‘Cause’ files FOIA lawsuit against Bureau of Prisons for inmate death records

because Women who died in federal prisons are going to court to try to free records about whether they received adequate medical care

The Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes becauseA Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit was filed today in the US District Court for the District of Columbia against the Bureau of Prisons (BOP), seeking a medical review of in-custody deaths at two federal women’s prisons. because The case is represented by the Law Offices of Deborah Golden.

because Reported in 2020 Allegation of gross medical negligence Inside FCI Aliceville, Alabama’s federal women’s prison. Numerous current and former inmates, as well as their families, have said in interviews, desperate letters and lawsuits that the women in Aliceville faced catastrophic delays in health care. They described months-long waits for doctor’s appointments and routine procedures, skepticism and retaliation from staff, and excruciating pain and fear.

want to know more because Filed a FOIA request for a May 2020 review of inmate deaths in Ellisville, as well as FMC Carswell, a federal prison in Texas that is the only treatment facility for women incarcerated in the BOP system.

Carswell has also been the subject of numerous allegations of medical negligence. Fort Worth Weekly This investigation has been published 2007 and again in 2012 Details of suspicious deaths and unusual medical care at Carswell. because speech To a woman formerly incarcerated at Carswell who said she saw another inmate die while begging for medical treatment:

In one instance, he says he was sitting on sick call when he saw a woman push another inmate in a wheelchair. The two pounded on the door, begging for someone to pay attention to the woman in the wheelchair, but were repeatedly told to sit back down.

“After about three times, he pushed the lady in the wheelchair toward the restroom, which was right around the wall from where we were sitting, and [the woman in the wheelchair] He fell down and died of a heart attack.”

“If the staff had paid attention at that moment instead of telling them to move away from the door and sit down — you know, basically wait their turn — the lady would still be alive.”

Whenever a federal inmate dies, a committee reviews the circumstances, makes recommendations on whether BOP policies were violated, and how care can be improved. This information can reveal whether the BOP is aware of medical malpractice within its walls and how bad the problem is.

However, after about three years, because No records are yet available from Aliceville, and when the BOP finally released the death reviews from Carswell in March last year, it redacted any information that indicated there was poor quality care, such as review committee findings on timeliness and appropriateness of care. ; problems encountered during medical emergencies; whether there was adequate documentation in the patient’s medical files; and whether the patient received appropriate care according to the BOP’s policy.

Screenshot of modified document
A portion of the redacted mortality report that has been published because By the Bureau of Prisons.

The BOP contended that the redacted portions were confidential under Exemption b(5) of the FOIA, the so-called deliberative process exemption. This exemption was created so that bureaucrats could openly discuss policy decisions without worrying about their opinions being leaked to the press—called “scheduled” communication. However, it has become one of the most abused exemptions in the federal government’s arsenal, used as a catchall to cover up something embarrassing or inconsiderate. The National Security Archive dubbed it “Hold it because you want to” discount.

because An administrative appeal was filed challenging the reductions, but the Justice Department’s Office of Information Policy upheld the BOP’s response in December.

To be clear, there is nothing prescriptive about this mortality review. They make decisions about whether inmates have received adequate health care and whether BOP policies have been violated. And they are concerned with one of the federal government’s gravest constitutional responsibilities: to ensure that those incarcerated in its custody are not subjected to cruel and unusual punishment.

The Freedom of Information Act should be interpreted broadly to ensure public access to government records, but often the only way private citizens and news outlets can get federal agencies to comply with the law is to file a lawsuit.