Kentucky Inmate Starves to Death, At Least One Staff Member Fired

After a Kentucky inmate starved himself to death, the Kentucky State Penitentiary in Eddyville is under investigation. According to ABC News and The Associated Press, a prison doctor has been fired and two other staff members are “in the midst of being dismissed” after the inmate starved himself to death.

James Kenneth Embry, 57, was reportedly serving a nine-year sentence for drug offenses. He was six years into his sentence when he stopped taking his anti-anxiety medication and began spiraling out of control. According to Fox News, Embry stopped taking his medication in the Spring of 2013. After being off his medication for seven months, and weeks of erratic behavior, Embry began refusing food, and eventually, he died of starvation in January of 2014.

According to ABC News, The Associated Press began looking into Embry’s death and they found out that the 57-year-old, six-foot tall man had lost more than 30 pounds during his reported hunger strike. Embry reportedly died weighing only 138 pounds.

Reports state that an internal investigation found that medical personnel failed to provide Embry with anti-anxiety medication after he reportedly asked to go back on them. Fox News stated that The Associated Press obtained documents under Kentucky’s Open Records Act which reportedly gave them access to the investigation into Embry’s death, personnel files and his autopsy report.

“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.”

The investigation stated that Embry stopped taking his anti-anxiety medication in May of 2013. It was seven months later, on December 3rd, 2013, that he reportedly told Jean Hinkebein, the prison’s lead psychologist, that he wanted to go back on the medication because he was feeling paranoid and anxious. According to ABC News, Hinkebein and an associate denied Embry’s request to go back on the medication stating that his comments about harming himself where too vague. Even after he stopped eating, Hinkebein denied that Embry had any mental health problems.

“It’s just very, very, very disturbing,” said Greg Belzley, a Louisville, Kentucky-based attorney who specializes in inmate rights litigation and reviewed some of the documents obtained by The Associated Press. “How do you just watch a man starve to death?”

According to the Washington Post, the incident of the Kentucky inmate who starved to death sparked the overhaul of the state’s protocol for dealing with hunger strikes. A list of some of the new protocols can be found here.

[Image via Wikimedia Commons]