A prison doctor has been fired and two other staffers are in the midst of being dismissed after an inmate at the Kentucky State Penitentiary starved himself to death, a case that has exposed lapses in medical treatment and in how hunger strikes are handled at the facility. Prison officials have asked prosecutors to investigate after The Associated Press began asking questions about the inmate’s death.
James Kenneth Embry, 57 and with just three years left on a nine-year sentence for drug offenses, began to spiral out of control in the spring of 2013 after he stopped taking anti-anxiety medication. Seven months later, in December, after weeks of erratic behavior — from telling prison staff he felt anxious and paranoid to banging his head on his cell door — Embry eventually refused most of his meals. By the time of his death in January of this year, he had shed more than 30 pounds on his 6-foot frame and died weighing just 138 pounds, according to documents reviewed by the AP.
An internal investigation determined that medical personnel failed to provide him anti-anxiety medication that may have kept his suicidal thoughts at bay and didn’t take steps to check on him as his condition worsened. The internal review of Embry’s death also exposed broader problems involving the treatment of inmates — including a failure to regularly check inmates on medical rounds and communication lapses among medical staff.
The AP, tipped off to Embry’s death, obtained scores of documents under Kentucky‘s Open Records Act, including a report detailing the investigation into Embry’s death, an autopsy report and personnel files. Along with interviews with corrections officials and correspondence with inmates, the documents describe Embry’s increasingly paranoid behavior until his death and the numerous opportunities for various prison staff to have intervened.