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Idaho officials say claims exaggerated in prison lawsuit

Attorneys for the Idaho Department of Correction say inmates exaggerated problems with the prison medical care system and waited too long to complain, and as a result, prison officials shouldn’t be held in contempt of court for violating a settlement in a decades-old class action lawsuit.

The court documents were filed late the week of May 29 in federal court. They mark the latest twist in a lawsuit first brought by inmates more than 30 years ago that contends unconstitutionally poor medical care was provided to prisoners at the Idaho State Correctional Institution.

Earlier this year, attorneys for the inmates said serious medical care problems continue at the facility, with some prisoners were forced to undergo amputations after bedsores went untreated and others with serious disabilities were left without water for extended periods.

But the state’s attorneys said any problems with medical care have long been fixed and that the complaints about poor treatment are both overstated and outdated.

The case started in 1981 when so many inmates from the Idaho State Correctional Institution began filing lawsuits that they threatened to clog Idaho’s federal court. A judge noted similarities between the cases and combined them into one class-action lawsuit.

The claims ranged from overcrowding and excessive violence to limited access to medical care. Some have been settled, but the medical care complaints continue at the prison.

Idaho prison officials have acknowledged that there have been some “deviations” to the settlement terms in recent years — including poor auditing of medical records — but contend they were fixed as soon as they were discovered.

“Plaintiffs refer to the deviations as if they are ongoing, when they have been informed on multiple occasions that they are not,” Idaho Deputy Attorney General Colleen Zahn wrote for the Department of Correction. “They spend the bulk of their brief speculating on the various types of harm they have allegedly suffered, without putting forth any evidence connecting that speculative harm to deviations that have long since been cured.”

The allegations of amputations and other problems are taken out of context, Zahn wrote.

“The medical records, however, do not support Plaintiff’s contentions,” she wrote in the court filings.

For instance, an inmate who had a toe amputated for a badly infected wound later admitted he waited to seek medical care and sometimes skipped visits to the prison wound care clinic, Zahn said.

Another inmate who claimed to be left without access to food and water for long periods of time actually refused meals and water, IDOC contends, and had access to water and a hydration system attached to his wheelchair.

U.S. District Judge David Carter earlier ordered the prison to undergo a compliance audit in May. The status and results of that audit has not yet been released by the court.

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