Health Care at Women’s Prison Improved to Meet Terms of Settlement with ACLU

Story Date: 
Feb 10, 2016

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Wisconsin today announced that the State of Wisconsin has satisfied the terms of a settlement agreement requiring fundamental changes to medical and mental health care at the state’s largest women’s prison and that the parties to Flynn v. Walker, the longstanding class-action lawsuit, would file papers seeking court dismissal of the case. The first-of-its-kind class action lawsuit was originally filed in 2006 on behalf of women prisoners at Taycheedah Correctional Institution. The lawsuit charged that the prison system put the lives of women prisoners at risk through grossly deficient health care, provided women mental health treatment far inferior to that provided to men in Wisconsin, and failed to provide reasonable accommodations to allow prisoners with disabilities to access basic prison services.

“After years of needless suffering due to inadequate health care, Taycheedah has the staff, services, and facilities necessary to address prisoners’ medical and mental health needs, fulfilling its constitutional obligation to the women incarcerated there,” said Gabriel B. Eber, Senior Staff Counsel with the ACLU National Prison Project. “We’re very pleased that the state has come into compliance and hope that the reforms won under the settlement agreement will continue once the litigation is dismissed.”

“It was a long and sometimes contentious process, but Taycheedah has made good on its promises to deliver decent care to the women living at the institution,” said Larry Dupuis, the Legal Director of the ACLU of Wisconsin and one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers.  “Of course, the impetus for the improvements at the prison was the litigation. But the medical leadership team has demonstrated a commitment to improving the quality of care that we expect them to maintain in the future.”

In 2009, U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph T. Randa denied the state’s request to dismiss the lawsuit and entered a preliminary injunction, ordering that significant changes be made immediately to the prison’s dangerous system of administering medications to prisoners.

The parties then reached a settlement in 2010 that required state officials to implement a number of significant structural improvements aimed at ensuring that constitutionally adequate levels of care were provided to all prisoners at Taycheedah, that female prisoners receive the same levels of mental health care as the state’s male prisoners, and that prisoners with disabilities have equal access to programs and services.  Among the most prominent features of the settlement was a requirement that the prison’s medical program satisfy an array of quantified “performance standards” and that an independent expert in correctional medicine certify that those standards had been met.  In October 2015, after eleven site visits over five years involving close scrutiny of medical records, the medical expert certified that the prison had met all of the performance targets.

Among the achievements of the settlement are:

  • Compliance, verified by reviews of samples of medical records, with 75 specific indicators of the quality of patient care, including timeliness and adequacy of responses to requests for health care, appropriate completion of tests and treatments ordered by the prison and outside providers, consistency of care for patients with chronic diseases, adequacy of training of security staff on dealing with healthcare requests and medical emergencies, timeliness and thoroughness of initial health assessments, promptness and accuracy of medication orders, and access to infirmary-level care.
  • Medications delivered by nursing staff, rather than correctional officers, as had been the practice prior to the lawsuit.
  • Construction of additional facilities, hiring of additional staff, and expanded provision of mental health services to prisoners in solitary confinement at the prison.
  • Construction and staffing of and development of programming for an inpatient mental health facility for women prisoners.
  • Policies providing assistance for prisoners with vision and hearing impairments and access to facilities for those with physical impairments.
  • The hiring in 2011 of a full-time associate medical director dedicated to leading and providing care at the women’s prison.
  • Accreditation of the prison’s health care programs by the National Commission on Correctional Health Care in 2014.

Copies of court papers filed today are below as a PDF.

Document:
Joint Motion to Dismiss - PDF icon 20160210JointMotionToDismiss.pdf