- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 9, 2018

PHOENIX (AP) - A judge overseeing a class-action lawsuit over the quality of health care in Arizona’s prisons says he will issue a judgment against the state for failing to adequately overhaul its health care system for inmates.

U.S. Magistrate Judge David Duncan made the comment Wednesday at a court hearing when discussing his upcoming ruling over whether to fine the state for failing to make the improvements to inmate care that it promised when it agreed three years ago to settle the lawsuit.

While he hasn’t yet issued a judgment against the state, Duncan expressed frustrations over the state’s slow progress in improving care. He talked from the bench about possibly using fine money to pay for an official who would monitor inmate care on behalf of the court.

“It’s not as if we are asking somebody to fly to Mars,” Duncan said. “We are saying provide the health care you said you were going to provide.”

The judge has previously threatened to fine the state $1,000 for each instance of noncompliance in December and January.

The state has acknowledged more than 1,900 instances during December and January during which it failed to make the improvements it promised. That means the state could be fined as much as $1.9 million.

Duncan is considering holding Arizona Corrections Director Charles Ryan in civil contempt of court for noncompliance with the settlement, but the judge didn’t offer a preview in court Wednesday on how he will rule on that question.

The 2012 lawsuit alleged that Arizona prisons didn’t meet the basic requirements for providing adequate medical and mental health care and that prisoners faced dangerous delays and outright denials in receiving treatment.

The state denied the allegations that they were providing shoddy health care for prisoners and didn’t acknowledge any wrongdoing when it agreed to settle the lawsuit.

The state has followed through on some promises it made to improve care. But the areas in which Duncan required improvements included ensuring newly prescribed medications be provided to inmates within two days and making medical providers reveal results of pathology reports and other diagnostic studies within five days of receiving such records.

In an unexpected turn, Duncan announced in court Wednesday that he will be stepping down from the bench in mid-June due to health problems, meaning a new judge will be assigned to the case after he leaves the job.

A week ago, Duncan rejected a request by the state’s attorneys to disqualify himself from the case, calling it a “meritless distraction.”

Attorneys for the state had said Duncan was biased against prison officials by accusing them of lying and referring to an inmate during a July hearing as a “client.”

Over the last year, the judge has been critical of the Department of Corrections.

He has questioned the accuracy of the state’s reports about how it is faring in making the changes and called Ryan in court last summer to grill him over whether he tried to undermine an order that prohibited retaliation against prisoners who participated in the lawsuit.

Earlier this week, the state granted a one-year contract extension to Corizon Health Care Inc., the health care provider for Arizona’s prisons for the last five years.


Follow Jacques Billeaud at twitter.com/jacquesbilleaud. His work can be found at https://bit.ly/2GGWEPO.

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