May 30, 2013 4:45 pm

Health care for prisoners

Earlier today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois joined a case in federal court in Chicago challenging the dysfunctional, mismanaged system that fails to adequately serve the nearly 50,000 persons in Illinois prisons. It is clear that the Illinois Department of Corrections is not providing timely, appropriate health care to prisoners, doing great harm to many and putting others at risk of death.

A comprehensive study of health care in Illinois prisons conducted by the John Howard Association revealed unconscionable problems with the health care provided to prisoners in Illinois. Prisoners often wait dangerously long periods of time to see a nurse, let alone a physician. They wait for more than a year, in too many instances, to get dental care. Some of the individual stories are even more disturbing.

A prisoner in the Pontiac correctional facility complained of severe eye and ear pain. A nurse told him to stop using Q-tips to clean his ears. He never saw a doctor. When the pain persisted for months, he received an MRI — but only after filing a grievance.   Nearly a month went by without anyone reporting the results of the MRI.  Only when the prisoner asked to see a doctor and get another MRI (he’d discovered a lump on his body), he was casually informed that the first test revealed a large tumor on his brain. That prisoner lost most of his hearing and vision on his left side and suffered partial paralysis.

“These reports and the stories of prisoners who unnecessarily suffer – and even risk death – make clear that we must reform the provision of health care in Illinois prisons,” said Ben Wolf, ACLU of Illinois associate legal director. “The State is failing its constitutional obligation to provide appropriate care for the prisoners in its custody.”

The case that the ACLU of Illinois joined today, Lippert, et. al, v. Godinez, was filed in 2010 on behalf of six (6) Illinois inmates. The case was filed by lawyers from the Chicago office of Seyfarth, Shaw LLP, later joined by the Chicago office of Edwards Wildman Palmer LLP and the Uptown People’s Law Center.  These lawyers invited the ACLU of Illinois to join the lawsuit, owing to the organization’s experience in large, systemic reform cases.

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