ACLU demands action from Arizona DOC

Posted at 7:05 PM, Apr 15, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-15 22:06:54-04

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a motion to ask a judge to step in and ask the Arizona Department of Corrections to abide by the terms of a settlement reached last October.

Lawyers said they filed a lawsuit against the ACLU on behalf of more than 33,000 inmates at the Department of Corrections, saying the state was putting inmates’ lives at risk by not providing timely health care.

The two parties settled the suit in October, 2014. Part of the terms of the settlement included allowing ACLU medical "experts" to monitor the situation at the Dept. of Corrections, and ensure changes were made to improve the system.

In a filing this week, ACLU lawyers argued that the Dept. of Corrections has failed to meet the standards.  

ACLU legal director Victoria Lopez called the audit findings disturbing, and said the system to address the medical needs of inmates was broken.

“The state has a clear obligation to provide constitutionally adequate care for people in their custody. There are basic medical standards that the state has to comply with, for people in their custody. It’s their obligation under the law and they continue to fail to meet that obligation,” said Lopez.

Court documents stated the inmate sick call system was not working. Some patients were waiting for more than a month to be seen by a doctor. Chronically ill patients were not being monitored in a timely fashion. In some cases patients waited up to two years to see a doctor. Chronically ill patients included those with diabetes and other long term illnesses.

Court documents stated inmates were not getting prescription medication on time or regularly and the department had failed to implement an adequate suicide prevention program.

The findings also stated that three inmates who had committed suicide since February 2015 had received mental health care that fell “far below the standard of care”.

Lopez said the findings highlighted the big shortage of psychologists and psychiatrists in the prison, and more inmates remained at risk for committing suicide.

The findings referred to this staff shortage as “levels that were dangerously low”, and that led to “excessive delays in care”.

Documents revealed a backlog of 1,385 patients waiting to get an appointment with a psychiatrist.

The ACLU is asking a judge to order the Department of Corrections to submit a plan outlining corrective actions within 45 days and says the delay has led to “needless suffering and death.”

A spokesman with the Department of Corrections released this statement to ABC15:

"The Department of Corrections is strongly committed to providing high-quality healthcare to its inmate population.  We firmly disagree with the plaintiffs’ allegations and attempt to side step the Parsons Stipulation and re-litigate the lawsuit.

Plaintiffs are cherry-picking a handful of cases from an inmate patient population in excess of 35,000, ignoring the overwhelming majority of inmate patients who are receiving excellent healthcare. Allegations are not evidence, and anecdotal incidents are not evidence of substantial non-compliance.

We are confident that the Court will agree when these issues are presented for judicial resolution."