Frederick Adami, a 52-year-old resident of Morrisville, Pennsylvania, died from apparent opioid withdrawal early in the morning on Sunday, January 28, while in custody at the Bucks County Correctional Facility.
Adami’s cellmate, Bruce Gramiak Jr., made a phone call to his girlfriend, Melissa Weitzel, the night before Adami’s death to tell her that his cellmate was displaying symptoms of opioid withdrawal. “We’ve talked every day since he’s been inside and on Saturday night, he said he got a new cellmate who was in really bad shape,” Weitzel, who lives in Bensalem, told The Appeal. “He was throwing up a lot and going to the bathroom and puking all night.”
Weitzel posted her boyfriend’s account to Facebook on the evening of Adami’s death. “At 6:30 in the morning, my boyfriend was woken up by the guards to his cellmates lifeless body on the floor below him,” she wrote. “Keep in mind, there is fecal matter and throw up literally all over the floor and cell and the man is dead.”
A February 2017 investigation by Mother Jones found dozens of cases involving people dying from dehydration due to opioid withdrawal while in jail or prison. “Outside of jails,” wrote Mother Jones’s Julia Lurie, “dying from opiate withdrawal is exceedingly rare because, with few exceptions, it is so preventable. Dehydration, the withdrawal symptom that usually kills people, can be treated with intravenous fluids.” And as Georgetown University Associate Law Professor Shon Hopwood wrote recently, “the biggest danger” to prisoners is not assaults from staff or fellow inmates, but lack of medical care.
The Supreme Court has weighed in on health care in prisons as well. “A prison that deprives prisoners basic sustenance, including adequate medical care, is incompatible with the concept of human dignity and has no place in civilized society,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in favor of Brown v. Plata, a 2011 Supreme Court decision that ruled California’s overcrowded prisons violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
Opioid withdrawal may also trigger other health conditions to flare up, especially for an older man like Adami. Weitzel told The Appeal that her boyfriend repeatedly asked guards and even one of the facility’s nurses to help Adami. “He said they basically ignored him, and told him not to worry about it.” Adami is the eighth prisoner to die inside the Bucks County Correctional Facility since 2006, according to the Courier Times, a local Bucks County newspaper.
Adami was not arrested for any criminal act, according to Larry King, a spokesperson for the Bucks County DA’s office. “He had two outstanding domestic relations warrants,” King said, adding that typically means money is owed for child support or some other civil payment. “He was sent to prison to be held for an appearance that was scheduled for Monday morning. Unfortunately he passed away in the interim while incarcerated.”
Adami leaves behind five children. His family did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Bucks County Coroner Dr. Joseph Campbell told The Appeal that an autopsy was completed and the cause of death was inconclusive, pending further testing and investigation. Asked specifically whether dehydration from opioid withdrawal is on the table, Dr. Campbell said there are a number of open possibilities for Adami’s cause of death.
If the facility is found to have neglected him, his family could potentially sue. County jails and prisons have in the past paid millions of dollars to settle lawsuits involving prisoners dying from withdrawal while in custody.
In a series of tweets, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand recently praised the recall effort against Judge Aaron Persky, who sentenced Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner to six months in prison after Turner was convicted of sexually assaulting a woman during a college party.
The recall effort is misguided. It’s unlikely to result in the changes its most ardent supporters desire around increased accountability and deterrence for those who commit sexual assault. But it will likely lead to harsher sentences.
Led by Stanford Law Professor Michele Dauber, the recall campaign claimsthat Judge Persky granted leniency to Turner because he was white and privileged. Assuming that’s true, the recall effort doesn’t address that problem. If it did, the campaign would call for Judge Persky to sentence other non-white, less privileged defendants to the same time as Turner.
Nor will the campaign achieve greater accountability. Turner was charged, convicted, and sentenced. As Meaghan Ybos, founder and executive director of People for the Enforcement of Rape Laws, noted, the justice system held him accountable in a way that doesn’t happen in many sexual assault cases.
