Update: June 22, 2018: The court, finding that “wide-spread and systemic failures remain,” held Arizona prison officials in contempt, and imposed fines of more than $1.4 million.

The court concluded:

“The Court must place a clear and focused light on what is happening here: the State turned to a private contractor which has been unable to meet the prisoners’ health care needs. Rather than push its contractor to meet those needs, the State has instead paid them more and rewarded them with financial incentives while limiting the financial penalties for non-compliance. Accordingly, it appears the Court must do what Defendants will not: compel compliance with the Stipulation."

The court also denied the state’s motion to terminate portions of the Stipulation, and gave notice that it will appoint independent experts to assist the state in complying with its obligations. 

On February 18, 2015, a federal court approved a settlement in a class-action suit on behalf of the more than 33,000 prisoners in Arizona’s state prisons. The agreement was reached by the Arizona Department of Corrections and the ACLU, the ACLU of Arizona, the Prison Law Office, and co-counsel. Under the settlement, the Arizona Department of Corrections must fix a broken health care system plagued by long-term and systemic problems that caused numerous deaths and preventable injuries. The settlement will also allow prisoners in solitary confinement who have serious mental illnesses to have more mental health treatment and time outside their cells, and will make other critical reforms in prison conditions.

The settlement in Parsons v. Ryan requires the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) to meet more than 100 health care performance measures, covering issues such as monitoring of prisoners with diabetes, hypertension, and other chronic conditions; care for pregnant prisoners; and dental care.

The settlement also requires ADC to overhaul the rules for prisoners with serious mental illnesses in solitary confinement. Instead of spending all but six hours a week in their cells, such prisoners will now have a minimum of 19 hours a week outside the cell, and this time must include mental health treatment and other programming. ADC must also restrict guards' use of pepper spray on these prisoners, using it only as a last resort when necessary to prevent serious injury or escape.

The settlement provides for ongoing monitoring and oversight by the prisoners' lawyers to make sure the state is complying with its terms.

The groups filed the federal lawsuit in 2012, challenging years of inattention to the health needs of state prisoners and improper and excessive use of solitary confinement, resulting in serious harm and unnecessary deaths. Judge Neil V. Wake of the U.S. District Court in Phoenix certified the case as a class action in March 2013, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed that ruling in June 2014. Last month, the groups filed reports by nationally recognized experts in corrections and in medical, mental health, and dental care, showing system-wide problems with the prisons' health care and excessive use of solitary confinement.

In addition to the ACLU and the Prison Law Office, other attorneys on the case are Perkins Coie, Jones Day, and the Arizona Center for Disability Law, which is also a plaintiff in the case.

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