Carol Lester, a 73-year-old grandmother serving time in New Mexico Women’s Correctional Facility in Grants, is suing Corrections Corporation of America, one of the largest private prison companies in the world, and Corizon, Inc, a private prison health care company, for denying her medical care and keeping her in solitary confinement for over a month.
Lester’s lawsuit, filed in late November, charges that the warden deliberately put her in solitary confinement because she complained to lawmakers and Department of Corrections officials that she and other women were being denied medical care.
Lester plead guilty to embezzling money from her employer to feed a gambling addiction in 2010. Soon after beginning her three-year sentence, the lawsuit charges that the privately run prison stopped giving her the prescribed medication she had been taking for thyroid cancer and gave her a new medication that made her sick. Lester started fainting on a regular basis, and medical staff told her she may have a serious heart condition. However, they did not send her to a specialist or a hospital, and her health deteriorated rapidly.
According to the complaint, she took up a letter writing campaign with fellow inmates who were also being denied medical care. Her letters prompted a delegation of state legislators and the head of health services for the Department of Corrections to visit the prison to talk with inmates about their concerns.
Soon after these visits, Lester was given a drug test, and tested positive for methanphetamine. Though she had no history of drug use, the prison was prescribing her Zantac, which is known to cause false positives for methanphetamine. Lester reportedly offered to pay for a blood test to prove she was clean, but was put in solitary confinement instead. While in solitary, Lester says she stopped getting medications for either her thyroid cancer or her heart condition.
Though a court has not yet heard Lester’s case, the two prison companies in question already face a string of allegations that they abuse or neglect inmates. Because private prison companies must turn a profit, health care and quality of life are often sacrificed for the bottom line. Corizon is already handling lawsuits and investigations all over the country charging that the health care company ignored inmates’ calls for help, left sick inmates in soiled bedsheets without any food or water, and even let a man die because calling an ambulance was deemed too expensive.
Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), meanwhile, was recently held in contempt for understaffing prisons, and a few months earlier paid $600,000 to settle another lawsuit over inmate abuse. The extremely profitable company has also been caught overcrowding prisons to the point that many inmates sleep on the floor, using gangs to police facilities,