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Plaintiffs In Prison Health Care Settlement Seek $400,000 Fine Against Arizona

Attorneys representing inmates in a class-action lawsuit about prison health care in Arizona are asking a federal judge to fine the state $400,000 for its continued failure to meet agreed-upon health care benchmarks.

Prison Law Office attorney Corene Kendrick pointed to the state’s failure to complete urgently needed specialty consultations and diagnoses in a timely fashion in a motion filed in federal court Wednesday.

“Timely access to urgent specialty care is of paramount importance because it is an indication that the prison medical provider treating the patient has determined, using their medical judgment and training, that the patient’s condition requires it,” Kendrick wrote.

Kendrick said failures have occurred at the state prison in Florence, which is currently reporting the most COVID-19 patients in the Arizona prison system.

“ASPC-Florence has an infirmary with 15 beds, and two additional special medical needs units, each with approximately 20 beds,” Kendrick wrote of the prison. “It houses a large number of class members who are older than average, have disabilities, or who require specialty care.”

Kendrick said the noncompliance with the court-ordered stipulation has been ongoing since 2017.

In its defense, the state has provided various excuses to the court for not meeting the health care standard, including laying blame on the contracted health care providers for state prisons, which have faced difficulty finding providers to perform the services.

The former judge presiding over the Parsons v. Ryan settlement found the state in contempt in 2018 due to similar failures to meet health care standards, and issued a sanction of $1.4 million.

“Despite the finding of contempt and fine in June 2018, Defendants continued to be profoundly noncompliant with this critical measure at ASPC-Florence,” Kendrick wrote.

In May 2019, U.S. District Court Judge Roslyn Silver, who now presides over the settlement, gave the state a new timeline for coming into compliance with the health care benchmarks.

In the motion, Kendrick argues the state has missed the deadline imposed by Silver, and the subsequent fines for the failures total $400,000.

“Defendants have been persistently unwilling or unable to comply with the Stipulation and the repeated Orders to Show Cause with respect to this critical performance measure at a prison housing numerous class members with serious medical conditions,” Kendrick wrote. “And that was during normal times; we are not now in normal times.”

Additionally, the plaintiffs are asking the judge to compel the state to confer with a court-appointed correctional health care expert to improve conditions in Arizona prisons.

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.