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Arizona Prisoners Continue With Lawsuit Against Department of Corrections

Inmates are claiming the Arizona Department of Corrections didn't provide adequate medical care.
(Courtesy of Arizona Department of Corrections)
Inmates are claiming the Arizona Department of Corrections didn't provide adequate medical care.

More than 30,000 Arizona prisoners are asking for better healthcare and a review of solitary confinement. The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled inmates in Arizona state prisons can move forward with a class action suit against the Department of Corrections.

The ACLU had originally filed the case in 2012 on behalf of 14 inmates. The Arizona DOC privatized prison medical care after a 2011 change in state law. 

Dan Pachoda is the legal director of ACLU of Arizona. He said inmates were denied basic medical care.

“The great, great majority of prisoners get out. Unfortunately some with short sentences will not be getting out because they are going to die unnecessarily. And we have documented this in prison because of the absence of care. So a three-year sentence for a number has become a death sentence,” said Pachoda.

Even though the quality of care is dependent on the provider, legally the Arizona DOC is responsible. Currently, the department contracts out to Corizon Correctional Healthcare.

“The decision today does not change the fact that the factual allegations made in the lawsuit are just allegations. The panel's ruling doesn’t constitute a judgment whether they are true or false. The allegations aren’t accurate and the Department of Corrections looks forward to vigorously challenging them,” said Doug Nick of the Arizona DOC.

Arizona prisoners are also saying solitary confinement is cruel and unusual punishment. That claim is part of the class action lawsuit that was allowed to move forward Thursday. Donald Specter of the Prison Law Center is one of the attorneys representing the inmates.

“The lights are on all the time. They have limited access to any kind of other stimulation. Basically isolated for 23 hours a day every day for years on end,” said Specter.

Specter said putting convicts in these cells with no windows and no human contact causes their mental health to deteriorate.

The Department of Corrections says the allegations are inaccurate and plans to challenge them in court.

The class-action case is expected to go to trial this October.

Alexandra Olgin was a Senior Field Correspondent at KJZZ from 2013 to 2016.