SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (NEXSTAR) – A federal judge is holding the Illinois Department of Corrections in contempt of court for failing to improve health care for people in IDOC custody.
It’s the latest chapter in a 12-year-long lawsuit between the state and inmates. They sued IDOC in 2010 for lack of healthcare, alleging more than 50,000 prisoners were in needless pain. With the help of prison advocacy organization Uptown People’s Law Center, the Illinois ACLU, and law firm Dentons, the lawsuit was settled in 2018.
In May 2019, the judge required IDOC to make a comprehensive plan on how the agency will provide more health care. Three years later, a federal court monitor says IDOC facilities have not shown the evidence they are following the plan.
“There is a wide gap between what IDOC believes it has accomplished and the findings of the Monitor,” the report reads.
The court monitor also reported that IDOC failed to provide over 80% of the information requested.
“97% of people who are in prison will return to the community,” Camille Bennett, ACLU of Illinois director of corrections reform, said. “You want them to return to the community in a condition in which they can actually become productive members of society.”
One example of IDOC’s underserving health care is cancer deaths. Cancer is the leading cause of death for Illinois prisoners, averaging 20 prisoners dying from it each year. The monitor found all cancer cases that ended in death were diagnosed late-stage.
“Cancer care is not good,” the report reads. “Largely because of failure to conduct preventive cancer screening, failure to timely diagnose the cancer, and failure to effectively coordinate follow up care.”
Another area of trouble is dental work. The monitor found in December 2021, eleven prisons did not employ any oral hygienists, leaving no one to perform dental cleanings. One facility asked a dentist to clean teeth, but they declined because they lacked the right tools.
The majority of the problems detailed in the report can be attributed to a severe staffing shortage in IDOC infirmaries. IDOC had a 46% overall vacancy rate in March 2022. The court monitor called it “astronomical.”
Governor J.B. Pritzker said the lack of health care workers is a problem not exclusive to IDOC.
“One of the challenges that we have across the state of Illinois really is finding healthcare personnel in every sort, for hospitals, for healthcare institutions, and within our prison system.” Pritzker said. “So in order to implement a plan, you need to know health care professionals. And that’s one of the challenges that we’re discussing.”
This is the second Illinois government agency to be held in contempt of court. The director of the Department of Children and Family Services has been held in contempt 12 times. Many Illinois Republicans blame the Pritzker administration for DCFS’s legal problems, and that carried over to IDOC, as well.
“There are no good excuses and any spin that the Governor can use to justify the fact that under his watch state agencies have repeatedly failed the people of our state in the worst possible ways,” Sen. Terri Bryant (R-Murphysboro) said.
Pritzker said Wednesday if Republicans really want to complain about the state of government agencies, they should have supported his prior attempts to fix them – mainly by voting for Democratic-sponsored budgets.
“Republicans haven’t voted for any of the funding that’s necessary for us to be able to improve the providing of health care within our prison system,” Pritzker said. “So they really don’t have a leg to stand on.”