On May 1, 2015, April Brogan tragically passed away after negligent treatment in a jail cell in Volusia County, Florida. She was arrested on April 29th for aiding and abetting prostitution. When she showed symptoms of heroin withdrawal in her cell, no one helped her to get the treatment she so sorely needed. Subsequently, she passed away in her cell, despite the fact her cellmate was aware of her condition and tried to alert the authorities. We believe that the criminalization of prostitution and the mistreatment of drug-addicts as criminals caused this death, which could have been easily prevented. The criminalization of prostitution forces individuals to work in the shadows, which hinders access to social, economic and legal services. Sex workers are made more vulnerable to violence. Criminalizing prostitution is morally wrong, and, in this case, has resulted in a woman’s tragic death. The stigma of both prostitution and drug use causes us as a society to turn a blind eye to the needs of sex workers and drug addicts. Instead of being met with health care, social services, and compassion, they receive punishment and denigration.
The best way to prevent such deaths is to remove criminal penalties on both prostitution and drug use. We need to focus our resources on education, healthcare and economic opportunities.
In the meantime, we need to reexamine prison policies around addressing the health and safety of inmates with substance dependencies and hold prisons accountable for failing to respond appropriately when an inmate asks for help. Brogan is the not the first woman to die due to guards’ lack of response to withdrawal symptoms in Volusia County Jail. Across the United States, over two-thirds of local jails lack detox programs, and each year, dozens of individuals convicted of low-level crimes die due to prison mismanagement of withdrawal. We send our condolences to friends and family of April Brogan. She will be remembered in our fight for justice.