A judge chastised Arizona officials for repeatedly making excuses.
Attorneys representing a group of Arizona prisoners have said the state may have to pay up to $23 million in contempt of court fines.
The Associated Press notes that this will be the third time Arizona is being fined for failing to improve health care for incarcerated people.
The estimated $23 million fine is $7 million higher than what attorneys had previously estimated, in large part because lawyers uncovered further evidence that corrections officials are not complying with a six-year-old settlement on the matter.
According to The Associated Press, the inmates’ attorneys have asked Judge Roslyn Silver to order Arizona to pay some or all of the fine, rather than seeking recompense from the private company which provides health care in many of the state’s prisons.
“It is entirely plausible that one reason that the past fines have not had an effect on defendants’ behavior is that they have been indemnified from having to actually pay the fines themselves,” attorneys for the prisoners said. “The court has the power to change this dynamic and incentive structure.”
The inmates have also asked that Silver take control of health care operations in all state-run prisons, then appoint an official to run medical operations.
“It’s truly extraordinary to be found of contempt of court twice in three years,” attorney Corene Kendrick said. “To be possibly found in contempt a third time is unprecedented in prison litigation.”
Arizona, however, has defended its actions, saying that the coronavirus pandemic—among other things—made it difficult to procure more resources for prison health care operations.
“The pandemic diverted and dwindled precious, finite resources,” state attorneys wrote in a court document. “It required health care staff to prioritize and treat infected patients and focus their efforts on mitigating the virus’ spread.”
Judge Silver herself has chastised the state for steadfastly refusing to implement the settlement terms timely.
“Despite the outlays in fines and attorneys’ fees, Defendants’ counsel continues to litigate each and every issue to the maximum extent possible, including frivolous ones,” Silver wrote in a prior order. “Counsel files repetitive motions, close-to-baseless appeals, and petitions for writs of certiorari. It is unclear whether Arizona taxpayers are directly footing the bill for this conduct but it is time for those responsible for this litigation to reexamine whether the six years of litigation represents a wise use of resources going forward.”
The Associated Press notes that the settlement was reached after inmates sued the Arizona Department of Corrections, alleging that the state did not provide adequate health care facilities in its prisons. In their lawsuit, several detainees claimed their cancer had gone undetected, or that they were told to “pray for a cure” even after begging for treatment.