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Judge fines state $1.4 million for contempt in prison health care case

In this July 24, 2014, file photo, Arizona Department of Correction Director Charles Ryan arrives to speak about the review of the execution of Joseph Rudolph Wood, in Phoenix. Arizona officials will no longer administer according to an announcement made Monday, Dec. 22, the two-drug combination used in the nearly two-hour execution of Joseph Rudolph Wood this year. (AP Photo/The Arizona Republic, Nick Oza, File)

Arizona Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan (AP Photo/The Arizona Republic, Nick Oza, File)

On Friday, the day of his retirement, U.S. Magistrate Judge David Duncan ordered the Arizona Department of Corrections to pay $1.4 million for continued noncompliance with court-ordered prison health care standards.

That sum comes at a cost of $1,000 per instance of noncompliance with performance measures laid out in the 2014 settlement of the federal Parsons v. Ryan case. Duncan’s order noted 1,445 separate instances between December and February.

Duncan also ordered the retention of an outside monitor – at the defendants’ expense – to review the process of measuring and reporting compliance with the performance measures; monitors within the department have been entrusted with that task, but Duncan determined the outside monitor was necessary to provide confidence in the system.

In his contempt order, Duncan wrote, “The evidence shows that the mere threat of monetary sanctions was not sufficient to generate ADC’s compliance with the stipulation. More importantly, the evidence presented to the court indicates that widespread and systemic failures remain.

“The inescapable conclusion is that defendants are missing the mark after four years of trying to get it right. Their repeated failed attempts, and too-late efforts, to take their obligation seriously demonstrate a half-hearted commitment that must be braced.”

It was a decision the ACLU’s National Prison Project Director David Fathi had anticipated for months.

“The bill has finally come due for ADC’s years of flagrant noncompliance with the Parsons settlement agreement,” Fathi wrote in an email to the Arizona Capitol Times.

According to a statement from spokesman Andrew Wilder, however, the department is confident that Duncan’s order will not hold up under scrutiny by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, suggesting an appeal is imminent.

“While not unexpected, given Magistrate Judge Duncan’s comments in court these past months, it is still disappointing that he chose to issue such a controversial ruling on the same day he leaves the federal bench,” Wilder said in an emailed statement.

The department has contracted Corizon Health to provide medical care to thousands of people in DOC’s custody statewide since the settlement agreement was put in place.

In a statement issued to the Capitol Times, Corizon CEO Steve Rector said Duncan’s order failed to recognize improvements his company made in prison health care in the last four years.

And he said the ruling would negatively impact the funds needed to meet the requirements of the Parsons settlement and “underlines why incarceration policy is best made under the director of Arizona’s elected policy leaders, the Governor and state legislature, and not in courtrooms.”

“This charade by the ACLU is sad for the taxpayers of Arizona and for the inmate population we serve,” Rector said.

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