Over $1 Million Contempt Order Affirms the Rights of Incarcerated People to Adequate Health Care

PHOENIX, Ariz. — A federal judge ruled in favor of the ACLU and Prison Law Office in their ongoing case Parsons v. Ryan last night, finding the Arizona Department of Corrections in contempt for the second time in three years for its failure to comply with a settlement agreement reached in October 2014. The court ordered the ADC to pay a fine of more than $1 million.

Parsons v. Ryan seeks to improve the health care and conditions in maximum security custody units in the state’s prison system. In last night’s order, Judge Roslyn Silver rejected the explanations offered by the ADC for their failure to meet the requirements of the Parsons settlement. Judge Silver then directed the ADC to file a statement explaining why she should not issue further contempt fines against the department for its failure to provide adequate medical, mental health, and dental care for the months of March through December 2020. Judge Silver stated that she would use the $1.1 million fine, as well as a June 2018 contempt fine of $1.4 million, to hire an independent expert to provide a system-wide analysis of the quality of health care provided to incarcerated people. She also found that the ADC is not meeting its obligation to provide people in maximum custody with necessary out-of-cell time.

Corene Kendrick, deputy director at the ACLU National Prison Project, issued the following statement:

We are heartened by the federal court’s order. To see a federal court hold a state department of corrections in contempt — not once, but twice — in three years is incredibly striking. In her order, Judge Silver has validated what we know to be true: Incarcerated people have a constitutional and moral right to adequate health care and decent conditions. We hope that the ADC will stop wasting Arizona taxpayer money fighting the court ordering it to live up to its promises, and instead will finally do its duty and provide the people in its custody the basic health care and conditions that are their right. We expect the other state Department of Corrections will take notice: If you do not respect the basic rights of incarcerated people, there will be consequences.” 

The order is online here.

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