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Federal Judge Slaps Down State's Request To Limit Scope Of Prison Health Care Investigation

In an order issued Thursday, a federal judge gave further guidance to an independent monitor who is tasked with reviewing the state’s prison health care system.

U. S. District Court Judge Roslyn Silver selected Dr. Marc Stern in December 2018 to investigate conditions in state prisons amidst the ongoing Parsons v. Ryan prison health care settlement.

Stern, a correctional health care expert based in Washington state, said he is "honored to be asked by the Court to participate in this case, and I look forward to assisting the Court and parties as they try to move the case forward.”

After Stern was selected, attorneys for the state and representatives of the people in Arizona state prisons filed motions regarding Stern's proposed duties.

In her order, Silver slapped down what she called an attempt to limit the scope of the expert’s work.

"The Court appointed Dr. Stern to conduct analysis that 'will include, but is not limited to,' the 'irregularities and errors in the monitoring process' and Defendants’ 'substantial noncompliance with critical aspects of health care delivery.'" Silver wrote. "It appears, however, that Defendants wish to artificially limit the scope of Dr. Stern’s work both in substance and by preventing him from speaking with personnel involved in providing care. Such limitations are not appropriate."

Silver instead gave Dr. Stern broad powers to investigate patient records and interview Department of Corrections employees and people that work for Corizon Health.

"Defendants also seek to limit the records Dr. Stern may review and the individuals he may interview. Neither attempted restriction is well-taken," Silver wrote. "Dr. Stern may review source documents that underly any of the compliance numbers he is tasked with analyzing. Further, Dr. Stern will be allowed to interview key personnel, including facility health care and custody staff, who it may be necessary to interview to understand the processes followed, to determine whether the Monitoring Bureau’s methodology application was correct.”

A former Corizon Health employee, Jose Vallejo, recently gave KJZZ an account of several instances of wrongdoing he alleges call the state health care monitoring bureau's findings into question. Vallejo said he was repeatedly ordered to take actions in an attempt to cheat the state. 

Judge Silver ordered Stern to give updates on his progress, and assured that his reports would be available to the public. 

"Defendants request that Dr. Stern’s reports be filed under seal but they do not explain why," Silver wrote. "There is no support for sealing Dr. Stern’s reports and provided personally identifying patient information has been redacted, there is no need for them to be filed under seal."

Silver assured that Stern’s work will be seen by the public by denying the state’s request to seal it.

Jimmy Jenkins is a senior field correspondent at KJZZ and a contributor to NPR’s Election 2020 and Criminal Justice station collaborations. His work has been featured on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Marketplace, Here and Now, The Takeaway and NPR Newscasts.Originally from Terre Haute, Indiana, Jenkins has a B.S. in criminology from Indiana State University and a master’s degree in journalism from Indiana University.Much of his reporting has focused on the criminal justice system. Jenkins has reported on Tasers, body cameras, use of force, jail privatization, prison health care and the criminal contempt trial of former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.