Elderly grandmother sues after being left in solitary confinement

Posted at: 11/27/2013 10:35 PM
By: Chris Ramirez, KOB Eyewitness News 4

A 73-year-old grandmother is suing the New Mexico Women’s Correctional Facility in Grants for leaving her in solitary confinement for nearly five weeks and being deprived medications that help battle cancer.   

Carol Lester was convicted for embezzlement after caught stealing money to fuel a gambling addiction.  Lester has a long list of health problems including thyroid cancer, a bi-polar disorder and a heart condition, for which she requires a longer list of medications.

A lawsuit filed in federal court by Attorney Matthew Coyte claims the prison medical staff changed Lester’s medications and prescribed Zantac. 

"Anybody who's been in a prison or knows anything about prison medical care understands that Zantac is commonly known as providing false positives for methamphetamines," Coyte told 4 On Your Side.

The lawsuit claims that since Lester had complained about her medications to higher ups and to state lawmakers, prison administrators retaliated against her.  One urine test showed that Lester was positive for methamphetamines and she was sent to solitary confinement.  

"When she gets this false positive, she says ‘Look, you know me.  I'm an old lady and I have no history of drug use in my life or in the prison at all.  Give me a test, another test. I'll pay for a test to corroborate the findings,’" Coyte explained.

The lawsuit claims the prison left Lester in solitary confinement for 34 days, but at the time prison policy only allowed a first time offender to be placed in solitary confinement for a maximum of 30 days. 

"She was not getting her drugs, her medical thyroid medication, she had just been prescribed nitroglycerin for a heart condition she had.  She didn't have those pills.  It's a very truly frightening place to be," Coyte said. 

The NM Department of Corrections contracts out the operations of the women’s facility to a private company called Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).  CCA couldn’t be reached for this story.  Cabinet Secretary Gregg Marcantel issued this statement:

"When I was appointed to this position, I began to search for outside organizations to collaborate with for the greater good of the department and the public.  In 2012, the New Mexico Corrections Department reached out to the VERA Institute for an independent review of our system and suggestions on how we could improve. 

We are actively making changes to ensure that predatory inmates who posed a danger to our system, our officers and other inmates are the offenders in segregation and not those inmates who had been preyed on.

We are focusing on more educational and life skill programs, even for our segregated population, to make sure the 96% of our population that will return to our neighborhoods, will return better than they left."

Lester is now of out of custody.