PHOENIX (AP) — A lawsuit challenging the quality of health care for more than 27,000 people incarcerated in Arizona’s prisons is headed to trial Monday after a 6-year-old settlement resolving the case was thrown out by a judge who concluded the state showed little interest in making many of the improvements it promised under the deal.
The decision in mid-July came after the state had already been hit with a total of $2.5 million in contempt of court fines for noncompliance. Judge Roslyn Silver had concluded the fines weren’t motivating Arizona to comply, faulted the state for making erroneous excuses and baseless legal arguments and said the failure to provide adequate care for prisoners led to suffering and preventable deaths.
Lawyers for the prisoners are asking the judge to take over health care operations in state-run prisons, appoint an official to run medical and mental health services there, ensure prisons have enough health care workers and reduce the use of isolation cells, including banning their use for prisoners under age 18 or those with serious mental illnesses.
In court papers this week, the attorneys said Arizona’s prison health care operations are understaffed and poorly supervised, routinely deny access to some necessary medications, fail to provide adequate pain management for end-stage cancer patients and others, and don’t meet the minimum standards for mental health care.
“So much of the death and suffering that our experts found was completely preventable,” said Corene Kendrick, one of the attorneys for the prisoners. “And if there had been interventions earlier, we wouldn’t have people suffering permanent injury and death — including death by suicide and death by medical conditions that were ignored for all too long. But by the time the person got the care or treatment they needed, it was too late. It’s an all too common story.”
The Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry declined a request to comment on the trial.
In court records, the agency has denied allegations that it was providing inadequate care, delayed or issued outright denials of care and failed to give necessary medications.
The case will be decided by Silver, not a jury.
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