Arizona held in contempt, fined $1.1 million for failing to improve inmate care

Arizona Department of Corrections fined

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - A federal judge has fined Arizona more than $1 million for failing to improve inmate care.

On Wednesday, Feb. 24, United States District Judge Roslyn Silver found the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry in civil contempt for failing to comply with a previous court order.

“That rarely happens that a federal judge holds a state official in contempt of court and it is very, very unusual for that to happen twice in three years,” said Corene Kendrick, deputy director of the ACLU National Prison Project.

Kendrick worked with a team of attorneys to bring the class-action Parsons v. Ryan lawsuit against the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry and its leadership. The case settled six years ago, but the department has struggled to meet the performance measures.

In June 2018, Judge David Duncan issued a fine of $1.45 million after the court found the department to be in contempt. The department appealed, but lost.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Rosyln Silver issued another fine of $1.1 million for the department’s failure to meet 22 measures.

“We provided evidence that documents were being falsified. She agreed with us and she is cracking down on how they manage the conditions in maximum custody,” Kendrick said.

One of the performance measures had to do with how the department handles mental health encounters.

“In cases where incarcerated people had committed suicide or hurt themselves very badly, they may have only seen a counselor for two minutes or three minutes for weeks on end before they hurt themselves,” Kendrick said.

Kendrick said in Judge Silver’s previous order, people on suicide watch had to be seen a minimum of ten minutes. Those with counseling appointments needed to be seen for at least 30 minutes. Kendrick said the judge allowed exceptions for meaningful encounters.

“We presented evidence showing that there were hundreds of encounters where the department had said, ‘We are complying with the order,’ even though the encounters were very short and every single one they said was meaningful.

Judge Silver is ordering a psychiatrist to take a look at the notes from those mental health appointments that failed to meet the duration requirements, and determine if the visits were indeed meaningful.

Kendrick said they also found the department violated a requirement for translation services.

“We provided quite a bit of evidence that showed that deaf people who are in the prison system have never receive any sort of sign language interpretation ever,” Kendrick said. “There were numerous examples of people who did not speak English, who speak other languages, where they did not have interpreter services.”

Judge Silver has directed the department to create a plan to ensure they provide interpretation services.

The department said it has received the order from the court and it is reviewing it with its attorneys.

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