Arizona agrees to settle prison health care suit

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By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas

PHOENIX (AP) -- The state agreed to settle a lawsuit filed on behalf of 33,000 Arizona inmates over the quality of health care in state prisons, signaling an end to the class-action case just days before it was to go to trial, officials said Tuesday.

As part of the settlement, the state agreed to seek more money from the Legislature to increase staffing for medical and mental health care workers and offer all prisoners between ages 50 and 75 colon cancer screenings.

The state didn't acknowledge any wrongdoing by agreeing to resolve the case.

The 2012 lawsuit against Arizona Corrections Director Charles Ryan and another prison official alleged state prisons don't meet the basic requirements for providing adequate medical and mental health care to inmates, and that prisoners face dangerous delays and outright denials in receiving treatment.

Prison officials have denied the allegations.

The lawsuit contends that a prison medical staff failed to initially diagnose an inmate's metastasized cancer, and another inmate with a history of prostate cancer had to wait more than two years for a biopsy.

In addition, nothing was done for an inmate who suffered from depression, had asked staff members for help because he was suicidal, and later killed himself, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit accused corrections officials of having a deliberate indifference toward the suffering of prisoners and failing to correct problems that were brought to their attention.

It said there aren't enough health care workers in prisons to treat the large number of inmates, and that critically ill inmates were told to be patient and pray to be cured after they begged for treatment.

The prisoners who filed the case aren't seeking monetary damages and instead asked for a court order declaring that Arizona's prisons violated prisoners' Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment.

A trial in the case was scheduled to begin Monday in federal court in Phoenix.

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