Federal court orders Arizona Department of Corrections to trial over inadequate healthcare
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Federal court orders Arizona Department of Corrections to trial over inadequate healthcare

The US District Court for the District of Arizona Friday ordered the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Recovery (ADC) to trial for failure to make agreed-upon progress toward prison healthcare reforms.

The case against ADC was initially filed in 2012 by 15 people incarcerated in Arizona facilities on behalf of all the other inmates. Among other things, they alleged “inadequate nutrition, medical, dental, and mental health care, and access to exercise, as well as ‘extreme social isolation.'”

The case stalled in February 2015, when the court approved what appeared to be a “fair, reasonable, and adequate settlement.” This approval was based on a stipulation from the parties which required a “specific period of monitoring and possible enforcement” by ADC.

In Friday’s order, Judge Roslyn Silver chided ADC for lack of good faith and deliberate noncompliance with the stipulation, stating:

Defendants have consistently failed to meet many of the Stipulation’s critical benchmarks. Beyond these failures, Defendants have in the past six years proffered erroneous and unreliable excuses for non-performance, asserted baseless legal arguments, and in essence resisted complying with the obligations they contractually knowingly and voluntarily assumed. The Court has repeatedly used the remedies authorized by the Stipulation and often exercised forbearance rather than imposing sanctions. The remedies and tolerance by the Court have proven ineffective. Prisoners are not entitled to “unqualified access to health care.” But they are entitled to “adequate medical care. Courts should not be engaged in running prisons. The present situation must end.

Referring to a January 2020 Order to Show Cause as the third attempt to address the defendants failure to comply, the court noted that neither the first sanction of $1.5 million nor the second sanction of $1.1 million against ADC “coerced or even motivated complete compliance”

Highlighting the defendants’ conduct in the past five years, the court concluded that “it is clear … that [the defendants] have no intention of complying with all of the substantive provisions of the stipulation.” Consequently, the court rescinded its prior approval of the stipulation, reopened the case, and ordered the parties to submit a proposed schedule for discovery and preparation for trial. The court further ordered both parties to be ready for trial no later than November 1, 2021 and specifically ordered Arizona DOC to provide “constitutionally adequate healthcare” to the plaintiffs in the interim.