U.S. District Court Judge Sandra Beckwith had overseen the prisons' medical system since a 2005 settlement of a lawsuit brought by Ohio Justice and Policy Center, a Cincinnati based prisoner rights group. The center had asked the judge to extend the settlement.
But Beckwith agreed with a report by a medical and legal team that found no persistent violations of the inmates' constitutional rights. She said she found nothing unconstitutional or indifferent to inmates' needs in the care provided by the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.
"To the contrary, it is apparent that the level of service and care has markedly improved and that any previous alleged systemwide constitutional deficiencies have been remedied," the judge said.
The team, created by agreement of both center and state prison officials, highlighted in its July report the benefits of two newly created skilled nursing facilities and a move to a single provider system for doctors and nurse practitioners, among other improvements. In addition, it said interaction between medical practitioners and patients have improved.
The "prior culture of viewing inmates as virtual objects has all but disappeared," the report said. "Inmates are people and patients and norms of clinical interaction have moved well along in this direction."
The report found continuing problems, often related to inadequate staffing, such as missed or delayed chronic disease appointments, a lack of clinical follow-up for patients following consultations and timely delivery of medication. But these did not rise to the level of systemwide, constitutional violations, the report said.
The center had asked for continuation of court oversight, arguing that prison staffing levels are unable to meet inmates' needs and are leading to inadequate medical care. In court filings this year, center Executive Director David Singleton argued that inmates weren't getting adequate access to medications and care for cancer and heart problems.
He did not immediately return a message left for him last week.
Prisons Director Gary Mohr said he was pleased the judge recognized the agency's hard work.
"While we agree with the court's decision, we are not stopping in our tracks," Mohr said in a statement. "Our goal is to continue improving the delivery of services with a holistic approach to medical care."