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Communications within the corrections department needs improvement.

October 07, 1999
By: Hollie Maloney
State Capital Bureau


JEFFERSON CITY - Tears rolled down some faces in the crowd as Sara Gilpin, the sister of an inmate who died in September, read to a panel of lawmakers a goodbye letter her sister wrote.

"I hope to see you again soon. Forgive me for all the wrongs I know I have done," the letter said.

Gilpin testified Wednesday before a joint committee convened to make recommendations to the legislature regarding policy or issues surrounding the Corrections Department. The topic which dominated the five hour meeting was the death of Gilpin's sister, 48-year-old inmate Stephanie Summers.

Summers, serving for forgery, was diagnosed with Hepatitis C and Cirrhosis of the liver. She asked for medical parole in 1998 and wanted a transplant, Gilpin said.

In order to be eligble for parole, certain criteria had to be met.

"A prisoner has to be very close to death or have a condition that cannot be cared for in the Department of Corrections before being eligible for medical parole," said Tim Kniest, spokesman for the Corrections Department.

Summers' physician recommended she be released and evaluated.

The director of the privately contracted health care service for the department, Correctional Medical Services, disagreed. Summers needed Director Gary Campbell's recommendation to get a medical parole hearing.

"I just don't feel she's at the level of illness that would make her a candidate for parole. I'm not sure she isn't overacting," he wrote in a memo in August of 1998.

At the committee meeting, Rep. O. L Shelton, D-St. Louis, asked Campbell what medical reasons, not feelings, he used to evaluate Summers' condition. Campbell tried to reply with medical terms, but Shelton interrupted:

"We don't know anything about that. You have no explanation as to why you denied this lady medical parole."

Campbell finally decided to recommend her parole in May of this year. The board ignored his recommendations and denied her in June.

In testimony, parole board chair Cranston Mitchell said Summers posed too great of a threat to society.

"How dangerous is a forger?" said Sen. Bill Clay, D-St. Louis, at the hearing.

Summers was admitted into the intensive care unit of University Hospital Friday, Aug. 27. The board changed their mind and issued a parole that same day.

However, a parole officer didn't notify the family of her release until the next Thursday, the day she died. She had already been in a coma for four days.

"When the parole officer told us, I thought, what does she need (the parole) for anymore?" Gilpin said.

Although Summers had guards in her room and was comatose, she was shackled. She remained in that state three hours after the family was told she was paroled. There were indentations on her ankles up to the time of death, Gilpin said.

"Why did they have her shackled and chained, with guards there. Where was she going? I classify it as an abuse of power by the institution," Shelton said.

The Corrections Department failed to notify Summers' family until Wednesday to come to the hospital. They arrived that evening to find Summers already in a coma, without being able to say goodbye.

"My sister was there all alone, with no one for support," Gilpin said.

Committee member Sen. Larry Rohrbach, R-California, said the department should have been embarrassed by the way Summers' case was handled.

"What a sad, sad story that they medically paroled her the day before she died," Rohrbach said.

Shelton went as far as to call for CMS's replacement.

"We need a new health service in this state," Shelton bellowed, "I don't think this is adequate for anybody."