But the campaign’s main criticism is that Judge Perksy gave Turner “too lenient a sentence.” Arguing that a two-year sentence was appropriate, Professor Dauber faults Judge Persky’s failure to send Turner to prison for an additional 18 months.
Despite this risk, Professor Dauber leads the campaign because she contends that a two-year sentence would deter other young men from committing sexual assault. In that way, she echoes Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s general view on deterrence: When we punish one person harshly, it deters others. This argument is often used to justify imposing longer sentences on defendants.
But research shows that increasing the length of an individual sentence is unlikely to create an effective deterrent. If the media publicity surrounding Turner’s case, his conviction, and his sentence to life on the sex offender registry don’t deter other students from committing sexual assault, then it’s hard to believe they would be deterred had Turner received another 18 months in prison.
We tend to measure punishment solely by the length of incarceration, and calls for harsher sentencing are rarely accompanied by an appreciation of the full punishment actually imposed.
Turner will be on probation for another three years. If he makes a mistake, he will serve a 14-year prison sentence. Turner will also spend a lifetime on the sex offender registry. His neighbors will be alerted anytime he moves. He can be barred from living near schools, parks, and other public areas. Anytime he travels to another state, he must comply with detailed regulations about how long he can stay.
Turner will face countless collateral consequences, including lawful discrimination in housing and employment. These consequences will continue to apply even if he matures, ages out of crime, and exhibits rehabilitation.
Running an internet search on someone you meet is common in today’s culture. It will be difficult for Turner to have a normal romantic relationship once someone searches his name online. If he is fortunate enough to have children, he will be unable to participate in their afterschool activities, and his kids are likely to be bullied by other kids about their father’s conviction. His actions will continue to haunt him and his family, and the punishment will never end.
Maybe that’s what he had coming. The crime he committed was vile and the victim will continue to suffer the effects of the sexual assault. But the recall campaign isn’t grappling with any of these difficult realities about punishment. Professor Dauber has a personal relationship with the victim and thus her instinct is understandable. The temptation to seek vengeance is one of which we are all guilty; it is also one of the primary drivers of mass incarceration.
If we’re going to impose stiffer sentences, we should consider the full range of punishment. I served almost 11 years in federal prison, a horrible place where the threat of violence or dying from lack of medical care was always present. But if given a choice between serving 18 months in prison or facing the full range of consequences that Turner will endure long after his release, I’d easily choose the 18 months.
Brock Turner will receive a lifetime of punishment. Unhappiness with his prison sentence is not an adequate reason for a crusade that will lead to harsher sentences for others, ultimately falling on the most vulnerable.
When those who know the criminal justice system say this recall campaign will be a net loss for justice, you’d think the recall supporters would reconsider. And if the criminal justice reform community can’t convince a liberal law professor from Stanford and a Democratic senator from New York to reconsider their call for harsher sentences, then we have a long road ahead to convince the rest of America to end practices leading to mass incarceration.
Shon Hopwood is an associate professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center and co-founder of Prison Professors L.L.C.
The report takes a snapshot of a single day to illustrate its point: On November 16, 2017, state parole violations made up 16 percent (or 1,460) of people in the city’s jails. Indeed, parole violators are the only part of the New York City jail population that has increased over the past four years.
“In New York, people released on parole are more likely to return to incarceration not for new convictions, but for violating the conditions of their parole,” the report notes.
At the state level, the report reveals, the number of people returned to prison for parole violations increased 21 percent between 2015 and 2016. For every 10 people who successfully completed their parole in New York State, nine were reincarcerated for parole violations. In 2016, those people made up 29 percent of the state’s prison population. But their violations were not necessarily new crimes; instead, nearly half were technical parole violations.
Even New York Governor Andrew Cuomo acknowledged the tremendous impact of parole violations, noting in his 2018 State of the State briefing book that, in 2012, 33 percent of people released from prison were remanded within three years for technical parole violations. “New York jails and prisons should not be filled with people who may have violated the conditions of their parole, but present no danger to our communities,” he stated.
