Dying Inmate Testifies in Class Action Lawsuit Against Fluvanna Prison

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA (NEWSPLEX) -- It's being hailed a victory for the inmates of the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women.

The prison is in the process of settling a class action lawsuit over health care services for prisoners. The changes are too little too late for one prisoner, who died last month from cancer, but her family said her deposition made all the difference in the legal battle.

In her deposition, Debbie Daley said, "I realize people are in here for something they've done but to be back here and not be able to get medical attention, it's not fair, you know. To sit in pain and suffer 24/7 is not fair, not for nobody."

Daley, a 49-year-old mother of five, told a federal judge that in November 2014.

The inmate at FCCW was supposed to testify in the class action lawsuit filed on behalf of the inmates against the prison in Fluvanna County, the Virginia Department of Corrections, and the private contractor hired to provide care.

The lawsuit accused the parties of denying imprisoned women access to adequate health care, citing "cruel and unusual punishment".

"I know it's not going to do much for me because I'm not going to be around, but maybe it will help somebody in the future," Daley told the judge, according to deposition records.

Daley died less than three months later from rectal cancer. However, her words lived on through her compelling deposition and played an influential role in the lawsuit's outcome.

Days before the trial was set to begin in late November, the Department of Corrections and FCCW agreed to a settlement.

"It's definitely a good thing for the women because it will get the result a lot faster than going to trial and going through perhaps an appeals process," said Brenda Castaneda, an attorney with the Legal Aid Justice Center who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the inmates.

The original lawsuit against FCCW, the Department of Corrections, and the private contractor hired to provide care was filed in 2012 on behalf of five inmates. It eventually became a class action lawsuit representing all 1,200 inmates at the facility.

The lawsuit never asked for money, just adequate health care for all women.

"We hope that this means the Department of Corrections will have gotten the message that they need to be a lot more vigilant about the care they provide," said Castaneda. "Just because they contract with a private contractor does not mean they can ignore the problem. They still need to be vigilant about the care that contractor provides and they need to ensure that care meets constitutional standards at all the prisons."

Daley's experience mirrors the complaints of many other women incarcerated at FCCW.

According to her deposition and her doctors at the University of Virginia Medical Center, Daley was given the wrong dosage of prescribed medicines or no medicine at all when supplies ran low. She wasn't transported from prison to appointments at UVa and saw lapses in her treatment.

"It was horrible to get letters from her or to talk to her and she's crying because she's in pain and she can't get what she needs," said Daley's sister, Glenda Pleasants.

Daley was diagnosed with cancer shortly after her incarceration began at FCCW in July 2013. She was serving a three-year sentence on drug distribution charges. Daley was given medical clemency and died at her sister's home in Richmond March 25, 2015.

Pleasants said, even though she's lost her only sister, she finds comfort in Daley's strength, especially in the end, when she was determined to testify.

"I don't want my sister, I don't want her life to be in vain," Pleasants said. "I don't want her to be known just as that girl that was in prison. She was one of the girls that helped change how people were treated."

The Legal Aid Justice Center is still working with the Department of Corrections and FCCW to finalizing the settlement agreement.

According to the parameters laid out by LAJC , the Department of Corrections must allow an independent medical expert review medical policies at all Virginia prisons. A third-party doctor will also act as a monitor at FCCW to review medical records, speak confidentially with staff members and prisoners, and make sure the prison complies with the settlement agreement.

The settlement is expected to be finalized by early May. A spokesperson for the Department of Corrections declined to comment, citing ongoing litigation.

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