Update, October 27, 2017: More than two years after the Parsons settlement agreement with the Arizona Department of Corrections went into effect, it was clear that the ADC had not complied with its terms. ADC’s own documents showed them to be chronically out of compliance with key health care performance measures, and experts identified numerous cases in which ADC’s failure to provide minimally adequate medical and mental health care had resulted in needless suffering, aggravation of illness, and avoidable death. On October 10, 2017 the court, citing “pervasive and intractable failures to comply” with the settlement, ordered the ADC defendants to show cause why they should not be held in contempt and fined $1,000 for each prisoner who did not receive the health care services to which she was entitled under the settlement.
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.