Published on: Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Records obtained from the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) show at least 4,950 people died in its custody over roughly the past decade (article available here).

Although there are more than 120 federal prisons nationwide, a quarter of those deaths occurred in a single place: the Butner Federal Correctional Complex in Butner, North Carolina.

More deaths at Butner are to be expected. The complex includes a federal medical center (FMC), which is essentially a prison hospital. Inmates who need intensive medical care often end up at one of these hospitals, and FMC Butner is the bureau's largest cancer treatment facility.

But looking closer at the experiences of individual people, NPR found numerous accounts of inmates nationwide going without needed medical care. More than a dozen waited months or even years for treatment, including inmates with obviously concerning symptoms: unexplained bleeding, a suspicious lump, intense pain.

Too often, federal prisons fail to treat serious illnesses fast enough. When an ailment like cancer is caught, the BOP often funnels these sick inmates to a place like Butner, where it is assumed they'll receive more specialized treatment. But by the time prisoners access more advanced care, it's sometimes too late to do much more than palliative care.