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Illinois Prison Suit Could Go to Trial Next Year

Attorneys are busy preparing a lawsuit that would require the State Illinois to ensure better medical care for people in prison. (ACLU)
Attorneys are busy preparing a lawsuit that would require the State Illinois to ensure better medical care for people in prison. (ACLU)
May 18, 2017

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Advocates for the nearly 50,000 people incarcerated in Illinois say they won't give up the fight to ensure those people receive good medical and dental care.

A federal judge recently ruled that long standing problems must be addressed by improving the entire prison health care system.

Attorney Camille Bennett with the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois says until now, her group has had to file individual lawsuits – and the ruling should mean shortcomings in the current system will be addressed.

She says the solutions must include every facility operated by the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC).

"The quality of health care has declined to the point where people are really suffering,” she maintains. “And it's causing needless and unconstitutional pain and suffering – and sometimes, needless death."

The ruling by Judge Jorge Alonso relied heavily on a report by a team of medical experts that found pervasive problems across IDOC, ranging from broken equipment and lack of basic sanitation and infection control, to gross medical errors.

Bennett says the class action suit could go to trial as early as next year. A status hearing is scheduled for next Tuesday.

Bennett says the report also criticized IDOC for not having qualified physicians, and for a staff shortage that threatens the health of people behind bars.

"The inmates are actually afraid to get so sick that they have to go into the infirmaries, because they think that those are dangerous places,” she states. “You can be locked in a little cell in there with no nurse call system, and being really desperately sick."

One example in the report was a 48-year-old man incarcerated at Hill Correctional Center in Galesburg who was coughing up blood. Six months later, doctors found a softball-size tumor in his chest, and he died four months after that.

The report cited "significant lapses" in care in 60 percent of the cases examined, and researchers called the disregard for the patients' obvious symptoms "stunning."

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - IL