Department of Corrections Agrees To Improve Inmate Medical Care To Settle Class-Action Lawsuit
The Department of Corrections yesterday agreed to "spend millions to upgrade the medical care" in 33 state prisons to settle a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of prison inmates, the Los Angeles Times reports (Warren, Los Angeles Times, 1/30). The lawsuit, filed last April in U.S. District Court by the Prison Law Office, a not-for-profit inmate advocacy group, alleged that the state's prison health care system "systematically" ignores prisoners' health needs and suffers from "poor training, staff shortages, delays in access to doctors and tests, interference by guards and defective care for HIV-positive prisoners." The suit also charged that the system "violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment" (California Healthline, 4/6/01). Department of Corrections officials said they settled the case to avoid a "lengthy court battle" and to "save taxpayers money." The improvements outlined in the settlement will cost the department $122 million per year when "fully phased in over seven years." Under the settlement, the department will:
- Assign inmates to a primary care physician for treatment, rather than a different doctor at each visit;
- Train nurses to evaluate inmates and determine who requires treatment from a physician "promptly";
- Develop new protocols for inmate treatment that include "consistent follow-up" care;
- Transfer medical information with inmates sent to new prisons to prevent delays or "dangerous interruptions" in treatment;
- Establish a team of "internal auditors" to ensure that the "new policies are working."
The department will begin to implement the improvements in July, the Times reports (Los Angeles Times, 1/30). However, the Department of Corrections must submit the new protocols and plans for staff training to U.S. District Court by Feb. 15 (Podger, San Francisco Chronicle, 1/30). In addition, the judge in the case must approve the settlement (Los Angeles Times, 1/30).
Donald Specter, director of the Prison Law Office, said that the settlement would "make the prisons' conditions more tolerable without having to go through a war to prove that the current conditions are shoddy." Russ Heimerich, a spokesperson for the Department of Corrections, said, "There has always been a dispute over whether our medical care meets the constitutionally mandated minimal standards. By the dollar figures alone, we've dedicated ourselves to improving health care in the prison system" (San Francisco Chronicle, 1/30).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.