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America’s Rural-Jail-Death Problem

The Atlantic: Katie Rose Quandt - March 29th, 2021

In the early-morning hours of January 7, 2019, when it became clear that 30-year-old Christopher Hall might die, no medical staff were on duty at the Boyd County Detention Center.

Hall had been booked into the rural eastern-Kentucky jail in the final days of 2018 on a drug-possession charge. During intake, he informed officers that he typically used heroin or methamphetamine every day, that he had high blood pressure and hepatitis C, and that he had experienced delirium tremens or other serious withdrawal symptoms when he’d gone off drugs in the past. But there is no record of Hall seeing a physician during his time in the jail. Instead, medical consultations were made over the phone.

Court records note that during Hall’s first few days at BCDC, “nothing was documented to verify … that he was being monitored or assessed.” He developed a persistent fever, for which he was seen by medical staff several times and given Tylenol, in addition to his blood-pressure medication. On January 6, Hall was prescribed withdrawal medication, but just before midnight, a nurse wrote in his record that he was “withdrawing hard.” Shortly after this, the court records note, jail deputies laughed as they watched an incarcerated janitor clean up Hall’s diarrhea. Hall’s condition continued to worsen, and he eventually stopped speaking.

Staff called an ambulance in the morning, but it was too late. Hall died 13 days after being booked in, with a final emergency-department diagnosis of sepsis, a brain abscess, and “an altered mental status.” An ongoing wrongful-death lawsuit filed by the mother of his child alleges that jail and medical staff “displayed a conscious disregard for his right[s] and safety.” (The defendants have disputed the claims in court, arguing that their “actions were reasonable, proper, justified, legal and undertaken without any wrongful intent, impact or effect.”) Hall was the fourth person to die in eight months at BCDC.

To read the full article, click here.

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