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Kentucky prison under fire after inmate is starved to death

In an exclusive Associated Press report released by ABC News on Monday, it was reported that an inmate, James Kenneth Embry, 57, at the Kentucky State Penitentiary starved himself to death. A prison doctor has been fired and two staffers are in the process of being dismissed over the case.

Kentucky State Penitentiary, Photo taken: March 15, 2014 by Nyttend (Public Domain)
Kentucky State Penitentiary, Photo taken: March 15, 2014 by Nyttend (Public Domain)
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kentucky_State_Penitentiary_from_east.jpg

The incident has again brought to light a glaring problem that exposes lapses in the medical treatment of inmates and how hunger strikes are handled at the prison. After the Associated Press began asking questions about how and why Embry died, prison officials were forced to ask prosecutors to investigate.

Embry was three years shy of being released from prison after being convicted of a drug offense, and being given a prison term of nine years. Embry had been on anti-anxiety drugs for mental health problems, and in the spring of 2013, stopped taking his medication. This was when everything began to spiral out of control.

By December, Embry was exhibiting erratic behavior, from being anxious to feeling paranoid. At this time, he asked to go back on his medication, but the request was denied. He began having spells where he would bang his head against his cell door, as well as talking about suicide. Soon after, he stopped eating almost all of his meals.

On January 4, a nurse going by his cell noticed Embry appeared to be weak and shaky, and advised him to eat. He said it had been too long for him to try to eat. Nine days later, on the day he died, Bob Wilkinson, an advanced practice registered nurse, refused a request from other medical staff to move Embry to the infirmary. Embry died shortly after that.

Embry died in January of this year, after losing 50 pounds off his six-foot frame. He weighed 138 pounds at his death. Prison physician Dr. Steve Hiland was suspended on March 5, and fired the very next day. The other staffers involved are on administrative leave while the investigation by the state Attorney General's office is still on-going.