Podcast | Delay, negligence and death in Washington state’s prisons

Reporter Levi Pulkkinen discusses his investigation into the prison health care system, where a treatable illness can put a prisoner in a body bag.

A man and woman walking inside prison

Debbie Coluter, a certified nursing assistant, holds the hand of an elderly inmate with Alzheimer's disease, as she helps him to his cell at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville. (Rich Pedroncelli/AP)

Gross medical negligence in America's prisons isn't anything new. As long as there have been reporters investigating this nation's corrections departments there have been gruesome tales of medical procedures gone wrong and the prisoners who suffer. But new reporting from Crosscut suggests that poor medical care for the incarcerated in Washington state is more prevalent than just the extreme cases. Reporter Levi Pulkkinen found that nine of 10 prisoners who leave our prisons in body bags die from illness. And these aren't just older prisoners finishing their life sentences. Nearly a third of those who die from illness are under 55. The prisoners and families Pulkkinen interviewed for the investigative series, "Prison's Other Death Sentence," say that delays in care that result in poor, sometimes fatal outcomes are a normal part of the prison health care experience. For this week's episode of Crosscut Talks, Pulkkinen discusses what is at the root of all this suffering, why people on the outside should at least acknowledge that suffering and whether state lawmakers may introduce a new normal into prison health care. Plus, Melissa Santos discusses the court case that has every newsroom in the state on edge.