SMYRNA — Today, ACLU of Delaware and Whiteford, Taylor & Preston, LLC filed a class action lawsuit in the United States District Court of Delaware on behalf of incarcerated people who have been denied their basic right to health care and humane conditions of confinement. Under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, which prohibit cruel and unusual punishment, prison officials are obligated to provide incarcerated people with adequate medical care, regardless of whether the medical care is provided by governmental employees or by private medical staff under contract with the government—in this case, Centurion of Delaware LLC, Centene Corporation, and VitalCore Health Strategies.
The complaint alleges that the Delaware Department of Corrections (DDOC) and the private healthcare agencies acted with callous and deliberate indifference to the health of incarcerated individuals. The alleged misconduct includes, but is not limited to: understaffed correctional health care systems, intentionally delayed or denied medical care, failure to supervise medical staff, failure to terminate incompetent staff with past violations, refusal to provide necessary specialist care, and refusal to provide prescribed medications, tests, and procedures.
Plaintiffs have shared personal testimony depicting how they have been deprived of constitutionally adequate medical care, which has led to significant complications of their physical and mental health.
Christopher Robert Desmond, a plaintiff who suffers from significant chronic medical conditions, was placed in the state prison’s Chronic Care Program upon arrival at Vaughn in November 1991. In one stated instance, despite knowledge of his chronic conditions, prison healthcare officials refused to provide him with prescribed medications for 47 days, using the denial of medication as a form of discipline.
Harry Samuel, another person incarcerated at Vaughn, has complained of severe bleeding from his rectum and penis since November 2022. However, officials delayed sending him to a specialist for months, even when he collapsed in the prison hospital due to blood loss and was transported to a nearby hospital. It was not until after July 2023 that he was allowed to see a specialist, where he was given a terminal diagnosis of prostate and rectal cancer–likely an outgrowth of months of delayed treatment.
“Incarcerated people often have significant medical and mental health needs, yet in Delaware, far too many individuals continue to be held in conditions that threaten their health and safety on a daily basis,” said Dwayne Bensing, Legal Director at the ACLU of Delaware, “Recognizing, addressing, and ensuring their healthcare needs are met is not just a constitutional obligation and ethical imperative, but also a crucial step towards restoring human dignity.”
“Providing access to quality healthcare for incarcerated people is a reflection of a just and humane society committed to the well-being and rehabilitation of all its members,” said Mike Brickner, Executive Director at the ACLU of Delaware, “Ensuring incarcerated individuals receive the care they need today, means having a better chance at ensuring successful reentry tomorrow—leading to healthier neighbors and communities for all Delawarenas.”
The lawsuit names Harry Samuel, Christopher Robert Desmond, and Arthur Govan, incarcerated individuals at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center (Vaughn), as the class representatives for those who were denied healthcare or provided inadequate care. Defendants in the lawsuit include Centene Corporation, Centurion of Delaware, VitalCore Health Strategies, current and past Department of Corrections Commissioners, the DOC Medical Director, and the Bureau Chief for the Bureau of Healthcare, Substance Abuse, and Mental Healthcare.