Corrections boss defends care in Arizona jails

PHOENIX (AP) – Arizona’s chief of corrections testified in a trial on Tuesday over the quality of medical and mental health care in state prisons that incarcerated people often have better access to services health than people who are not locked up.

Director of Corrections David Shinn’s defense of the health care system for prisoners came after the state faced years of complaints of poor health care behind bars and was fined $ 2.5 million for failing to comply with a settlement on the matter.

The settlement was rejected this summer by a judge who concluded that the state showed little interest in making the many improvements promised under the 6-year deal and that inadequate care for prisoners had resulted in suffering and preventable deaths.

“They often have better access to health care than I do as a private citizen,” Shinn said of the prisoners.

Prisoners’ attorneys are asking U.S. District Judge Roslyn Silver to take over health care operations in state prisons, appoint an official to manage medical and mental health services there, ensure that prisons have sufficient numbers of health care workers and reduce the use of solitary confinement cells, including banning their use for inmates under the age of 18 or those with serious mental illnesses.

They said health care operations in Arizona prisons are understaffed and poorly supervised, consistently denying access to certain needed medications, failing to properly manage pain for patients with a terminal cancer and others, and do not meet minimum standards for mental health care.

The Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reintegration has denied allegations that it was providing inadequate care, delaying or categorically denying care, and failing to give needed medication. His lawyers said the prisoners could not put together the key elements to prove their case – that the state was deliberately indifferent to the risk of harm to prisoners and that health problems occur throughout the prison system run by state, not just in one particular prison.

A court-appointed expert previously found that understaffing, inadequate funding and the privatization of health care services are significant barriers to improving health care in Arizona prisons.

The case involves health care for the more than 27,000 people incarcerated in state-run prisons, and not in private prisons where the state houses 7,500 other people.

Shinn, a former federal prison official appointed to the post of state by Governor Doug Ducey in October 2019, was made aware of the shortages of prison officers and health care workers in Arizona prisons, expressed his trust in companies that have provided health services in state prisons and championed his agency’s efforts to guard against COVID-19.

Shinn said he believes Arizona prisons – where at least 56 incarcerated people have been confirmed to have died from the virus and 80% of prisoners are vaccinated – are one of the safest places during the pandemic. For a period of time at the start of the pandemic, prisoners in Arizona were prohibited from wearing masks, although this policy was reversed and those incarcerated were given face coverings.

Prisoners’ attorneys point out that Arizona’s former prison health services contractor would face a monthly penalty of $ 5,000 from the state for breaches of regulations. . The current contractor would only face a penalty of $ 500 in such cases.

When asked if the current contractor reassigned healthcare staff to focus on complying with Arizona regulations, Shinn said he did not have the data with him in court to address this. question.

Shinn said his agency is working with the state prison healthcare contractor to improve its recruitment of healthcare workers. But he thinks it’s a myth that a number of healthcare workers have to go to certain facilities.

He said the state cannot force workers to relocate to communities they may not find desirable. He also said the state is using telemedicine to treat people held in prisons far from urban areas.


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