Vincent Schiraldi, the report’s author and a senior research scientist at Columbia University’s Justice Lab, is also a former commissioner of the New York City Department of Probation. He notes that a parole violation generally results in two months in jail while officials hold hearings to determine whether to revoke parole. In other words, people spend an average of two months behind bars waiting to learn whether they will be returned to prison. Schiraldi told In Justice Today that roughly two-thirds end up being sent back to prison; the other one-third are released. But in that time, formerly incarcerated people struggling with reentry can easily lose newly secured jobs or housing.
Author and activist Donna Hylton spent 27 years in prison for kidnapping and murder, followed by five years on parole. She is still in contact with many of the women she was incarcerated with at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, New York’s women’s maximum-security prison, including those who are now navigating reentry and parole. Two months may be an average, notes Hylton, but she knows of cases in which the jail time stretched even longer. She recounted working with a young woman whose parole violation stemmed from her drug addiction. “She spent almost nine months waiting for a hearing,” Hylton said. Though the woman was ultimately not remanded to prison, those nine months behind bars resulted in her child being placed in foster care. “She’s now trying to put her family back together, put her life together,” Hylton said, “Incarceration and re-incarceration should not be the response to addiction. A lot of technical violations are because of that.”
Vonda Seward, the former statewide director for reentry services for the New York State Division of Parole, agrees. “When we talk about technical violations, most of them are drug-related,” she told In Justice Today. “Going to jail or prison is not the answer to getting high.” But, she noted, parole officers err on the side of caution to avoid risking a future crime. “When you work for parole, you’re only as good as your last successful case.”
“Incarceration and re-incarceration should not be the response to addiction. A lot of technical violations are because of that.”
At the same time, both Schiraldi and Seward note, parole officers have limited ability to help with the plethora of parolees’ pressing needs, such as housing, employment and health care. But that doesn’t mean they won’t threaten parolees with violations for not finding resources on their own.
That’s what happened to Donna Hylton. In January 2012, with her parole officer’s initial approval, Hylton left a transitional program to reconnect with family. When she realized that her family’s home was still unhealthy and that she could not stay with them, she was left without housing. Her parole officer told her that unless she found a homeless shelter or a residence that the parole officer approved, she would be sent back to prison. Fortunately, Sister Mary Nearney, a Roman Catholic nun and founder of numerous programs for incarcerated women, whom Hylton had met while in prison, came to her rescue. In February 2012, Hylton moved in with Sister Nearney until she was able to find her own apartment. “I was an exception,” she notes. “So many other people don’t have that.”
Lack of housing is a common barrier for people returning home from prison, and for those on parole, it can easily become a pathway back to prison. That’s something Topeka Sam, director of the Ladies of Hope Ministries, a faith-based reentry program for women, learned firsthand after establishing Hope House, a transitional home for formerly incarcerated women in the Bronx.
In the fall of 2017, she was prepared to accept the house’s first residents — five women scheduled to be released on parole from the New York state prison system. But then the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS), which operates the state’s prison and parole systems, refused to approve Hope House because Sam herself is formerly incarcerated and currently on federal probation (though her probation officer approved her efforts to create Hope House). Sam told In Justice Today that most of the women whom she is now unable to house went to shelters; one woman remains in prison for lack of approved housing.
The Justice Lab report offers several policy recommendations for decreasing the number of people jailed for parole or probation violations, including shortening parole terms, requiring a hearing before jailing someone for a technical violation, creating a high legal threshold for jailing people for less serious parole violations, and using graduated sanctions and rewards rather than the threat of immediate incarceration.
But, Seward said, these recommendations won’t happen without pressure from Governor Cuomo. “We can continue to show reports and data,” she said, “but if the governor doesn’t put his foot down on what he wants, it’s not going to get done.”
Correction: This story has been edited to note that only the number of people violating the terms of parole, not probation, is on the rise.