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KOLD Investigates: Medical expert testifies some deaths within Arizona prisons were preventable

Published: Nov. 12, 2021 at 10:21 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Catastrophic and egregious.

Those are just two words a medical expert used to describe Arizona’s prison healthcare system in the federal trial, Jensen v. Shinn.

Prisoners argue their healthcare is so bad within the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry, it violates their constitutional rights.

Corene Kendrick is the Deputy Director of the ACLU National Prison Project. She is one of the trial attorneys fighting on behalf of inmates in Jensen v. Shinn.

“The last two weeks has been a pretty intense presentation of our case,” said Kendrick.

“The medical and mental healthcare continues to put a lot of people at serious risk of harm. People are dying preventable deaths including deaths by suicide, and the staffing at multiple prisons, including the Tucson facility, is inadequate,” Kendrick said.

Her team put medical expert Dr. Todd Wilcox on the stand.

Wilcox has toured Arizona prison facilities and reviewed the medical records of inmates for years.

When documenting a three-day visit to the ADCRR’s Tucson complex in 2015, Wilcox wrote, “ADC prisoners continue to suffer serious harm, and in some cases preventable death, because defendants fail to provide necessary and timely health care on a system-wide basis.”

He went on to say, “The system is obviously broken, and human suffering is the unavoidable result.”

Wilcox took the stand this week and spent time talking about a young man he met in ADCRR’s Tucson facility.

“Dr. Wilcox described in detail in both his written statement to the court and then in his witness testimony about a young man who had a very concerning lump on his testicle,” Kendrick said.

That inmate was in his late twenties when Wilcox first met him, and described the delays in care as “unconscionable.”

Wilcox said the Tucson inmate died this year on June 10 at the age of 30.

“That is one of the most common and treatable forms of cancer if it is caught early and treated. It has an over 95% survival rate. This is the fourth or fifth young man Dr. Wilcox has encountered in the years working with us where alarming symptoms in a young man of possible testicular cancer were ignored or disregarded. and ultimately, the patient either passed away or suffered from cancer that spread greatly throughout his body,” Kendrick said.

On one of Wilcox’s tours to an Arizona prison, he said inmates received “grossly deficient” care in 37 percent of the medical records he reviewed. He went on to say, “Tragically, in 11 cases, it is likely that the patient would have lived had he or she received timely adequate care.”

In his declaration, Wilcox called the Arizona’s system dysfunctional and dangerous.

The trial resumes Monday, Nov. 15 with the continued cross-examination of Wilcox.

The defense has a couple of more witnesses before the state presents its case.

We will continue to keep you updated on this case.

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