Illinois Department Of Corrections Benchslapped For Spending Years Failing To Improve Medical Care For Prisoners
from the they're-still-human-beings-whose-health-the-state-is-responsible-for dept
In the space of less than a week, two federal courts have come down hard on prison systems for treating prisoners like meat suitable for nothing more than processing by the so-called justice system.
In Mississippi, a federal judge yanked control of a prison away from local officials, placing the Raymond Detention Center into receivership after the county had failed, for years, to implement court-ordered improvements. Hinds County’s Raymond Detention Center has been under a consent decree since 2016. And in those six years, it has only managed to comply with three of the decree’s 92 requirements.
The situation had gotten so out of hand, prisoners literally ran one part of the detention center. Since local officials seemed incapable of doing anything other than passing the buck, the federal court took the buck into its own hands, delivering the RDC into the hands of a court-appointed receiver — something that has happened less than 10 times in the last 60 years.
That happened July 29th. On August 5th, a federal court in Illinois declared the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) to be in contempt of court for failing to implement ordered reforms for more than three years. And the problems prompting the reforms were more than a decade old at that point, as CJ Ciaramella reports for Reason.
A federal judge ordered the IDOC to create the comprehensive reform plan in 2019 as part of a settlement in a 2010 lawsuit by inmates and several law firms against the IDOC alleging inadequate health care, dental care, and mental health treatment. But the monitor found “a wide gap” between what the agency believes it accomplished and actual progress. Furthermore, the monitor says the IDOC failed to send 80 percent of the information it requested.
The contempt order [PDF] is short and to the point. It only runs two pages and says little more than this:
For the reasons stated in open court, the Court finds defendants in contempt for their failure to complete an implementation plan as required by the Consent Decree and their failure to comply with this Court’s orders respecting an implementation plan.
The real dirt is in the 292-page(!!) monitor’s report [PDF], which details all the ways the IDOC continues to harm the health of incarcerated persons.
Despite being aware of the problems since 2010 and ordered in 2019 to fix these deficiencies, the IDOC has done next to nothing. The monitor’s report — delivered to the court in June 2022 — says the IDOC, despite what it argues in court, has barely made a dent.
There is a wide gap between what IDOC believes it has accomplished and the findings of the Monitor. The Monitor is concerned that this lack of acknowledgement of poor performance will be a barrier to forward progress. IDOC asserts substantial compliance on 30 provisions of the Consent Decree while the Monitor agrees with only three of these assertions. This gap is very concerning.
IDOC continues to fail to provide the evidence supporting their asserted compliance. Moreover, IDOC asserts that substantial compliance of a single facility warrants a substantial compliance score. The Consent Decree is clear that substantial compliance requires systemic compliance and non-serious violations.
Fudging the numbers is a non-starter. The IDOC itself is a non-starter. Very little has been done, but the IDOC wants credit for the bare minimum of compliance it has somehow managed to achieve over the last three years.
And the easiest thing to comply with — requests for documentation — wasn’t even satisfactory. The monitor requested records and the IDOC couldn’t even produce those, strongly suggesting evidence of compliance is missing because there is no actual compliance.
The Monitor did not receive data requested from IDOC to verify compliance with the Consent Decree. The Monitor’s document request for this report was sent 1/21/2022 and included 113 items. The Monitor requested delivery by mid-March 2022. IDOC was also requested to inform the Monitor if the information was not available. IDOC provided information responsive to only 21 of the items requested (18.5%).
The monitor goes on to note there is no apparent leadership when it comes to the ordered reforms. The chain of command is filled with interim posts and buck-passers. The IDOC committed to expanding staffing to meet the requirements of the consent decree, but so far has done nothing but post openings. As a result, staffing has actually dropped by 110 persons since the consent decree was put in place. And the IDOC refuses to cooperate with the monitor to achieve compliance, restricting its interactions to a few short conference calls where the IDOC claimed everything was moving along expediently.
The IDOC has failed to hire properly credentialed physicians and has tried to obscure the dearth of medical professionals employed by the system. In one case, a single physician was appointed as medical director to oversee medical care of nearly 5,000 inmates spread across four facilities.
When help is spread this thin, bad things become worse things. IDOC was already non-compliant. Medical care attrition was never competently addressed, leading to a downturn (bad to worse) in response to medical help calls, COVID-19 protocol compliance, dental care, and management of the increasing needs of the IDOC’s aging prisoners.
Prisoners suffering from mental illness were routinely ignored. Some were placed in solitary, exacerbating existing conditions. Some were given paperwork to sign (DNRs, living wills) they had no mental competency to comprehend. Dementia victims were punished solely for exhibiting symptoms of their illness. In other cases, they were ignored completely, and suffered from mistreatment, abuse, and a denial of their basic needs.
There are far too many people in positions of power who believe whatever happens to prisoners is something they deserve for committing crimes. This over-simplification declares prisoners to be subhuman — unworthy of even basic care.
But this ignores several things. It ignores pretrial detainees who can’t afford bail and must remain incarcerated despite being the supposed recipients of a presumption of innocence. It ignores the unfortunately large number of Americans who have been falsely imprisoned or convicted. It ignores those forced into extended incarceration by insane drug policies and overly zealous prosecutors who stack charges and argue vociferously against anything resembling mercy.
And it ignores the obligations the government takes on when it imprisons people at a rate far exceeding that of other “free” countries. These are wards of the state. On the outside, they had their choice of medical care and the opportunity to seek it at any given moment. On the inside, they have one choice: whatever the facility provides. And when that’s inadequate, they can’t take their business elsewhere. When the government fails to provide basic medical care, it violates rights. Unfortunately, prisoners are ill-equipped to argue on their own behalf and forced by federal court precedent to utilize internal remedies that seemingly can be ignored at will by prison administrators with zero repercussions.
A couple of federal court remedies in less than a month does not a movement make. But perhaps it signifies a shift in courtroom thinking — one showing judges are more willing to protect the rights of prisoners, even if this change of heart follows years of neglect.