- Associated Press - Monday, February 29, 2016

PHOENIX (AP) - Attorneys who won a settlement in a class-action lawsuit over the quality of health care in Arizona’s prisons say the state is dragging its feet in carrying out the improvements it promised when it agreed to resolve the case.

The lawyers contend health care in the state’s prisons hasn’t improved since the October 2014 settlement, saying Arizona has dramatically inflated its compliance figures and failed to carry out many requirements called for by the agreement.

The requirements include having sick inmates see registered nurses within 24 hours of requesting help and having medical providers tend to inmates with chronic diseases as specified by their treatment programs.

A hearing over the lawyers’ complaints is scheduled Tuesday before U.S. Magistrate John Buttrick.

The settlement was won on behalf of 33,000 Arizona inmates after some complained that their cancer went undetected or they were told to pray to be cured after begging for treatment.

As part of the settlement, state officials agreed to seek more money from the Legislature to increase health care staffing, offer cancer screenings to certain prisoners, follow requirements in treating patients with chronic diseases, and provide more out-of-cell time to prisoners kept in isolated cells.

The Legislature gave the Department of Corrections an additional $6.6 million in health care funding last year in response to the settlement.

Don Specter, one of the attorneys for the inmates, said another problem is that the people monitoring the state’s compliance are employees of the Arizona Department of Corrections.

“They aren’t trained,” Specter said. “They don’t have specific instructions, and their interpretations of what the agreement requires are often wrong.”

Andrew Wilder, a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Corrections, declined to comment.

The lawsuit against Arizona Corrections Director Charles Ryan and another prison official alleged the failure of medical personnel at one prison to diagnose the metastasized cancer of one inmate resulted in his liver enlarging to the belly size of a pregnant woman at full term.

It said another inmate with a history of prostate cancer had to wait more than two years for a biopsy, and nothing was done for a prisoner who suffered from depression and told staff members he was suicidal before killing himself.

Prison officials have denied the allegations and didn’t acknowledge any wrongdoing when making the settlement.

The prisoners who filed the lawsuit weren’t seeking monetary damages and instead asked for a court order declaring that Arizona’s prisons violated the Eighth Amendment right of inmates against cruel and unusual punishment.

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