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.

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Mother of Prisoner

I value your statement and it says the truth. My son was given opiates for a back injury by a Physician who normally treats geriatric patients for Chronic pain. He was 20 when this began. He was prescribed Hydrocodone, Oxycontin, Morphine and valium! I finally took an empty Safeway grocery bag to his office which was completely filled with empy bottles and Thanked him for turning my by then 24 year old son into a drug addict. Needless to say My son had turned to Herion and it only got worse. He then resorted to stealing to keep up with the habit, because now it was not just about the "High", it was about not getting sick from withdrawals. I unfortunately ran out of solutions and had to resort to evicting him from my home. He is now serving time in prison, but the sad truth is they can get just as many drugs on the inside as they can on the outside. Prisons have "Programs" for those who have or are having issues with their drug addictions, but, these programs are not very effective when they are not focusing on the individual needs of these inmates. They are only putting a bandaid over the situation, not fixing the person from inside, not giving them the tools they need to grasp the harsh reality that they are now incarcerated human beings, now having to become stronger beacuse of the harsh surroundings. Not quite the environment to get well in. I really strongly feel we can do better with our tax dollars. And there are a lot of these individuals in there.

Anonymous

As we see there are also people in jail who are innocent. So how do we not give medical services to all since we are unable to weed out the innocent from the actually bad people. This system is horrible and needs to be fixed. If you are private organization owning a jail. It’s their responsibility to make sure that these people are getting basic treatment. Medical and food since the are working for them too making slave wages. So that they can be rich

Anonymous

Let it be known that our President now known as Donald J.Trumo.
He was also known as Az Sherriffs Arpaio .
He in effect pardoned himself .
The worst example of a Sherriffs in history .He's now President.
Thank You Republicans .

Anonymous

We citizens need to stop ducking aroynd and start bringing wrongful death/murder charges against the decisionmakers of these corporations.

Anonymous

There seem to be a number of people who are rather complacent with this sort of thing, and they tend to be the same ultra-conservatives who constantly taut the constitution at almost every chance they get. They seem to conveniently forget the 8th amendment, but I guess they don't care about that part because hey, if you're in prison for any reason whatsoever then you're dehumanized in their eyes so constitutional protections must not apply to you or something.

mcleanphoenix

This human suffering is not going away, and will probably continue to rise not only in Arizona but other states where incarceration is privately contracted and money is the name of the game. Government is complicit with big business in this at the peril of human beings. These crimes against humanity stay hidden from the public view under the guise of the law. Cruel and inhumane is illegal too.

Anonymous

That's funny vets firs.t I used to work for state probation and parole majority of Black and Brown sin men were innocent when I started reading the profile I quit the job it was devastated news of how crooked the justice system are to people of color

barty

going to prison is the punishment, NOT being punished again due to lack of basic medicine and inept so 'medical' provider,

Anonymous

I think a great way to prevent prisoners returning to the system is to give them the same health care as what is provided in the outside communities America. I think it would be great for inmates to receive healthcare cards with deductibles. It would be good to put a system in place of some kind. Lets face it folks we live in a society where many feel so entitled. Maybe we all should pay a little something for the things we get including taking responsibility for our own health

Anonymous

I think a great way to prevent prisoners returning to the system is to give them the same health care as what is provided in the outside communities America. I think it would be great for inmates to receive healthcare cards with deductibles. It would be good to put a system in place of some kind. Lets face it folks we live in a society where many feel so entitled. Maybe we all should pay a little something for the things we get including taking responsibility for our own health

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