Why did Terrill Thomas die of thirst?

Nobody decided to kill Terrill Thomas.  He kept flooding his cell at the Milwaukee County Jail and making a mess so they just turned off the water to his cell.  Then they left it off until he was dead.  It took six days.  Fellow inmates say he was calling out for water.  Corrections officers say they checked in on Thomas every half hour, and “he had made some type of noise or movement” every time.  Until the last time, when he didn’t make any type of noise or movement because he’d died of thirst.

How did this happen?  It didn’t happen because David Clarke — the sheriff of Milwaukee County, and a top candidate to lead the Department of Homeland Security in the Trump administration — wanted to kill a prisoner in the most agonizing way imaginable.  What kind of psycho would want that?  I don’t think Sheriff Clarke wanted to kill a newborn baby either.  The baby was the fourth person to die in the jail since April.

These people died because nobody really seems to care what happens in the Milwaukee County Jail.  The medical services there are run by Armor Correctional Health Services, a company which oversees healthcare for 40,000 inmates in 8 states.  What are you saying about your priorities if you call your health care company “Armor”?

Armor’s glassdoor page doesn’t make it sound like a great place to work.  One employee writes:   “Stop being bean counters and start listening to your employees. We are asked to do too much: too many patients, too many intakes, not nearly enough staff to be in compliance with your own rules!”  Armor was sued by the state of New York this year over 12 inmates who died in the Nassau County Jail, including Daniel Pantera, who died of hypothermia in solitary confinement; they settled the suit last month for $350,000 and are barred for three years from bidding for contracts in the state.  Armor does get a very nice endorsement, though, from Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw, who says right on the front of their website, “Armor stands out as an exemplary model of what partnership in correctional health should look like.”  Bradshaw’s department was held liable this year for $22.4m in damages to Dontrell Stephens, and this summer settled for $550,000 against a former U.S. Marshall who said he was roughed up by deputies after stopping to help the victims of a traffic accident.

Here in Wisconsin, Armor’s performance is overseen by Ronald Shansky, a court-appointed monitor and the first president of the Society of Correctional Physicians.  Some of what Shansky has to say, based on his visit to Milwaukee County correctional facilities last month:


As for the deaths:


Shansky also, I should say, has a lot of praise for some staff members at the jail, characterizing them as devoted to their jobs and patients and doing the best they can under strained circumstances.  And I believe that’s true.  Again:  the doctors of Armor didn’t want Terrill Thomas to spend six days dying of thirst.  Neither did the CEO of Armor.  Neither did David Clarke.  But it happened.  And everyone participated in creating the circumstances under which it happened, and under which it’s likely to happen again:  public services outsourced to companies without the staff or resources to do the job right.

It starts with jails.  But it goes on to schools, to parking, to Medicare, to policing, to the maintenance of our bridges and roads.  You’ll hear people say those services should be run like businesses.  We can see in Milwaukee County what that looks like.  Does it look good?

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4 thoughts on “Why did Terrill Thomas die of thirst?

  1. victor says:

    There are lots of similar issues in prisons run by the government in other countries. I don’t think the fact that it is run like a business has anything to do with it. It’s just that when we outsource these services to private firms, we write terrible contracts, with very poor monitoring, and terrible goals which determine payment and continuation of the contract. If people dying of thirst isn’t enough to cancel your contract with damages, I don’t know what is.

    By the way, similar negligence is also found in the VA. For the same reasons. There is no direct accountability. And people are graded and rewarded for the wrong performance measures.

  2. sniffnoy says:

    The final comparison doesn’t make a lot of sense. Running prisons “like businesses” makes no sense because the incentives are all wrong. A business is incentivized to serve its customers well because they provide the money and (assuming a competitive market) they can go elsewhere if they don’t like it. But a prisoner can’t choose to leave a bad prison; they’re not paying the prison for good service. So private prisons have little reason to avoid mistreating their prisoners. But these problems don’t apply to privately-provided services in general; there’s little reason to infer dysfunction in other areas from the (easily predictable) dysfunction of privately-run prisons, unless they’re also things being inflicted on people unwillingly rather than services that people voluntarily pay for.

  3. harrison says:

    I think this “argument” proves too much.

    “It starts with jails. But it goes on to supermarkets, to transportation, to hospitals, to the maintenance of our office buildings. You’ll hear people say those services should be run like businesses. We can see in Milwaukee County what that looks like. Does it look good?”

  4. dennis Woody/Powers says:

    “What About Darryl Woody!”  Darryl Woody death on January 3 ,2011 was ruled a homicide by asphyxiation. His death was caught on electronic surveillance (Video). Nassau County is hiding the truth! Darryl Woody’s death is a homicide that is being covered-up by NCCC and NUMC and multiple corrupt law enforcement agencies that failed to adequately investigate the true cause of his death. Darryl Woody’s death is a homicide and the video surveillance will prove that. However, four six years NCCC and NUMC has been denying access to the government protected video files. First NCCC/NUMC claimed that there was no cameras in the suicide prevention ward at NUMC. When this account was proven false, NCCC and NUMC claimed that “yes” there are cameras but the video was recorded over 24hours after the death of Darryl Woody!  This constitutes a felony;tampering with government files and destroying evidence;obstruction! However,no county officials has been held accountable for this criminal offense or the continuing criminal enterprise that’s aiding and abetting the perpetrators of this improprieties. I have been in contact with your aid Mike Friccione for several months by multiple emails and telephone interviews addressing this matter to no avail. So now I am taking matters into my on hands to seek justice and full accountability. I don’t know if your are receiving my email (letters) so until I hear back from you (your office) I will continue to write to you the DOJ, The DA’s Office and the media in hopes that someone will stand for justice and ask “What About Darryl Woody!” Release The Video!  The trial date for Darryl Woody’s lawsuit has been moved two March or 2017 due to my attorney’s six-months suspension for violating his duties on other cases that involve a conflict of interest and mis-conduct. Darryl Woody’s Homicide is being covered-up from the federal government that conducted a federal probe regarding Darryl’s death to the judicial system that denies us access to the pertinent information that proves a cover-up.  Feel free to contact me at 301-326-0578,  Sincerely, Dennis Woody/Powers (Administrator)


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