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Prison reform group alleges severe health problems in Arizona system

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A Quaker group that advocates for prison reform released a report today chronicling alleged healthcare horror stories in the Arizona Department of Corrections.

The report’s publication coincided with oral arguments in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in which the state is trying to reverse a trial-court’s decision to designate a lawsuit alleging maltreatment of Arizona prisoners as a class action.

The lawsuit, brought by the ACLU of Arizona, alleges the department provides grossly inadequate healthcare and includes nightmare stories of several prisoners.

The American Friends Service Committee report adds to the stream of anecdotes and alleges prisoners have suffered from denial of care, delay of care, and failure to provide medication.

A  Sept. 13 Arizona Capitol Times story detailed how death-row inmate Robert Murray’s cancer went untreated and unknown to him for seven months after a lab discovered the disease.

Friends Executive Director Caroline Isaacs wrote the report.  She did case studies of 14 of the 50 deaths in Arizona’s prisons in 2013. Isaacs collected autopsy reports, department death investigation reports, some medical records of the deceased from survivors, and press accounts of the deaths.

Isaacs said several of the deaths were from advanced stage cancer and heart disease, which is indicative of denial of care and a slow and painful demise.  The report indicates an anonymous doctor who reviewed the same documents was alarmed and concluded they were indicative of lack of follow up care, delays or denial of care. The doctor preferred to remain anonymous because she worked for a public agency, according to the report.

The doctor said the types of cancers involved symptoms that would have spurred a rational person to seek medical care.


In one case study, Velma Dickson, 59, allegedly died from renal failure, starvation and dehydration due to a massive goiter that prevented her from eating, drinking and breathing.  The report indicated the department hasn’t completed its internal investigation, but the autopsy report shows she was found in her cell “minimally responsive with lethargy, weakness, and altered mental status.”

In one case of survival, 69-year-old Larry Mallory’s testicular sac allegedly grew to the size of a grapefruit when a hernia went untreated for a year and a half.

Isaacs said Friends is a watchdog group and isn’t making an authoritative conclusion on the deaths, but it is reasonable to think there is a problem and a pattern of neglect and medical malfeasance.

“If someone is dying of dehydration, how long does that take, if someone has renal failure, how long does that take. It would have to take a while,” Isaacs said.

Isaacs called for the Arizona Auditor General to conduct an investigation into the healthcare problems, the Legislature to create a committee to oversee Department of Corrections contracts, and do away with privatization of prisoner healthcare.

Doug Nick, a spokesman for the department, declined comment due to the pending lawsuit.

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