Federal Judge Fines Arizona $1.4 Million In Prison Health Case

Published: Friday, June 22, 2018 - 7:01pm
Updated: Friday, June 22, 2018 - 7:02pm

A federal judge has fined Arizona $1.4 million for failing to meet health care standards in state prisons.

In an order filed Friday, Magistrate Judge David Duncan wrote that the state had “turned to a private contractor which has been unable to meet the prisoner’s health care needs.”

Duncan oversees the Parsons vs. Ryan prison health case, which was settled more than three years ago. The state agreed to meet more than 100 performance measures aimed at providing better health care to inmates in Arizona prisons.

The financial sanction is a result of the Arizona Department of Corrections and its contractor, Corizon Health, failing to meet specific measures outlined by Duncan.

While ADC has blamed its contractor, Corizon Health, for those failures, Duncan noted that the state recently rewarded the company with a higher contract and financial incentives.

“If a private contractor is pushed to the door because it cannot meet the State’s obligations, then so be it,” Duncan wrote. “Such a result would flow directly from the state’s decision to privatize health care to save money. That goal of privatization cannot be achieved at the expense of the health and safety of the sick and acutely ill inmates.”

In addition to the fine, the judge ordered an independent monitor to oversee the current, state-run monitoring team. Duncan wrote that evidence presented in recent hearings led the court to believe the ADC monitoring team, and the data they used, could not be relied upon.

“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,” Duncan wrote.

Caroline Isaacs, director of the American Friends Service Committee, applauded the ruling.

“Until Arizona accepts that there is no such thing as cheap prison health care, people will continue to unnecessarily die under the care of ADC and private companies like Corizon,” she said.

David Fathi, director of the ACLU National Prison Project, called the contempt order a “remedy of last resort.”

RELATED: On The Inside: The Chaos Of Arizona Prison Health Care

“The court had tried other, less intrusive ways to gain compliance from the Department of Corrections,” Fathi said. “All of them failed.

“The people inside Arizona’s state prisons must receive the necessary health care to which they are entitled under the Constitution. We will continue our work to ensure that the Department of Corrections meets that obligation.”

Prison Law Office attorney Corene Kendrick said the judge’s ruling sent a message to Corrections Director Ryan and Gov. Doug Ducey.

“They can’t just be nonchalant and indifferent to the federal court order that settled the lawsuit between the parties,” she said. “People in their custody are continuing to die while their contractor is providing health care that is patently inadequate and unconstitutional.”

Kendrick and other attorneys guided Duncan on a tour of Arizona state prisons at Eyman and Florence on Thursday.

“During the tour Judge Duncan had an opportunity to meet with staff and with prisoners about health care and to hear about how these abstract concepts actually play out on the ground on the prison yards every day,” Kendrick said.

In a statement, ADC spokesman Andrew Wilder said, “The Arizona Department of Corrections strongly disagrees with his ruling and is confident that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals will reverse it because it is contrary to both the evidence and the law governing the Stipulation between the parties.”

Arizona Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan told legislators earlier this year that ADC’s contractor, Corizon Health, would be held responsible for paying the fines.

Corizon Health CEO Steve Rector said the judge's ruling failed to recognize the "reality of inmate care."

"We will continue to work closely with ADC to provide Arizona’s inmate population with the best care in what is often difficult circumstances," Rector said. "We are hopeful the State of Arizona will choose to appeal the Court’s decision and we look forward to continuing to work constructively in supporting the ADC’s and Corizon Health’s steadfast improvement in the delivery of health care.”

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