Report: Poor Medical Care In Illinois Prisons Leads To More Preventable Deaths

Bernie Tafoya
November 15, 2018 - 2:09 pm
Prison Jail

CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- Prison inmates take the state of Illinois to trial next month over the quality of medical care in prisons. Now, they have more evidence that could back them up. 

A new report by a court-appointed medical team suggests the state of medical care in Illinois prisons may be worse now than it was when it was last studied four years ago. The report filed Thursday examined 33 deaths in IDOC facilities.  They found that one-third – 12 deaths – were preventable.  Another seven were possibly preventable and the record-keeping in 5 cases were so poor or had missing documents so that the experts could not determine if the death was preventable. 

Attorney Harold Hirschman of the Dentons law firm calls medical care in state prisons "abysmal."

The American Civil Liberties Union said the stories of preventable deaths are heartbreaking. 

Lawyer Hirschman accuses many of the doctors in state prisons "incompetent." The report said one 24-year-old inmate with mental illness had swallowed a couple of plastic sporks (fork/spoon combo). Hirschman said doctors "never bothered to do anything to take them out and ultimately [the inmate> developed peritonitis and died."

Hirschman said it’s estimated as many as 15,000 of the state’s 40,000 inmates are seriously ill. 

ACLU attorney Camille Bennett said the state of medical care in prisons "is abysmal and it is shocking that, in a prosperous state like this that we are treating people so badly." 

“We knew four years ago that prisoners in Illinois were subject to needless pain and suffering,” said Camille Bennett, staff counsel at the ACLU of Illinois, in a statement. “This latest report shows that the lack of adequate care is lethal.  Illinois must fix this problem.”

The report filed Thursday in federal court is part of on-going litigation in Lippert v. Godinez, a lawsuit challenging medical care in the IDOC system.  It builds on a report filed in 2015 (conducted in 2014) by Dr. Ronald Shansky and a team of medical experts.

Lindsey Hess, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Corrections, said the department does not comment on pending litigation.

Harold Hirschman said the state knows how bad medical care is in its prisons.

"Every expert who’s looked at it says that. The state has hired its own internal experts. They say it’s bad. The only thing that doesn’t change is anything to make it better," he said. "People start complaining about something and they’re given a couple of aspirin and told to come back and they’re told that time and time and time again so that, no one even tries to figure out what’s happening to them."

ACLU attorney Camille Bennett said that while the medical team that studied the health care system in prisons found preventable deaths the "most disturbing," she said there were other glaring issues.

Among them, she said that, "decisions that are made about not sending people out for emergency care or not sending them out for some other kind of consultation, keeping people who really need long-term skilled nursing care in the prison infirmaries where they really don’t have the staff to take care of them."

She also said examination rooms are dirty and, in some cases, there's no place for people to wash their hands.