In 2006, the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation, the ACLU’s National Prison Project and supporting attorneys from the Jenner and Block lawfirm, filed a lawsuit on behalf of female inmates incarcerated at Taycheedah Correctional Institution (TCI) in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin who alleged violations of Eighth prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment, the Equal Protection guarantee against sex discrimination, and violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act alleging that they did not provide adequate health care to incarcerated individuals.
Content warning: Mentions of death and suicide.
Flynn v. Doyle resulted from multiple incidents, including in February 2000 when a 29-year-old asthmatic prisoner collapsed and died gasping for air in Taycheedah’s cafeteria after repeated requests for medical help. Five years later, in June 2005, an 18-year-old suicidal prisoner hanged herself in her cell while supposedly “in observation” in the mental health unit at Taycheedah, which provides no inpatient care and serves only to isolate and punish the most vulnerable women. Unlike the women at Taycheedah, men with severe mental health issues could be assigned to the Wisconsin Resource Center, an inpatient psychiatric facility that provides round-the-clock care and individualized treatment for male offenders.
The suit alleged that the breakdown of the understaffed, underfunded and dangerously dysfunctional health care system in Wisconsin’s prisons contributes to enormous and unnecessary human suffering.
The lawsuit resulted in court rulings finding there was sufficient evidence of constitutional violations to issue a preliminary injunction and go to trial. After those orders, the case was settled in December 2010. As part of the settlement, the prison was forced to attain accreditation by the National Commission on Correctional Health Care and to retain a jointly appointed paid consultant for a set period of time to make sure TCI continued to meet the medical care standards set in the agreement.
They were also required to hire a full-time physician board-certified in a primary care to serve as Associate Medical Director who would provide patient care and administration of clinical care at TCI for the duration of the agreement.
In addition, the agreement required Wisconsin Women's Resource Center to complete construction of and initiate services at planned annexes at TCI to provide space for out-of-cell therapeutic activities and group and individual therapy for prisoners with serious mental illnesses.
For access for incarcerated people with disabilities, the agreement required the defendants to provide interpreters and readers for prisoners with hearing and/or vision impairments, other accommodations for hearing impaired incarcerated people, and maintain paths, walkways, and thoroughfares between buildings to ensure access to core programs and services for prisoners with mobility disabilities.
In addition, the defendants were also required to allow incarcerated people with mobility disabilities to eat in the dining hall at the same time as their non-disabled peers and adhere to DAI Policy & Procedures for disciplining incarcerated people with hearing disabilities. The agreement allowed the plaintiffs to seek reasonable attorneys' fees for the work done through the date of the final approval of the agreement and for work done to facilitate and monitor the implementation of the agreement.
On December 14, 2010, Judge Randa ordered defendants to pay $950,000 in attorneys' fees. Monitoring of the conditions and required improvements continued until February 2016, when the state came into full compliance with the settlement’s terms.