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Another Family Blames Dawson State Jail For Inmate Death

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Ashleigh Shae Parks, 30, died just six weeks before she was scheduled to be released from Dawson State Jail in downtown Dallas, a low security facility for people convicted of non-violent crimes.

Parks was serving an 18-month sentence for drug possession.

"My little sister lived long enough for my mother to make it to her bedside," recalled Keith Grady. Ashleigh Parks' brother says he didn't know his sister was sick until the family got a call saying she had been moved from the jail to the hospital. "As soon as my mother came in, she died."

Her family says Ashleigh had pneumonia and they believe her death could have been prevented if she had simply gotten antibiotics sooner.  Their suspicions are based, in part, on letters they received from inmates at Dawson.

"I thought all she needed was medication, and all my daughter needed was antibiotics," said Reni Palmer, Parks' mother.

Parks' family blames the staff at Dawson State Jail for not recognizing Ashleigh's illness sooner.  They say they filed a lawsuit but later dropped it.

"The medical personnel in ICU told me there was basically nothing they could do for her. And these are the people at the hospital (who) told us that the prison killed my sister," said Grady.  His anger and grief was renewed in April when he saw a CBS 11 investigation which raised troubling questions about a lack of medical care at Dawson State Jail.

In our previous report, CBS 11 spoke with the family of Pam Weatherby, an inmate who died while serving a one year sentence for drug possession. Weatherby's parents believe their daughter didn't receive adequate treatment for her diabetes while in jail.

Anne Roderick, another inmate, said Weatherby was very ill, but no one moved her from her cell from for medical treatment.   Roderick claims the inmates tried desperately to keep Weatherby alive.

"I knew she was going to die," said Roderick.  "I knew if we didn't get her out of there, she was going to die."

Pam Weatherby died on May 12, 2010.  Ashley Parks died two years earlier. After watching our earlier report, Parks' brother wonders if by speaking about more, he could have helped prevent Weatherby's death.

"I wondered if that night if I had done more myself (would) that girl still be alive," said Keith Grady.

Nearly 20 former inmates have also contacted CBS 11 saying they were afraid to talk when they were at Dawson but now want to speak out about a lack of medical care.

Dawson State Jail is run by Corrections Corporation of America, a private prison managment company based in Tennessee that has a contract with the State of Texas.

CBS 11 obtained internal CCA documents that show the chief of security reported that the supervisors did not follow proper procedures by failing to call for help for Pam Weatherby.

He recommended terminating a shift supervisor. But when CCA had to file an incident report with the State of Texas, the warden wrote "staff acted in accordance with TDCJ procedure" and concluded that "no training needs have been identified."

In response to our previous story, CCA sent CBS 11 the following statement:

"Our dedicated, professional corrections staff is firmly committed to the health and safety of the inmates entrusted to our care. We take seriously any allegations of wrongdoing.  Inmates are provided a number of ways to communicate concerns about health care to facility management, CCA management and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ).  CCA is not the health care provider at the Dawson State jail, so the company is not privy to medical-specific information about inmates. Health care services at this facility are provided by the University of Texas medical branch in contract with TDCJ.  Our team works closely with our government partners to ensure inmates have access to the healthcare service providers at the facility.  As discussed previously, we are unable to speak to the specifics of the Weatherby allegations while the case is in the judicial process. We will respond publicly through that venue.  As for the other allegations, there are no complaints on record from those inmates about their access to quality health care."

When contacted about Ashleigh Parks' death and other issues for this story, CCA reiterated that it is not the health care provider at Dawson State Jail, and did not comment further concerning how its staff handles inmates who complain of illness.

"The public should be aware we are looking into it," said Rep. Jerry Madden (R –– Plano) who chairs the Criminal Justice Board which oversees the state jails. Madden reviewed our findings. On the day we visited his office, he worked to get more information from TDCJ.

"If everything is true, there are things that need to be looked at," said Rep. Madden. His interest in the investigation gives Ashleigh Parks' family hope that the state will take action to ensure the safety of inmates at Dawson State Jail.

"We wanted to come forward to make sure Ashleigh's story is heard, but more importantly this stops at some point," said her brother, Keith Grady. "This has to stop."

The Department of Criminal Justice sent CBS 11 the following statement regarding access to medical care at Dawson State Jail.

"The Texas Department of Criminal Justice oversees the confinement of approximately 156,000 offenders at 111 facilities across the state. In addition to operating its own units, the agency also contracts with private entities to operate secure facilities such as Dawson State Jail. There are five privately operated state jails. Corrections Corporation of America is the current contractor at Dawson State Jail. Through a competitive bidding process, CCA was awarded a contract for the operation and management of the facility beginning September 1, 2010 with options for renewal through August 31, 2017.

While I can not address offender Park's case specifically, the safety, security, and well being of offenders is paramount to the agency.

TDCJ goes to great lengths to ensure that the contractor is complying with the contract. Each privately operated state jail has a contract monitor that is assigned to the unit and is responsible for monitoring the contract between the agency and contractor. Monthly unannounced visits and specific area of compliance reviews are conducted each month throughout the year. If issues are found, the agency requires to contractor to remedy them within a specific time frame or the contract can ultimately be terminated.

TDCJ is obligated to provide medical care for offenders. The agency partners with Texas Tech University Health Science Center and University of Texas Medical Branch to provide comprehensive healthcare to adult offenders incarcerated within state prisons and state jails. UTMB is the medical provider at Dawson State Jail. Specific questions about offender healthcare should be directed to them.  TDCJ – Health Services Division works to ensure that offenders have access to care, monitor quality of care, investigate medical grievances, and conduct operational review audits of health care services at TDCJ facilities including Dawson State Jail."

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