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Inmate starved to death: Ky prison doctor sacked after inmate starved to death

Kentucky State Penitentiary in Eddyville, Ky.
Kentucky State Penitentiary in Eddyville, Ky.

An inmate starved to death in the Kentucky prison system has led to the sacking of the doctor overseeing the mental health of those incarcerated at the Kentucky State Penitentiary in Eddyville, near the Cumberland River. Two other staffers are also being let go after the inmate, 57-year-old James Kenneth Embry, starved himself to death. Prosecutors are now investigating how it is that a prison inmate, under alleged constant care and supervision, could die from a lack of eating.

According to a report today from The Associated Press, as carried by, the hunger strike was a clear lapse in medical treatment. Embry had served six of his nine years on drug related offenses. According to the AP report, approximately one year ago, Embry stopped taking anti-anxiety medication. This led to erratic behavior and threats to kill himself, as well as his repeatedly smashing his head on the cell walls, and refusing his meals. The 6-foot Embry had dropped to 138 pounds at his death.

The Inquisitr says that doctors at the facility failed to provide Embry with the proper medication that would have kept his unpredictable behaviors and suicidal thoughts at bay. Additionally, a lack of regular medical checkups contributed to Embry’s worsening condition. At the time of his death, he has lost over 30 pounds.

Louisville attorney Greg Belzley, who specializes in inmate rights litigation, said: “It’s just very, very, very disturbing. How do you just watch a man starve to death?” Lyon County Coroner Ronnie Patton ruled Embry’s death as suicide, with the main factor in his death cited as an “extreme dehydration with starvation as an auxiliary factor.”

The AP report picks up the story:

A nurse checked on Embry on Jan. 4, finding him weak and shaky, and advised him to resume eating. Embry responded that it had been too long for him to start taking food again. Nine days later, on the very day he died, an advanced practice registered nurse named Bob Wilkinson refused a request from other medical staffers to move him to the infirmary at 11:51 a.m. and said the inmate should be taken off a hunger strike watch, according to the internal investigative report. Guards found Embry unresponsive in his cell hours later, his head slumped to the side. He was pronounced dead at 5:29 p.m.

Prison officials kept track of the meals that Embry skipped. Out of the 37 meals given to Embry, he had refused to eat 36 of them. According to the Daily Mail, the reason that Embry was taken off the hunger watch was because “he drank a cup of tea.”

The AP has learned that lead prison psychologist, Jean Hinkebein, was placed on administrative leave, and reported that the prison is in the process of firing her and at least one of her associates. Embry was a heating and air conditioning repairman, and according to prison officials, he never had visitors and no one stepped forward to claim his body. Embry was buried in a field near the penitentiary.

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