Arizona State Prison Inmate: 'We Are Not Being Treated As Human Beings'

By Jimmy Jenkins
Published: Friday, July 14, 2017 - 1:11pm
Updated: Wednesday, April 8, 2020 - 12:12pm
Arizona Department of Corrections
Cells at Arizona State Prison Complex - Florence.

Private health care provider Corizon has changed the way they treat patients in Arizona State Prisons and inmates are testifying it’s made conditions worse.

Compliance issues were raised in the Federal Courthouse in downtown Phoenix on Friday in the Parsons v Ryan settlement.

Mark Blocksom approached the witness stand in chains and shackles. Blocksom is an inmate at the Arizona State Prison Complex - Florence diagnosed with HIV, hepatitis and diabetes. He is one of several inmates testifying in continued hearings related to a settlement between the state and the plaintiff prisoner class.

“We are not being treated as human beings. We are being subjected to a process that is more criminal than anything we’ve ever done," Blocksom said when asked of the current state of the prison heath care system in Arizona.

He told the court he has been waiting for months to see a doctor.

MORE: Inmates Claim Temperatures In Arizona Prisons Are Above 100 Degrees

Private-prison operator Corizon has attempted to improve the efficiency of health care at state prisons by creating an open clinic system where inmates can see a nurse. Corizon also changed the way inmates access medical treatment from written requests to requiring in-person requests for all medical needs. ACLU National Prison Project director said  David Fathi said the change removes an important paper trail "that’s auditable that we and others can go back and check," Fathi said. "That’s the really essential component that’s missing under the open clinic concept.”

The plaintiff class in the Parsons v. Ryan case is alleging the new arrangement has created long lines and loss of access to care. Inmates also said changes have not had an impact on the system.

“There's the appearance that a lot's getting done but nothing substantive is really happening in terms of treatment," Blocksom said.

Inmates said they are now forced to sit for hours in the sun waiting to see a nurse — and they still don’t get treatment.

Ronald Oyenik, also an inmate in the Florence complex, testified that he’s seen people pass out in the heat waiting for seizure medication. He said sometimes diabetics waiting for insulin give up and return to their cells.

Oyenik described how some elderly prisoners in wheelchairs at Florence now have to wheel themselves 1,000 yards, three times a day, just to get their medicine.

All inmates that testified in court Friday said they did so even though they feared retribution from the Arizona Department of Corrections. One woman said she inexplicably had all of her property seized the night before she was to testify. But Oyenik said the conditions are so bad, so inhumane, that he felt compelled to speak out.

At the end of the hearing the court reviewed multiple stipulations the state is still failing to meet. Lawyers for the plaintiffs say the state should owe millions of dollars of fines for violations from June 14 to July 12. A federal judge could rule on the penalty in a matter of weeks.

Plaintiff's Estimate Of Potential Fines

Defendants Notice of Compliance with $1000 Sanction Order

Business Arizona Prisons