Capitol - Your Illinois News Radar » *** UPDATED x1 *** Illinois Department of Corrections held in contempt over “staggering” health care failures
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*** UPDATED x1 *** Illinois Department of Corrections held in contempt over “staggering” health care failures

Wednesday, Aug 10, 2022 - Posted by Rich Miller

* From the Uptown People’s Law Center...

A federal court judge issued an order of contempt against the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) after the Department repeatedly ignored court orders and failed to take appropriate steps to improve health care in the State’s prison system.

Specifically, the court acted after repeated failures by IDOC since 2018 to develop a specific, detailed plan needed to implement and remedy problems in the prison health care system that court experts identified multiple times.

“IDOC’s failure here is staggering,” said Camille Bennett, attorney at ACLU of Illinois. “They were required by court order three years ago to develop a plan to fix the unconstitutional health care deficiencies for our clients across the state, and they have yet to do it. We hope this will wake up their leadership.”

Prisoners first sued IDOC in 2010, alleging systemic problems in health care, problems that lead to serious disease, harm and even death for people under the care of IDOC. The lawsuit, brought by named prisoners represented by the ACLU of Illinois, Dentons, and Uptown People’s Law Center resulted in an agreement with the State of Illinois in 2018, approved by the court in May 2019.

The agreement required IDOC to develop a comprehensive plan to improve medical care. For more than three years, the Department has failed to take that step, leading the court to enforce the contempt order.

“The delay in simply developing a plan has resulted in harm and death for people detained throughout the state,” added Harold Hirshman, attorney at Dentons. “That is not speculation – the court’s own experts have reported this sad reality on a regular basis.”

Just yesterday a report was made public wherein a federal court monitor found that IDOC had made virtually none of the improvements required during the past three years. The report noted that IDOC’s care of the elderly was so bad that it constituted elder abuse, in violation of Illinois law. The monitor describes patients who:

• developed bed sores because staff did not turn them in bed,
• were left to sit in their own waste in wheelchairs,
• wasted away because staff did not bother to feed them,
• broke their bones because staff did not help them get out of bed, and
• had symptoms of cancer that were ignored until the cancer had advanced so far that it could not be treated.

“IDOC clearly wants to continue their misconduct with impunity, hidden behind prison walls. Their complete disregard for the health and safety of people in prison should disgust every taxpayer in Illinois. If this was a private nursing home, the way these elders have been treated would trigger a state investigation, and the home would immediately be shut down,” said Alan Mills, executive director of Uptown People’s Law Center, which is co-counsel on all three lawsuits.

The contempt order on health care provided by IDOC fits a pattern of issues that the Department has failed to address in recent years. Prisoners with a mental illness, for example, have been in court since 2007 trying to force IDOC to provide them with meaningful treatment, represented by Equip for Equality, Dentons, and Uptown People’s Law Center. In May 2016, a settlement was reached in which IDOC agreed to make dozens of changes to ensure that prisoners received the treatment they needed.

Also yesterday, the federal court monitor’s sixth annual report on mental health care in IDOC was filed with the court, which found prison officials had failed to comply with almost every remaining term of the settlement—from hiring needed staff, to providing out-of-cell recreation and treatment. Even the most seriously ill prisoners in the Department’s residential treatment units received virtually no treatment and many were locked in their cells nearly 24 hours per day most days. In the face of these findings, prison officials declared they no longer had any obligation to comply with the settlement. Now, the plaintiff class—over 11,000 people with mental illness in Illinois prisons—must return to court, to prove their case all over again.

Prisoners who are deaf and hard of hearing also sued the prison system in 2011, represented by Equip for Equality, the National Association of the Deaf, Uptown People’s Law Center, and Winston & Strawn. In July 2018, a court order was entered by agreement which required prison officials to provide the accommodations necessary to allow deaf and hard of hearing prisoners to communicate effectively. A key step was to have all eligible prisoners examined by an audiologist to determine the degree of their hearing loss. On August 3rd of this year, the federal court found that for the first two years after the consent decree was entered, IDOC did virtually nothing, and did not make a reasonable effort as required by the court order to get prisoners an audiologist exam. As a result, rather than prompt evaluation, prisoners had to wait many months, and sometimes as long as two years before they were evaluated by an audiologist, let alone actually provided needed accommodations such as hearing aids. Only in year three, after plaintiffs sought sanctions from the federal court, did they make any real effort to comply.

