An expert report filed in federal court Tuesday details a range of alleged problems with the medical services provided in the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) system.
The court-appointed medical experts say IDOC has failed to meet "minimal constitutional standards" of health care service adequacy.
The final report by the court-appointed medical experts is part of the Lippert v. Godinez federal court case seeking medical service improvements in the state's prisons. The class action complaint was brought on behalf of six prisoners in 2012 by the Uptown People's Law Center and the Chicago office of Seyfarth Shaw LLP. The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois joined the lawsuit in 2013.
The medical experts, according to a news release from the Uptown People's Law Center, were "selected jointly by lawyers for IDOC and the inmates."
Among other problems, the experts said they found the IDOC system to have underqualified clinicians, inappropriate clinical space, disorganized medical records and issues with safety and sanitation.
"This report demonstrates that Illinois is inflicting needless pain and suffering by failing to provide basic medical care for its prisoners," Benjamin Wolf, associate legal director for the ACLU of Illinois, said in a statement. "The state is giving a for profit company tens of millions of dollars each year for substandard care. The broken nature of the system is revealed by the serious and preventable harm inflicted on so many of these vulnerable patients. People in the free world would never use a health care provider that did such a poor job, but these prisoners have no choice of who will provide their care when they get sick."
According to the medical experts, there was a "significant lapses in care" in 38 out of the 63 cases they reviewed of prisoners who died from non-violent causes mostly in the time period of January 2013 to June 2014. Two of the 63 reviewed cases were from 2010.
"From the eight site visits, the interviews with staff and inmates, the review of institutional documents, the review of medical records, including death records and mortality reviews, we have concluded that the State of Illinois has been unable to meet minimal constitutional standards with regards to the adequacy of its healthcare program for the population it serves," the report reads. "This conclusion does not imply that there are not many dedicated professionals working within the Department of Corrections, as recognized and appreciated by this team. When improvements are implemented, they will be better situated to achieve the outcomes they strive for."
Uptown People's Law Center Executive Director Alan Mills said in a statement: "The tragic stories of prisoners unnecessarily suffering--even dying--from terrible medical care are disturbing. But the deeper question is why these elderly, seriously ill people are in prison in the first place. This report is further proof that Illinois simply has too many people in prison. As long as we imprison people, we have a constitutional obligation to provide decent care. Illinois is falling woefully short of its legal obligations."
UPDATE (11:40 a.m.): In a statement, the Illinois Department of Corrections said the expert report "uses a broad brush to paint an incomplete picture of the comprehensive medical system in place" in state prisons.
"While the IDOC agrees with certain recommendations contained in the report and has already taken steps to improve its delivery of services, we believe many of the conclusions in the report are flawed and disagree with a number of the criticisms presented," the statement reads.