A federal judge has ordered the Kentucky State Penitentiary to allow a group of death row inmates to hold an annual powwow with traditional foods after the prison chaplain tried to stop the ceremony.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Russell on Tuesday concluded that the inmates would suffer irreparable harm if they weren't allowed to buy special foods for the ritual.
A prison chaplain last month postponed the powwow until October because a Native American volunteer who works with the condemned inmates wouldn't be available on Friday, the ceremony's original scheduled date.
The starvation death of a prisoner at the Kentucky State Penitentiary is now raising questions from at least one state legislator. Greenville State Rep. Brent Yonts says he will hold hearings later this year on the circumstances surrounding the death of 57-year-old James Kenneth Embry in January.
“According to the paper reports, this guy missed 35 of 36 meals – refused to eat or turned them down,” Yonts told WKU Public Radio. “Well, that’s a dead giveaway that there’s a problem there. And particularly when he also had lost – I think the paper said about 30 pounds – or at least lost a good deal of weight.”
The Associated Press broke the story earlier this week about the hunger-strike death. The report says Embry had been dealing with mental health issues for much of last year. The AP reports the prison’s lead doctor has since been fired; a contract nurse was banned from the facility and two medical professionals were placed on leave.
“It’s a concern to me as a legislator serving on the committees that have jurisdiction over corrections. It’s a concern to me as a citizen that we are not taking better care of inmates when we are required by law in the constitution to do so, ” said Yonts.
The man who has led the Kentucky State Penitentiary for the past two and a half years is leaving his post at the end of the week. This will be the second time Philip W. Parker has retired from the position.