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Judge Says Health Care In Arizona Prisons Is Unconstitutional

A federal judge ruled that health care in Arizona prisons is so bad, it violates inmates' constitutional rights. The ruling resulted from a three-week trial last year after Judge Roslyn Silver rescinded a settlement in a long-running prison health care lawsuit against the state, the Arizona Republic reports. At the trial, attorneys representing prisoners presented evidence that Arizona was providing substandard health care that resulted in unnecessary suffering and preventable deaths. "Defendants have failed to provide, and continue to refuse to provide, a constitutionally adequate medical care and mental health care system for all prisoners," wrote Silver, calling the health care system “plainly grossly inadequate.” Silver's findings were not news to some. The mother of a Yuma inmate says problems begin at intake, where medical staff fails to make proper diagnoses of newly arriving prisoners. "They're just shuffled through like cattle," she said, "and nobody is really evaluated."

Dustin Brislan, a plaintiff in the lawsuit who is incarcerated in Florence, called the ruling a “huge victory” after “so much unnecessary suffering.” Brislan testified about his experiences with mental health care in Arizona prisons, where he saidofficers encouraged him to commit acts of self-harm. Brislan said he decided to be a named plaintiff in the lawsuit “because inmates needed a voice.” As a result of the ruling, Brislan said he would like the state to take control of health care services back from private contractors, and for mental health care programming to be expanded. Another named plaintiff, Shawn Jensen, who has been incarcerated in Arizona prisons for nearly 50 years, said he was "very happy" about the ruling. Of his and others' struggles to get treatment for life-threatening conditions like cancer, Jensen said that prisoners either get worse or don't survive. Speaking of Arizona's history of private correctional health care contractors, Jensen said those companies only have a vested interest not to diagnose, treat or send inmates to hospitals so that they can make more money.


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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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