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Death at CCA's Dawson State Jail raises broad concerns in CBS expose

The death of Pam Weatherby at Corrections Corporation of America's Dawson State Jail in 2010 may be symptomatic of much bigger problems at the facility.  An expose by CBS 11 ("Mysterious Jail Death Raises Questions," April 26th) in Dallas shows that the facility has experienced seven deaths since 2004.   

Weatherby was serving a one year sentence for drug possession when her health conditions - she was a brittle diabetic requiring constant care - rapidly deteriorated.  According to the story:

“She was to the point where you couldn’t hold a conversation with her,” said Anne Roderick. Roderick lived in the same dorm cell as Weatherby.  “She was sick, very, very sick. We would go to the guards. They would give us gloves. We were washing her sheets in a bucket in the shower.”

Roderick says she and other inmates took care of Weatherby’s medical needs because no one else would.  “She was defecating and vomiting. “ She says taking care of Weatherby became a full-time job.

Weatherby's parents reported making 28 phone calls to the jail in an effort to get their daughter help.  However, on the night of her death, CCA did not make a call to a nurse, despite facility policy. We reported that more damning is that initial reports about her death describing CCA staffing as inadequate were changed. According to the new report:

"CBS 11 has obtained internal CCA documents that show the chief of security, at the time of Pam Weatherby’s death, reported that the supervisors “did not follow proper procedures, in that they did not call a medical professional and advise them of the offender vomiting, prior to the medical staff arriving on the faculty at 0500 hours.”  The supervisor recommends “termination” for the shift supervisor on July 15, 2010.

But, eight days later, on July 23, 2010, Senior Warden Raymond Byrd signs document for the state which state, “The actions by employee were consistent with TDCJ policy and procedure. No training needs have been identified at this time.”

CBS interviewed more than a dozen women at the state jail, contracted by TDCJ, that described dangerous and neglectful conditions at the facility: 

"Abby is one of 14-women who have talked to CBS 11 news about what they experienced or witnessed while serving time at Dawson State Jail.

“Finally they stick me in a cell thinking I had a stomach virus,” explains Danna Parker. Parker, facing time for a DWI, said she stayed in segregation for 10 days without any medical treatment and without a doctor ever coming to check on her.

“I’m [sic] laying on a concrete steel frame, unable to move. I don’t have any liquids, “explains Parker.

Lorraine Brown wrote a bad check and was sentenced to time at Dawson.  “They go wherever they go to pay for their crimes. They didn’t need to pay with their lives.”

 

As we've reported, the Dawson State Jail was one of the TDCJ-contracted facilities originally slated for possible closure during the last legislative session.  Instead, TDCJ quietly renewed CCA's contract for the facility.  Perhaps this latest report will reignite efforts to close the facility.

 

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