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ACLU Lawsuit Claims That Delaware Prisons Neglect Medical Needs of Inmates

— October 13, 2023

A.C.L.U. attorneys allege that Delaware and its health care contractors routinely neglect inmates’ medical needs, often to deleterious effect.

A recently-filed lawsuit accuses Delaware and its health care contractors of deliberately ignoring the needs of prisoners across the state.

According to The Delaware News Journal, the lawsuit broadly alleges that public officials and their private-sector partners systematically delayed and denied the diagnosis and treatment of serious medical conditions in inmates.

Attorneys for the prisoners cited several examples of alleged neglect, including that of a prisoner who complained of a bleeding rectum but was refused specialist care for nearly a year.

After finally being approved for an appointment, the inmate quickly learned that he had terminal cancer.

The complaint, filed on behalf of three inmates expected to act as class representatives, names defendants including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Delaware Department of Corrections Commissioner Terra Taylor, as well as her two most recent predecessors, Monroe Hudson and Clair DeMatteis;
  • Centene Corp., a publicly-traded health care conglomerate that provided medical services in Delaware prisons between April 2020 and June 2023; and
  • VitalCore Health Strategies, the Delaware Department of Corrections’ current health care contractor.

Each of the defendants, attorneys claim, “acted with callous and deliberate indifference to the health of incarcerated men and women, including by adopting customs and policies that delayed and denied medical care for serious medical conditions.”

Image via AlexVan/Pixabay. (CCA-BY-0.0)/public domain.

“They significantly unstaffed the correctional health care system and intentionally delayed and denied needed medical care,” the lawsuit alleges. “They utterly failed to supervise medical staff and failed to terminate incompetent staff known to have been engaged in past violations.”

“Instead,” lawyers say, “they allowed [inmates] to suffer.”

The American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing prisoners in the claim, also asserts that the State of Delaware failed to adequately oversee its contractors, including both Centene Corp. and VitalCore Health Strategies.

“They failed to supervise the corporate defendants and failed to call for the termination of the contract for cause, as was merited by the systemic denial of specialized care and surgeries, and the pattern of meritless and lengthy delays in providing care,” the lawsuit says.

Dwayne Bensing, the A.C.L.U. of Delaware’s legal director, said it is apparent that the state is still abrogating its duty to protect the well-being of incarcerated persons.

“It really appears to be a race to the bottom,” Bensing said. “Rather than having adequate health care be central to the bidding structure, really they attempted to find the least qualified and perhaps maybe the least expensive in the short-term. But these delays and lack of access to adequate health care are really going to result in a much more expensive procedure as an end result.”

Bensing further told WHYY News that it seems that Delaware has let health care contractors operate with impunity.

“The state has attempted to kind of wash their hands of the [prison] health care system,” he said. “And so it’s just one terrible contractor overseen by prison administrators who aren’t doing their job.”


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