- Associated Press - Thursday, August 7, 2014

PHOENIX (AP) - A federal judge on Thursday denied the Arizona Department of Corrections’ request for summary judgment in a class-action lawsuit over the quality of prison health care.

The suit seeks adequate medical, mental health and dental care for prisoners and challenges the use of solitary confinement in Arizona’s prison system.

Corrections officials had argued that the plaintiffs “received constitutionally adequate” medical and dental care and “any deficiencies in the provision of medical care are not system-wide.”

Thursday’s ruling by U.S. District Judge Neil Wake in Phoenix sets the stage for an Oct. 20 trial on behalf of 33,000 prisoners in the state’s 10 prisons.

“Judge Wake saw there was no merit to the state’s claims that there were no systemic problems within the prison system that needed to be fixed,” ACLU of Arizona Legal Director Dan Pochoda said.

The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Arizona and the Prison Law Office filed the lawsuit in 2012.

In June, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a Department of Corrections appeal claiming that inmates didn’t have enough in common for a lower court judge to grant them class-action status.

The suit against Arizona Corrections Director Charles Ryan and another prison official alleges that state prisons don’t meet the basic requirements for providing adequate medical and mental health care to inmates, and that prisoners face dangerous delays and outright denials in receiving treatment.

It accuses corrections officials of having a deliberate indifference toward the suffering of prisoners and failing to correct problems that were brought to their attention. It says there aren’t enough health care workers in prisons to treat the large number of inmates, and that critically ill inmates were told to be patient and pray to be cured after they begged for treatment.

The prisoners who filed the case aren’t seeking monetary damages and instead asked for a court order declaring that Arizona’s prisons violated prisoners’ Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment. They also want an order requiring a plan to better staff the prisons with health care workers and other steps.

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