Donnie Powe, 43, was the first inmate to die at Wisconsin’s “Supermax” prison. The Milwaukee Journal Sentintel reports that he spent the last 21 hours of his life alone in a cell after telling a nurse he was too weak to walk, dizzy and nauseated. His condition was monitored largely by medically untrained guards who peered through the window of the cell door.
By the time the guards opened the door about 11:30 a.m. March 16, Powe had been lying on the floor for two hours. He had no pulse and no blood pressure, and his body had begun to turn blue.
The manner of Powe’s death raises familiar questions about medical care within the 19,095-inmate Department of Corrections system. A Journal Sentinel series in October 2000 told of dozens of Wisconsin inmates who had died under questionable circumstances during the last decade. The Supermax incident “appears to be neglect. I don’t know if it was benign neglect or malignant neglect,” said state Rep. Sheldon Wasserman (D-Milwaukee), a physician and member of the Assembly’s Corrections and the Courts Committee.
“I understand that people are outraged and upset,” said David Burnett, medical director for the state Department of Corrections. “We know we have to make some changes in this medical observation policy and make some changes in light of what happened here. We’re taking action.”