Inmates Ask For Trial After Years Of Arizona’s Non-Compliance With Prison Health Care Settlement

By Jimmy Jenkins
Published: Tuesday, November 5, 2019 - 3:19pm
Updated: Wednesday, April 8, 2020 - 11:39am

Attorneys representing the men and women incarcerated in Arizona prisons say the state is not living up to a years-old settlement regarding prison health care conditions, and the matter should be resolved with a trial.

Plaintiffs and defendants in the Parsons v. Ryan prison health care settlement had until Monday to respond to an October order from the judge overseeing the case.

U.S. District Court Judge Roslyn Silver said she would no longer allow the state to fail to comply with promises it made more than four years ago and gave the parties three options: comply with the current settlement, create a new settlement or take the case to trial. Silver said she did not have a preference, but warned a trial "would be costly to the taxpayers of Arizona."

The order came after Dr. Marc Stern submitted a report reviewing the Arizona prison health care system, which he found to be drastically underfunded and hindered by privatization.

Attorneys for the state would rather use Stern’s report to draft a new settlement agreement. Representing the Arizona Department of Corrections, attorney Dan Struck said he believed the report showed the state has been making progress meeting performance benchmarks, and could now focus on the remaining issues.

“That would allow resources and efforts to target and cure those performance measures that remain non-compliant,” Struck wrote.

In response to the court filings, Arizona Department of Corrections spokesman Andrew Wilder said "The health and well-being of the inmates in our care is a priority for the Arizona Department of Corrections. The state has an obligation to provide inmates the constitutionally-mandated healthcare they are entitled. We remain committed to improving inmate health care and listening — not just to inmates and staff, but family members and community partners." 

Inmates Call For Trial

Writing for the plaintiffs, Prison Law Office Attorney Corene Kendrick said their preference is to set the case for trial. “It is clear from Defendants’ conduct in the past five years that they have no intention of complying with all of the substantive provisions of the Stipulation,” Kendrick wrote, referring to the current settlement agreement. “In addition, Dr. Stern’s report makes clear that without modification the Performance Measures and other parts of the Stipulation will not ensure that the Plaintiff class receives constitutionally adequate care.”

With regard to the defendants’ preference, Kendrick said the plaintiffs would be open to negotiations pending trial under certain conditions: “Plaintiffs will enter into negotiations while preparing for trial only if Defendants agree that (1) the product of those negotiations will be a consent decree or other fully enforceable judgment, (2) Defendants’ compliance with the substantive provisions of the decree will be subject to monitoring by an independent and neutral person or entity, and (3) the negotiation period will be time limited, such as to 60 days,” Kendrick wrote.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys enclosed 16 advocacy letters with their filing, written on behalf of their clients, which they say show the continued deficient health care provided by the Department of Corrections and its contractor, now Centurion Managed Care.

Plaintiffs are asking a trial to be set for 180 days after Silver makes her decision. In October, Silver said the court would act immediately after the parties responded. If the case goes to trial, attorneys for the inmates said it would take at least 80 hours to present their evidence, not including time for defendants or cross-examinations.

Arizona Department of Corrections building
Arizona Department of Corrections
Arizona Department of Corrections building in Phoenix.
Arizona Prisons