ACLU Sues Major Medical Provider Over Deficient Care in Mississippi Prison

Affiliate: ACLU of Mississippi
June 22, 2005 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON, DC — Citing the extreme health risks faced by nearly 1000 men confined in a Mississippi prison, the American Civil Liberties Union and the law firm Holland & Knight LLP today filed a lawsuit against one of the country’s largest for-profit medical providers for prisoners.

“Correctional Medical Services has a national reputation for providing prisoners with grossly inadequate medical care,” said Margaret Winter, Associate Director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project and lead attorney in today’s lawsuit. “We believe that Correctional Medical Services’ already poor reputation will sink even lower when its treatment of Mississippi prisoners with life-threatening conditions and serious mental illness is exposed to public view and judicial scrutiny.”

Correctional Medical Services, Inc. (CMS), a for-profit private corporation, currently holds contracts in 27 states, including Mississippi. In April 2003, the state of Mississippi contracted with CMS to provide medical, mental health and dental care to prisoners incarcerated at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman. Today’s complaint, filed on behalf of about 1000 men confined in Parchman’s Unit 32, the prison’s supermaximum security unit, builds upon litigation brought in 2002 on behalf of death row prisoners housed in the same unit. Among other issues, it charges that officials with the Mississippi Department of Corrections and CMS routinely deny prisoners access to humane treatment.

Jeffery Presley, 24, contracted a serious “staph” infection while in Unit 32. A CMS doctor initially misdiagnosed his condition as a spider bite. Over several days, Presley’s condition grew worse and he pleaded for additional medical treatment. His infected joint became grotesquely swollen and leaked blood. Ultimately, the doctor removed a section of Presley’s infected leg and prescribed Tylenol to dull his pain.

In another incident, a disturbed, deaf-mute prisoner was left for months in his cell on the special needs psychiatric tier, without a mental health evaluation or any attempt to communicate with him. His cell became filthy and he was allowed to remain unwashed for weeks. Correctional staff threw things at him to get his attention, and when he threw things back, he was cited for rule violations.

“Treating people suffering from mental or physical illness with disrespect and indifference is abhorrent,” said Stephen F. Hanlon, a partner with Holland & Knight LLP and co-counsel in the case. “Correctional Medical Service’s improper actions in Mississippi and in other parts of the country violate the Constitution.”

The Mississippi State Board of Medical Licensure had disciplined and temporarily restricted the medical licenses of at least three physicians at the Parchman prison. The CMS medical director was cited for habitual drug use, and the prison’s chief psychiatrist was restricted because of a history of patient sexual exploitation and sexual harassment. Elsewhere, CMS has established a pattern of hiring doctors with troubled backgrounds. According to a 1998 investigation by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, nine CMS doctors working in Missouri had been disciplined by licensing boards.

In Michigan, where the company provides care to prisoners statewide and the ACLU has litigated issues regarding inadequate medical care, CMS has come under scrutiny for its attempts to save money by limiting prisoners’ referrals to outside medical specialists. A federal court found that excessive delays in providing prisoners with referrals contributed to three deaths during an 18-month period. Five other prisoners who died during the same time period also experienced significant delays in treatment.

“CMS has a shameful record of jacking up corporate profits by turning a blind eye to the urgent medical needs of sick prisoners,” said Winter. “I am hopeful that today’s lawsuit will make it impossible for this company to keep on conducting ‘business as usual’ in Mississippi prisons.”

Today’s lawsuit, Presley v. Epps, was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi by attorneys Winter and Gouri Bhat of the ACLU’s National Prison Project, Hanlon and Cecily Baskir of Holland & Knight LLP, Mississippi civil rights attorney Robert McDuff and Ranie Thompson of the ACLU of Mississippi.

To read today’s complaint, go to: /node/35173.

To read about the ACLU’s other work regarding Correctional Medical Services, go to: /node/10485.

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