The American prison system has long been a source of controversy, including issues of overcrowding, inadequate resources, and mistreatment of inmates. Unfortunately, one recent tragedy has brought new attention to these problems: the death of an inmate in an Arkansas prison, who starved to death while under the supervision of the Department of Justice (DOJ).

This horrific incident is an indictment of the entire criminal justice system in the United States, suggesting that reform is urgently necessary to protect the rights and well-being of inmates. In this article, we will explore the details of the case, the broader context of prison reform, and what can be done to prevent such tragedies in the future.

The Death of Michael Sabbie

The story of Michael Sabbie’s death is both tragic and enraging. Sabbie was a 35-year-old father of four who was serving a sentence in the Bi-State Jail in Texarkana, Arkansas. He suffered from asthma, hypertension, and diabetes, which made him particularly vulnerable to health issues.

According to reports, Sabbie had repeatedly complained to prison staff about his worsening health, but his pleas for help were largely ignored. He collapsed in his cell on July 22, 2015, and was rushed to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

The cause of death was listed as “natural,” but the autopsy revealed multiple bruises on his body, indicating that he had been beaten or tased by guards. And perhaps most shockingly, Sabbie weighed just 140 pounds at the time of his death, down from 180 pounds when he entered the jail just four days earlier. In other words, he had starved to death.

The DOJ’s Role

What makes Sabbie’s death even more disturbing is that the Bi-State Jail had been under the supervision of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division since 2004. The DOJ took over supervision of the jail after a federal judge found that conditions there were in violation of inmates’ constitutional rights.

Despite this oversight, Sabbie’s case suggests that little had changed in the years since the DOJ took control of the jail. Staff members reportedly ignored his repeated requests for medical attention, and no one intervened as his weight dropped dramatically in the days leading up to his death.

Moreover, the DOJ’s own monitoring reports revealed that the Bi-State Jail had continued to violate inmates’ rights, including by subjecting them to excessive force and isolating them for extended periods of time. In other words, the agency charged with ensuring that inmates are treated humanely appears to have failed in its duty to protect Sabbie and others like him.

Broader Context

Sadly, Sabbie’s case is far from unique. In recent years, there have been numerous reports of abuse, mistreatment, and neglect in American prisons, from overcrowding and inadequate medical care to rampant violence and corruption. And while many advocates and experts have called for reform, progress has been slow.

One major obstacle to reform is the widespread public perception that inmates are somehow deserving of their mistreatment, that they are “bad people” who deserve to suffer. This view ignores the fact that incarceration is designed to be a punishment, not a form of torture, and that even those who have committed crimes deserve to be treated humanely.

Another challenge is the political and financial power of the prison-industrial complex, which relies on mass incarceration as a source of profit. Private prisons and other corporations that profit from the incarceration of human beings have lobbied aggressively to maintain the status quo, resisting efforts to reduce sentences, decriminalize nonviolent offenses, and invest in alternatives to incarceration.

Moving Forward

What can be done to prevent tragedies like Sabbie’s death in the future? The first step is acknowledging that the current system is broken and inhumane. We must recognize the humanity of all people, including those behind bars, and work to ensure that everyone is treated with dignity and respect.

This will require significant changes, ranging from reducing the number of people in prison to improving conditions inside jails and prisons. Steps can include investing in alternatives to incarceration, such as drug treatment programs and mental health services, as well as improving medical care and nutrition inside prisons.

In addition, we need more transparency and accountability in the criminal justice system, including regular monitoring of jails and prisons and a commitment to prosecution of those who commit abuses. We must also recognize and address the systemic racism that underlies the disproportionate incarceration of people of color, including Black people who are disproportionately represented in American prisons.

Finally, we need to recognize that true justice is not simply about punishing wrongdoers, but about creating a society that is safe, healthy, and just for all. This means investing in education, healthcare, and social services to address the root causes of crime and inequality, while working to dismantle the systems of oppression that perpetuate these problems.

While Michael Sabbie’s death is a tragedy, it can also be a catalyst for change. If we are willing to acknowledge the failures of the current system and work to create a more just and humane society, we can honor his memory and prevent similar injustices in the future.