The contempt order is here. The court monitor’s report is here.

I’ve asked the governor’s office for comment. Stay tuned.

*** UPDATE *** From IDOC…

Lippert –
The Department has been moving forward with detailed plans to improve healthcare services, completed an implementation plan on time and is working closely with an expert on those plans. The Court hearing was about the procedural disagreements in finalizing the official implementation plan for this year. The Court has asked for a document that details the areas of disagreement so that it can rule on those disagreements. The Department has been working through issues with the monitor and that process continues. We expect to have a finalized document very soon.

Judge Alonso held Defendants in contempt because of our “failure to comply with this Court’s orders respecting an implementation plan”
o The order that we did not follow was a requirement to

    * Defendants shall submit a revised implementation plan to the monitor and Plaintiffs’ counsel by 4/20/22.
    * The monitor shall respond to Defendants with any disagreements by 5/10/22.
    * Defendants shall respond and submit the revised implementation plan back to the Court by 5/31/22.
    * The Defendants are directed to make their consultant available for a conference with the monitor before 5/10/22.

o We did each of these tasks.
o The one thing that was mentioned on the record was that we were supposed to respond to the Monitor’s redlines when we tendered the revised implementation plan to the court on 5/31. This was not possible because the redlines that we had were to an early version of the plan so it was unclear what if any disputes still existed (based on the changes between the April plan and the May plan)
o In our response to Plaintiffs’ motion for contempt we outline 8 pages of general disagreements that we believed still existed based on the monitor’s comments. This was the best we could do because the Monitor never commented on the May plan.

Rasho –
The Department of Corrections has prevailed on numerous motions in the Rasho litigation, including findings that the Department’s efforts are appropriate and not a violation of its Constitutional obligations. Plaintiffs’ recent motions seeking a preliminary injunction and seeking contempt have all been denied and the prior injunction against the Department was vacated in full by the 7th Circuit. As a result of these rulings, the District Court denied Plaintiffs’ motion to extend the already multi-year consent decree, finding the agreement could no longer be enforced against the Department. The Department recently opened the first ever state of the art inpatient facility this summer and remains committed to ensuring appropriate mental health care and treatment for all individuals in its custody.

Holmes –
The Court recently issued an order finding the Department is in full compliance with its obligations under the Settlement Agreement to use best efforts to send individuals in custody to audiologists for failed hearing screenings for the last two years. The Court and the parties agreed that all of the Settlement Agreement would terminate based on the Department’s substantial compliance with the exception of one issue that will remain subject to Court oversight for a short period of time. On August 3, 2022, the court issued an order finding IDOC violated the now terminated provisions of the agreement in 2018 and 2019, but finding that the Department had since engaged in best efforts for at least two years.

…Adding… Press release…

Illinois State Senator Terri Bryant (R-Murphysboro) released the following statement after a federal court judge issued an order of contempt against the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) after the Department failed to take steps to improve health care for Illinois inmates and ignored court orders:

“Today’s announcement is just the most recent example of a long line of incidents that reveals the disturbing reality that the Pritzker Administration is incapable of ensuring that the state agencies under his control are protecting the people in their care.

“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. We have had veterans lose their lives for his Administration’s inability to properly implement recommendations, countless children have suffered under the so-called care of the Department of Children and Family Services, and now we have a state agency that can’t even come up with a detailed plan in three years to address health care deficiencies for Illinois inmates.

“This latest incident begs the question of how many times and how many agencies will it take before the Governor accepts responsibility for these failures and finally takes action to do the right thing for the people hurt under his inaction and failed leadership?”


  1. - NIU Grad - Wednesday, Aug 10, 22 @ 9:35 am:

    Anyone know which Deputy Governor has DOC?

  2. - In the know - Wednesday, Aug 10, 22 @ 9:46 am:

    Christian Mitchell, I believe.

  3. - Frumpy White Guy - Wednesday, Aug 10, 22 @ 9:52 am:

    The second one of its kind. The Governor should reverse the election year money, give away, gimmicks and apply the money to solving these systemic problems.

  4. - Back to the Future - Wednesday, Aug 10, 22 @ 10:15 am:

    This governing thing has always been hard stuff for President Elect Pritzker.
    The Pritzker Spin machine should be kicking into gear soon blaming someone else and pointing out how much more tax money Team Pritzker is spending to not fix the problem.

