Accused of enabling negligence and providing substandard care, Illinois has agreed to a series of reforms intended to improve health throughout its prison system.
Under the agreements, writes the Chicago Tribune, a federal monitor will oversee adjustments to prison healthcare. Among the accepted changes are increased medical and dental staffing, ‘proper training and qualifications for staff, and infection and quality control measures.’
The Tribune says the changes were brought by a long-standing class action lawsuit, filed nearly eight years ago. It claimed that Illinois inmates regularly receive inadequate medical and dental care.
The Illinois Department of Corrections did not respond to requests for comment. Meanwhile, Gov. Bruce Rauner’s office urged caution, saying the settlement isn’t final and still needs to be approved by a court.
That hasn’t stopped attorneys from celebrating what they view as a milestone breakthrough for inmates.
“I’m thrilled that my clients, the prisoners throughout the state of Illinois, will finally get the medical care that is constitutionally mandated,” said Uptown People’s Law Center Executive Director Alan Mills. “While Illinois has abolished the death penalty, the terrible medical care that is provided amounts to a slow-motion death penalty for far too many prisoners.”
Reviews commission by Mills and the plaintiff concurred, indicating that poor prison healthcare has contributed to a slew of unnecessary deaths.
“Based on record reviews, we found that clinical care was extremely poor and resulted in preventable morbidity and mortality,” said one 2018 report.
In one case, highlighted by the Chicago Tribune, a mentally ill inmate swallowed two sporks. Sent to a facility infirmary, a nurse “documented that the patient ‘will have no complication from swallowing a foreign object.’”
For months, the same inmate complained of physical symptoms resulting from swallowing sporks. He died three months after he was first checked.
“The death was attributed to a gastrointestinal bleed from lacerations caused by a foreign body,” said the 2018 review—which added that the Department of Corrections’ own investigation “found no problems with medical care.”
Another 26-year old inmate incarcerated at Illinois River Correctional Center “Repeatedly informed health care staff that he had atrial fibrillation, a fact that was confirmed by his jail records, but this history was discounted until he suffered a stroke.”
“Had clinical staff listened to the patient and reviewed his jail record,” claims the review, “they would have learned that he should have been on blood thinners to reduce the chances of this devastating event.”
The News-Gazette notes that the Illinois Department of Corrections hires outside contractors to provide prison healthcare.
Camille Bennett, an attorney with the Illinois branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the settlement will mandate long-lacking accountability within the prison system.
“The state of Illinois will now be bound by a court-enforceable agreement with specific benchmarks and structure for measuring success,” Bennett said. “Most important, there will now be a monitor in place to oversee the entire function of the health care system in Illinois prisons. The monitor will be there to demand improvements and accountability.”