Arizona Fined $1.1 Million Over Failure of Prison Health Care

Prison inmates stand in the yard at Arizona State Prison-Kingman in Golden Valley, Ariz., on July 4, 2015. (Patrick Breen/The Arizona Republic via AP)

(CN) — A federal judge Wednesday fined Arizona $1.1 million for contempt stemming from its failure to comply with a 2014 settlement over the health care of inmates in the state’s prisons, the second such fine for the state since 2018.

U.S. District Judge Roslyn Silver, a Clinton appointee, issued the fine based upon 22 standards prison officials failed to implement, at $50,000 per violation.

Silver noted that the state’s defense that it was “nearing compliance” was “not enough to avoid sanctions.”

“Defendants also argue they had an insufficient opportunity to purge the contempt,” she wrote in the 16-page ruling. “That is untrue. Defendants were given a month to come into compliance with their obligations.”

Some of the 22 performance measures included providing inmates with pathology reports within five days of receiving them and making sure new prescriptions were given to inmates within two days.

Neither the attorneys for the plaintiffs nor state officials could immediately be reached for comment after business hours Wednesday.

The long running case began in 2012 when a class action of inmates sued Arizona, claiming they were subjected to “unnecessary pain and suffering, preventable injury, amputation, disfigurement and death” in state prisons. They also claimed prison staff did not have adequate training to handle medical emergencies.

The state agreed to settle in 2015, promising to improve health care in the state’s 10 prisons and pay attorneys’ fees to the plaintiffs. As part of the settlement, the state denied any wrongdoing.

The state was fined $1.4 million in 2018 after hearings revealed prison health care was still deficient. Prisoners and whistleblowers testified to nurses withholding medicine, cancer patients who were not treated, and guards who slept on the job while guarding prisoners on suicide watch.

In one instance, an inmate with liver cancer died after retained fluid caused his skin to split open and become infected. He had reported his condition to nurses at the Yuma prison, but it was ignored by staff.

The state appealed the 2018 fines to the Ninth Circuit, but a three-judge panel upheld the fines last year, ruling that the judge had the authority to order the state to abide by the terms of the settlement.

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