Jennifer Addison died of a bacterial infection that was not treated. Inmate lawyers say the Virginia prison system isn’t meeting medical needs. The state says many inmates get their first regular health care in prison.
“I still can’t keep anything down and my throat is still hurting me,” Jennifer Addison, 44, wrote March 6 on an emergency grievance form in the Virginia Correctional Center for Women. “I need some help please.” Two days later, she was dead. She had been serving a sentence for credit card fraud. The death fits into a broad pattern of problems with health care at jails and prisons in Virginia, as well as specific concerns about the handling of grievance forms submitted by inmates in need of medical care, reports the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot. The case mirrors that of Henry Stewart, who died in the Hampton Roads Regional Jail in 2016 after filling out forms begging for help. Stewart, 60, was locked up for violating probation on a shoplifting charge. His requests were denied.
Another state prison, the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women, has been under a federal court order since 2016 to improve its health care because of deaths like Addison’s. Inmates alleged that Fluvanna was still not meeting inmates’ medical needs this year. A five-day bench trial was held in June. “We take our constitutional duty to provide health care to the incarcerated population very seriously,” said corrections spokeswoman Lisa Kinney. “Generally speaking, offenders often come to Virginia’s prisons having never had much contact with health care providers, and are receiving the first regular, continuous health care of their lives in prison. Offenders tend to be sicker than the general population when they come to us, and sometimes have chronic conditions that haven’t been addressed on the outside.” Addison’s cause of death is listed as the flu and MRSA – a bacterial infection resistant to many antibiotics, which led to a blood infection. “She shouldn’t have died of that. That’s totally treatable. … That’s outrageous,” said prisoner-rights attorney Deborah Golden.