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Arizona urges court not to impose more fines in inmate suit

PHOENIX — The state of Arizona is urging a judge not to impose another round of contempt-of-court fines in a lawsuit over health care for prisoners after the state has been accused of failing to document its noncompliance with a settlement that requires improvements to inmate care.

Lawyers representing inmates are seeking a fine of $10,000 for each day that the state fails to provide the reports of all instances of noncompliance from March 2018 to the present.

In a filing Monday, attorneys for the state argued it isn’t reasonably possible to comply with the requirement that every instance of noncompliance be reported.

They say that level of reporting would require tedious and time-consuming reviews of an exponentially larger number of inmate health files. “Due to the large number of healthcare encounters and the size of the inmate population, the manual monitoring method is not possible,” the state’s lawyers wrote.

The request marks the third major attempt since October 2017 to fine the state in the class-action lawsuit.

Corrections Director Charles Ryan was found in civil contempt and the state was fined $1.4 million a year ago for failing to adequately follow through on its promises when settling the case to improve inmate.

Two months ago, a judge threatened — but hasn’t yet imposed — as much as $1.6 million in additional fines after concluding the state remains noncompliant with many elements of the 4-year-old settlement.

The attorneys who are seeking a third round of fines say the state has flouted its obligation to report all instances of noncompliance for more than a year.

When Ryan was found in civil contempt in June 2018, a judge required the state to file monthly reports showing every instance of noncompliance. Attorneys representing prisoners say they have made multiple attempts to get the records but haven’t received the documents.

The lawsuit alleged that Arizona’s 10 state-run prisons didn’t meet the basic requirements for providing adequate medical and mental health care. It said some prisoners complained that their cancer went undetected or that they were told to pray to be cured after begging for treatment.

The state denied the allegations that it was providing inadequate care, and the lawsuit was settled without the state acknowledging any wrongdoing.

Late last year, the judge raised the possibility of throwing out the settlement and resuming litigation, saying the state’s insistence on defending its performance was ill-advised.

The state paid the $1.4 million fine issued nearly a year ago and was later fully reimbursed by Corizon Health Care, which at the time had been the state’s provider for health care in prisons. Another company, Centurion of Arizona, took over on July 1 as the state’s prison health care provider.


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