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Mentally Ill Black Man Starved to Death in Care of Prison and Healthcare Company, Lawsuit Says

Vincent Gaines, a Black man, starved to death under the watch of Union Correctional Institution prison guards and Corizon Health, a contracted provider for the medical care of inmates. Gaines’ family, along with the Human Rights Defense Center in Lake Worth, Fla., has filed a federal lawsuit.

Gaines had a well-documented history of mental illness and medical needs that the Florida Department of Corrections (DOC) was aware of including being known to be bipolar and psychotic with borderline intellectual functioning, according to The Palm Beach Post.

But while serving a five-year sentence for burglary at Union Correctional Institution, Gaines lost over 75 pounds in two-and-a-half years.

At the time of his death, the 5-foot-9, 52-year-old, weighed 115 pounds and was found naked with dried feces on the bottoms of his feet. He was supposed to have received supervision while eating as part of his care, and there are forced-feeding protocols if inmates go on hunger strikes.

Gaines’s mother, two brothers and sister, were never told of his death. The DOC buried him on prison property.

“He was sent to prison to serve a five-year term, not to die. Too many people are dying in our prisons. We have to end this,” said Edwin Ferguson, the Gaines family attorney.

Corizon Health, responsible for Gaines’ healthcare, left its $1.2 billion five-year contract with the Department of Corrections after numerous reports of inmates dying due to inadequate medical care.

The company’s spokeswoman, Martha Harbin, said Corizon “fully reviewed Gaines’ medical record and feel confident that appropriate evidence-based care was provided.”

Gaines’ family wants the Florida prison system and corporations to value lives and treat those who are ill.

They said in a statement: “We hope that this case will help to bring about prison reform nationwide. Vincent’s death is yet another tragic tale of a large corporation valuing its profits more than human life. No one deserves to die like Vincent did — starving and alone.”

More than half of all Americans in prison have mental illness (over 1.2 million people), and over 800,000 of them are people of color.

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