Judge rules prison in violation

Judge rules prison in violation


A federal judge in Charlottesville issued an injunction Wednesday (Jan. 2) against the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women (FCCW) in Troy, laying down a series of improvements the prison’s medical staff must make in the coming weeks and months.

The ruling came about six months after a three-day trial in June 2018, as representatives for the inmates argued that the prison was failing to meet requirements laid out in a 2016 settlement agreement between their clients and the facility, and should be held in contempt of court.

Multiple inmates took the stand to detail how FCCW medical staff failed to deliver timely medical care and how this neglect led to serious complications and, ultimately, deaths.

They argued that this failure to provide basic care violates their Eighth Amendment rights against cruel and unusual punishment.

Lawyers for the state argued that FCCW had implemented most of the changes required under the settlement agreement, and laid much of the blame for chronic understaffing and poor nursing care on the bad publicity surrounding the prison.

Judge Norman K. Moon of the Western District of Virginia found that the Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) was in violation of eight of the 22 standards laid out in the settlement agreement, although he declined to hold VDOC in contempt.

Instead, he ordered VDOC to rapidly implement changes to protocols and procedures.

“This case has survived because defendants have upheld neither their Eighth Amendment obligations nor the settlement agreement they reached to effectuate those obligations.”
– Judge Norman K. Moon


The “settlement agreement does not set an olympic bar for defendants,” he wrote in a 51-page decision. “It does not require FCCW to be the Mayo Clinic or Johns Hopkins Hospital. Instead, the settlement agreement simply imposes very basic medical standards and tasks that will bring medical care to an adequate level, something that has been and continues to be absent in significant respects.”

To remedy the deficiencies brought forth at the trial in June, he ordered that within two weeks, each building at FCCW should have a backboard or stretcher, an oxygen tank and mask, and a suction machine.

Lack of basic equipment in the prison dormitories was noted in the deaths of Deanna Niece and Carolyn Liberto, who died within days of each other in July 2017.

Within 30 days, the prison should submit new protocols for “unimpeded access to medical care” for inmates.

Moon directly cited the case of Andrea Nichols, a 59-year old inmate who waited two years for a colonoscopy. When it was finally performed, Nichols was diagnosed with stage four rectal cancer which had spread to her liver.

In that same period, the prison will have to evaluate and document the sick call process to make sure all medical complaints are treated in a timely manner. They will also have to document how each grievance is handled, “even if the substance of the grievance is ultimately found to be unfounded,” the judge ruled.

And within 45 days, Moon ordered the prison to be continually staffed with the equivalent of 78 full-time nurses. Within that same period, nurses are to be trained in dispensing medications, keeping complete medical records on patients, and giving a timely response to emergency calls.

FCCW and Armour Correctional Healthcare, which runs the prison’s medical facility, will remain under the supervision of an external compliance officer.

“No reasonable person could read the settlement agreement and think that it was permissible…for Andrea Nichols to wait three years for a colonoscopy while cancer rotted her body and invaded her liver; or for a medical prison to lack ready access to emergency medical equipment; or for nurses to fail to (and even not know how to) reorder medications; or for extreme chest pain, wheezing, and excessive weight changes to go uncharted and unexamined by a doctor,” Moon stated.

“Over six years ago, women at FCCW filed this lawsuit, seeking a remedy for pervasive constitutionally deficient medical care. Their quest continues. Some women have died along the way,” he wrote in his conclusion. “But this case has survived because defendants have upheld neither their Eighth Amendment obligations nor the settlement agreement they reached to effectuate those obligations.”

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