In this week's New Times, we investigate the death of Keskea Hernandez, an inmate at Miami's Federal Detention Center (FDC). She died January 9 while cuffed to a hospital bed after prison officials, prosecutors, and a federal judge all brushed aside her pleas for help.
But Hernandez is far from the first case of questionable medical treatment at the FDC. Interviews and documents filed in federal court show needless delays, dangerous prescription mixups, and unexplained deaths.
Half a dozen lawyers told New Times they have seriously ill clients who aren't getting proper medical attention at the facility.
In one instance, an inmate with diabetes keeps passing out because prison officials are giving her the wrong kind of insulin. (Her lawyer asked to keep her anonymous because he was afraid of retaliation against her from FDC employees.) Like Hernandez, the diabetic woman has written letters to FDC clinical director Delvena Thomas begging for help.
"I'm writing to you because [I'm] afraid for my life," she wrote January 7. "I am not receiving the appropriate medication. I'm a Diabetic 2 patient. I was sent to the hospital from here due to a diabetic coma [because] my sugar was too high."
During a court hearing, the inmate asked a judge to order the FDC to give a different kind of medication, one that wouldn't send her into a coma.
THE COURT: There's nothing I can really do. I don't decide what type of insulin to give. Doctors have to decide that with the consent of a patient. I suggest to you that even an insulin that you do not prefer is better than no insulin. That to me might be common sense, but I don't even know. But those things are between the
patient and the doctor within the confines of the institution. You can't choose your doctor.
THE DEFENDANT: That's what I've been trying to do,
THE COURT: Well, now, I think it will probably be done.
It's kind of like true socialized medicine. We really do have socialized medicine in the prison. You don't have choices. The doctors come in. But there should be good medical care, but what do you want me to do?
THE DEFENDANT: I would like you to do something so that the kind of medication that I was getting outside on the streets will be given to me in the facility, because they say this medication is too expensive.
THE COURT: Cost is always an issue with medication, isn't it?
According to the Bureau of Prisons (BOP), Hernandez is the only FDC Miami inmate to die in 2013. But last year, two inmates died: one from illness and another from suicide. A total of 383 people died in 2012 inside BOP facilities around the country.
The FDC did not respond to New Times' repeated requests for comment, and the BOP would not release any more info about those deaths. But sources say one of the men who died last year was Robert John Marone, accused of child sex abuse. His lawyer did not return an email request for comment.
Another FDC inmate was recently set to be transferred to a halfway house to serve the last 12 months of his three-year sentence for fraud. But when he was diagnosed with stage four stomach cancer, FDC officials denied him the transfer, arguing that the halfway house wasn't equipped to take care of him.
Again, a federal judge refused to release the inmate early or allow him house arrest: "While the Court is sympathetic to Defendant's condition... the Court is without authority to award Defendant the relief sought."
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Attorney Jonathan Kasen, meanwhile, says he is fighting to keep a male client with heart and kidney ailments away from the FDC because of its poor medical care.
A couple of months at the FDC "would be a death sentence" for his client, he said.