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Judge: Arizona prisons must provide better inmate healthcare

Arizona prison inmates
Posted at 2:15 PM, Jan 10, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-10 23:23:27-05

A federal judge issued a 64-page order to the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation, and Reentry with new requirements in an effort to bring medical care and mental health care up to constitutional standards for inmates.

Judge Roslyn Silver took issue with ADCRR and their contracted health care providers in Monday's court filing. 

The judge wrote prison officials "almost immediately failed to perform those obligations" under an earlier settlement and "kept inaccurate records and misinterpreted the settlement’s requirements to their advantage."

This week's remedial order requires:

  • Arizona state prisons to ensure all healthcare is to be clinically appropriate
  • Contracted prison health care providers to document all aspects of care and provide followups at the clinically appropriate time
  • Enough correctional officers to be available to assist and transport inmates for their medical needs
  • Sufficient space, equipment, and supplies for health care regardless of an inmate's housing assignment 
  • "Man down" bags and AEDs in working order, including daily checks, to provide emergency care
  • Prison officials to identify all significant health care and custody errors after an inmate's death
  • Minimum staffing for mental health providers and requirements for timely inmate appointments
  • Additional changes, including more staffing, to provide for the welfare of inmates who are confined to cells for 22+ hours a day

This class-action lawsuit, Jensen v. Shinn, began more than a decade ago to ensure inmates in Arizona’s prisons receive the basic health care and minimally adequate conditions entitled to under the Constitution.

"We hope that with this powerful order, Arizona officials will finally comply with the Constitution, abide by the rule of law, and respect the rights and dignity of the thousands of people in their custody," said David Fathi, director of the ACLU National Prison Project. "We are grateful to our clients — what they have had to endure is unconscionable. This landmark order is the result of their bravery and testimony."

Both parties have 30 days to provide Judge Silver with comments on the order before it becomes final. The remedial order will be monitored by experts chosen by the court.

Governor Katie Hobbs released the following statement about the case:

Arizona’s correctional facilities have been in desperate need of systemic improvements for far too long. Years of failed leadership have left this institution without adequate staffing, medical care, or accountability. The system is broken and will require a committed, long-term plan for implementing fair standards to improve the health and safety conditions for correctional officers and incarcerated individuals,” Governor Hobbs said. “My administration is committed to ensuring Arizona’s prison system operates within constitutional requirements.

Arizona contracted with NaphCare to provide medical and mental health care to inmates effective October 1, 2022. It's the third contracted company in less than five years to provide the services. NaphCare will have three months to provide adequate staffing to meet the judge's requirements for providers and maximum caseloads.

"We share the Judge and the Department’s commitment to improving health care for the more than 24,000 men and women who currently live in Arizona’s prisons," said Stephanie Coleman, a spokeswoman for NaphCare, in an emailed statement Tuesday night.

NaphCare has hired approximately 30% more team members than were previously on staff, according to Coleman.

"We are also working to improve the prisons’ healthcare delivery system using NaphCare’s electronic health record and medical management system," Coleman said. "This is an ongoing process, as our IT team works to customize and refine the system, streamline the flow of information and ensure better care for those in need."