Federal Judge: 'Ghost Of Retaliation' Hangs Over Arizona Prison Health Care Settlement

By Jimmy Jenkins
Published: Tuesday, September 12, 2017 - 7:32am
Updated: Wednesday, April 8, 2020 - 12:09pm
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A federal Judge is investigating claims of retaliation against inmates who have testified about poor health care conditions behind bars.

Attorneys for the prisoners have been calling inmates as witnesses in an ongoing prison health care settlement. Many of those inmates have complained that the state retaliated against them for their testimony.

Steven Swartz has been in a state prison in Lewis for the past 10 years. He’s a plaintiff in settlement between inmates and the Arizona Department of Corrections.

“Medical care - it’s a joke out there," Swarz said of the prison health care system in Arizona. "There’s people that are sentenced to maybe five years for minor crimes - they go out there and then all of the sudden they die.”

Swartz was listening to testimony in downtown Phoenix Monday after being released that morning from the Lewis state prison facility.

Judge David Duncan said there’s a specter hanging over the Parsons v Ryan prison health care settlement: the ghost of retaliation.

During a hearing Monday, Duncan repeatedly expressed the importance of access to inmate testimony as an essential tool in the settlement.

Some inmates said their property was rolled up – or taken from them and held. Others claimed they or their cell mates were moved and that guards had tried to intimidate them.

Perryville Women’s Prison Warden Kim Currier testified the actions taken were a normal part of procedure at the prison and that inventories are actually taken to protect an inmate’s property.

Deputy wardens testified that there were no retaliatory actions taken against inmates who had testified to poor health care conditions in Arizona prisons.

But DOC staff could not cite state policy that would explain why an inmate who testified was made to a wear a jumpsuit and put on a targeted search list.

After hearing the warden’s testimony, Judge David Duncan said it was clear the warden’s instructions were not being followed and she didn’t know what was happening on the ground.

Duncan said DOC had to figure out a better way of communicating his orders or he would be forced to speak with every single employee himself.

Plaintiff Attorney Corene Kendrick said it doesn’t really matter if the DOC intended to retaliate against inmates.

“It’s how it’s perceived by the people that come and talk to us,” Kendrick said, echoing concerns of a chilling effect on testimony voiced by the judge.

Judge Duncan accused the Department of Corrections of a “CYA behavior” and said that DOC staff had lied on the stand in previous testimony.

The judge also repeatedly asked DOC officials to explain discrepancies on emails with contradictory dates and times, calling their credibility into question.

Attorneys said they could not explain the discrepancies but are looking into the matter as a possible technical problem.

Arizona Prisons