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Expert Review: More Than A Third Of Prison Deaths Were Preventable

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A new report suggests a third of the deaths in Illinois prisons are preventable.

The document was filed as part of a class-action lawsuit accusing the Illinois Department of Corrections of providing inadequate healthcare to inmates.

A court-appointed doctor studied records in 33 cases, from among 174 deaths in 2016-2017.

One inmate had been getting ready for a valve replacement when he was arrested.

ACLU of Illinois attorney Camille Bennett says the county jail carried through with preparations for his surgery. But things turned south when he got to a state prison.

“Although the letter from his cardiologist was in the file, they don’t ever seem to have looked at it,” Bennett says. “At one point they figured out that he had some kind of heart problem, but they didn’t diagnose it correctly. Six months later he’s dead.”

The report cites a Pew study that found only seven states spent less money per capita on healthcare for prisoners.

Bennett says the state isn’t living up to its legal obligations.

“Ultimately, the constitutional obligation here is prevent needless pain and suffering,” she says. “The Supreme Court said that back in 1976, so that’s been true for a long time.”

Among other findings, the report says the department does not have enough doctors.

Through a spokeswoman, the department says it cannot comment on pending litigation.

The case is scheduled to go to trial before a federal judge on December 3.

The case is Lippert v. Baldwin, No. 10-cv-04603 (NDIL; also listed as Lippert v. Ghosh).

Brian Mackey formerly reported on state government and politics for NPR Illinois and a dozen other public radio stations across the state. Before that, he was A&E editor at The State Journal-Register and Statehouse bureau chief for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.
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