Yet Another Tale of Death in Jail Over a Debt, in a Nation Officially Without Debtors Prisons

Taken from a hospital suffering from gastroenteritis straight to jail, Joyce Curnell died there of likely dehydration. All over an unpaid court debt.


One often doesn't receive the best medical care in jail. The relatives of Joyce Curnell, who died in jail last July, are threatening to sue the jail's medical contractor, the Carolina Center for Occupational Health, claiming the jail neglected to give the very ill Ms. Curnell (she was arrested while in a hospital for a stomach ailment) the water she needed to live while in Charleston County jail in South Carolina.

The Post and Courier reported today on the situation.

Post and Courier


spent the last 27 hours of her life behind bars. During that time she became too sick to eat or call for help, according to court documents filed this week. She vomited all night and couldn't make it to a bathroom, so jailers gave her a trash bag. Some medical staffers ignored the jail officials' requests to tend to her, the documents alleged.

Curnell was also "one of at least six [black] women nationwide to die in law enforcement custody that month. They included Sandra Bland, the inmate found hanged in a Texas jail days after a state trooper pulled her from her car during a traffic stop. Her death was ruled a suicide, but the trooper was indicted on a perjury charge for his handling of the arrest."

Curnell had been taking by ambulance to a hospital, and diagnosed with gastroenteritis. Through methods the Post and Courier was not able to pin down, while there it "was discovered" that she owed $1,148 in fines to a court related to a 2011 shoplifting case.

She wasn't keeping up on her payments to the court, so after not responding to "a letter from the court," she had a warrant for her arrest over her head since August 2014.

While Curnell was ill in the hospital, the police nabbed their woman, and took her to jail from the hospital.

Instead of staying in the jail's medical facility, Curnell was taken to a housing unit. Jail officers reported later that she vomited "through the night" and "couldn't make it to the bathroom," the documents stated. They gave her a trash bag…

She couldn't eat breakfast the next morning. No records indicated that she was given water or intravenous fluids to prevent dehydration, the filings added…

Maria Gibson, the Medical University Hospital primary care doctor hired as an expert witness for the family, said in an affidavit that Curnell died of complications from her sickness. Coupled with her underlying conditions, Curnell was just too sick to overcome dehydration without aid, Gibson said.

In a nation without official debtors prison, Ms. Curnell died in jail because she owed the court money.

Another tale of death and effective debtors prison I reported on earlier this week.