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Judge Threatens Arizona Prison Officials With Contempt For ‘Pervasive and Intractable Failures’

The threat comes three years after officials agreed to improve the disastrous lack of healthcare.

WILL POWERS/UPI/NewscomWILL POWERS/UPI/NewscomA federal judge said Tuesday he is considering holding Arizona prison officials in contempt of court for their "pervasive and intractable failures" to abide by a 2014 agreement to improve care of inmates in the state prison system.

Three years ago, the Arizona Department of Corrections agreed to settle a federal class-action lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and several other law firms by taking steps to improve medical care inside its prisons. The lawsuit, filed in 2012, followed media investigations and persistent allegations of fatally inadequate medical care by the department's medical provider, Corizon.

Prison officials have been accused of defying court orders and intimidating inmate witnesses as they resisted complying with the settlement. An increasingly exasperated U.S. Magistrate Judge David K. Duncan issued an order Tuesday calling on the department to show why it should not be held in civil contempt for failing to meet the guidelines and benchmarks in the agreement.

Duncan's order came after he hauled Arizona Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan into his court in August to address allegations that guards were retaliating against inmates who testified about poor conditions inside the state's prisons. When Duncan ordered the department to stop any such retaliation, Ryan sent an email to his staff saying the ruling was "disappointing," and that they "deserved better."

In another court filing in September, an ACLU lawyer says she overheard an Arizona correctional officer say to several fellow officers, "Those fucking ACLU lawyers. Who the fuck do they think they are telling us what we can and cannot do to inmates? I can do whatever I want, whenever I want."

"All of this disrespect for the rule of law," Duncan fired back, "is something I have never experienced or seen in nearly 30 years of being a lawyer, or in 16 years as a judge."

If Ryan is held in civil contempt, he would join the company of former Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio, a fellow Arizonan and one of America's most anachronistic and cruelest lawmen. President Trump pardoned Arpaio this summer after he was found guilty of both criminal and civil contempt of court.

Andrew Wilder, a spokesperson for the department, says in a statement to Reason that it is "firmly committed to holding its current contracted health care provider, Corizon, accountable for its contractual responsibility to provide inmates the constitutionally-mandated health care to which they are entitled."

"Moreover, ADC already has taken significant and concrete actions to encourage Corizon to meet the specific performance measures under the Parsons Stipulation," Wilder continues.

However, in 2016, when the ACLU and other lawyers for the plaintiffs filed complaints that the Arizona Department of Corrections had failed to comply with the settlement, local media outlet 12 News reported that it was still being "inundated with emails and phone calls from families of prisoners alleging their loved ones are not getting the treatment they need."

The news outlet 12 News published an investigation in 2014 revealing that, despite Corizon's $125 million annual contract with the state, Arizona inmates faced disastrous delays in physical and mental health treatment. Separate reports by doctors touring Arizona prisons also found stomach-churning conditions and neglect. Courthouse News, summarizing the reports, described it as "an understaffed system in which an inmate died with infected lesions swarmed by flies, a man who ate his own feces was never seen by a psychiatrist, and a woman swallowed razor blades while allegedly under constant watch."

One of the doctors described a 30-year-old inmate who was given less than a year to live after extreme delays in detection and treatment of testicular cancer led to the disease spreading to his internal organs.

Corene Kendrick of the Prison Law Office in Berkeley, California, told the Phoenix New Times this week that her office is still getting "dozens of letters each week" from prisoners suffering from serious medical conditions. "This spring, four people committed suicide in three weeks, and our mental health expert's report indicated the suicides were tied to inadequate or nonexistent mental health care," she wrote.

In a press statement, director of the ACLU National Prison Project David Fathi says the Arizona prison system remains out of control.

"It was three years ago this week that the Arizona Department of Corrections signed the settlement agreement in this case over prison health care so inadequate that it leads to needless suffering and even death," Fathi said. "The fact that the Department of Corrections is still grossly out of compliance with the settlement is proof that the department is profoundly broken, leaving the thousands of prisoners under its control with scant access to medical care."

Photo Credit: WILL POWERS/UPI/Newscom

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  • colorblindkid||

    But this shouldn't happen. Only private prisons are bad. Government and union run prisons are beacons of integrity.

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  • jcw||

    This guy better get a jury trial, amirite?

  • Unlabelable MJGreen||

    If not, a full pardon is the only just outcome.

  • Jerryskids||

    Ooooh, a "threat", is it? That oughta scare 'em straight! How about you start throwing your crooked bastard buddies in the criminal justice system in jail instead of giving them the severe finger-wagging lecture? You could start with just about every single prosecutor who sets foot in your courtroom.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Does civil contempt come with a prison stay?

  • Wizard4169||

    Since it's "civil" rather than "criminal", I'm guessing no. They don't generally lock people up over "civil" matters. Steal your stuff, maybe, but not lock you up.

  • sarcasmic||

    "I can do whatever I want, whenever I want."

    That is the attitude of every cop I have ever encountered. And to a certain extent it is true. Who is going to stop them?

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Well, judges did take an oath to stop people (including cops) from having contempt of the rule of law...

    They are on the "Us" side of Us vs Them though.

  • sarcasmic||

    Police are officers of the court. They are how judges enforce their will. So judges have an incentive to let police do whatever they want. Judges who come down on their own enforcers might find it difficult to enforce their own edicts.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Police are not really officers of the court like attorneys are officers of the court. Police are Executive Branch enforcers and attorneys are Judicial Branch enforcers.

