A judge rejected a 6-year-old legal agreement that required Arizona to improve medical care for thousands of inmates, saying prison officials have shown little interest in meeting their obligations under the agreement and that it would be foolish to expect the state to act. differently. in the future.
In a withering sentence on Friday, Judge Roslyn Silver chose not to impose additional fines for contempt of court against the state for its lengthy non-compliance and instead said she will take the case to trial. The judge said the state’s failure to provide inmates with adequate medical care has led to avoidable suffering and deaths.
Not only has the state failed to meet its obligations, Silver said it offered “erroneous and unreliable excuses for non-compliance, asserted unfounded legal arguments, and essentially resisted meeting the obligations that they knowingly and voluntarily assumed in the contract. ”.
The Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry declined to comment on the ruling.
CJ Karamargin, a spokesman for Gov. Doug Ducey, said the ruling was being reviewed.
When asked in the past about the court’s actions against the state for non-compliance in the case, Ducey has said he wants state agency directors, not judges, to run state departments.
“The refusal of the state of Arizona to keep the promises it made can no longer be tolerated,” said Corene Kendrick, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union who represents the prisoners in the case. “We have to go to trial.”
A court-appointed expert has concluded that understaffing, inadequate funding, and the privatization of health care services are major barriers to improving health care for some 30,000 inmates in Arizona state prisons.
The judges in the case have hit Arizona with a total of $ 2.5 million in contempt fines for noncompliance. The prisoners’ lawyers sought more financial sanctions against the state.
Silver wrote that the fines did not motivate the state to comply with the agreement. “There does not appear to be a sanction for contempt strong enough to enforce compliance,” Silver wrote.
In 2018, a magistrate judge imposed a contempt fine of 1.4 million dollars against the state, which paid the fine but was later reimbursed by the company that at that time provided health services inside prisons.
In late February, Silver issued a contempt fine of $ 1.1 million. Prison officials said they would ask the former contractor for reimbursement of the second fine, although it is unclear whether the company agreed to do so.
In the nine years since it was filed, the lawsuit has cost the state $ 20 million, including $ 10 million for attorneys defending correctional officers and $ 8.1 million for attorneys who pressed the case on behalf of inmates. according to the records.
The case was settled in 2014 just days before it headed to trial.
The settlement stemmed from a lawsuit alleging that state prisons did not meet basic requirements to provide adequate medical and mental health care to inmates.
The lawsuit says some prisoners complained that their cancer went undetected or that they were told to pray for a cure after requesting treatment.
He also said that the failure of a prison medical staff to diagnose an inmate’s metastatic cancer caused his liver to become so large that his stomach swelled to the size of a full-term pregnant woman. Another inmate with a history of prostate cancer had to wait more than two years for a biopsy.
The state denied the allegations that it was providing inadequate care, and the lawsuit was settled without the state acknowledging any wrongdoing.