A settlement agreement to improve the quality of health care in Arizona prisons was thrown out after six years of the state showing little interest in making improvements, according to The Associated Press.
Judge Roslyn Silver concluded that a trial will proceed after contempt of court fines totaling $2.5 million for non-compliance couldn’t motivate the state to comply, the Oct. 30, 2021, AP story said.
The judge found that the state made erroneous excuses and baseless legal arguments, which led to prisoners’ suffering and death.
“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.”
The state failed to meet the basic requirements for providing adequate care for incarcerated residents, the lawsuit said. Prisoner complaints of undetected cancer and being told to pray to be cured after begging for treatment is included in the complaint.
Failure to diagnose a metastasized cancer and another prisoner waiting two years for a biopsy were also documented in the lawsuit, according to The AP.
Lawyers for the prisoners are asking the court to take over the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry health care system and to appoint an official to oversee its operations.
Arizona governor Doug Ducey has stated in the past that he wants state agency directors — not judges — running state agencies.
But lawyers complain that staff shortages, underfunding, and privatization of health care are creating barriers to improving prison medical and mental health care. They also say that the use of isolation cells for those who suffer severe mental illness contributes to an even greater health crisis.
Prisoners are routinely denied access to some necessary medications, The AP said. End-stage cancer patients are not receiving adequate pain management medication and even minimal mental health care standards are not being met, according to attorneys.
The lawsuit has cost the state $20 million, plus $10 million for prison officials’ defense and another $8.1 million for prisoners’ attorneys, according to records.
The Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry declined a request to comment on the trial. The case will be decided by Judge Silver, not by a jury.