In late January, when a 37-year-old man incarcerated in Connecticut died of complications from COVID-19, he became the 28and no one in the custody of the Department of Corrections has died from the disease since the start of the pandemic.
The infectious and deadly virus continues to expose something far too many have learned the hard way now and before the pandemic began: health care in Connecticut’s prison systems is failing the men and women who are legally required to receive state care.
While the staggering number of deaths from COVID-19, not to mention the significant infection rates among inmates – about one in every 350 inmates in Connecticut has died from COVID-19, and infection rates among inmates and employees of the Department of Corrections were extremely high – indicates that the prison population in the state does not receive adequate health care, this problem has persisted for much longer.
Lawsuits against the state alleging improper care continue to be filed. In 2016 alone, 25 inmate medical cases, eight of which resulted in death, were reported. In 2018, one mishandling case resulted in a $1.3 million settlement.
Legally, incarcerated people in Connecticut are required to have their health supported by the state, which makes this lack of compassionate and adequate care all the more baffling. People in Connecticut prisons are there because of the actions and decisions they made, but they have the obligation and the right to health care just like the rest of us. The State must remedy this situation and ensure that those imprisoned receive adequate medical care.
In addition to the cruelty and horror seen in some incidents, such as a 19-year-old dying of untreated lupus over a ten-month period and only receiving Motrin for pain relief and several incidents where misdiagnoses of cancer have caused permanent injury and death, these incidents point to a second reason why this pattern needs to change. Lawsuits for lack of adequate and compassionate care give the Department of Corrections and our state a disgraceful reputation, with taxpayers being forced to cover exorbitant and, frankly, unnecessary costs that could easily be avoided.
In fact, one can and should ask why the state is willing to invest millions of dollars to settle lawsuits that could have been avoided if the Department of Corrections had complied with its legal obligations and provided health care to the inmates involved. . Preventive health care saves thousands of lives and countless dollars each year; these incidents show that preventive management is necessary, as well as a reorganization of the management of patient care.
Steps have already been taken to improve health care for patients in Connecticut, but it remains clear that more work is needed. We have the opportunity to ensure that prisoners receive adequate medical care and, in doing so, to significantly reduce the negative impacts of these practices on the health of prisoners. By doing so, the state would also serve to save millions of dollars over time.
In March 2019, the Department of Corrections reported a ratio of one nurse on staff for every 43 inmates and one doctor on staff for every 579 inmates, according to the Office of Fiscal Analysis. Ensuring adequate staffing to enable detainees to have more frequent access to medical aid would be a significant step forward for these services.
Also, providing additional oversight of health care from the Department of Corrections, such as requiring the Department of Public Health to oversee care, could further contribute to efforts to improve outcomes. Injecting the department with more funding to facilitate these staffing additions could also be key to preventing further health disasters among prison populations.
The cost of a single lawsuit settlement could be enough to fund significant improvements in care while reducing the frequency of future lawsuits – a significant long-term investment benefiting the entire state.
Regardless of their transgressions, Connecticut prisoners have basic rights and deserve to have those rights respected. When the costs of not achieving such results are paid by the people of the state as a whole, it is more than necessary for us to seek a better way forward.