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Health Care at Ely State Prison

Last Update: July 16, 2010

What's at Stake

ACLU Lawsuit Charges Grossly Inadequate Medical Care At State Prison In Nevada

In December of 2007, Dr. William Noel, a medical expert retained by the American Civil Liberties Union to investigate medical conditions inside the Ely State Prison in Ely, Nevada — a small town located at the junction of State Routes 50, 93 and 6 in Eastern Nevada — released a report that exposed galling inadequacies in the level of medical care provided to the 1,000 inmates — including more than 60 Death Row Prisoners — incarcerated there.

Noel was retained after the ACLU’s Washington, D.C.-based National Prison Project and the ACLU affiliate in Nevada received dozens of complaints from prisoners charging that both acute and chronic illnesses were not being cared for, that prescription medications were not being handed out and that many prisoners were forced to endure undue pain and suffering — even to the point of being left on the brink of death — as a result of callous disregard on the part of prison officials.

What Noel discovered and detailed in his report was nothing less than shocking. Margaret Winter, Associate Director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project — which tracks prison systems across the country — said the conditions at Ely "are as horrific as any we have ever seen."

In his report, Noel wrote that medical care at ESP shows "the most shocking and callous disregard for human life and human suffering that I have ever encountered in the medical profession in my 35 years of practice." According to the report, which was sent to Nevada Department of Corrections Director Howard Skolnik last December, there is a horrific pattern of neglect, misguided health care policies, and little accountability for frequently under-qualified staff. Noel also noted numerous instances where important medical records were missing from prisoners’ medical files. Finally, Noel and the ACLU have raised serious concerns about prisoners who died and were cremated before autopsies were completed and their families notified.

In the wake of the report, lawyers from the National Prison Project leaped into action, pushing hard for corrections officials and officials from Nevada’s state government to begin implementing desperately needed reforms aimed at ensuring that the prisoners at Ely were no longer denied their constitutional right to basic medical care. The ACLU’s pleadings fell on deaf ears. So on Thursday, March 6, 2008, the National Prison Project and the ACLU filed a lawsuit against Skolnik and other top corrections and governmental officials.

A copy of that lawsuit, along with numerous other resources — including a podcast with an ACLU lawyer from the Capital Punishment Project who draws a direct connection between Ely’s substandard medical conditions and the fact that a higher percentage of Nevada’s Death Row inmates volunteer for execution than anywhere else in the country — can be found on this site. It is all part of the ACLU’s ongoing litigation and advocacy aimed at protecting the rights of all Americans.

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