Arizona Prison Officials Found in Contempt for Massive Prison Health Care Scandal

The stories from Arizona prisons are horrifying. 

A 43-year-old died from a staph infection. A 36-year-old died from delays in diagnosis and emergency care for an aortic dissection. Three men died from complications from metastatic cancer, which spread throughout their bodies due to delays in care. They all died excruciating deaths, their suffering aggravated by a failure to manage their pain properly. 

Before these people died in 2017, they were among the 34,000 people housed in Arizona’s state prisons who are completely dependent upon the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) and its for-profit contractor, Corizon Health, for all medical and mental health care. ADC, in its own reviews, found that these deaths were “caused by or affected in a negative manner by healthcare personnel.” These findings came to light during a series of contempt hearings held earlier this year in federal court in Phoenix in Parsons v. Ryan, a case brought by the ACLU and the Prison Law Office. 

But medical care is not the end of the horror for the people incarcerated in Arizona’s prisons. A lack of mental health care has been equally disastrous. In the spring of 2017, there were four suicides in three weeks in Arizona prisons, an astonishing rate of self-harm in a state prison system.

These deaths have occurred under the watch of the ADC in breach of a legal settlement reached more than three years ago in the Parsons case. The settlement was meant to protect the rights and health of incarcerated people, but ADC has not lived up to its requirements. The result: People in Arizona’s prisons are suffering and dying because of the state’s failures. Health care delayed can be, and often has been, a death sentence.

On June 22, 2018, the federal court issued a scathing order finding Arizona prison officials in contempt of court for ADC’s ongoing failure to provide basic health care to the people in its custody. U.S. Magistrate Judge David K. Duncan fined ADC more than $1.4 million for numerous violations of the settlement agreement. Judge Duncan also ordered the appointment of an independent monitor to oversee the state’s monitoring of compliance with the Parsons settlement and ordered that ADC hire independent experts to advise it on how to provide adequate medical care to our clients. “Defendants and their contractor are at times more interested in obtaining compliance with the Stipulation by playing a shell game than by providing care to the Plaintiff Class,” Judge Duncan wrote.

Prior to the issuance of the contempt order, Judge Duncan had warned the state in October 2017 that there were more than two dozen performance measures in the settlement agreement that they were chronically and profoundly noncompliant with. These included such basic requirements as ensuring that prisoners received their chronic care and psychotropic medications without interruption and that urgent outside specialist appointments be completed within 30 days of referral. Even after that warning, the state and Corizon were unable or unwilling to provide adequate health care.

Contempt is the strongest sanction available to a court. A judge turns to this tool only after all other efforts to enforce compliance have failed. Make no mistake: ADC has failed to comply, and contempt is how the court can bring it into line and protect Arizona prisoners. In his contempt order, Judge Duncan wrote: “The inescapable conclusion is that Defendants are missing the mark after four years of trying to get it right. Their repeated failed attempts, and too-late efforts, to take their obligation seriously demonstrate a half-hearted commitment that must be braced. … Accordingly, it appears the Court must do what Defendants will not: compel compliance with the [Parsons settlement]."

This contempt order came after years of reports to the court by the ACLU and the Prison Law Office of ADC’s continuing and flagrant noncompliance. In earlier reports to the court in 2015 and 2016, correctional health care experts documented grossly deficient medical care. Examples included a 44-year-old woman who bled to death after being given medication that was known to harm patients with her condition and a 59-year-old cancer patient whose massively infected wounds were swarmed by flies in the days before he died. Former Corizon employees have come forward to blow the whistle about the inadequate medical and mental health care provided to Arizona prisoners.

The contempt order is meant to force the Arizona Department of Corrections to follow the law and protect the lives and health of prisoners. Whether the department will finally do its duty and provide the people under its care with the health care they deserve is uncertain. But we’ll be watching to make sure department officials follow through, for now, and for good.

View comments (31)
Read the Terms of Use

Anonymous

Obviously your opinion is misinformed.

all cops are scum

i hope you spend the rest of your days suffering in a for profit prision like many others did. you are a criminal yourself clearly.

Anonymous

And there are other people in prison who have done non-violent crimes like tax fraud or embezzlement, but I guess you're the sort of person who likes to lump together everyone who has ever committed a crime and deem that they all should just be abused by staff and inmates or left to die horrible deaths. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Don't forget that some people even end up in prison without even deserving to be there because of stupid things like corruption in the judicial system. People who are complacent with or even supportive of abuses by our system of law enforcement are the real cancer!

Anonymous

People in prisons are NOT all monsters. Many have been abused and turn to drugs to ease the pain of abuse. They are used, neglected and forgotten. What would you do if all this happened to you? Maybe drink too much? Why is that any different from easing the pain with drugs. Let's all be humans, please and care about others. Many people are in prison because of the lack of love and horrible childhoods. It benefits all of us if these people learn to function in the greater society.

Blackeye

Listen to th his clown! "I worked for AZDOC", then you know that officers got fucked over with pay also. Its all fun and games until you land your ass in prison for a dui, fraud or smuggling in contraband which is why AZDOC can not keep officers. I noticed you said "I worked" .....for AZDOC. Can ro explain why tou are no longer with AZDOC? Oh, by the way, if I were you I would not sound too proud to say I worked for corrections.......Corizon sounds better! Please understand that you are paying taxes for medical treatment that people are not getting...."lightbulb"!! Might as well get something for your money.

Anonymous

Worked for AZ doc? I’m sorry you where that desperate to find a job. I hope you did something with your life. I’m hoping you used to for a stepping stone to maybe became a police officer? I’m guessing you didn’t find a career. Why would one think that? So much hate in your heart. You need to take a deep look inside yourself and find what’s really troubling you.

MATTHEW NAIDOW

Arizona state prisons as well as their private prisons have a bad track record of operations of healthcare privatized food service and private prisons. They've endured major prison riots due to the circumstances escapes, that have led to the deaths of people in the Southwest yet they continue to operate private prisons under Geo MTC corecivic it's a disgusting State of Affairs look into it ACLU I'll be with you

Anonymous

Inmates are human beings that have loved ones out in the community that love them. Some people are quick to judge these inmates. ADOC does not provide adequate care. Two weeks ago an inmate could not take the pain and suffering and he committed suicide due to his broken spirit and cancer. I know inmates that have needed surgery for over 2 yrs and their suffering falls on deaf ears. Medical will not even treat them. Some employees of ADOC are very insensitive to the needs of inmates and they forget that tax payers pay their salaries.

Anonymous

Unfortunately poor people are looked at as a commodity and are incarcerated to feed the correction machine millions are made. Majority of people incarcerated were convicted of nonviolent crimes (possession of narcotics or marijuana or sales) most have mental health & substance use disorders. Mandatory sentences were created to fill up these prisons. These Arizona facilities are hate factories they are segregated and promote racism.

Anonymous

Agreed!! Thank you!!!

Pages

Stay Informed