The family of a man who died in a Oklahoma prison last year are suing correctional officials and medical staff for allegedly ignoring his repeated pleas for help as he died from untreated appendicitis.
Joshua England, who was 21, made five separate written requests for medical aid as his condition deteriorated over a week in the Joseph Harp correctional center in Lexington, Oklahoma.
But the “callous and deliberate indifference” of staff at the prison meant he died from a ruptured appendix on 29 May last year, according to a lawsuit lodged by England’s mother, Christina Smith.
“Joshua’s death was preventable,” said Katie Rosenfeld, an attorney for the family. “In 2019, no one should die in prison of appendicitis. If he had been given the most basic medical treatment, Joshua would still be alive today.”
England was serving a 343-day sentence for arson when he complained of severe abdominal pain. According to the lawsuit, during repeated visits to the prison clinic England said he could not sleep or eat and had pain so severe he could “barely breathe”.
I miss my son every day and am seeking justice for him, and so no other young man has to go through what he didChristina Smith
No doctor was called and he was sent away with painkillers and laxatives.
On his fifth attempt to get medical help, on 29 May, England again said the pain was so bad he couldn’t breathe. The lawsuit states that witnesses reported him hyperventilating, curled up in pain, rocking back and forth and crying. An examination showed that his heart rate was 158 beats a minute
These findings should, the lawsuit states, have “alerted clinic staff that Joshua was facing a dire medical emergency and that he needed lifesaving intervention at a hospital immediately. Instead, defendants continued to ignore Joshua and his complaints, and failed to render an abdominal examination”.
As England lay dying in his cell, the lawsuit alleges, staff filmed his distress and “forced” him to sign a form that said he was refusing medical help. He died alone shortly afterwards.
“I miss my son every day and am seeking justice for him, and so no other young man has to go through what he did,” said Smith, who is seeking damages.
Last year, Oklahoma overtook Louisiana to have the highest incarceration rate in the US. With more than one in every 100 people in prison, the state has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world.
Despite the growth in inmate population, the prison system in the state has been hit by budget cuts and low prison officer pay.
“We are bursting at the seams with over 27,000 inmates inside 24-facility system – and the state has made little progress on justice reform,” Joe Allbaugh, director of the Oklahoma department of corrections, said when making a budget request in October.
“This [$1.57bn] request is not a wishlist,” Allbaugh said. “This is what we need. Oklahoma continues to send more people to prison, and it costs real money to house, look after, and provide those individuals medical care – all of which we are required to do.”
Allbaugh added that efforts to slow prison population growth “do little to unseat Oklahoma as the world’s top incarcerator”.
A spokesman for the state department of corrections did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit regarding England’s death.