KOLD Investigates: Court rules Arizona’s prison healthcare system is ‘grossly inadequate,’ ‘violates inmates’ constitutional rights
TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Arizona inmates’ constitutional rights are being violated, that is according to a federal judge.
In a 200-page order, U.S. District Judge Roslyn Silver found that the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry “failed to provide, and continues to refuse to provide, a constitutionally adequate medical care and mental health care system for all prisoners.”
Silver described the state’s health care system as “plainly grossly inadequate.”
She also found the ADCRR violated the constitutional rights of a subset of Arizona’s prisoners by almost round-the-clock confinement in their cells.
David Fathi is Director of the National Prison Project and one of the attorneys representing inmates in the case.
“It is an incredible vindication. For years, since the inception of this case, ADC has stubbornly denied there are any serious problems in the prison system, “ Fathi said. “But Judge Silver really demonstrates conclusively that this is not cherry picking, this is a not an isolated incident. This is a broken system that puts everybody in it at significant risk of injury or death.”
The class-action lawsuit against the ADCRR was originally filed in 2012, on behalf of all prisoners in Arizona’s ten prisons.
The parties settled in 2014, and the ADCRR promised to meet roughly 100 performance measures.
Since then, courts have held the ADCRR and its leadership in contempt, resulting in millions of dollars in fines.
In July 2021, Silver set aside the settlement agreement and ordered the parties to go to trial in November.
The 15-day trial took place in November and December.
Silver found, “Defendants’ years of inaction, despite Court intervention and imposition of monetary sanctions, establish Defendants are acting with deliberate indifference to the substantial risk of serious harm posed by the lack of adequate medical and mental health care affecting all prisoners.”
Silver wrote that inadequate staffing levels made it impossible for the ADCRR and its contracted health care company to meet constitutionally mandated care.
“To be clear, there is not a single full-time physician to cover the 4,420 prisoners housed at Tucson,” Silver wrote.
Silver also recalled court testimony that confirmed the nurse line was canceled in Tucson more than 20 times in January and February of 2021 due to insufficient staffing.
Silver highlighted the deaths of seven Tucson inmates.
“There is patently insufficient, and more often than not, incompetent health care staffing to adequately meet prisoners’ needs,” Silver wrote.
She described one inmate’s medical history within the Arizona prison system as a “seven-year odyssey of incompetence, cruelty, and eventual death.”
“It is long past time for the Arizona Department of Corrections to acknowledge reality and finally decide they are going to fix the problems, the lethal problems, that are so exhaustively laid out in Judge Silver’s order,” Fathi said.
Weeks before Silver issued the order, the ADCRR announced it hired NaphCare, an Alabama-based health care company.
Now, the judge will work with a correctional health care expert to craft a remedy for the ADCRR’s violations.
We will let you know what the court decides.
The ADCRR said it is reviewing the ruling and released this statement: “We remain committed to working collaboratively with the Court, Plaintiffs’ counsel, and appointed experts to meet the healthcare needs of those in our custody and care. We will continue to actively look for opportunities to enhance healthcare delivery methods and protocols, and to upgrade the electronic medical record system.”
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