Cornesa Gilliard became violently ill five times while incarcerated in the Georgia prison system’s diversion center at Macon but was denied medical care beyond emergency room visits, she charges in a lawsuit reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Gilliard eventually had surgery, but she says she was released on the day of the operation, leaving her with a $20,000 medical bill, even though the center had a policy of not releasing inmates until they had paid their debts.
The lawsuit, filed by the Southern Center for Human Rights, claims the prison system denied Gilliard access to medical care in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s protections from “cruel and unusual punishment.” The center, best known for representing poor people facing the death penalty, is going after prisons and jails like the diversion center that charge indigent inmates room and board. Prisoners in these facilities generally hold jobs during the day and return to the center at night to sleep, paying the state for room and board. The center has derided the diversion centers as modern-day debtors’ prisons, because inmates barely make enough money to pay room and board and other incidental expenses, but can’t be released until they’ve paid off court-ordered fines.