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Facing a lawsuit they appeared to be losing, state prison officials have agreed to improve health care for the more than 34,000 inmates in their custody.
PHOENIX -- Facing a lawsuit they appeared to be losing, state prison officials have agreed to improve health care for the more than 34,000 inmates in their custody.
The stipulation filed Tuesday in federal court here requires the Department of Corrections to live up to more than 80 specific performance standards for how it handles medical issues. These range from staffing requirements and emergency response times to ensuring that inmates get their medications in a timely fashion.
Potentially more significant for those affected, the stipulation also requires the state to revamp its rules on solitary confinement of inmates -- the department calls it "isolation'' -- with serious mental illness.
Where current regulations keep those prisoners in their cells all but six hours a week, they will now have at least 19 hours a week elsewhere. And that time also must include mental health treatment and other programs.
And the Department has also agreed to use chemical agents like pepper spray on inmates classified as seriously mentally ill "only in case of imminent threat.''
That is defined as situations that jeopardize safety or security like an attempt to escape or active physical resistance. But it specifically precludes pepper spray for things like "passive resistance to placement in restraints or refusal to follow orders.''
Don Specter, an attorney with the Prison Law Office, said this deal, which must be approved by U.S. District Court Judge Diane Humetewa, is more than just his organization and the American Civil Liberties Union accepting on faith that things will get better.
"We will be able to tour the prisons to check ourselves to see whether they're providing adequate care,'' he said. "And we will also get a lot of documentation.''
The deal comes four months after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals gave the go-ahead for the case, alleging inadequate health care, to be handled as a class-action lawsuit.
Judge Stephen Reinhardt, writing for the appellate court, said the attorneys for the inmates provided detailed allegations of everything from "outright denials of health care'' to improper isolation policies. And they also had information on how spending on certain services dropped by more than a third over a two-year period even as inmate population did not.
But Reinhardt, in refusing to require each inmate to prove his or her rights were violated, said the claims alleged "systemic failures'' in the prison's health care system "that expose all inmates to a substantial risk of serious harm.'' And if that is the case, Reinhardt said that would require a wholesale revamp of the agency's policies -- and not simply correcting the problems of the 13 inmates who filed the original 2012 lawsuit.
That paved the way for a trial to begin Monday.
No one from the Department of Corrections would agree to be interviewed about the decision to settle after two years of disputing the allegations. Instead, the agency issued a prepared statement from Director Charles Ryan calling the deal "positive news'' for his agency -- and essentially claiming victory.
"On the eve of trial, the plaintiffs in this case have essentially agreed that the department's current policies and practices, along with recent enhancements to programming opportunities, adequately addresses the plaintiffs' concerns relating to constitutional healthcare and conditions of confinement for maximum custody mentally ill inmates,'' the statement read.
But agency spokesman Doug Nick refused to detail what changes the department has made since the lawsuit was filed and why, if there were no problems, it took two years to settle.
The department's statement, however, suggests that money was a consideration in opting not to go to trial where a judge might have ordered some more extensive -- and expensive -- changes in inmate health care.
It says that California is spending nearly $18,000 per inmate for health care following two decades of litigation brought by the same organizations who are representing inmates here. "By contrast, Arizona spends nearly $3,800 per inmate in health care costs,'' the statement says.
The allegations made -- ones that Nick will not address -- were serious.
They include "lengthy and dangerous delays'' and "outright denials of health care,'' failure to provide necessary medication, a practice of "`employing insufficient health care staff,'' substandard dental care and denial of basic mental health care to suicidal and self-harming prisoners. The lawsuit also said that inmates in isolation units were denied adequate recreation and nutrition, constant cell illumination and inadequate mental health care staffing and treatment.
To prove their case, the inmates presented evidence of the agency's policies, internal communications and reports from four experts in prison medical care and conditions of confinement. And they provided specific incidents.
One involves an inmate who collapsed in his cell from a heart attack but where the lawsuit says officers told prisoners who asked for help to "wait and see what happens.'' While the inmate was taken, eventually, to the medical unit, he was told he had a medical appointment in a few days.
But the inmate, according to the lawsuit, had another heart attack the next day and died.
The legal papers also cite a prisoner, four months pregnant who experienced painful contractions and spotting blood. But a staffer at the medical unit told her it was nothing serious and "all in her head,'' refusing to allow her to see someone for evaluation.
She eventually miscarried.
People who donate platelets through the United Blood Services could receive courtside seats to what the Phoenix Suns.
United Blood Services has a series of blood drives set up throughout the East Valley for the rest of the month.
Dr. Al Borhan and his Valley urologist colleagues are teaming up with the nonprofit Prostate On-site Project to make the Herculean feat of getting skittish menfolk tested for prostate cancer easier and more accessible through mobile-testing units.
The town of Gilbert will host a blood drive event to support United Blood Services on Aug. 28.
June 14th-July 22nd
Blood donors in the East Valley and beyond can receive a voucher for a free voucher for Whataburger this month.
United Blood Services is in need of type O-Negative blood donations.
In June, Streets of New York is rewarding MAX donors with a voucher for complimentary bruschetta at the United Blood Services donor centers throughout the Valley.
A federal appeals court gave the go-ahead Thursday for a class-action lawsuit alleging inadequate -health care provided to more than 34,000 inmates in state prisons that amounted to unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment.
People who donate blood to United Blood Services through Aug. 31 will have a shot at winning a brand new car.
Students at Highland High School in Gilbert continued its tradition of donating blood to a state organization, and they ended up donating more than any other school in the state.
Students from Highland High School celebrate their victory in a United Blood Services blood donation contest during an Arizona Diamondbacks game. [Courtesy Bob Allen]
Two East Valley United Blood Service donation centers will give MAX blood donors a coupon for a free half dozen donuts with each donation in May. The Chandler and Mesa donation centers will join four other centers to participate in the program.
Arizonans who smoke marijuana can't be charged with driving while impaired absent actual evidence they are affected by the drug, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.
The United Blood Services “Maximize Your Impact” campaign will award a free Rubio’s Original Fish Taco to anyone who donates blood at the six Valley donor centers in April.
BOW, N.H. — Combine Twister, paint-by-numbers and the ancient Hindu practice of breath control, meditation and poses, and you get Yoga by Numbers.
People who donate blood through United Blood Services can receive a voucher for a free ticket to the upcoming Renaissance Faire.
United Blood Service has scheduled a blood drive for this Sunday to replenish a significantly decreased stock of blood.
People who donate blood through United Blood Services during a two-week stretch beginning Jan. 1 can receive a voucher to attend a PGA tournament.
People who donate blood through United Blood Services in the East Valley can also receive an additional perk in the form of a free pizza.
A series of blood drives at locations in Mesa, Gilbert, Chandler and Tempe are scheduled beginning Nov. 1, with a particular need to collect O-negative blood.
Arizona needs to step up and take its rightful role as a leader in the energy technology industry.