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Arizona asks judge to hold off on fines in inmate care case

May 30, 2019
FILE - This Aug. 19, 2010, file photo shows Arizona Corrections Director Charles Ryan at a news conference in Phoenix. The state of Arizona wants a judge to hold off on issuing $1.6 million in threatened contempt-of-court fines for failing to adequately follow through on its promises to improve health care for prisoners. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

PHOENIX (AP) — The state of Arizona wants a judge to hold off on her threat to order $1.6 million in additional contempt-of-court fines against the state for failing to adequately follow through on its promises to improve health care for its 33,000 prisoners.

The state has asked U.S. District Judge Roslyn Silver to delay the possible fines as it appeals an earlier $1.4 million fine and civil contempt ruling against Corrections Director Charles Ryan for noncompliance with a settlement over the quality of inmate care.

An appellate ruling that’s favorable to the state could invalidate Silver’s order in which she threatened to issue another round of fines, the state’s lawyers said in court records late last week.

The state’s lawyers said Arizona would be forced to “unnecessarily undergo extensive contempt proceedings and undertake payment of exorbitant contempt” if Silver denies the request. They say the state has improved its compliance since the judge raised the possibility of more fines.

Corene Kendrick, an attorney representing the prisoners, said the state is trying to keep Silver from holding a hearing over the threatened fines.

“They are recycling some of the arguments they have used in the past to try not to have orders go into effect,” Kendrick said.

The judge set a July 1 deadline for the state to fully comply. She said she would impose $50,000 for each performance measure that’s not met at each prison.

The state hasn’t fully complied on 21 performance measures, such as ensuring newly prescribed medications are 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 lawsuit alleged that Arizona’s 10 state-run prisons didn’t meet the basic requirements for providing adequate medical and mental health care. It said some prisoners complained that their cancer went undetected or that they were told to pray to be cured after begging for treatment.

It also alleged that the failure of the medical staff at one prison to diagnose an inmate’s metastasized cancer resulted in his liver enlarging so much that his stomach swelled to the size of a pregnant woman at full term. Another inmate who had a history of prostate cancer had to wait more than two years for a biopsy.

The state denied allegations that it was providing inadequate care, and the lawsuit was settled without the state acknowledging any wrongdoing.

Late last year, Silver raised the possibility of throwing out the settlement and resuming litigation, saying the state’s insistence on defending its performance was ill-advised.

The state paid the $1.4 million fine issued nearly a year ago and was later fully reimbursed by Corizon Health Care, which has provided health care in Arizona’s prisons for more than five years. Another company, Centurion of Arizona, will take over as the state’s prison health care provider on July 1.

Gov. Doug Ducey, who is Ryan’s boss, expressed confidence in his corrections director after he was found to be in contempt of court last summer. The governor has said he wants state agency directors, not judges, running their departments.

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Follow Jacques Billeaud at twitter.com/jacquesbilleaud.

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