Prisons chief corrects testimony from his contempt hearing
PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona Corrections Director Charles Ryan has corrected his testimony from a hearing this week to determine whether he should be found in contempt of court for failing to adequately improve health care for prisoners.
Ryan testified Tuesday that $2.5 million in incentives paid by the state to Corizon Health Inc., Arizona’s contractor for inmate care, over a four-month period ending in late January came from savings from having hundreds of unfilled jobs within the Department of Corrections.
The following day, Ryan said in a court filing that the incentive payments instead came from money that was set aside for health care for the 35,000 inmates in Arizona’s prisons.
U.S. Magistrate Judge David Duncan has repeatedly voiced frustrations over what he described as Arizona’s “abject failure” to improve inmate health care after the state agreed in October 2014 to settle a lawsuit that alleged inmates were being given shoddy health care.
In addition to convening civil contempt hearings against Ryan, Duncan is considering fining the state $1,000 for each instance during December and January in which the state failed to comply with the promised changes. The state has acknowledged 1,900 such instances during those months, meaning Duncan could issue fines as high as $1.9 million.
The state has followed through on some promises. But the areas in which Duncan is requiring improvements include ensuring newly prescribed medications be provided to inmates within two days and making medical providers tell inmates about the results of pathology reports and other diagnostic studies within five days of receiving such records.
The error arose as Ryan was questioned about the wisdom of negotiating a contract that let his agency impose its own fines on Corizon of $675,000 — while simultaneously giving the company $2.5 million in incentives — for its performances in complying with the state’s promised improvements.
Corene Kendrick, an attorney representing the prisoners, said the correction may have been intended to ease any concerns rank-and-file corrections officers had in hearing that savings from unfilled officer positions were used to pay a contractor — at a time when 13 percent of the more than 6,600 authorized positions within the agency remain vacant.
Corrections Department spokesman Andrew Wilder said Ryan corrected his testimony to ensure it was factual.
“Plain and simple,” Wilder said in an email. “That may disappoint some who hoped to seize on the incorrect statement, but the fact is that no officer vacancy funds were used to pay Corizon, period.”
Wilder said the department, like its counterparts across the United States, faces challenges in retaining officers.
“Director Ryan continues to be strongly committed to enhancing recruitment and retaining correctional officers, including the priority to provide our officers more competitive compensation,” Wilder said.
Corizon, which isn’t a named target of the class-action lawsuit, has defended itself by saying it has put significant effort into meeting the settlement’s terms and has steadily improved compliance.
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