In 2012, the Legal Aid Justice Center, and its partners at the Wiley Rein law firm and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, filed a class action lawsuit against the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women (FCCW) on behalf of the plaintiffs—all persons in FCCW receiving medical care. The lawsuit, which was filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia, alleged that the prison was inflicting cruel and unusual treatment of incarcerated people by failing to provide them with adequate medical care. FCCW was designed to serve as a “model” women’s medical prison, but the practices and conditions at FCCW were abysmal. For example, radically incorrect diagnoses were often given to women with life-threatening conditions. One patient had extreme swelling in her leg, making it feel as if it would burst and causing her to lose feeling in her toes. A doctor at FCCW told her she had arthritis. When the patient was eventually seen by an outside doctor, the doctor recognized that the woman had a life-threatening blood clot—pieces of which had traveled to her lungs because it had been untreated. Due to the negligence and deliberate indifference of the medical team, multiple women died in FCCW before the lawsuit was even filed.
Additionally, most aspects of medical care were terribly insufficient and harmful. For example, incarcerated people were also made to stand for hours in an outdoor line in harsh weather conditions to receive their essential medications, only to be given the incorrect prescriptions or told that the medications were unavailable. The staff responsible for determining treatment for a variety of issues were often without any medical training.
Given that FCCW is the Virginia facility where incarcerated women with the most serious medical problems are sent for a purportedly heightened level of care, the implications of the systemic deficiencies at FCCW were both apparent and disturbing. The lawsuit sought a judicial order that would require the prison to provide adequate medical care.
In 2014, after considering evidence about the conditions at FCCW, the court made key findings supporting the plaintiffs’ claims. With a full trial just weeks away, the prison accepted a settlement agreement admitting that the care at FCCW was unconstitutional in twenty-three ways and promising to rectify the issues and bring care up to humane standards. The court later approved the settlement on February 5, 2016, finding that the plaintiffs’ case was based on “voluminous evidence” and appointing an expert monitor to supervise the prison’s efforts. This was a win for the people incarcerated at FCCW, who finally got the recognition that they had been receiving unconstitutional care.
Unfortunately, the prison did not live up to its obligations. By 2017, the prison was still not in compliance. The plaintiffs successfully petitioned the court to find that care was still constitutionally unacceptable. In 2019, citing “egregious facts” and “material and significant” breaches, Judge Norman K. Moon (a federal district court judge in the 4th Circuit) found that the defendants were in violation of the settlement agreement. The court concluded that “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. But this case has survived because Defendants have upheld neither their Eighth Amendment obligations nor the Settlement Agreement they reached to effectuate those obligations.”
Since 2019, LAJC has continued to represent all the people incarcerated at FCCW and monitored conditions at the prison to ensure that VDOC is making progress toward full compliance with the settlement agreement and constitutionally adequate care. LAJC’s team communicates with incarcerated clients, works with the court-appointed compliance monitor and represents our clients at regular status hearings in court to hold the prison accountable. LAJC remains dedicated to ensuring that the prison is making all the promised changes so that people incarcerated at FCCW receive medical care and treatment with dignity that all people deserve.