Changes coming for the Arizona prison healthcare system

The ACLU National Prison Project Director is hoping the next step will be receivership, where the healthcare system would be run by the federal government.
Published: Jul. 1, 2022 at 9:57 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - Earlier this week, U.S. District Court Judge Roslyn Silver ruled that Arizona is denying the constitutional rights of people in state prisons regarding providing adequate health care. “I’m really hoping that this ruling will actually change what’s going on inside,” ACLU Arizona organizer Kara Janssen said.

Janssen works for the Arizona branch of the ACLU. But before that, she served two separate sentences over the last ten years in Arizona prisons for drug-related charges. “I know personally that you can not get the medical care that you need,” she said.

Janssen says she suffered from kidney stones during that time, which led to pneumonia. According to Judge Silver, Janssen’s health issues were part of a much larger department of corrections healthcare trend. Silver described the healthcare system as “plainly grossly inadequate” and where defendants have “refused to take necessary actions to remedy the failures.”

Judge Silver has ordered injunctive relief, meaning that some change must occur. What that change looks like still hasn’t been determined. ACLU National Prison Project Director David Fathi is hoping the next step will be receivership, where the federal government would run the healthcare system.

“The ADC has had ten years to fix the problem, and they haven’t,” Fathi said. “So I do think that as we have said in our court filings, the time has come to take more effective and more muscular steps.”

After this week’s ruling, the Arizona Department of Corrections released a statement saying they’re reviewing the ruling and that they remain committed to “meeting the healthcare needs of those in their custody and care.”

But for Terri Jolly, whose fiance Chad is currently in the middle of a seven-year sentence for distributing drugs and who suffered a mild heart attack two years ago, actions speak louder than words. “Right now, he lays in bed, he’s fatigued, he can’t get up, he sleeps all day,” Jolly said. “It’s not just him, it’s the whole system that needs to be looked at. Better care, and better quality of care.”

Attorneys for the state and the prisoners now have 14 days to nominate experts who will assist the court in changing how the healthcare system operates. Judge Silver said she would consider the nominees and appoint an expert on or before August 15th.