Prisoner Escapes from Healthcare Facilities

When prisoner-patients pursue an escape, it usually is a planned or somewhat planned event. “Very rarely do these guys [inmates] go to the hospital for treatment and all of a sudden decide they’re going to escape. What happens is, traditionally, inmates go to the hospital for treatment…they come back to the facility and they start telling other inmates… there are ways of minimizing it, but there’s never a way to prevent it,” said Kevin Tamez, an Inmate Advocacy Consultant (Kutner 2015). It is important to keep that in mind when a prisoner returns to the correctional facility after medical treatment. With there being no set tracking system of prisoner escapes, it is hard to give a precise number of how many prisoners escaped from hospital facilities in 2015. However, the media has made it easier to discover information relating to escapes. Across the United States, there were numerous escapes made by prisoners in 2015.

According to CBS San Francisco, in March of 2015, a prisoner, Johnell Carter, was being treated at Valley Medical Center in San Jose, California when he managed to escape by fighting the deputy assigned to overseeing him. Carter had been in prison for a year at the time of his escape. He was put in prison for five counts of child molestation. Carter fought and injured the deputy and fled the hospital. He managed to evade 45 officers who were searching for him in the San Jose area. With help from his brother, this escaped prisoner made it to Mississippi (CBS San Francisco 1). In April of 2015, nearly a month later, the escapee was apprehended in Mississippi (CBS San Francisco 2).

As told by NBC Washington, in northern Virginia in March of 2015, an inmate, Wossen Assaye, escaped the custody of guards while in a hospital. This particular inmate was being treated in the hospital after attempting to hang himself with a bed sheet. There were two guards who were assigned to this inmate by the U.S. Marshals. At about 3:15AM on March 31 the inmate overpowered one of the guards and took her weapon and fled the hospital in his gown. The escapee went to a nearby neighborhood and got into a car. Later that morning, the owner of the car got in the car to drive to work, while on the commute the escapee started to kick out the back seat, and the driver (car owner) crashed the car. The car was then hijacked by the escapee. He then drove this car to a nearby house where he stole clothes and then walked the neighborhood to find another car to steal. With the help of a heavy police presence and a helicopter the escapee was apprehended. The prisoner was escaped for about 9 hours before being apprehended (NBC4 Washington 2015).

Another example is in August of 2015 when a female detainee, Tiffany Neumann, escaped from a Manhattan hospital as reported by Rick Rojas for the NY Times. She was being detained on counts of grand larceny and criminal possession of stolen property. She was taken to the hospital after claiming to be pregnant and feeling sick. While in the hospital, she was able to get out of her handcuffs and evade the officer assigned to her. Neumann’s escape was not the first from this particular hospital in 2015; it was at least the fourth since that June. With the number of escapes growing larger than the public would like to see, it caused critique. The police commissioner referred to these faults as “lapses in what should be basic policing.”  Of the escapes between June and August, three of the escapees were apprehended within days, but one escapee, who was detained on murder charges, was missing for a month. Police officials who spoke to the media referred to the officer who was assigned to this escapee as careless and inattentive (Rojas 2015).

Similarly, in a Newark, New Jersey hospital in August an inmate, Michael Majette, detained for robbery and unlawful possession of a weapon, among other weapon offenses managed an escape. The inmate was in the hospital due to a said knee pain (Coleman 2015). The inmate managed to slip out of a hospital bathroom undetected. It was not until much later that day that he was apprehended (Coleman 2015). This was among other escapes made from this particular hospital in 2015. In March of ’15 an inmate walked out of a guarded room and was missing for over a month. Three months later there was another undetected walk out by an inmate, however, this inmate was apprehended just an hour later. Those escapes caused the hospital and authorities to look into a change of security measures relating to prisoners in their hospital. Among those changes included inmates no longer being able to wear civilian clothes while in the hospital and hospital officials to attend chiefs of police meetings to become better informed on all situations regarding the safety of the hospitals (CS Staff 2015).

Industry Guidelines

The industry, including the Joint Commission, IAHSS (International Association of Healthcare Safety and Security), and law enforcement all have guidelines for when prisoners are patients in hospitals. As a corrections officer, it is important to be aware of these guidelines. In addition, as a corrections officer that is assigned to a prisoner receiving medical care outside of the correctional facility, he or she needs to be aware of and protect the prisoner’s rights. The Joint Commission has numerous guidelines for ensuring the protection of prisoners’ rights and their safety while in a healthcare facility. Among those guidelines, is a compliance standard regarding the training of officers that will be guarding forensic patients. The purpose of this standard is to familiarize the officers with the healthcare setting through an orientation and education for situations including fires, who to communicate with, restraint control limits. This kind of orientation and education can be done by means of informational packets and/or videos (York, MacAlister 2015).

Since most hospitals do not have prison wards and they are often underprepared for prisoner patients, the IAHSS has also set up guidelines for hospitals that admit prisoners into their facility (York, MacAlister, 2015). The IAHSS guidelines are imperative for hospital facilities to be aware of as well as the officers who may be assigned to a patient in a hospital. Ensuring that every party involved is aware of their part in the safety and security is imperative.

Local law enforcement and each hospital will have their own guidelines for how to handle a prisoner in their facility. These guidelines will be more location-specific to the area of concern. As previously mentioned, in some areas it is suggested that hospital security attend local police chief meetings in hopes of aligning the hospital security and local law enforcement security measures to ensure the safety of everyone. Being as every community is different, there is no one best way to handle this type of event.

The United States Marshals Service also has guidelines for the event of a prisoner receiving outside medical treatment that officers are expected to adhere to. “Typically the USMS does not utilize deputy marshals for such activity [guarding of a prisoner in a medical facility], but instead employs contract guards,” ([United States Marshals] Service’s Prisoner Medical Care). In 2002 there was $7.4 million spent on providing security to prisoners receiving medical treatment outside of the facility they are detained to, which was 17% of the total amount of prisoner medical care expenditures (United States Marshals).

There are special regulations and laws in place for prisoners that are pregnant women. There were a number of concerns raised about pregnant prisoners by various health organizations including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. These organizations were looking at the detrimental effects that restraints, including handcuffs, can have one these pregnant women (Use of Restraints on [Pregnant Women]). There is an increased risk of falls when an individual is wearing shackles, when a pregnant woman falls it could effect the pregnancy. The shackles could also prevent a woman from being able to break her fall and she could fall onto her abdomen (Pregnant Women). There are a few states, including California, Illinois, and New York, that had eliminated the use of restraints on pregnant women from their practices all together (Pregnant Women). Federal law says that there must be reasonable grounds for the restraints (Pregnant Women).

As previously mentioned in one of the examples of an escape, there are prisoners who attempt suicide. “Suicide is the single most common cause of death in correctional facilities,” (World Health Organization 2007). With that known, it is important that correctional facilities are taking every precaution to prevent suicide attempts from happening in order to protect prisoner’s health and safety. The Joint Commission released an alert in February of 2016 to make health organizations aware that they intend to assist both inpatient and outpatient care centers in suicide prevention and in identifying those who are at risk (Joint Commission 2016). Being aware of the fact that prisoners are at a higher risk of suicide at the present time, this type of assistance from the Joint Commission and health organizations could make for a minimized risk of suicide attempts for future prisoners.