in the mod were convinced that Caleb had either had a massive stroke, and was at major risk of having continued mini strokes, or was at risk of dying from some phenomenon they did not understand. Caleb was, in fact, being blatantly ignored. Clayton had learned from another inmate that one of the medical supervisors from DOC was supposedly at Goose Creek that day, but would only be there for a few more hours.

It was the best possible time for Caleb to be seen by someone, but no one was willing to see him.

Clayton, Caleb, and another inmate who could confirm the length and severity of Caleb’s ailment, approached the CO in the mod. They tried to use every argument they could think of to explain that Caleb needed to be recognized as a medical emergency, and at a minimum, taken to medical if not directly to the hospital. They argued that if the guard did not have the ability to simply look at Caleb with his eyes and confirm that he had no intracranial bleeding - which of course is a talent no human being has - then he needed to be immediately evaluated for stroke.

“It’s like you look at these people, and you realize that they’re gonna have to do more paperwork for what you’re asking them to do,” Clayton had said at a visit later, “and you know they don’t want to. I’m standing there, thinking, what if my friend is dying and you don’t want to take the time or inconvenience out of your day to deal with it? It makes you feel less than human.”

The guard seemed very disinclined to help, but eventually conceded.

When Caleb was taken to medical again, he was immediately taken to a hospital for evaluation. Appropriate imaging was done to check for stroke or other brain injury. Ultimately, Caleb was diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy; a condition that usually onsets as a reaction to a virus, and causes severe enough swelling around the facial nerve to induce the paralysis and the other symptoms that Caleb was experiencing.

Caleb left the hospital with: the name of a diagnosis he did not understand; an explanation that he needed immediate medications he had not been given; and no instructions whatsoever of what he could do to alleviate his symptoms on his own.

When explaining to the other inmates in the mod what happened at the hospital, Caleb admitted he didn’t even understand whether he should go to work the next day. He did not know if he should be resting, or if rest even mattered. He didn’t know what to do about the pain he was continuing to experience.

The nurse at the hospital had emphasized to the guards with him that he needed to start steroidal medications immediately, to reduce the risk of the paralysis in his face becoming permanent. Nothing was administered at the hospital, or sent back with him. When he arrived back in medical at the prison, they informed him that the medication was not carried on hand, and would have to be ordered.

He had no idea how long it would be before it arrived, and he would finally be able to access the medication he supposedly needed immediately.

Caleb came to Clayton, and asked him to ask his wife to research the illness that night online, and find out if there was anything that Caleb could do himself. The next morning, they called and learned that there were indeed a couple of minor things Caleb could do to try and rehabilitate his condition. Online resources recommended applying moist heat to his face to relieve pain, as well as taking ibuprofen to try and reduce the swelling. It was also recommended to use eye drops to prevent severe dry eye from setting in due to interference with the eye’s natural habit of blinking, and patching the eye at night to prevent damage. Caleb was comforted to learn that even without proper treatment, the condition was likely to resolve itself within a few weeks.

He did not learn any of that from the hospital staff, or anyone at the prison. He learned it through the spouse of a friend with access to the internet, and a willingness to help.

Can you imagine for a moment… how frightened you would be if half your face was completely paralyzed, and you did not understand what was wrong? 

What about if you knew you needed medicine, and you did not know if or when you would get it? 

Would you be stuck this way forever? 

What if you had been taken care of the way they said you needed to be?

DOC Medical is Playing Russian Roulette with Human Lives – And Losing

The incidents described above all have a couple commonalities. First, DOC was negligent in its response to serious medical problems inmates were having; which it was ill equipped to handle or properly evaluate on its own. Secondly, DOC got lucky. They were lucky that Clayton’s fever did not cause permanent damage which would’ve allowed him to sue them for medical negligence. They were lucky that Pedro’s infection, left unchecked for multiple days with no one monitoring him but his cellmate and the “wellness checks” for consciousness, did not result in his death; which could have easily been considered criminally negligent homicide. They were lucky again that Caleb was experiencing Bell’s Palsy, instead of a stroke; which could’ve easily been a potentially fatal condition they chose to go days without even evaluating. 

They are not always so lucky.

Unfortunately, this pattern is only a continuation of the neglect DOC, and other government officials, are already fully aware of.

