A United States district judge found that Arizona has repeatedly and consistently ignored the terms of a 2015 settlement, intended to improve inmates’ access to regular, quality health care.
A United States judge has found that Arizona prisons deprive inmates of their constitutional rights by denying them regular access to high-quality health care.
According to AZCentral.com, U.S. District Judge Roslyn Silver also condemned the state for improperly relegating inmates to restrictive housing, often as punishment for trivial infractions.
“While this case involves an unusually large amount of evidence, there are only two basic questions,” Silver wrote in her ruling. “Are Defendants violating the constitutional rights of Arizona’s prisoners through the existing medical and mental health care system? And are Defendants violating the constitutional rights of a subset of Arizona’s prisoners by almost round-the-clock confinement in their cells? The answer is yes to both questions.”
While Silver awarded the plaintiffs injunctive relief, the court has yet to determine its form.
AZCentral.com notes that the ruling followed Silver’s decision to dissolve the long-standing agreement reached after Jensen v. Shinn.
The agreement found that Arizona had likely violated the Eighth Amendment rights of in-state inmates against cruel and unusual punishment, with a settlement finalized in 2015.
Since 2015, the courts have overseen the settlement—and routinely found that Arizona has not abided by the terms of the agreement.
Judges have repeatedly found that the Arizona Department of Corrections in contempt and fined the agency millions of dollars.
After rescinding the settlement, Silver presided over a weeks-long trial in 2021, which AZCentral.com says featured “damning testimony from prisoners,” many of whom described poor sanitation and irregular access to health care.
Several corrections contractors also took the stand, saying the state resisted their efforts to properly staff prisons.
“Defendants have failed to provide, and continue to refuse to provide, a constitutionally adequate medical care and mental health care system for all prisoners,” Silver wrote in her ruling. “Defendants’ health care system is plainly grossly inadequate. Defendants have been aware of their failures for years and Defendants have refused to take necessary actions to remedy the failures. Defendants’ years of inaction, despite Court intervention and imposition of monetary sanctions, establish Defendants are acting with deliberate indifference to the substantial risk of serious harm posed by the lack of adequate medical and mental health care affecting all prisoners.”
Silver further noted that Arizona appears to keep thousands of prisoners in restrictive housing units, wherein “they are not provided adequate nutrition, nor are they provided meaningful out-of-cell time for exercise or social interaction.”
“Defendants’ treatment of prisoners in restrictive housing units results in the deprivation of basic human needs,” Silver wrote, finding that Arizona displayed “deliberate indifference” to “the substantial risk of serious harm posed to prisoners in restrictive housing units.”
The ruling, adds ABC15, only applies to Arizona’s 10 state-run prisons.
The involved parties will have until August 15 to nominate experts to help Silver determine how the Arizona Department of Corrections can be compelled to correct its poor quality of care.