Arizona Prisons Deal Goes to Federal Judge

     PHOENIX (CN) – A federal judge will decide Wednesday whether to approve a medical treatment settlement between the Arizona Department of Corrections and inmates in its 10 state-run prisons.
     A class action filed by prisoners and the Arizona Center for Disability Law in March 2012 claimed that prisoners were subjected to “unnecessary pain and suffering, preventable injury, amputation, disfigurement, and death” in Arizona prisons.
     According to the complaint, prison staff were not properly trained to handle medical emergencies, “and as a result of this failure to respond properly and timely to emergencies, prisoners suffer avoidable harm and injuries, including unnecessary deaths.” There are more than 33,000 prisoners in the 10 prisons.
     “Critically ill prisoners have begged prison officials for treatment, only to be told ‘be patient,’ ‘it’s all in your head,’ or ‘pray’ to be cured,” the complaint stated. “Despite warnings from their own employees, prisoners and their family members, and advocates about the risk of serious injury and death to prisoners, defendants are deliberately indifferent to the substantial risk of pain and suffering to prisoners, including deaths, which occur due to defendants’ failure to provide minimally adequate health care, in violation of the Eighth Amendment.”
     The Department of Corrections, without admitting wrongdoing, has agreed to take a number of measures to improve conditions in the prisons, including petitioning the Arizona Legislature to increase funding for health care staffing, administering annual flu shots, and properly treating prisoners with chronic diseases.
     Prisoners between the ages of 50 and 75 will receive colon cancer screenings, and female prisoners 50 and older will be offered mammograms every two years unless more frequent screenings are required on the prisoner’s medical chart.
     Under the settlement, pepper spray will be used on “seriously mentally ill” inmates in case of an “imminent threat” to the safety of prisoners or prison security.
     The prisons must provide inmates who are not fluent in English with interpreters, and accommodations must be made for prisoners who suffer “heat intolerance” reactions to medications by moving them to cells that do not get hotter than 85 degrees.
     The state will allow the prisoners’ attorneys 20 “tour days” of the prisons each year, and they will have access to Department of Corrections’ records to help monitor compliance with the agreement.
     After four years, Arizona can petition to terminate the settlement.
     The agreement does not provide the prisoners with monetary damages, but Arizona must pay their attorneys $4.9 million in legal fees.
     The class is represented by the ACLU Foundation of Arizona, the Prison Law Office of Berkeley, Calif., the ACLU National Prison Project, attorneys with Perkins Coie of Phoenix and Jones Day of San Francisco, Houston, New York, and Irvine, and the Arizona Center for Disability Law.

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