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Judge Gives AZ 3 Months To Fix Prison Understaffing Problem

A federal judge who concluded that Arizona was providing inadequate medical and mental health care to prisoners said she will give the state three months to ensure it has enough health care professionals to meet constitutional standards, reports the Associated Press. Judge Roslyn Silver outlined the changes she plans to impose on the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry to remedy its constitutional violations of prisoners’ rights. She previously concluded there weren’t enough health employees to care for the roughly 25,000 incarcerated people housed in state-run prisons and that corrections officials had made no significant attempts to fix the understaffing problem. The case went to trial in 2021 after Silver threw out a six-year-old settlement over prison health care, saying the state showed little interest in making the improvements it promised. She said $2.5 million in contempt of court fines against the state didn’t motivate authorities to comply with the settlement either. “Given this history, the court cannot impose an injunction that is even minutely ambiguous because defendants (state officials) have proven they will exploit any ambiguity to the maximum extent possible,” Silver said on Monday. The judge laid out the draft terms of what will be the court-ordered overhaul of prison health care, giving lawyers a chance to comment on the changes, but cautioned that attorneys shouldn’t expect significant changes to her coming order.

Silver didn't specify the number of health professionals needed in prisons, but she set ratios for the number of professionals needed to treat a given number of prisoners. Silver plans to appoint four officials who will monitor the corrections department’s compliance with the court-ordered changes. American Civil Liberties Union attorney David Fathi, who represents prisoners in the class-action lawsuit, expressed hope that new Gov. Katie Hobbs would appoint a corrections director who will treat the health care of incarcerated people seriously. The corrections department, which has denied that it provided inadequate care, declined to comment on the judge’s filing. In a statement, Hobbs said she is committed to ensuring Arizona’s prisons operate within constitutional requirements. “Years of failed leadership have left this institution without adequate staffing, medical care, or accountability,” the governor said. “The system is broken and will require a committed, long-term plan for implementing fair standards to improve the health and safety conditions for correctional officers and incarcerated individuals." Judge Silver has said that the state has adopted a health care system for prisoners that has led to preventable deaths. The judge had said prisoners weren’t getting timely access to emergency treatment, medications, treatment for chronic diseases and specialty care.


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