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Inmate with breast cancer will be released after poor care in prison

Inmate with breast cancer will be released after poor care in prison

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A judge ordered Friday that Angela Michelle Beck of Surry County be released from federal prison because of her breast cancer and the poor medical care that Beck received during her imprisonment.

Judge Catherine Eagles of the U.S. District Court said in her 29-page order that Beck’s “invasive cancer and the abysmal health care (that the) Bureau of Prisons has provided qualify as ‘extraordinary and compelling reasons’ warranting a reduction in her sentence to time served.”

Eagles ordered that Beck be placed on supervised probation for five years after she is released from prison. Eagles gave federal prison officials 21 days to implement her order so that the U.S. Probation Office has time to evaluate Beck’s likely residence in Surry County.

Eagles also ordered that Beck live at a home with people who have been approved by federal probation officials to ensure that Beck will not live with people involved with illegal drugs.

“With appropriate supervision, the court concludes that Ms. Beck ‘is not a danger to the safety of any other person or to the community,’” Eagles said. “Ms. Beck poses little risk of recidivism or danger to the community. ... As such, Ms. Beck is entitled to compassionate release.”

Beck’s attorneys, Robert Elliot of Winston-Salem and James B. Craven III of Durham, couldn’t be reached Friday to comment on the case.

Lynne Klauer, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Greensboro, which is representing federal prison officials, also couldn’t be reached to comment.

Beck, 47, is serving 13 years and nine months in the Federal Correctional Institute in Aliceville, Ala., after she pleaded guilty in 2013 to charges of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and possession of firearms in connection with a drug-trafficking crime. Beck has served six years and about four months of that sentence.

Beck was among 21 people who were indicted on charges of being part of a large-scale methamphetamine operation in Surry County.

According to court papers, Beck found a lump in her left breast in August or September 2017 while she was taking a shower at the Federal Correctional Institute in Aliceville. She was examined by a prison doctor in October 2017 and had a mammogram in December 2017.

It took eight months, however, before she got a biopsy, according to a lawsuit she filed in U.S. District Court in Greensboro. A cancer specialist with Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center said in court papers that she should have had a biopsy within one to two months after she detected a lump.

Beck didn’t get surgery to remove her left breast until two months after the biopsy, court papers said. It would take another five months before she met with an oncologist for follow-up treatment, according to the lawsuit. By that time, she had found two lumps in her right breast.

Beck requested a compassionate release from prison under the First Step Act of 2018, which allow federal judges to reduce the sentences of some drug offenders, Eagles said in her order.

“Absent judicial oversight, she (Beck) is unlikely to receive better treatment at FCI Aliceville going forward,” Eagles said. “(Beck) is in urgent need of appropriate treatment to prevent the further spread of her disease and the potential loss of her life.

“Breast cancer can kill without appropriate medical care,” Eagles said, “and Ms. Beck’s need to obtain adequate treatment for her disease when BoP appears unable to provide it without court oversight is a compelling reason for a sentence reduction.”

Prison officials have not specifically denied the allegations in Beck’s lawsuit or provided any explanation to the alleged delay in Beck’s care. Prison officials have argued that Beck didn’t meet the requirements of having a terminal disease or a debilitating medical condition that prevented Beck from caring for herself.

jhinton@wsjournal.com 336-727-7299 @jhintonWSJ

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