Advocates will be in federal court in Charlottesville this week alleging the state has failed to live up to a 2016 consent order to provide adequate medical care for inmates at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women.
Arguing that the health and safety of the 1,200 inmates at the prison remain at risk, the Legal Aid Justice Center and others are asking U.S. District Judge Norman K. Moon to find officials of the Virginia Department of Corrections in contempt, impose fines and order enforcement of the class-action settlement.
Health care is provided at Fluvanna, Virginia’s largest prison for women, under a state contract with Armor Correctional Healthcare Inc.
In a brief last month, the inmates’ lawyers contend that, “Essentially, at every turn, and at every level, VDOC failed to hold the contractor accountable for providing an appropriate level of care at FCCW.”
In their briefs, lawyers for the state deny the prison has breached any of the provisions of the settlement agreement reached with the inmates.
The inmates disagree, contending that as of September, when they filed the contempt motion: “The minimal changes undertaken by Armor at VDOC’s meek insistence in early 2016 failed to move the needle towards achieving actual or sustainable improvements in the quality of medical care.”
“This period was punctuated by multiple patient deaths followed by uncritical self-assessments of ways in which healthcare at FCCW may have contributed to those deaths,” the justice center contends. The inmates are also represented by the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs and pro-bono lawyers with the Washington law firm of Wiley Rein.
Advocates maintain the department’s contract with Armor, under which the company’s profit increases as the cost of care per prisoner decreases, is an arrangement that incentivizes cost-cutting and corner-cutting.
The Legal Aid Justice Center pointed out to Moon other problems identified by Armor in its own mortality review reports, which were written by the prison’s acting, part-time medical director. The director found issues with the treatment of three women prior to their deaths, which occurred after the settlement was reached.
The inmates cite a June 29, 2017, letter from the warden at FCCW to a Department of Corrections official in which he wrote: “We do not have the resources to address the settlement agreement. As well at the institutional level, we don’t have the expertise in some of these areas the settlement agreement demands. Without such resources and expertise and with the detail of obligations in the settlement agreement, we are destined to fail at adequately addressing the same.”
The state argues that the settlement agreement entered by the court on Feb. 6, 2016, “provided that the quality of medical care administered to prisoners at FCCW would ‘meet or exceed constitutional requirements.’”
To prove a violation of the protection against cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment, there must be deliberate indifference to an inmate’s serious medical needs, the Department of Corrections contends.
The state also complains that recruiting medical staff for Fluvanna has been made difficult by hostility from patients and by adverse media coverage. It quoted the settlement monitor as observing that if the inmates are contributing to the news coverage, “it would seem an unlikely means of advancing the interests of the patients.”
Of nearly two dozen performance measures in the agreement, only three remain listed as “non-compliant,” the state told Moon.
Late last month, the Department of Corrections asked Moon to rule in its favor without a hearing.
The department asserted that the court-appointed compliance monitor does not believe the prison is violating the settlement agreement. It calls for the monitor to determine if there has been “appropriate progress ... toward the goal of constitutionally adequate medical care on a consistent basis.”
Last week, however, Moon tersely dismissed the request, writing that he “made it clear four months ago that [he] intended to hear live testimony and evidence on the motion for a show cause order regarding contempt.”
The hearing is set to begin Monday morning. In addition to experts and officials, several Fluvanna inmates are expected to testify. The Legal Aid Justice Center said surviving family members of women who died at the prison are also expected to attend.