ACLU Seeks Remedies for Serious Health Care Problems in Women's Prison

March 29, 1999 12:00 am

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Monday, March 29, 1999

TACOMA, WA — The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, joined by Columbia Legal Services and the Northwest Women’s Law Center, today sought to extend federal jurisdiction in a case alleging serious deficiencies in health care at the Washington Corrections Center for Women.

An evidentiary hearing expected to last two weeks begins today in U.S. District Court in Tacoma before Magistrate Judge David Wilson in Tacoma.

The move to extend the court’s jurisdiction over the case was prompted by the continuing failure of the state to address serious deficiencies in the health care that create unacceptable risks of injury and harm to the women there.

The trial addresses the shocking increase of suicide attempts and self-inflicted injuries at the prison, as well as dental care far below acceptable minimum standards. Testimony will be presented by current and former prison staff, inmates, health care experts, and independent monitors.

In legal papers, the three organizations say that the state has not lived up to the terms of a 1995 stipulated judgment in a lawsuit they filed on behalf of women incarcerated at the corrections center.

Under the 1995 judgment, prison administrators agreed to develop a comprehensive health care plan to significantly improve the delivery of medical, dental, and mental health care services in order to meet minimal constitutional standards of decency.

Experts reviewing conditions at the prison had concluded that the health care system was so deficient that it jeopardized the health and safety of the women. In fact, during the course of the lawsuit, an inmate died in the prison infirmary from a perforated peptic ulcer. Two state-sponsored investigations into the matter later concluded that the prisoner’s death was avoidable.

Inhumane conditions at the Washington Corrections Center are part of a nationwide problem. In March, Amnesty International USA released a reporting describing widespread abuses of women in America’s prisons, including inadequate medical care.

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