An expert witness testified that Arizona prisoner are subject to “shockingly” inhumane conditions.
Expert testimony in Jensen v. Shinn revealed that Arizona prisoners received sub-standard medical care, often in gruesome and unsanitary conditions.
According to AZCentral.com, the federal lawsuit accuses Arizona and officials from its Department of Corrections of so thoroughly ignoring prisoners’ medical needs as to pose a constitutional crisis.
While the class action was filed nearly a decade ago, it only recently moved to trial, with the first phase of arguments beginning November 1st.
Earlier this week, Dr. Todd Wilcox—who worked in Maricopa County jails, and served as medical director of the Salt Lake County Jail for the past 26 years—offered testimony on a report he submitted to the court, which gave specific examples of “shockingly poor” health care in the state’s prisons system.
Wilcox’s findings, adds AZCentral.com, were based on his interviews with detainees, as well as a review of prisoners’ medical records.
Wilcox told the court that, in one instance, he spoke to a 30-year-old man who had alerted contracted health care staff to a lump in his testicles.
However, the man was not treated or diagnosed for months. Medical staff reportedly failed to recognize that the inmate’s lump was a tumor; they also lost his medical records, and misinterpreted test results.
While the inmate was eventually given a cancer diagnosis and sent for surgery, he was never allowed to return to the hospital for a follow-up; however, the cancer had already spread to his stomach, and he died from it.
According to Wilcox, the man’s death was “shockingly preventable,” because “testicular cancer is one of the most successfully treated cancers that is out there. If done in a timely fashion, the death rate is extraordinarily low.”
But Wilcox found that few—if any–officials or contractors were held responsible for the death.
“A system that allows this level of sustained incompetence and cruelty, and fails to take decisive action to determine the causes of these myriad and horrific breakdowns and to ensure that the people involved in this case are thoroughly retrained and/or separated from service,” Wilcox wrote in his report, “is morally bankrupt.”
Beyond this single case study, Wilcox asserted that the state’s prison system suffers from poor management, wherein nurses are given inappropriate power to make decisions about inmates’ access to care.
“The nurse ends up being the final decision maker for requesting a provider visit — that is inappropriate. It creates barriers. And it’s outside the legal scope of a nurse’s practice,” Wilcox said, asking the court to imagine what it would be like if such practices were tolerated elsewhere.
“Can you imagine in the community, if you schedule an appointment with your doctor, and you’re met in the lobby by the nurse who does an assessment on you and sends you home?” Wilcox asked. “And you’re not allowed to see your doctor? That just doesn’t exist in the scope of health care anywhere.”
Wilcox provided other examples, too, including that of a man who complained of severe pain for weeks. The same man had verifiable medical emergencies at least thrice.
Before being taken to the hospital, the inmate lost sensation in the right side of his body, lost control of his bladder, and could not walk independently.
When he was finally taken to see a doctor, he was diagnosed with a neurological injury which demanded two months of physical rehabilitation and treatment.
“The system is terrible,” Dr. Wilcox said. “If you have higher end medical needs, you are at serious risk for harm and, in some instances, death.”