KOLD INVESTIGATES: Battle over conditions inside Arizona prisons heating up

KOLD INVESTIGATES: Locked down Part 3

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third of a three-part series examining prisons in Arizona. The other stories can be read HERE and HERE.

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Right now, attorneys representing the Arizona Department of Corrections are preparing for a court battle.

The department is fighting a judge’s decision that found the ADC and its leadership in contempt for failing to meet the requirements of a 2014 settlement over inmate health care. That ruling came with a $1.4 million fine.

The next hearing is scheduled for the week of Sept. 23.

An Ongoing Problem

KOLD News 13 spoke with inmates and attorneys who claim that despite this ongoing legal battle, healthcare issues are still a major problem across the state.

“When you put in a health needs request, it can take up to six weeks for a doctor to come in and see you,” said Nate McKowen.

McKowen, who was released Nov. 2018, spent 8 1/2 years in the state prison system.

“There was this one guy, he was playing basketball," McKowen said. “He tripped and broke his collarbone. It was a compound break, like the bone was laying on top of the bone under his skin. It took them eight months for them to take him to surgery.”

KOLD News 13 heard a similar story from John Fabricius II, who spent more than 15 years in the ADC. Fabricius said he earned his paralegal degree while in prison.

“One guy that I helped had a broken collarbone and it had been pinned, but it came off," he said. “He had to fight for a year to get treatment.”

Fabricius said the problems did not stop after that inmate saw a doctor.

“Medical said do not put this inmate out in the tents because his clavicle had separated and was protruding out of his shoulder," Fabricius said. “The deputy warden put him out in the tents in violation of the special needs order.”

Fabricius said the tents were equally as brutal in the winter as they were in the summer.

“(Here was) guy who weighed maybe 145 pounds, freezing to death with a broken clavicle,” Fabricius said.

In 2014, the ADC settled a statewide class action lawsuit over inmate healthcare.

Too Hot, Too Cold, Little Help

As part of the settlement, the ADC must keep temperature logs at all its facilities.

KOLD News 13 obtained copies of those logs. Some units reached 115 degrees while other logs were only partially filled out or blank.

Corene Kendrick is an attorney with the Prison Law Office, one of the groups that filed the Parsons vs. Ryan lawsuit.

Kendrick continues to work with groups like the ACLU to document these types of issues and bring them to the court’s attention.

When asked about the problems with the temperature logs, Kendrick didn’t hold back.

“Either there is no information, there’s erroneous information, there is information that appears to be falsified," she said. “They had at one point filed logs with courts showing temperatures for dates into the future. They said that it was just a typo.”

Kenrick said even after the 2014 settlement, she continues to learn of alarming medical issues within the ADC.

“I spoke with one woman who had given birth in her cell. She reported that she felt herself going into labor and she started screaming and banging on her cell door. It took about 15 minutes for an officer to respond and by that time, she had already given birth,” Kendrick said.

Kendrick said she has also voiced concern over cancer patients not getting to an oncologists in a timely manner.

Suicide Watch

“Also, the concerns we have raised about people who are on suicide watch who have these very, very short encounters with psychologists at the cell front,” Kendrick said.

We obtained instances the ACLU documented when patients on suicide watch were reportedly seen for no longer than five minutes.

The ACLU reported that one patient killed himself a few hours after being taken off of suicide watch.

Another inmate was taken off of suicide watch following a three-minute encounter. She killed herself four days later, according to the ACLU.

“When we settled the case in 2014, we knew that things would not be fixed overnight," she said. "So, that was built into the settlement agreement that it would progress over a series of years.

“We thought they were going to actually focus their energy on improving healthcare versus going to court and fighting over everything and spending millions of dollars, of taxpayers’ money, on ADC’s law firm and on fines because they failed to meet the promises made in 2014.”

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