IL Supreme Court: Prison Medical Settlements Are Public Records

Pontiac Prison
The Pontiac Correctional Center in Pontiac, Illinois. An Illinois State Supreme Court ruling this week will bring some transparency to the health care system inside Illinois prisons. Robert Wildeboer / WBEZ
Pontiac Prison
The Pontiac Correctional Center in Pontiac, Illinois. An Illinois State Supreme Court ruling this week will bring some transparency to the health care system inside Illinois prisons. Robert Wildeboer / WBEZ

IL Supreme Court: Prison Medical Settlements Are Public Records

The records of private companies that work with the state of Illinois may be a little more accessible following a decision this week from the state Supreme Court.

The court ruled that Wexford Health Sources Inc., the company that provides health care in Illinois prisons, cannot withhold information on legal settlements stemming from it’s alleged failures to provide care. The decision could shed some light on Illinois’ shoddy prison health care practices which an independent monitor found repeatedly led to preventable deaths of inmates.

“I think it’s important in general for the public to know just how bad the quality of medical care is being provided in the state of Illinois and this is one more very important piece of information to make that clear,” said Alan Mills with the Uptown People’s Law Center which has fought massive legal battles against the Illinois Department of Corrections regarding health care.

The court’s decision comes in a case brought by the Illinois Times which made a records request for a copy of the settlement agreements related to the death of Alfonso Franco, a prisoner at Taylorville Correctional Center who died from cancer in 2012. The Department of Corrections said it did not have a copy of the settlement and Wexford had declined to provide an unredacted copy to the department, saying it was “confidential.”

The case eventually made its way to the state Supreme Court, where the judges decided in favor of the Illinois Times.

In its ruling the court referenced past decisions it made on public records and said “governmental entities must not be permitted to avoid their disclosure obligations by contractually delegating their responsibility to a private entity.”

Mills said the decision levels the playing field between Wexford and anyone who files litigation over prison health care by making more information accessible.

Mills said even though this case was focused on the Department of Corrections, it will also help people seeking records from other private companies that contract with the state. “I think we have increased transparency as a result of this decision,” Mills said.

Neither Wexford nor the Department of Corrections returned a request for comment.