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Settlement drives reform at women’s prison

Wisconsin has satisfied the terms of a settlement requiring reforms in medical and mental health care at the state’s largest women’s prison, clearing the way to an end to a longstanding class-action lawsuit.

Flynn v. Walker was filed in 2006 on behalf of women prisoners at Taycheedah Correctional Institution, according to the ACLU of Wisconsin.

The lawsuit alleged the prison system put the lives of women prisoners at risk by providing women with grossly deficient mental health treatment — far inferior to that provided to men in Wisconsin prisons.

Also alleged was that the prison system failed to provide reasonable accommodations to allow prisoners with disabilities to access basic prison services.

“After years of needless suffering due to inadequate health care, Taycheedah has the staff, services and facilities necessary to address prisoners’ medical and mental health needs, fulfilling its constitutional obligation to the women incarcerated there,” said Gabriel B. Eber, senior staff counsel with the ACLU National Prison Project.

Eber said the state has come into compliance, and the ACLU hopes “the reforms won under the settlement agreement will continue once the litigation is dismissed.”

Larry Dupuis, legal director for the ACLU of Wisconsin, said, “It was a long and sometimes contentious process, but Taycheedah has made good on its promises to deliver decent care to the women living at the institution. Of course, the impetus for the improvements at the prison was the litigation. But the medical leadership team has demonstrated a commitment to improving the quality of care that we expect them to maintain in the future.”

Wisconsin had sought to have the federal case dismissed, a motion denied by U.S. District Judge Rudolph T. Randa in 2009. Randa entered a preliminary injunction, ordering changes to how the prison administered medications to prisoners.

In 2010, a settlement required Wisconsin officials to implement significant structural improvements aimed at providing constitutionally adequate levels of care for all Taycheedah prisoners and providing female prisoners with the same level of mental health care as male prisoners. The settlement also required equal access to programs and services for prisoners with disabilities.

The agreement required the prison’s medical program meet “performance standards,” which would be verified by an independent expert.

The ACLU said an expert, after 11 visits to the prison over five years, certified that Taycheedah had met the targets.

— Lisa Neff

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