A current class-action suit seeks to prove that the IL Department of Corrections (IDOC) places inmates in situations leading to pain, injury and death. Back in 2010, Don Lippert, an inmate with diabetes, claimed that he was not receiving his necessary dosage of insulin, which initiated the now massive suit. The case of Lippert v. Baldwin asserts that the health care standards at the IDOC fail to meet levels that are constitutional and represents “cruel and unusual punishment”. Meanwhile, the IDOC states that critics tend to use individual incidents as a means of suggesting that the overall comprehensive healthcare system is flawed. Benjamin Wolf, an attorney for the Illinois ACLU, explained that the IDOC is not adhering to one of the core principles of justice, which is how the most vulnerable in society (such as prisoners) are treated.
Jason Stiehl represented Lippert pro bono and sought financial compensation for his client. The IDOC did not wish to compensate Lippert, as they feared it would lead to a significant volume of similar claims against the Department. The plaintiff sought to have the case designated as a class-action matter, meaning that the entire system was delivering substandard medical care, rather than simply isolated incidents of medical negligence and indifference. Judge Jorge Alonso recently approved the case for class-action status. Stiehl’s efforts led to a large report from legal advocates based on their findings in eight state prisons. The report was deemed as “scathing” by the Associated Press, and it documented how the state failed to maintain the minimum constitutionally guaranteed level of care. The prison system is understaffed; in fact, the Stateville facility lacked 35% of the medical staff deemed necessary and 60% of deaths involving inmates were associated with lapses in medical care.
The correctional environment is challenging for those responsible for administering medical care. The population is more prone to disease, as rates of infectious disease were 21% compared to roughly 5% in the general public. Some of the other key challenges include:
- The bodies of those incarcerated tend to functionally be equivalent to someone 10 to 15 years older than they are
- Most facilities are significantly over their designed capacity of inmates
- Illinois’ dismal prison healthcare funding ranked 48th out of the 50 states
- Providers encounter a constant challenge to provide medical care amid large safety concerns
This problem exists throughout the county. There is a similar case to Lippert underway in Alabama. Class actions settlements have been reached in California in 2017, Florida in 2016, and Wisconsin in 2010. Illinois has had dozens of examples of medical negligence each year since the case began. The rise in using private prison healthcare providers hasn’t seemed to improve things, as the contracts typically are awarded to low bidders who end up realizing significant cost overruns. To make matters worse, Illinois is approaching its third consecutive year without a agreeing on a budget and is reportedly faced with a $6 billion deficit.