  5. - Oswego Willy - Wednesday, Aug 10, 22 @ 10:19 am:

    ===President Elect===

    If you don’t care to be taken seriously, but be an aggrieved person…

    To the post,

    At some point, it’s not an agency or a director, at some point the idea of running agencies and how that is seen comes into question with multiple directors in court.

    Bailey and Republicans are in no position to make serious hay, but that doesn’t mean answers need not be answered

  6. - Roadrager - Wednesday, Aug 10, 22 @ 10:21 am:

    I am of the belief that every online forum should have one poster like Back to the Future.

    But only one.

  7. - Back to the Future - Wednesday, Aug 10, 22 @ 10:23 am:

    Only an apparently failed attempt at humor.
    The people and their families who have been subjected to this kind of abuse by Governor Pritzker are the people should feel aggrieved.

  8. - ChrisB - Wednesday, Aug 10, 22 @ 10:30 am:

    If the Bailey team was halfway competent, they’d start linking all of these Contempt orders from the Gov. Pritzker’s various departments and make them a campaign issue. Highlight how the State is failing our citizens under the state’s care. Kinda like what Rauner did to Quinn, or Pritzker then did to Rauner. Seemed pretty effective, since those guys were the eventual winners.

    But no, they’re going to spin their wheels trying to duck whatever Bailey’s latest verbal sludge meant.

  9. - Homebody - Wednesday, Aug 10, 22 @ 10:37 am:

    How little Americans seem to give a crap about incarcerated people is depressing. We have never in our history had a true justice system, just a violence and retribution system (at best).

  10. - RNUG - Wednesday, Aug 10, 22 @ 10:48 am:

    I’m in one on my cynical moods today

    Nothing is going to change at IDOC (or DCFS) until some judge decides things are so egregious that the responsible State officials no longer have qualified immunity, the the judge tosses the Directors in jail until the agency comes into compliance.

  11. - Back to the Future - Wednesday, Aug 10, 22 @ 11:32 am:

    Thanks for the kind thought.
    No worry about Back picking up followers as that has never happened over the years, but I do feel I did make a lot of blogger friends over the years.
    As to the post- sadly I tend to agree with RNUG’s comments.
    The current contempt orders in DCFS and DOC were absolutely a necessary step by the people who had the courage to step up for people that were being abused.
    In terms of DOC- hat tip to the ALCU of Illinois and the Uptown Peoples Law Center.

  12. - Big Dipper - Wednesday, Aug 10, 22 @ 11:36 am:

    Qualified immunity would not prevent a judge from jailing a state official from contempt. They don’t do it because it’s the nuclear option.

  13. - Big Dipper - Wednesday, Aug 10, 22 @ 11:36 am:

    For contempt

  14. - Captain Ron - Wednesday, Aug 10, 22 @ 11:42 am:

    - RNUG - Wednesday, Aug 10, 22 @ 10:48 am:

    I’m in one on my cynical moods today

    Nothing is going to change at IDOC (or DCFS) until some judge decides things are so egregious that the responsible State officials no longer have qualified immunity, the the judge tosses the Directors in jail until the agency comes into compliance.

    Or until legislators properly fund agencies like IDOC

  15. - Let My People Go - Wednesday, Aug 10, 22 @ 11:45 am:

    That’s not all. IDOC and DCFS are getting hit with a bunch of new lawsuits involving children dying in DCFS custody and prisoners not being released — sometimes years after they have served the entirety of their prison sentences. That Bailey might be more incompetent than Pritzker doesn’t change how Pritzker and his team have no clue about what they are doing.

  16. - Candy Dogood - Wednesday, Aug 10, 22 @ 12:23 pm:

    How many of those 7,000 unfilled positions are in the Department of Corrections?

  17. - Back to the Future - Wednesday, Aug 10, 22 @ 12:56 pm:

    Lot’s to read.
    I suppose it comes down to who are you going to believe Team Pritzker or the Judge, Uptown Peoples Law Center and ACLU of Illinois.

  18. - thisjustinagain - Wednesday, Aug 10, 22 @ 1:29 pm:

    I love when the State or its agencies claim they are ‘moving forward’ while having zero proof which supports that claim.

  19. - Lincoln Lad - Wednesday, Aug 10, 22 @ 7:28 pm:

    Somebody needs to tell JB the agencies aren’t running very well… doubling salaries of Deputy Gov’s doesn’t make them capable.

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