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PHOENIX – The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Arizona, the Prison Law Office, and co-counsel today filed a settlement agreement in their class-action suit on behalf of more than 33,000 prisoners in Arizona’s state prisons. 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 Arizona Department of Corrections worked with us on a settlement that shows a commitment to protecting prisoners’ physical and mental health," said David Fathi, the Director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project. "We hope other states will now find ways to provide adequate medical, mental health, and dental care to their prisoners."
"The Arizona Department of Corrections has agreed to changes that will save lives," said Don Specter, Director of the Prison Law Office. "This settlement will bring more humane treatment for prisoners with serious health care needs, and the potential for their conditions to improve rather than worsen."
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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