Idaho Prison Agrees To Improve Medical Care

May 16, 2012

The Idaho Department of Correction has reached an agreement with the inmates at one of its prisons. This comes from a lawsuit spanning more than three decades.

Jason Prince is a lawyer who represents 1,600 inmates at the Idaho State Correctional Institution. He’s spent the last few months negotiating an agreement on changes to medical care at the prison near Boise. Prince says the biggest change will be increased staff.

 “There will also be some brick and mortar changes," Prince says. "Where there’s actually going to be an addition made, which is an important change because the size of the prison population has grown dramatically over the past 30 years but the essential facilities for medical have not grown.”

Prince has been on this case since 2004. But it began in 1981. Several suits were combined into a class action case which alleged, among other things, widespread sexual assault, violence, overcrowding, and poor health care. Many of the issues have been addressed over the years through court injunctions.

Last year court appointed physician Marc Stern investigated health care at the prison. Stern found what he called “serious problems” which have “resulted…in serious harm to inmates.”  Stern is withholding  judgment on the agreement but he says he’s glad his report has spurred change. “Everybody involved in the case, I think, wants to see it come to an end that works for all the parties,” he said.

Department of Correction Director Brent Reinke says fulfilling the terms of the agreement won’t be easy.“We have to perform and we have to communicate in ways that are a little bit foreign to us with the inmate population," explains Reinke.  "That’s not a problem because that’s what we’ve agreed to and that’s what our intentions are to carry out.”

The agreement includes establishing an ombudsman at the prison who can field complaints. The prison has six months to get the changes under way followed by a two year monitoring period. But the agreement still needs legislative approval because of the money involved. Rienke says the initial changes will cost  $1.6 million.