Charlie Litchfield, File, Associated Press
BOISE, Idaho — The Idaho Department of Correction has agreed to increase staffing and dramatically increase medical care oversight as part of a long-running lawsuit over conditions at a prison south of Boise.
The agreement filed with the U.S. District Court in Idaho on Tuesday afternoon guarantees that the court will continue to review conditions at the Idaho State Correctional Institution for at least two more years before ending a decades-old lawsuit between inmates and the state. It also means the state will be expected to come up with enough money to hire more prison health care workers and to modify its contract with the Brentwood, Tenn.-based prison health care contractor Corizon.
Idaho Department of Correction Director Brent Reinke said the agreement represents a significant step forward in the case.
"Oddly enough, it was 31 years ago today when this all started," he said Tuesday evening. "Maybe the stars were aligned — I'm very, very grateful to move this forward today."
The case began in 1981 when ISCI inmates sued, alleging they were subject to violence and rape by fellow inmates, denied adequate medical care, subjected to poor diets and forced to deal with extreme overcrowding.
Over the next three decades, they won several rulings designed to improve conditions at the prison and the federal court continued to oversee operations to make sure the state was complying with all of its orders.
But U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill was eager to end the court's babysitting role, and last year, he appointed correctional health care expert Dr. Marc Stern to review the health care at the prison and report back his findings.
Stern's report, filed with the court earlier this year, was damning. He said he found multiple problems, including nursing mistakes that likely resulted in the deaths of some inmates, that inmates with terminal illnesses or requiring long-term care were sometimes left in soiled linens and went without meals and that some emergency equipment was missing or not working properly.
Officials with Corizon and with the state countered that they didn't believe Stern's report was accurate and that it misrepresented the level of care offered at the prison. The state also has maintained that the original court rulings governing health care at the prison were so out-of-date that they didn't reflect current conditions and were impossible to enforce.
The agreement between inmates and the state is designed to address the concerns listed in Stern's report and to make the old enforcement plans current.
The agreement calls for some brick-and-mortar changes, such as a remodel of the prison's existing pharmacy building to reduce crowding. It also calls for both the Idaho Department of Correction and Corizon to increase staffing levels. Reinke said changes to Corizon's staffing level will have to be made through the state's contract with the company. Corizon is not a party to the lawsuit and so is not bound by the agreement.
Both sides have six months to get the changes up and running and incorporated into the court's existing compliance plan. Then the state will be subjected to two years of monitoring to ensure that all the terms are being met.
If the state performs satisfactorily during the two-year period, the lawsuit could come to a close at the end of 2014.
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