    I think its that judges tend to defer to the power of the state and nothing power of the state like a government employee who has powers of arrest, is armed, and tends to be quick to violence.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Who? Surely you mean to ask WHAT is going to stop them. Libertarian spoiler votes are the safest way to bell the cat. Then failing that, there's something karmic about fantasizing about how the Second Amendment might conceivably make it easier for the relatives of victims to seek redress. Voters will have to decide which alternative they prefer. I prefer voting, because that way I get to hear the looters bawl and snivel.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Stop them from what? Its politicians who buy them guns and order them to shoot as many teenagers as it takes to make the survivors more obedient to their victimless crime "laws." The way to stop them from obeying those kinds of orders is to give looter politicians an incentive to repeal crappy laws or lose their leather chairs, government paychecks and armed bodyguards. Libertarian spoiler votes are the cheapest and surest way to deliver the message.

  • Jury Nullification||

    "Who is going to stop them?"

    I find it perplexing that I cannot recall news stories about institutionally mistreated ex-cons watering the tree of liberty using the roots of their problem....except in the movies, of course. One would think if that type of action were in any groups wheelhouse it would be that demographic. And, yet, they consistently under perform, just like their over-seers. Perhaps flinging feces therapeutically dissipates any residual anger. Don't try this at home or any home you want to be invited back to.

    Neumanism: "Prison inmates are treated to cable TV, hot meals and a college education, while on the outside some people can only afford these things through a life of crime!"

    http://therussler.tripod.com/qq/neumanisms.html

  • Tony||

    Oh yeah, Trump pardoned Arpaio. Fuck that fat orange racist fuck.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    And Hillary lost the election. Fuck that fat racist fuck.

  • Tony||

    Ooh sick burn. Good thing this doesn't involve the lives of real human beings and we're in kindergarten and you're not an inbred dirt-eating cow fucker.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    You care about what happens to people? Since when? And it's palpably ironic that you call anyone a racist you fucking bigot.

    Now go drink your goddamn Drano.

  • Johnimo||

    Can Tony bring himself to admit what a lying, corrupt, crooked, dishonest, two-faced person Hillary Clinton is? I think not.

    Is Trump perfect? Not by a long shot, but that doesn't mean the left shouldn't understand that 73 million registered voters chose not to cast a vote for the office of "President." They might have disliked Trump, but that had an equal (or greater) repulsion for Clinton.

  • Longtobefree||

    Yeah, the damn fool read the constitution and followed it.
    What a moron.

    Kind of makes you want to cry, don't it?

  • Hank Phillips||

    Tony and Nick ought to get together as drinking buddies. They could have "magnitudes of order" more fun as a comedy duo sharing the same opinions.

  • Uncle Jay||

    RE: Judge Threatens Arizona Prison Officials With Contempt For 'Pervasive and Intractable Failures'
    The threat comes three years after officials agreed to improve the disastrous lack of healthcare.

    What?
    Convicts treated like yesterday's shit in this country?
    Who would've thought that?

  • Hank Phillips||

    That'll teach them to have the wrong kind of seeds in the ashtray!

  • Longtobefree||

    So a federal judge is going after union workers now?
    Does the FAA has jurisdiction over flying pigs?

  • Jury Nullification||

    "All of this disrespect for the rule of law," Duncan fired back, "is something I have never experienced or seen in nearly 30 years of being a lawyer, or in 16 years as a judge."

    I find that difficult to believe unless Duncan's legal experience was exclusively of the night court sort, as in his eyes were always closed.

    Just look at the various federal agencies that routinely give the finger to congressional committees that make demands of them. If the clowns were honest they would wear Alfred E. Neuman masks with a shirt that says, What, me worry?

    Ryan really appears to be fearful at the prospect of civil contempt when he wrote, "...an email to his staff saying the ruling was "disappointing," and that they "deserved better." Do the inmates deserve better? Apparently, not so much.

  • zx741258||

    This all become rote for AZ GOP types after Gov. Janet Napoitano left and that idiot Jan (finger on the tarmac) Brewer allowed AZ Senate, Leg to cut edu funding to about zero, Joe (Presidential Pardon) Arapaio believed he could force county atty to investigate, indict political rivals who disagreed with him. The longer term cause of this, the poison that is Goldwater Institute. Which does not, nor every has represented Senator Goldwater's actual views.The result, SB 1070 and the 100 mil in legal fees and total costs, and now our current governor Gov. Doug (Ice Cream Boy) Ducey-Koch are a direct result of this organization. Ducey-Koch was picked by the Koch boys, funded by the Koch boys, who several years ago funded a repeal of a ballot initiative funding edu. We just had a mock Constitutional Convention here, to re-write the parts the Koch boys do not like.

    AZ currently, is a reflection of what neo-fascist retirees who moved here, who refuse to be conservatives, nor pay taxes, but love Joe(Convicted Sheriff) Arapio have done. SCOTUS Justice Sammy (The Bull) Alito and his Cit United has done such damage to our republic, and state, we are in a steep decline, planned by Koch boys and their political organizations.

    Change? Not sure to what. Get Cit United, money out of politics and we have a chance.

  • sweettea71||

    "Get Cit United, money out of politics and we have a chance."

    You think? So you overturn it, now what? The Feds still have control and you have groups that want to influence that control. The Feds (politicians) want the money and the groups or corporations will still want to give the money so you have two willing parties that will find another way to make it happen.

    The only way to end this so we have a chance is to decentralize the control the Feds have accumulated by giving it back to the states.

  • Carter Mitchell||

    There are rumors that scientists have discovered a form of life lower than prison guards. This has yet to be confirmed, however.

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