In the 2015 report, Alaska Department of Corrections: An Administrative Review, medical services are listed as a known supervision problem, and inappropriate medical response was listed as a factor in multiple inmate deaths which occurred in DOC’s custody.
“Under the current organizational structure, superintendents of Alaska’s correctional facilities do not supervise all employees staffing their facilities. Most medical and mental health staff report to a manager or director in the department’s central office. Consequently, while the superintendent of each facility is morally and legally responsible for all lives within the facility, the superintendent does not have line authority over personnel who have significant responsibility for keeping inmates and staff safe. … Negative consequences of this divided command structure became evident when the Review Team investigated several deaths that occurred in department facilities.” – Excerpt from Page 3
When looking at the details of the deaths that were reviewed, the same pattern illustrated by Clayton’s examples above, becomes clear.
  • In the death of Mr. Mosley on April 4, 2014, it was evident that the facility he was being housed in was ignoring his mental and physical deterioration up until the time of his death. 
  • Mr. Murphy was admitted on August 13, 2015, for his own safety due to intoxication in a public place, but due to a misunderstanding of policy he was held long after no longer being intoxicated, when he should have been released on August 14. Mr. Murphy interacted with multiple medically trained staff members, and reported having continual chest pains for an extended period. Yet, EMTs were never called and Mr. Murphy died of the complications before his release. 
  • Mr. Joseph was admitted, and died on August 26, 2015, during yet another protective hold. The review team notes that, “Mr. Joseph was highly intoxicated and did not appear to be medically stable enough to be detained in a prison setting. He was unable to walk or stand.” Yet, they not only failed to bring him to a hospital setting for appropriate medical monitoring, but they also failed to intervene in the assault by other inmates which led to his death. 
The tragic case of 24-year-old Kellsie Green, occurred shortly after the release of the report. She died in January 2016 in the Anchorage jail, detoxing from heroin. Kellsie’s cellmates reported requesting help for her before she died. The Alaska Correctional Officers Association disputed that, claiming the cellmates were aggravated by her presence and wanted her removed from the cell. Regardless of the tone of their pleas, the officers’ attention was drawn to Kellsie’s situation before her death, and proper medical care was not rendered.

'All Inmates Say They Are Dying'

Some individuals confronted with such a review, including apparently the medical staff themselves, respond with the ludicrous question about whether or not inmates are “faking” their symptoms. The more important question should be, what could happen to the inmate if they are NOT. Do hospitals decide by glancing at you standing on their doorstep whether you should be seen, or if you are faking? Or do they run tests to confirm whether things are going on that cannot be observed by the naked eye?

In the case of Mr. Mosley’s death after mental deterioration, the report mentions that, “Referrals to mental health were not well documented. One correctional officer told the Review Team that a blunt conversation with mental health staff did not go well; the officer was told they were fed up with Mr. Mosley’s behavior and he was essentially the correctional officer’s problem.”

Clayton witnessed something similar with a cellmate last year. The man was someone who was well educated, and well spoken in his lucid periods. However, after being in the cell with him for less than a day, Clayton came to the conclusion that he was suffering from some form of mental illness or impairment like dementia. The man would regularly: randomly begin talking to people who were not there; have hallucinations about things that were happening in the mod (like planes taking off and snow falling); and bruise himself severely while thrashing and screaming in his sleep. This same man was housed with Clay in the solitary-confinement-like conditions of the SMU at the time; an environment known to cause and worsen mental illness.

Clayton soon learned the man had been “kicked out” of the mental health mod at GCCC after being accused by medical staff of “faking” his mental illness.
“There is NO WAY anyone can fake this level of illness,” Clay had said adamantly, desperately wanting to seek better conditions for the man. “He doesn’t even understand where he is. You can’t fake screaming all night, every night, for weeks without showing other signs. He thought I was his ex-wife the other day.”
It was obvious at times, the man didn’t even know where he was; which led Clayton and others to wonder why he was being held at the prison at all, and if his charges could have to do with the mental illness itself.

Interestingly, the same staff who had accused the man of faking his mental illness, also claimed he was faking physical injury at the time. He had reported falling out of his bunk and hurting his hip. The man walked around in the SMU for more than two weeks complaining of the same persistent pain before a CO in the SMU no longer bought the mental health mod’s claim, and sent him back to medical for evaluation.

It was reported to Clayton that the man’s hip had been broken in two places the entire time. No doubt the mental illness and physical injury were equally “faked.” The COs in the SMU, after discovering this, did not want to even recommend returning him to the mental health mod, for fear of continued neglect.

No Charges Filed

It is important to note that intentional neglect which directly leads to an individual’s death is specifically a crime in Alaska – criminally negligent homicide. Yet, we are not aware of a single individual that has been prosecuted in Alaska for the multiple deaths which have occurred as a result of neglect in state institutions.

This is particularly interesting, considering Clayton himself was wrongfully convicted on this charge when there is no actual physical evidence that a crime was even committed. In contrast, there is literal video footage and internal documentation of the inmates being neglected to death by multiple staff members, and we can find no record of charges even being filed.

The medical neglect and criminally negligent homicide experienced in prisons across the United States is abhorrent. It is important, however, that we do not isolate this issue down to private prisons alone. Whether run by the federal government, a state government, or a private institution, all of them seem hesitant to provide appropriate medical care for the individuals in their charge.

Any other form of long-term care facility that had these kinds of regular incidents occurring, would be charged with criminal abuse and shut down by the very same governments that are willfully committing the activity themselves. As a twisted business model, scraping by with too few resources, they are willfully ignoring the health concerns of inmates while they’re in the early stages of illness or injury that could be resolved more easily, and at less cost. Instead, public funds are being used only when illnesses and conditions have got grown so great that they now require thousands of more dollars to treat, and may in fact have already caused irreversible damage to the individual.