Before the overcrowding of the facility the food was much better, but now over 1300 prisoners have to be fed, so corners are being cut, and the worst/cheapest food is being served. Also, it does not help that the Food Service Manager, Ms. Puckett, is always striving to stay under budget of what is allocated for food so that she can obtain a bonus at the end of the year. Over years and years of consuming the worst quality food it often leads to health complications. This in turn puts us at the mercy of a medical department that is usually ran by private healthcare providers such as Corizon, Amor, and Mediko, that are profit orientated and have been sued repeatedly for medical malpractice and negligence.
The medical treatment that we receive is far below the standard of that which is accepted in free society. Prisoners are often placed on extremely long waiting lists for dental treatment (sometimes years) where they end up losing their teeth. As for medical it sometimes takes weeks to see the doctor after you've paid for sick call. This is largely due to the magnitude of the prison population, but there is also an orchestrated effort to make money at the prisoners expense which causes health risks as well.
Outsourcing healthcare to private companies has benefitted the VDOC, but has been the worst nightmare of the prison population. These healthcare providers routinely underbid all other contracters, knowing full well that they won't have the necessary funding nor insurance to provide proper services. The federal courts have repeatedly held that the entire process is a sham in which both the providers and the VDOC are liable. (See the cases of Scott v. Clarke, and Riggleman v. Clarke)
Prisoners are frequently charged a $5.00 sick call over and over for issues that should be labelled follow-ups. This is done so much, that prisoners often don't sign up for medical even when they are sick because they don't have the money to pay. Many prisoners that have limited funds rather go to commissary to buy food than go to medical because the food in the dining hall is just that bad. Of course people in society may ask, why would you forgo medical treatment for commissary?, but when you have no faith in the healthcare provider, and you suffer from depression where food is used to self medicate, the decision is easy. Most prisoners endure their conditions until they can bear it no longer and sometimes until its too late. This comes from a lack of love for self and also mental health issues, many of which the prisoners have not been diagnosed.
When we look at mental health the truth is horrifying. I can personally testify to the fact that prisons are being substituted for mental health facilities. There are numerous prisoners that suffer from mental health issues that have never been diagnosed and regrettably these things were never considered by the courts upon their conviction. Others have developed mental diseases in prison. This has caused the prison to be plagued with individuals that need help and aren't receiving it.
I literally watched an individual try to hang himself off of the top tier within the reentry community here, but the community came to his rescue. Afterwards no one from Mental Health even questioned the residents about how they were affected by the suicide attempt. Mental health treatment within the VDOC is a farce and completely insufficient. Here at Augusta there is only one psychologist, and one psychiatrist for over 1300 people. The sad reality is that if one doesn't have a history of mental health issues, you are not a priority nor are you taken seriously when you seek help. We must address mental health as a significant issue of importance in prison reform because many of the prisoners will be members of free society again one day.
Lastly, we cannot take an in depth look at mass incarceration without speaking upon the role of the multimillion dollar corporations that benefit from it. These companies such as Virginia Correctional Enterprises (VCE), Global Tel-Link, Keefe, and JPay, all benefit exponentially from mass incarceration. Prisoners are exploited at every turn, and so are their families. These companies even lobby for harsher laws to ensure that the prisons stay full so that they can profit. Corporations like JPay charge family members outrageous service fees just to send their loved ones money, and VCE makes millions while only paying prisoners peanuts on the dollar. in the meantime while these companies bloodsuck the victims of mass incarceration, they give absolutely nothing back to the families and communities they have destroyed.
It is time that we take a complete stand against mass incarceration and those that benefit from it. The "Virginia Prison Justice Network" has been formed to take down Truth-In-Sentencing, and bring about meaningful criminal justice and prison reform. As a member of Virginia Prisoner of Conscience (VAPOC) I can honestly say that the times of prisoners sitting idly by in the face of oppression are over. The prisoners are getting tired of being mistreated and 100% dissatisfaction brings about a complete change. Please join us in putting a halt to this domino effect that mass incarceration has caused and we shall bring about freedom, justice, and equality where the once was none. In truth and justice. - Hassan Shabazz