Prison deaths raise questions about inmate care

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Prison deaths raise questions about inmate care

Two inmates in Busan’s state prison died of heart complications within a day of each other, bringing to question whether the state facility provided prompt and appropriate medical assistance to the men, who were already suffering from health complications.

A 37-year-old inmate surnamed Lee died of a heart attack on Friday, according to his autopsy results. One day after, a 39-year-old inmate surnamed Seo died of coronary sclerosis, also known as a clogged artery.

Both deaths have been brought to light not by the prison, but by families of the deceased who reported them to news agencies.

“The deaths of the inmates have occurred a day within each other by chance,” said an official of the prison. “There is no reason for the prison to attempt to conceal the deaths.”

Both Lee and Seo were imprisoned in two different confinement quarters, rooms each sized 7 square-meters (75.3 square-feet), equipped with toilets and able to house three inmates at a time.

The quarters, however, do not have electric fans. Each inmate is provided with a manual fan and 6 liters (202 ounces) of water per day.

Confinement quarters are used to isolate troublesome inmates until they face disciplinary action.

Lee was imprisoned in one of these quarters from Aug. 17 after getting into a fight with another inmate. In the scuffle, Lee was hit in the face multiple times and a local hospital diagnosed him with a fractured nose that day. Lee did not receive immediate medical treatment.

“The prison was going to take additional measures after the swelling in Lee’s eyes subsided,” said a prison official.

At 1:40 a.m. Friday, two days after his confinement, Lee’s blood pressure rose to 180/110 mm Hg, and his body temperature rose to 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in just five hours. He was transported to the emergency room of the Pusan National University Yangsan Hospital, but pronounced dead at 9:23 a.m.

Seo, who was placed in confinement quarters from Aug. 9, started experiencing body spasms on Thursday, when his body temperature rose to 39.9 degrees Celsius.

He, too, was transported to the Pusan National University Yangsan Hospital, where medical staff suspect he may have been suffering from blood poisoning or heatstroke. He was sent home to his family, and died on Saturday.

According to a statement two years ago by Saenuri Party Rep. Lee Ju-young, some 85 inmates died from 2004 to 2014 because prisons failed to suspend inmates’ confinements quickly enough when they fell ill.

BY KANG SEUNG-WOO, ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]

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