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Updated: LAJC Taking Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women Back to Court

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) -

The Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women (FCCW) is again facing legal action for allegedly failing to provide proper health care to inmates.

Charlottesville-based Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) is demanding a federal judge hold the prison accountable to a settlement finalized in 2016, requiring a complete overhaul of the health care system at FCCW.

“It's just not part of your sentence to not receive necessary healthcare to keep you healthy and alive,” said LAJC Economic Justice Program Legal Director Brenda Castañeda.

A court filing alleges the deaths of two inmates in July could have been prevented if the prison followed that court order.

Sixty-three-year-old Sherry Richburg of Lynchburg is a former FCCW inmate, recently lost one of her legs.

“I work with this. I put myself in my wheelchair now,” said Richburg. “I'm able to do everything except the electric slide.”

Richburg had hoped to find freedom back at home when she was released in February. Instead, the prison sent her home in an ambulance. She couldn't sit up or feed herself, and had lost nearly 40 pounds.

“Each day I got progressively worse, and, it wasn't a good situation,” Richburg said.

A fungal infection growing around a femur transplant forced doctors at the University of Virginia Medical Center to remove Richburg's right leg back in April.

“The fungus had gotten so bad that they couldn't do nothing to save my leg. So they wanted to save my life,” said the former inmate.

Richburg said FCCW denied her a necessary medication, Diflucan, to prevent the infection during several months of her nine-month incarceration.

“I was given a punishment for what I did. OK, accepted. But, I was punished twice, and the second punishment was the loss of my leg,” she said.

In court documents, more than two dozen current and former inmates - including Richburg - describe delayed surgeries, denied access to specialists, no pain management, and lack of medications.

“Certainly some of the failings there could lead to somebody's death,” said Castañeda.

Legal Aid Justice Center is asking a federal judge to hold FCCW in contempt for failing to comply with an overhaul of medical services the Department of Corrections agreed to as part of a settlement in a class action lawsuit.

“We've been trying to enforce that all along, and we've been hopeful that the prison would make some serious reforms, and they just haven't been able to do that,” Castañeda said.

The most recent report from an independent compliance monitor found the correctional center was in partial or non-compliance with 19 of 22 performance indicators established in the settlement.

The monitor found Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women rejected or didn't respond to a majority of grievances filed by inmates about their medical care.

The report calls this system, "shortsighted, dangerous, and likely negligent."

“I think they've tried to change some things, but the overall major systemic change hasn't happened and the result is people still aren't getting the healthcare they need,” said Castañeda.

Richburg is sharing her experience to help the women she met behind bars, cellmates she says saved her life when the prison wouldn't.

“The other ladies that's going through things down there, they don't have to be going through those things if the people in charge would just do what they're supposed to do,” she said.

Legal Aid Justice Center Press Release:

Charlottesville, Va., September 6, 2017

Women incarcerated at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women (FCCW) filed a motion for contempt in the Federal District Court in Charlottesville on Wednesday, asking the court to enforce a class action Settlement Agreement decided upon last year. The agreement, approved by Judge Norman K. Moon on February 5, 2016, requires supervision of the medical care systems at the prison by an independent Compliance Monitor for at least three years. The women charge that FCCW continues to fail to provide constitutionally adequate medical care in violation of the agreement.

The women, represented by lawyers at Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC), Wiley Rein LLP, and The Washington Lawyers’ Committee (WLC), contend that the Monitor’s reports reflect a disturbing, continuing resistance by the Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) to implement needed changes to the medical care system at FCCW. Given this resistance, counsel for the women believe court intervention is necessary to protect their clients’ lives. The severe harms the women describe include continued deterioration of treatable illnesses, continued suffering attributable to severe chronic pain, and unnecessary exposure to preventable conditions, and in some instances, preventable death. It is these severe harms that warrant strong sanctions to compel VDOC to provide constitutional care.

In their motion, the women recount the horrific results of VDOC and FCCW’s failure to provide adequate care. A woman with Stage IV melanoma cancer was left to suffer debilitating, painful side effects from immunotherapy after a prison doctor said she simply had a sinus infection and ordered a nasal spray. By the time FCCW rushed her to UVA Medical Center, she was septic. Another woman, Sherry Richburg, recounts how FCCW failed to adequately treat a fungal infection in her leg resulting from an earlier surgery. As a result, and since her release, Ms. Richburg’s leg has been amputated up to her hip. Ms. Richburg says, “Not only was I punished for my crime, I was punished a second time when FCCW denied me critical medical care.”

“Although we were hopeful that VDOC would create meaningful change to the health care system at Fluvanna prison after the Settlement, we are disturbed to learn of continued severe suffering the prisoners experience,” Ted Howard, an attorney from Wiley Rein for the Plaintiffs in the case, said. “VDOC continues to fall far short on its legal obligations to provide adequate health care to the women at FCCW. As a result, we are filing this Court action to protect our clients’ rights and their health.”

Brenda Castañeda of Legal Aid Justice Center added, “It’s outrageous that we continue to hear about VDOC’s neglect and mismanagement from the women at FCCW. Virginia spends over a billion dollars[1] a year on DOC expenditures, yet the health and well-being of the tens of thousands of women and men the state choses to lock away is still under threat. It’s well past time for Virginia to consider whether it should continue to imprison so many of its residents, if in doing so, the state cannot comply with the constitutional mandate to provide them with adequate medical care.”

The women of Fluvanna request the Court find that VDOC disobeyed the court and order VDOC and medical staff at FCCW to abide by the Settlement terms requiring improvements to medical care. In addition, the women are requesting that the Judge sanction the Defendants by ordering VDOC to pay monetary fines and that Defendants be ordered to submit a comprehensive report on how they will meet their obligations under the Settlement Agreement.

About the Legal Aid Justice Center:
The Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) fights injustice in the lives of individual Virginians while rooting out exploitative policies and practices that keep people in poverty. LAJC uses impact litigation, community organizing, and policy advocacy to solve urgent problems in areas such as housing, education, civil rights, immigration, healthcare and consumer finance. LAJC’s primary service areas are Charlottesville, Northern Virginia, Richmond and Petersburg, but the effects of their work are felt statewide.

About Wiley Rein:
Wiley Rein LLP is a leading law firm with offices in Washington, DC and Northern Virginia. Wiley Rein is a dominant presence in Washington, DC, with more than 270 attorneys and public policy advisors. Wiley Rein has earned international prominence by representing clients in complex, high-stakes regulatory, litigation, and transactional matters.

About The Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs:
From its inception in 1968, the mission of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs has been to mobilize the resources of the private bar to address issues of civil rights violations and poverty in our community. The Washington Lawyers’ Committee provides pro bono representation in a broad range of civil rights and related poverty issues impacting every group protected by our federal, state and local civil rights laws.