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Federal Judge Sets Deadlines In Arizona Prison Health Care Settlement

A federal judge overseeing a prison health care settlement between inmates and the Arizona Department of Corrections says the case has gone on long enough. In an order issued Friday, 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 4 years ago in the  Parsons vs. Ryan prison health care settlement.

"Given that Defendants’ continued failure to comply with crucial performance measures appears to pose a significant risk of serious harm to plaintiffs, the Court cannot delay any longer," Silver wrote.

She gave the parties until Oct. 23 to pick one of 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 comes 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.

Acknowledging the shortcomings listed in the Stern report, Silver said if the state continued down the same path, "Defendants would be susceptible to massive lawsuits based on the actual provision of care."

"Crucially," Silver wrote, "the failing performance measures relate to the core aspects of health care delivery: provision of medication, access to specialty care, and ensuring adherence to outside providers’ recommendations.

Silver called attention to the state's continued efforts to appeal rulings from the District Court rather than comply with the settlement.

"Defendants have spent millions of dollars on the present litigation and Defendants appear determined to spend millions more in the future," she wrote. "Defendants are free, of course, to spend their funds as they wish and believe necessary to protect their interests. But it makes very little sense for Defendants to expend public funds paying attorneys to defend their undisputed breaches of the agreed upon stipulation."

Silver said the court would act immediately once the parties respond as to how they would like to move forward.


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.