Correction to This Article
A June 28 Metro article about a lawsuit filed on behalf of D.C. prisoners at Rivers Correctional Institution Facility in North Carolina misstated the title of Philip Fornaci and the name of his organization. Fornaci is director of the D.C. Prisoners' Project at the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs.

Lawsuit Alleges Poor Care at Prison

By Robert E. Pierre
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 28, 2007

A D.C. prisoners' rights group claimed in a lawsuit yesterday that a private penitentiary contracted by the federal Bureau of Prisons has provided "grossly inadequate and inhumane" medical treatment to hundreds of District inmates in a quest to improve profits.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court, alleges that prisoners at the Rivers Correctional Institution in Winton, N.C., are routinely denied care or provided with inadequate treatment. A majority of the inmates at Rivers, 70 miles southwest of Virginia Beach, are from the District.

Keith Mathis, 32, a plaintiff in the class-action suit, said he asked to have an infected tooth pulled but received a filling instead. Over the next few months, the problem worsened, growing into an open sore and eventually requiring emergency surgery when his face "burst open," the suit alleges.

Mathis's case is one example of poor treatment alleged in the suit filed in the name of 10 current or former inmates against the Bureau of Prisons; its director, Harley G. Lappin; and the GEO Group Inc., which owns Rivers.

"There's one doctor for 1,300 patients," said Philip Fornaci, executive director of the D.C. Prisoners' Legal Services Project, which filed the suit. "We have been getting complaints from prisoners at Rivers for five or six years. In the last several months, we have been on-site verifying those complaints. They were so widespread that we decided to file suit to improve the situation."

District prisoners, as part of a deal with Congress cut a decade ago, are spread throughout the federal prison system. Some facilities are run by the federal prisons bureau. Others are operated by private firms that provide services, including health care, to inmates.

Fornaci said the Bureau of Prisons failed to provide oversight. "The contract itself actually encourages a skimpy use of medical resources to maximize profits," he said.

The Bureau of Prisons did not respond yesterday to the allegations.

John Bulfin, general counsel for the GEO Group, said the company had not seen the suit and could not comment until the allegations have been investigated.

Of the 199,000 inmates in the federal system, 20,900 are in private prisons. As of last week, 1,379 were at Rivers, nearly 1,000 of them District residents -- about 15 percent of D.C. prisoners in the federal system. Many of the inmates at Rivers are older than 40, with chronic health conditions.

Here are two examples from the suit:

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