CHICAGO – In a move labeled as “puzzling and sad,” lawyers for the State of Illinois today asked a federal judge in Chicago to delay for at least seventy (70) days a trial set for September in a case challenging longstanding problems with the medical and dental care provided in Illinois’s state prisons. The case, Lippert v. Baldwin, has been set for trial for many months.
Remarkably, in asking for the delay, the State cited a recent briefing by a court-appointed expert emphasizing the continuing deficiencies in care. That expert, Dr. Michael Puisis, has told lawyers for both sides that the overall medical care provided by the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) has deteriorated since another expert studied the system in 2014. Worse still, the expert said that a review of death reports in Illinois prisons shows that a significant percentage of deaths of prisoners were “preventable.”
Lawyers representing the more 40,000 persons in IDOC custody announced that they would oppose any effort to delay the trial.
“Asking a court to delay a trial while admitting that the system to be examined is deteriorating and responsible for preventable deaths is both puzzling and sad,” said Camille Bennett, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. “The findings of the court appointed doctor suggest that we should be moving to fixing these systemic problems, not fussing about a court date.”
A 2014 expert report filed found pervasive problems across IDOC ranging from broken equipment and lack of basic sanitation/infection control, to gross medical errors coupled with failures in basic care and follow-up. The report criticized IDOC for not having qualified physicians. In one example cited in the report, a patient at Menard Correctional Center with Type 1 diabetes was being treated by a non-primary care trained physician, who erroneously discontinued the patient’s insulin use after his blood sugar levels were found to be normal while on insulin. The experts described this as reflecting “a lack of understanding of the basic pathophysiology of this common disease.”
"Two different neutral, court-appointed experts have confirmed that Illinois' prison medical care is so bad that it kills people. Though Illinois was ethical enough to abolish the death penalty, we have a de facto slow-motion death penalty inside our prisons." Added Alan Mills, executive director, Uptown People's Law Center, also counsel in the case.
“We are ready to move forward and try this case,” added Harold Hirshman, senior counsel at Dentons. “Our clients should not have to wait any longer.”