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Judge fines Arizona Department of Corrections in ongoing lawsuit about substandard prison health care.

In one of his last acts before retiring in June, U.S. Magistrate Judge David Duncan fined the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) $1.4 million and appointed an independent monitor to oversee the state’s correctional health care system.Parsons v. Ryan, No. CV-12-0601-PHX-DKD (D. Ariz. June 22, 2018) (Order and Judgment of Civil Contempt); and Beth Schwartzapfel, “How Bad is Prison Health Care? Depends on Who’s Watching,” The Marshall Project, February 26, 2018. The move was the latest in Parsons v. Ryan, a years-long class action lawsuit on behalf of people incarcerated in the state’s prisons. A 2015 settlement had required the ADC to meet more than 100 health care measures, including monitoring incarcerated people with chronic health conditions and meeting the mental health care needs of those held in solitary confinement.ACLU, “Parsons v. Ryan,” 2018.

At the heart of the suit is Corizon Correctional Healthcare, a private company that provides health care to 30 jails and eight state corrections systems.For the number of systems handled by Corizon, see Schwartzapfel, “How Bad is Prison Health Care?,” 2018. According to its website, Corizon “serve[s] more prison inmates than any other private entity.” Corizon Correctional Health Care, “Serving Prisons,” In late 2017, NPR station KJZZ reported a whistleblower’s account alleging that, in order to avoid fines, Corizon told her to cancel referrals to specialists if they weren’t made within the court-ordered 30 days.Jimmy Jenkins, “On the Inside: The Chaos of Arizona Prison Health Care,” KJZZ, December 18, 2017. Judge Duncan held the state responsible: “[T]he State turned to a private contractor which has been unable to meet the prisoners’ health care needs. Rather than push its contractor to meet those needs, the State has instead paid them more and rewarded them with financial incentives.”Parsons v. Ryan, Order and Judgement of Civil Contempt, 2018, 20.

Corizon has faced similar allegations of substandard care in other states.Matt Clarke, “Numerous Lawsuits Filed against Corizon Nationwide; Company Loses Contracts,” Prison Legal News, August 30, 2017. According to an analysis by the Palm Beach Post, in January—roughly 100 days after the company took over medical care in Florida’s state prisons—the monthly number of incarcerated people who died in confinement shot to a 10-year high of 36 and continued to rise through the summer, with a total of 206 deaths between January and July.Pat Beall, “Privatizing Prison Health Care Leaves Inmates in Pain, Sometimes Dying,” Palm Beach Post, August 2, 2018. The paper also found that, given the pace of referrals in the first eight months of 2018, the number of seriously ill incarcerated people referred to hospitals is set to decrease by 47 percent from 2012, when the state last handled prison health care.Pat Beall, “Privatizing Prison Health Care Leaves Inmates in Pain, Sometimes Dying,” Palm Beach Post, August 2, 2018. In December, a federal judge in Portland, Oregon, approved a $10 million judgment against Corizon in settlement of a suit brought by the parents of Madaline Pitkin, a 26-year-old woman who died in the Washington County Jail in 2014 from dehydration while undergoing withdrawal from heroin.Maxine Berstein, “Record $10 Million Judgment Awarded in Washington County Jail Heroin Withdrawal Death,” Oregonian, December 7, 2018; and “$10M Judgment Awarded in Death of Oregon Jail Inmate,” Associated Press, December 7, 2018.