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9th Circuit Affirms District Court's Power To Enforce Arizona Prison Health Care Settlement

Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals
Jimmy Jenkins/KJZZ
file | staff
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled against the Arizona Department of Corrections, allowing a  $1.4 million fine for poor health care in state prisons to stand. 

The court handed down a unanimous opinion Wednesday rejecting the Department of Corrections’ appeals of several district court orders in the Parsons vs. Ryan prison health care case.

Attorney Corene Kendrick, representing people incarcerated in state prisons, says she hopes the ruling will send a clear signal to District Judge Roslyn Silver, who is now overseeing the case.

“She should feel within her rights to issue any sort of orders that she thinks are necessary to ensure that people in the prisons are receiving minimally adequate health care,” Kendrick said.

Kendrick is calling for the case to be  sent back to trial after years of court battles with the state over how to carry out the settlement process.

In its challenges to orders that have resulted from the settlement process, the state has argued the District Court did not have the power to enforce the conditions of the Parsons settlement.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling Wednesday rejected that notion. Judge J. Clifford Wallace wrote "the district court acted within its authority in issuing the Order to Show Cause, and thus Defendants’ noncompliance with that order may properly serve as the basis for the Contempt Order."

The court affirmed an order that found Arizona Department of Corrections' monitoring of the previous state health care contractor, Corizon Health, problematic. The 9th Circuit affirmed an additional order that the department implement recommendations from a court expert related to the recruiting and retaining health care staff.

Kendrick described the case as being in limbo in recent months after  an expert report commissioned by Judge Silver exposed serious problems with the current method for delivery of health care to inmates in state prisons. 

"We're hopeful that now that Judge Silver has the green light from the 9th Circuit, that she has the ability to issue further orders, that she will do so," Kendrick said. 

Arizona Department of Corrections spokesman Bill Lamoreaux said the department is reviewing the decision.

"Improving health care delivery remains an ongoing priority for the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry," Lamoreaux said. "We are working with our health care contractor to meet this goal and we will continue to engage with inmates,staff, families and partners in the community. The Department is committed to providing the same quality standard of healthcare to inmates that private citizens receive."

Jimmy Jenkins was a producer and senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2014 to 2021.