Arizona agrees to settle prison health care suit

AP News
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Posted: Oct 14, 2014 8:15 PM

PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona officials agreed to settle a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of 33,000 inmates after some complained that their cancer went undetected or they were told to pray to be cured after begging for treatment.

Without acknowledging any wrongdoing, state officials agreed to seek more money from the Legislature to increase health care staffing, offer cancer screenings to certain prisoners, follow requirements in treating patients with chronic diseases, and provide more out-of-cell time to prisoners kept in isolated cells.

The lawsuit filed in 2012 against Arizona Corrections Director Charles Ryan and another prison official alleged the failure of medical personnel at one prison to diagnose the metastasized cancer of one inmate resulted in his liver enlarging to the belly size of a pregnant woman at full term.

It said another inmate with a history of prostate cancer had to wait more than two years for a biopsy, and nothing was done for a prisoner who suffered from depression and told staff members he was suicidal before killing himself.

In addition, the lawsuit claims critically ill inmates were told to be patient and pray to be cured after they begged for treatment, and prisoners in isolation cells often went months without meaningful interaction with other people and suffered psychologically from it.

Prison officials have denied the allegations. Ryan, in a statement, said the settlement allows the state to avoid the financial costs of a trial and that the current policies and recent enhancements adequately address prisoners' concerns.

"This is positive news," Ryan said.

The settlement signaled an end to the case before it was scheduled to go to trial on Monday.

Prisoners who filed the lawsuit weren't seeking monetary damages and instead asked for a court order declaring that Arizona's prisons violated the Eighth Amendment right of inmates against cruel and unusual punishment.

The settlement requires the state to reimburse lawyers for the plaintiffs as much as $250,000 a year for the costs for their efforts in monitoring whether the prisons are making the necessary changes.

"More than 90 percent of all prisoners are getting out one day and they are going to live next door to you and me," said David Fathi of the American Civil Liberties Union, which helped press the case. "Do we want them to be able to hold a job and function in society? Or do we want them to get worse."

As part of the settlement, the state also agreed to offer all prisoners between ages 50 and 75 colon cancer screenings. The settlement also sets requirement for treating prisoners with diabetes, high blood pressure, HIV and other chronic diseases.

The prisons, for instance, will have to devise treatment plans within 30 days after a prisoner's chronic disease is identified.

Neither of the two companies that served as the state's current and immediate past prison health care provider was sued as part of the case.

Pittsburgh-based Wexford Health Sources Inc. served as the provider from July 2012 to March 2013. Since then, the provider has been Brentwood, Tenn.-based Corizon Health Inc., which voluntarily joined the case for the limited purpose of chiming in about a dispute that arose during litigation.

The settlement affects 10 state-run prisons and doesn't apply to private prisons in Arizona.