Inmate Death at Oklahoma Prison in McAlester

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections announced the death of offender Mark Stacey, 43.  Mr. Stacey was serving time for drug related offenses.  The news release did not specify who discovered Stacey, or whether DOC had assigned a cell partner to live with him.  The report indicated that Stacey’s body did not show signs of trauma or wounds.  The age of Mr. Stacey, combined with the absence of obvious physical injuries, suggests that Mr. Stacey died as a result of a medical condition.  Whether that condition was known to DOC could trigger liability against the State if it knew about his condition and then disregarded the risk of harm that condition posed to Mr. Stacey’s health.

In Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976), the United States Supreme Court held that states like Oklahoma have a constitutional obligation to provide adequate healthcare when it incarcerates a person and prevents them from obtaining healthcare on their own.  In other words, the deprivation of liberty through incarceration does not absolve the State of its obligation to provide basic healthcare.  However, this isn’t to say that inmates are entitled to the best healthcare available, but prison officials cannot turn a blind eye to a substantial medical condition and simply allow the state of nature to run its course.

Inmate healthcare places a substantial burden on the financial resources of any incarcerating entity.  As the prison population increases, this burden is magnified.  Mandatory sentences are an additional factor that place a strain on the system because they impose longer sentences that require inmates to spend more time in prison.  As the population ages, so does the demand for necessary medical services.

The Legislature should take a long look at the efficacy of incarcerating drug offenders like Mark Stacey.  Drug offenders are generally non-violent, but their sentences are often just as long as those served by violent offenders.  Further compounding the problem is the reality that drug offenders in prison are generally those with a long history of substance abuse.  Those inmates are more likely to require greater and more frequent healthcare than non-violent offenders because of the toll that drugs have taken on their bodies.

The Legislature could potentially save the State thousands of dollars each year by diverting drug offenders from prisons and costly medical services and into counseling and rehabilitation programs designed to address the underlying problem of addiction. For more information, contact Bryan & Terrill in Tulsa.