An examination of the medical care provided to inmates at the Utah State Prison is "relatively positive" according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which sought the review last year after receiving numerous complaints of prisoners being mistreated.
But officials of the state Department of Corrections have declined to release a copy of the report, saying they are prevented from doing so by state law. The soonest they are willing to discuss the report with a reporter from the Deseret News is Oct. 24.A brief press release from the department does not detail any of the report's findings, stating only that a number of the recommendations can be addressed immediately while others will require some study "before it can be determined if they are feasible, given the constraints we work under."
Still other recommendations, according to the release, will require funding from the Legislature before they can be implemented. A task force that includes the department's medical director and audit bureau is reviewing the report and should have an implementation plan finished by the end of October.
Robyn Blumner, executive director of the ACLU's Utah chapter, said she had agreed not to release a copy of the report and to discuss it only in general terms. She said she did not know the reason the 37-page document was being kept from the media.
"I thought it was a relatively positive report that put the department in a rather good light," Blumner said. She said the first two pages of the report applauded the improvements that have occurred within the department in the past two years.
The ACLU still has a lawsuit pending against the department that charges negligence in the case of a prisoner who died in October 1983 after initially being denied medical treatment.
Inmate Johnny Denton died of congenital heart failure complicated by diabetes after complaining of feeling ill and not being attended to right away, Blumner said. The suit was filed on behalf of Denton's mother.
Over the years, other complaints of mistreatment have surfaced. Former inmate Joe Ward told the Deseret News in 1986 that a foot injury acquired while he was working at a halfway house resulted in the amputation of part of his leg.
He said he had three toes amputated at a Salt Lake hospital and then was sent to the prison hospital to recuperate. There, he said, prison medical personnel neglected his injury. He developed gangrene and his leg was amputated above the knee.
Such incidents are no longer the subject of complaints heard by the ACLU, Blumner said. Before the study was sought, the Salt Lake office received a half-dozen calls a month about inadequate medical treatment. Now, she said, thatnumber has dropped to one call every other month.
She attributed the change to the boosting of the number of nurses and medical technicians by one-third. Still, she said, the report suggested that a full-time doctor should be hired to replace the three part-time doctors currently providing medical care.
Blumner said that such improvements have been made in part because of the pressure put on the department by the ACLU. "It is much more cost-effective for everyone concerned, especially the state, for a cooperative spirit to exist between the Department of Corrections and the ACLU.
"Litigation is expensive, time-consuming and it creates ill-will," she said. Had the study not been done or had not provided satisfactory recommendations, the ACLU may have sued the department to force further improvements.
The report was done by Bonnie Norman, a correctional health care consultant from Los Angeles. She had spent a day at the prison in 1986 as part of a training program, according to Blumner, and compared what she saw then to what she found during her study.