ACLU Lawsuit Charges Grossly Inadequate Medical Care At State Prison In Nevada

The ACLU of Nevada and the ACLU's National Prison Project, filed a class-action lawsuit today against the director of Nevada’s Department of Corrections and other top governmental officials in Nevada for failing to rectify a pervasive pattern of grossly inadequate medical care at the Ely State Prison that creates a substantial risk of serious medical harm for each of the prison’s 1,000 inmates. The lawsuit charges that the prison lacks the most basic elements of an adequate prison health care system and deprives prisoners of the minimal civilized measure of life’s necessities.


“Prisoners at the Ely State Prison have written to us in desperate need of help, in desperate need of quality medical treatment,” said Lee Rowland, staff attorney with the ACLU of Nevada. “It is unfortunate that this action was necessary to prompt corrections officials to uphold their constitutional obligation of providing a basic level of medical care to the inmates in their care, but quality care is an immediate need that cannot be delayed any longer.”


“The state just hasn't shown a sense of urgency in addressing the crisis at Ely,” said Amy Fettig, staff counsel with the ACLU’s National Prison Project. “They assured us that they were going to carry out far-reaching reforms to address the problems we brought to their attention, but that was months ago and they've made only half-hearted gestures to fix their broken system. We had hoped to avoid litigation but we can't in good conscience wait any longer, with the men at Ely still at such risk.”


The filing of today’s lawsuit comes nearly three months after the release of a medical report that documented how gravely ill prisoners at Ely are routinely denied treatment for excruciatingly painful and potentially fatal medical conditions and revealed what Dr. William Noel, the medical expert commissioned by the ACLU to investigate medical conditions inside Ely and author of the report, called “a pattern of gross medical abuse.”


On the heels of the report’s release last December, ACLU attorneys proposed in a consent decree a series of basic reforms that would have dramatically improved prison health care at Ely, including complying with nationally recognized standards for correctional health care. The proposed consent decree was rejected by Nevada’s Board of State Prison Commissioners.


The ACLU’s National Prison Project retained Noel to review the medical records of 35 prisoners at Ely because the ACLU of Nevada had been receiving an extraordinarily large number of complaints about grossly inadequate medical treatment at the prison.


“The level of medical care provided at Ely is as horrific as any we have ever seen at any of the prison systems that we track across the country,” said Margaret Winter, Associate Director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project. “We have been stunned at the amount of human suffering that is allowed to go on there. And while we had hoped that working collaboratively with the Department of Corrections and the governor’s office would lead to the resolution of some of the most pressing issues at Ely, it simply has not.”


Additional information about the ACLU’s efforts to improve medical conditions at the Ely State Prison, including the ACLU’s lawsuit, the proposed consent decree, Dr. William Noel’s medical report, an ACLU letter to Nevada Gov. James Gibbons and an ACLU letter to Nevada Department of Corrections Director Howard Skolnik can be found online at: