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Delaware Prisoner Health Care Finally Meets Constitutional Standards

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has released the Delaware Department of Correction (DDOC) from the terms of an amended memorandum of agreement (AMOA) on prisoner medical and mental health care. The DOJ and DDOC reached the original memorandum of agreement (MOA) in 2006 after The News Press published a series that followed its six-month investigation into the unconstitutional health-care system for DDOC prisoners.

Several instances of death were cited in that report. One of those involved a prisoner who became known as the man with two heads due to a large tumor growing out of his skull. See PLN, December 2005, page 1. The DOJ began its investigation following the publishing of The News Press series; after sending a letter to DDOC finding constitutional deficiencies in nearly all aspects of prisoner medical and mental health care, the MOA was reached.

The initial efforts to enact reform stumbled upon the profiteering by Correctional Medical Services (CMS), which held a no-bid $25.9 million contract to provide health care services to DDOC’s prisoners. The MOA was confined to unlawful conditions at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, the Howard R. Young Correctional Institution, and the Sussex Correctional Institution. One of the major problems at those three prisons was staff shortages.

For the first few years after the MOA, DDOC attempted to get CMS to increase staff and provide specialized care to prisoners in need, but that goes against the grain of the business model of CMS, which prefers to skimp in these areas and enter into minimal confidential settlements in the few cases that make it to court following a prisoner’s death or serious injury caused by those deficiencies.

Finally, DDOC pulled the plug on CMS and put in place its own prisoner medical and mental health care system. DDOC established the Bureau of Correctional Healthcare Services. It designed and implemented a continuous quality improvement program for prisoner healthcare services.

 “It is with great satisfaction and accomplishment for the Department of Correction that I can say we have achieved full compliance with the amended memorandum of agreement with the United States Department of Justice,” said DDOC Commissioner Carl C. Danberg on January 6, 2013, after receiving the DOJ’s letter of notification.

 “We have devoted significant time, effort, and resources to making the much-needed improvements, and I am very pleased with the dedication and commitment Department staff has shown as we worked toward fulfilling the provisions contained in the original MOA,” he said. “Our release form the AMOA shows we have made tremendous progress and successfully addressed the needs of inmate health care, but this is not an end point. We will continue to identify and address areas for improved medical questions.”

Source: The News Press

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