Burned Behind Bars: Burn Injuries to Prison Inmates

By December 10, 2016Burn Injuries

Individuals who are sentenced to jail time face a different life behind bars. Not only will they be exposed to the dangers of prison life, they may also face the same dangers we encounter in our everyday lives. This can include the potential for burn injuries from fires, gas explosions, or boiling liquids. However, because of the remoteness and security measures in place at many correctional institutions, it may take longer to get help and medical attention, which could result in more extensive physical injury or even death.

An inmate at the Roxbury Correctional Institution in Maryland was recently transported to a hospital for the treatment of burns. According to news sources, Washington County dispatchers got a call at about 6:30 a.m., and were told that an inmate had spilled boiling water, causing burns to his hands and feet. Scald burns can be extremely serious and prompt medical attention may be needed. It is unclear how much time passed between the burn injury and when medical attention was provided.

According to a Mark Vernarelli, a spokesman for the Public Safety and Correctional Services, the man was heating food with a makeshift heating device. Vernarelli said that inmates are not allowed to have heating elements in their cells, though it is unclear whether prison personnel knew about this device. The inmate was transported by Maryland State Police helicopter, though his injuries were determined to be non life threatening.

However, inmates in California recently faced a much more serious threat. Eight jail inmates were working at the Fresno Sheriff’s gun range, picking up shell casings, when a county worker who was using a front-end loader ruptured a gas pipeline. Thirteen people were injured, with those closest to the explosion getting the worst of the injuries, including third degree burns. The victims were reported to be in critical or serious condition, with one inmate having second and third degree burns over more than 40 percent of his body.

Another inmate, Jeremiah Espino, eventually died from his injuries suffered in the gas pipe explosion, after being hospitalized for 25 days. The 52-year old husband and father had burns on over 80% of his body. He was not able to communicate with his family due to his extensive injuries, but the sheriff deputies on-scene during the explosion shared his final words with the family. The deputies said Espino told them that he did not want to die. One of Espino’s daughters expressed gratitude to the deputies who rushed to her father’s aid. The family has also said they were grateful for the attention their father received from doctors and nurses in the burn unit.

Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), the company who owns the gas pipeline issued a statement, saying, “Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of the deceased and with the others injured in the incident.” However, the statement hasn’t stopped a number of the injured inmates from filing lawsuits against PG&E and Fresno County for negligence.

The exact cause of the explosion is still under investigation. PG&E spokesman, Denny Boyles said the company can’t comment on pending litigation related to the investigation. However, a lawyer representing three of the inmates said in a complaint that the gas company doesn’t maintain its pipelines properly, and that other explosions are likely to occur unless PG&E addresses these problems.

Will Walker

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