PHOENIX — A federal judge Tuesday issued an order putting the Arizona Department of Corrections on notice that the agency is facing possible fines and civil contempt of court because of its failure to improve mental and physical healthcare for prisoners. The Department of Corrections agreed to the improvements years ago in a settlement of the lawsuit Parsons v. Ryan. The ACLU and the Prison Law Office represent the plaintiff class, nearly 34,000 people in state-run prisons, in the case.
David Fathi, director of the ACLU National Prison Project, released the following statement after reading today’s order from U.S. Magistrate Judge David K. Duncan:
“It was three years ago this week that the Arizona Department of Corrections signed the settlement agreement in this case over prison health care so inadequate that it leads to needless suffering and even death. The fact that the Department of Corrections is still grossly out of compliance with the settlement is proof that the department is profoundly broken, leaving the thousands of prisoners under its control with scant access to medical care.
“Contempt is a remedy of last resort. In the three years since the settlement was reached, Judge Duncan has given the state multiple chances to come into compliance with the terms it had voluntarily accepted. After three years of failure by the Arizona Department of Corrections, with this order a federal judge has taken stronger steps to ensure that prisoners receive the life-saving medical care to which they are legally entitled.
“The settlement’s performance measures – such as how quickly a person is supposed to see a doctor or a psychologist – weren’t imposed by a judge. Every single one is something the Arizona Department of Corrections freely and voluntarily agreed to do. So the question has to be asked: why after three years is the department still failing to meet standards it consented to?”