Criminal Justice Reform – IMPACT LITIGATION


On August 31, 1993, inmates at the Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW) filed a class action lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the facility’s health care manager and superintendent alleging that healthcare in the prison violated the Eighth Amendment. Plaintiffs were represented by Columbia Legal Services, the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, and the Northwest Women’s Law Center. The original case sought to improve basic health care for women prisoners, who reported that WCCW’s health care staff performed bizarre procedures (like removing a prisoner’s mole with a Bic lighter and a paperclip ), a female prisoner died from a common-place, treatable illness, and the prison had no coherent system of medical records.

The parties entered into a consent decree on January 12, 1995 governing the quality and availability of medical, dental, and health care services at the prison. The parties also agreed to independent monitoring. The decree was to expire on January 12, 1999 unless extended. Because women at WCCW continued to suffer from deficient mental health and dental care, plaintiffs moved to extend and to hold defendants in contempt for failure to comply with the decree. On December 22, 1999, following an evidentiary hearing, the court (Judge Franklin D. Burgess) denied plaintiffs’ motion and granted defendants’ motion to terminate the decree.

On April 26, 2002, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (Judge Susan Graber) affirmed the district court’s denial of plaintiffs’ motion to extend jurisdiction but reversed the district court’s denial of one of plaintiffs’ motions for contempt. Hallett v. Morgan, 287 F.3d 1193 (9th Cir. 2002). The opinion was amended twice, with the second amended opinion issued on August 2, 2002. Hallett v. Morgan, 296 F.3d 732 (9th Cir. 2002). The district court was ordered to consider whether the defendants had failed to comply with the medical services provision of the judgment on remand. The parties ultimately reached a settlement regarding this issue on May 28, 2004, and Judge Burgess dismissed the case on June 14, 2004. Prison officials agreed to pay $500,000 to settle the action, and from these funds a $293,000 fund was created to provide a patient advocate to assist Washington’s women prisoners with their medical treatment needs.


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