- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 22, 2015

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Idaho inmates in a class action lawsuit over prison health care told a federal judge Wednesday that state officials should be punished for intentionally misleading a court-appointed examiner about health care conditions.

State attorneys, however, denied the inmates’ claims and said the allegations were based on incomplete evidence taken out of context.

“This is going to come down to credibility,” Elijah Watkins, the attorney for the inmates, told U.S. District Judge David Carter. “It’s going to matter who has a reason to tell the truth and who has an incentive not to tell the truth.”

The hearing is part of a decades-old lawsuit over health care, overcrowding and other problems at the Idaho State Correctional Institution.

Most of the issues have been settled, but the allegations of poor medical and mental health care remain a point of contention.

A few years ago, a federal judge appointed prison health care expert Dr. Marc Stern to serve as a type of examiner called a special master to review the health care at the prison and report back. The judge then used Stern’s report to guide his decisions on the case and to set parameters for future settlement negotiations.

The latest hearing stems from allegations raised in a separate lawsuit this year against the state Department of Corrections, alleging that problems were intentionally concealed from the court’s examiner.

Former prison mental health clinician Diana Canfield said in her filing that she was harassed and forced to resign after saying the state wasn’t following its own policies for inmate mental health care. Her lawsuit also said officials tampered with medical records, hid problem inmates during Stern’s visit and and lied to him about how often they placed inmates in so-called “dry” cells with no beds, sinks or toilet fixtures.

The state denied her allegations, but lost the case in a jury trial. Canfield was awarded $78,000.

The inmates, in their motion to the court, cited Canfield’s case and asked that the department be sanctioned or held in contempt.

“This a case about the alteration, destruction and fabrication of medical documents,” Watkins said.

Prison leaders knew of the problems, Watkins said, but were “willfully blind, willfully deaf to the impropriety.”

Mark Kubinski, the deputy attorney general representing the Idaho Department of Correction, disputed the inmates’ case.

“The evidence will show there was no fraud upon the court and that the special master was not misled,” he said.

“The plaintiffs’ allegations were not supported by credible evidence, and the evidence relied upon by the plaintiffs is incomplete and out of context,” Kubinski said.

The hearing is expected to last two days. It’s not clear when Judge Carter will rule.

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