PopTort fans may recall our July 2015 post which discussed the horror show experienced by most prison inmates needing health care (a problem which clearly continues) and the extreme hurdles they face when suing. There are constitutional hurdles, procedural hurdles, damages caps, and many other restrictions. The result is a severe lack of accountability for the entire prison health care system. (Learn more in the Center for Justice & Democracy’s FAQ, “Civil Justice and Prison Health Care.”)
But we’re here to report that as difficult as these cases can be to bring, there are good attorneys out there who continue to try. Earlier this month, the Florida Justice Institute filed a class action lawsuit against the “Florida Department of Corrections and medical contractor Corizon, alleging Corizon refused to provide medically necessary surgical procedures in an effort to keep costs down.” Writes the Miami Herald:
The lawsuit seeks a court order requiring Corizon to provide surgery to inmates who need it, and requests punitive damages from the Brentwood, Tennessee -based contractor. Corizon, which operates in 27 states, was awarded a five-year contract with the Florida Department of Corrections in 2013, despite already facing numerous lawsuits across the country for allegedly deficient care.
And just a couple weeks ago, a settlement was finally reached in a class action filed three years ago by the Legal Aid Justice Center, Wiley Rein LLP of Washington, D.C., and the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs on behalf of 1,200 inmates at Virginia’s Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women. The case was brought against the Virginia Department of Corrections and a private health care provider for inadequate medical care.
The settlement with the the inmates, who asked for no monetary compensation, but merely better health care, requires that the Virginia Department of Corrections "overhaul its medical care at [the facility], including changing operating procedures to better accommodate women with disabilities, timely access to medications and medical supplies, and follow-up treatment in accordance with medical specialist recommendations."
In both the Florida and Virginia cases, the health care quality was so appalling that it rose to the level of a constitutional violation. As explained in CJ&D’s FAQ, “The U.S. Supreme Court has long recognized that prisoners have a constitutional right to adequate health care through the Eighth Amendment’s ban on ‘cruel and unusual’ punishment.” When state facilities are at fault, both state officials and private health care contractors can be sued under federal civil rights laws.
Of course, health care quality is not the only problem in prisons. For many years, attorneys have used class actions to try to improve other types of inhuman prison conditions. Just last month, the Center for Constitutional Rights reached a settlement on behalf of prisoners at the Pelican Bay Correctional Facility in Crescent City, California. Inmates had banded together to challenge the state’s policies concerning the widespread use of solitary confinement.
The result? California has agreed to overhaul the use of solitary confinement. You can read more about it here.