Hearing to focus on retaliation complaint against prisons

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(Courtesy: Arizona Department of Corrections) (Courtesy: Arizona Department of Corrections)

A judge will hold a hearing Monday on allegations of retaliation against inmates in a class-action lawsuit that protests the quality of health care in the state's prisons.

The hearing comes after Arizona Corrections Director Charles Ryan was questioned last month over whether he tried to undermine a court order that prohibited retaliation against inmates who testified in the lawsuit.

"The next step can be further orders from the court designed to either compensate the prisoners for that retaliation and/or prevent it from happening in the future," said Don Spector, one of the attorneys for the inmates.

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When called to testify, Ryan was asked to respond to questions about a July 27 email he sent to prisons employees letting them know they had to follow the order. The email also said employees deserved better than "this preconceived order" and that the decision was based on only the accounts of prisoners.

U.S. Magistrate David Duncan told the prisons director his attorneys didn't challenge the retaliation allegations. Ryan denied that he was trying to undermine the order's legitimacy and said his comments weren't intended to be disrespectful.

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Duncan issued the order barring retaliation after two inmates testified at a July 14 hearing about what they said were barriers to health care while in prison.

The 2014 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. But the state did not acknowledge any wrongdoing in settling the lawsuit.

Attorneys challenging health services in the prisons have repeatedly said the state is dragging its feet in making improvements promised when settling the case.

Spector said Duncan hasn't yet imposed fines of $1,000 for each time the state is falling short in making the improvements. Attorneys representing the inmates estimate those penalties will total more than $1 million.

Those fines would go into a fund in the court, and the money would be used to improve the care that prisoners in Arizona receive, Spector said.

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