Trial on health care for 27,000 prisoners begins in Arizona

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This July 23, 2014 file photo shows a state prison in Florence. PHOTO ASSOCIATE PRESS KIT

A lawsuit challenging the quality of health care for more than 27,000 people incarcerated in Arizona jails is on Monday after a 6-year settlement resolving the case was dismissed by a judge who found the State showed little interest in making many of the improvements promised under the deal.

The mid-July decision came after the state had already been hit with a total of $ 2.5 million in contempt of court fines for non-compliance. Justice Roslyn Silver found the fines were no motivation for Arizona to comply, blamed the state for making a flawed apology and baseless legal argument, and said failure to provide care adequate to prisoners resulted in preventable suffering and death.

Prisoners’ lawyers ask the judge to take over health care operations in state prisons, appoint a person in charge to manage medical and mental health services there, ensure that prisons have a sufficient numbers of health workers and reduce the use of solitary confinement cells, including banning their use for inmates under the age of 18 or those with severe mental illness.

In court documents this week, lawyers said health care operations in Arizona prisons are understaffed and poorly supervised, routinely deny access to some needed medications, fail to provide management adequate pain to patients with terminal cancer and the like, and do not meet the minimum. standards for mental health care.

“Much of the death and suffering that our experts discovered was completely preventable,” said Corene Kendrick, one of the prisoners’ lawyers. “And if there had been interventions earlier, we wouldn’t have people with permanent injuries and deaths – including death by suicide and death by medical conditions that have been ignored for too long. But by the time the person got the care or treatment they needed, it was too late. It’s a far too common story.

The Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reintegration declined to comment on the lawsuit.

In court records, the agency denied allegations that it was providing inadequate care, delaying or categorically refusing care, and not giving needed medication.

The case will be decided by Silver, not by a jury.

Asked in the past about the court’s actions against the state for non-compliance in the case, Gov. Doug Ducey said he wanted heads of state agencies – not judges – to run agencies of ‘State.

A court-appointed expert concluded that understaffing, inadequate funding and the privatization of health care services are significant obstacles to improving health care in Arizona prisons.

The case was settled in 2014, just days before the start of the trial. Another regulation is not planned.

The lawsuit alleges that the state failed to meet basic requirements to provide adequate medical and mental health care to prisoners. Some prisoners complained that their cancer had not been detected or that they had been told to pray for recovery after seeking treatment, according to the lawsuit. He also said that the failure of medical staff at a prison to diagnose a prisoner’s metastasized cancer resulted in such an enlarged liver that his stomach swelled to the size of a full-term pregnant woman. Another inmate who had a history of prostate cancer had to wait over two years for a biopsy.

The case involves health care in state prisons, not in private prisons where the state houses 7,500 other people.

In the nine years since its filing, the lawsuit has cost the state $ 20 million, including $ 10 million for attorneys defending prison officials and $ 8.1 million for attorneys who defended the case on behalf of the prisoners, according to the records.


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