ACLU Ga. Says Mentally Disabled Inmate Denied Health Care

Jan 17, 2019

The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia is asking a federal appeals court to force the Georgia Department of Corrections to provide medical care for a mentally disabled prisoner.

Jeffery Geter has been an inmate at Baldwin State Prison since 1998. He is now suffering with Parkinson's disease, a brain tumor, epilepsy and, possibly, Alzheimer's disease, ACLU Legal Director Sean Young said.

The 53-year-old inmate was seeking proper medical care while at prison and wants to vindicate his rights in court, Young said. A lower court ruled that he could not even present his claim in court because he filled out a form incorrectly while in prison.

"We're talking about someone with an eighth-grade education level with numerous mental disabilities and who relied on prison staff to help complete the grievance form in prison," Young said.

When reached for comment, the Department of Corrections said it cannot comment on pending litigation.

While it’s essential to get Geter the care he needs, the case is more about discriminating against persons with disabilities, Young said.

"It's our view that no one should be denied medical care because of a bureaucratic technicality," he said.

Georgia's ACLU also filed a lawsuit this year for deaf inmates who are unable to participate in educational programs because they aren't provided with the proper communication tools. These programs often lead to early release for inmates, so deaf inmates are denied an opportunity to rebuild their lives, Young said.

And the issue goes beyond the rights of people incarcerated in prison, Young said.

"We're using prisons to warehouse people with disabilities," he said. "Instead of getting them the treatment that they need, we're just wasting taxpayer dollars on incarcerating them."

Young said nearly one-fifth of the prison population in Georgia is aging. According to a January 2019 DOC profile of inmates, 12,673 or 25 percent of those in prison have a chronic illness. Nearly 20 percent or 10,785 inmates are receiving some sort of mental health treatment, the report states.

"We need to pay serious attention to their medical needs because if they're ignored that's actually going to increase the taxpayers' burden when they suffer more ailments in the future," Young said.