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Arizona Department of Corrections found in contempt, fined $1.1 million over prisoner care

Posted at 11:00 PM, Feb 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-26 01:00:01-05

It’s the second time in less than three years at the Arizona Department of Corrections was found in contempt. The department was ordered by a court to comply with measures related to the treatment of inmates; records show that did not happen.

"It's something that, frankly, I don't think we've seen ever in any other prison system across the country,” says Corene Kendrick with the ACLU.

The Arizona Department of Corrections is in hot water again for non-compliance. A U.S. District Judge found the department in civil contempt on Wednesday and issued a fine of $1.1 million.

"Judge Silver rejected the excuses offered by ADC for their failure to meet certain performance measures in the delivery of medical, mental health and dental care, and also to ensure minimally basic conditions in solitary confinement units in the maximum custody,” says Kendrick.

This stems from a lawsuit against the state prison system filed by lawyers of multiple agencies including the ACLU. The court reached a settlement in 2014, requiring the DOC to comply with numerous performance measures. The department failed to do so several times, leading to another court order in 2019.

“When somebody is sick, can they see a nurse and get medication? If somebody has symptoms of COVID, are they receiving treatment?” says Kendrick.

Court records state "the only issue is whether Defendants took all reasonable steps to comply with the order. They did not"

A former Perryville inmate says she underwent surgery for kidney issues stemming from an untreated urinary tract infection in 2018.

"Trying to just get seen at medical and trying to get the kidney infection under control was a months-long process,” says Leah Farrington, former Perryville inmate.

Arizona’s prison system has been riddled with problems for years. In 2019, ABC15 investigators exposed video of Lewis Prison inmates freely opening their cell doors, leading to gruesome attacks. Another video showed inmates running rampant in a maximum-security unit setting fires. Fast forward to 2021, two prisoners with violent pasts escaped from Florence. We asked a California corrections expert to weigh in, for some outside perspective.

“Managing an enterprise, as it grows in size, becomes more difficult,” says David Starnes, corrections expert.

Although difficult, he says it can be done.

"I think most important is that you have a safe and secure environment for, you know, not just the image but the staff. That everyone can, as far as the staff, goes home safe every day and that the inmates are getting their basic needs,” says Starnes.

The Arizona Department of Corrections says they have just received the court order and will be reviewing it with their attorneys.