More Fines Sought Against Arizona in Suit Over Inmate Care

Jul 3, 2019

Attorneys challenging the quality of health care in Arizona prisons are seeking another round of contempt-of-court fines against the state for failing to file monthly reports documenting its noncompliance with a legal settlement that requires improvements to inmate care.

The Eyman state prison in Florence
Credit corrections.az.gov

The request on Monday marks the third major attempt since October 2017 to fine the state in the class-action lawsuit.

Corrections Director Charles Ryan was found in civil contempt and the state was fined $1.4 million a year ago for failing to adequately follow through on its promises when settling the case to improve health care for its 34,000 prisoners. The state has appealed the contempt ruling.

Nearly two months ago, a judge threatened — but hasn't yet imposed — as much as $1.6 million in additional fines after concluding the state remains noncompliant with many elements of the four-year-old settlement.

Now, lawyers for the inmates are seeking a fine of $10,000 for each day that the state fails to provide the reports of all instances of noncompliance from March 2018 to the present. They allege the state has flouted the obligation for more than a year.

The Department of Corrections declined to comment on the request for more fines. But the state has previously said it has improved its compliance since the judge raised the possibility of more fines.

When Ryan was found in civil contempt a year ago, the state was required to file monthly reports showing every instance of noncompliance.

Attorneys representing prisoners said they have made multiple attempts to get the reports but haven't received the documents.

They say the state hasn't fully complied on several performance measures, such as ensuring newly prescribed medications are provided to inmates within two days and making medical providers tell inmates about the results of pathology reports and other diagnostic studies within five days of receiving such records.

The lawsuit alleged that Arizona's 10 state-run prisons didn't meet the basic requirements for providing adequate medical and mental health care. It said some prisoners complained that their cancer went undetected or that they were told to pray to be cured after begging for treatment.

The state denied the allegations that it was providing inadequate care, and the lawsuit was settled without the state acknowledging any wrongdoing.

Late last year, the judge raised the possibility of throwing out the settlement and resuming litigation, saying the state's insistence on defending its performance was ill-advised.

The state paid the $1.4 million fine issued nearly a year ago and was later fully reimbursed by Corizon Health Care, which at the time had been the state's provider for health care in prisons. Another company, Centurion of Arizona, took over Monday as the state's prison health care provider.