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$7.5M in payouts to go to former Cook County Jail detainees denied prescription drugs

Lead plaintiff Michael Parish said he’d been denied bipolar disorder medicine. Cook County officials started fixing the problems after a scathing federal report.

Michael Parish.
Michael Parish.
Illinois Department of Corrections

Cook County is set to pay $7.5 million to settle a class-action lawsuit that accused it of failing to administer prescription drugs in a timely manner to incoming Cook County Jail detainees, according to a preliminary agreement reached in federal court.

The lawsuit said sheriff’s officials and the county had waited longer than 24 hours to provide new detainees with medication for ailments including asthma and mental health problems.

The settlement covers detainees who entered the jail between 2005 and 2013.

“This closes the book on a terrible chapter in the jail,” said Kenneth Flaxman, the lead attorney for the detainees. “By 2013, the problems were pretty much gone.”

The sheriff’s office and county didn’t admit wrongdoing as part of the settlement.

“The sheriff’s office did not take part in the decision to settle this case,” according to a written statement Monday from the sheriff’s office. “These healthcare decisions were made by Cermak Health Services, a division of Cook County Health. We continue to work closely with Cermak staff in our goal to maintain and promote good health and safety among detainees.”

Michael Parish, the original person to sue, was suffering from bipolar disorder when he was moved from the Illinois Department of Corrections to the Cook County Jail in 2005.

According to the lawsuit, the jail refused to give him medication the state prison system sent along. A year later, he cut himself to get the attention of jail authorities and got his medication, the lawsuit said.

On March 13, Parish was paroled from state prison after serving a 25-year sentence for robbery, prison records show.

Flaxman said the problems that existed when Parish’s lawsuit was filed in 2007 largely have been fixed.

A 2008 Justice Department report found serious flaws in the jail’s medical screening for new detainees as well as other problems at the jail. The sheriff’s office and county entered a federal consent decree in 2010 and began to address the problems, Flaxman said.

“The county paid lots of money to bring the jail up to DOJ standards,” he said.

Funding was boosted for the hospital in the Cook County Jail and “psych workers,” who weren’t all licensed healthcare professionals, were replaced by emergency medical technicians and registered nurses in the screening process. The jail also assigned a psychiatrist to assess new detainees. The intake area was renovated, and changes were made to speed up the delivery of prescriptions to detainees, according to filings in the case.

The consent decree was lifted in 2017.

Flaxman said notices were sent last month to about 150,000 people admitted to the jail between 2005 and 2013. Only those who were taking prescription medications at the time they entered the jail are qualified to take part in the settlement.

The award for each person who entered the jail between 2005 and 2011 will be $200 and $100 for those admitted between 2011 and 2013, during a period the medical intake process was improving, Flaxman said.

The settlement gives bonuses to plaintiffs including Parish who provided testimony through depositions. He’ll get $25,000 — the largest one.

Kenneth Flaxman.
Attorney Kenneth Flaxman.
Provided

The settlement provides $2.5 million for the detainees’ lawyers — not including expenses. A hearing for final court approval is scheduled later this year.

In early March, a federal judge gave preliminary approval to another large Cook County settlement — for $14 million — in a lawsuit against the sheriff’s and public defender’s offices. In that case, 534 law clerks and assistant public defenders said they were subjected to a hostile work environment in which jail detainees they represented were masturbating in front of them.