Separate and Unequal: How a Sentence to a Privatized Jail is a Sentence to Death

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

Dozens of inmates in privatized illegal-immigrant only jails have died under disturbing circumstances involving negligent medical and mental health care. “This Man Will Almost Certainly Die,” an article by Seth Freed Wessler, was published by The Nation on January 28th, 2016; Wessler’s article sheds light on almost completely unheard of (to the average American) events that have taken place in their own backyard. Not only does it educate people on the presence of little-known privatized jails that are contracted to house illegal immigrants only, but more specifically, it details the inadequate and subpar care that inmates receive at these jails that have led to numerous preventable deaths.

Due to being privatized, these facilities are less regulated. Upon arrival, inmates are supposed to receive certain standard medical tests; however it was found that these assessments were not always administered, causing some inmates to go without necessary care for medical conditions that went undiagnosed. Additionally, Licensed Vocational Nurses, known as LVNs—who are meant to be support staff to registered nurses—were often the sole medical providers for inmates, some of whom never even saw a doctor while incarcerated. In regards to mental health, an investigation showed that 7 of the then 13 privatized facilities were not compliant with the standard for adequate care. Inmates are dying because they are not receiving proper medical or mental health care and it appears that no one is being held accountable for these preventable deaths.

Although this topic has garnered some corporate news coverage, articles regarding this matter are few and far between. The result of an extensive ProQuest search found that just four corporate news articles have touched upon the subject of deaths of inmates at privatized jails. Two of those articles were from the New York Times and written by the same reporter, Nina Bernstein, in 2009; another article surfaced that same year published in the Washington Post. Michael Martinez of the Chicago Tribune appears to have been the first in the corporate news world to break this story in June of 2008. It appears that the corporate media have not published an article regarding this matter since 2009; however, this is still an ongoing issue, since, as of June 2015, there are still nearly 23,000 inmates housed in privatized prisons that are receiving inadequate healthcare.

While there has been some, albeit minimal, corporate news coverage on this topic, these articles only touches the surface of the matter. Wessler’s article—unlike the corporate news coverage—details the deaths of several different inmates, all of which could have been prevented had they received timely and adequate medical treatment; this further proves that there is an ongoing problem with the standard of care that inmates receive across many privatized jails, and that these cases are not simply isolated incidents.

Source: Seth Freed Wessler, “‘This Man Will Almost Certainly Die,'” The Nation, January 28, 2016,

Student Researcher: Aliana Ruiz (Citrus College)

Faculty Evaluator: Andy Lee Roth (Citrus College)