Good article today in the Tucson Weekly about the DOC's deliberate indifference to human life and their unnecessary deaths in custody. Please go to the source and leave your comments, especially if you have personal experience with the DOC.
This is what I had to say:
"Thank you so much for this article. As one who hears daily from prisoners and their families and fights with the DOC about health care and safety in custody, I can attest to the unconstitutional - the outright inhmane - standard of medical care in AZ prisons. From the deliberate indifference to pain and suffering of cancer patients to the brutal, degrading treatment dished out to the traumatized and mentally ill, the conditions of confinement under DOC director Charles Ryan are horrendous.
Ryan's reputation for running the cruelest system in the country actually invites some pats on the back from thick-headed legislators here, but from the junk laws and sentencing guidelines we pass to the implementation of our penal system, Arizona is exceptionally stupid on crime. What is the logic behind depriving prisoners of access to the resources they need to be rehabilitated while subjecting them to the rising violence, trauma and terror that has caused AZ prison homicide and suicide rates to double under Brewer's adminstration? We are simply inflicting further injury on already-damaged people.
Chuck Ryan seems to implement policy based on his contempt for prisoners and desire to punish rather than his duty to try to rehabilitate any of his charges so they are safe to be released back to the community. He's an embarassment to other law enforcemnt professionals in arizona, many of whom don't subscribe to his ideology. He doesn't seem to know what "evidence-based practice" is, or why it's so important to invest public resoures in corrections programs that are actually proven to increase parolee success and public safety.
For example, despite the fact that 75% of incoming prisoners are identified as having problems with addiction or alcoholism, and the growing epidemic of hepatitis c in the prison system (being spread by the obscene abundance of heroin and lack of access to clean needles behind bars) - only 4% of all state prisoners even got substance abuse treatment last year. That's unacceptable. In their 5-year plan the DOC claims not to have enough funding to increase the number of prisoners to more than 3000 a year who get treatment, either (that's out of a total of 60,000 prisoners who cycle through there).
The problem with the AZ DOC isn't a lack of money, though - they have a billion dollar budget, and its still growing. Their problem is the failure to spend it responsibly. Instead of fully funding programs to help prisoners transition to the community again, the DOC actively convinced the legislature to take money out of an account for those kinds of services and put it into the building fund to support the construction of their new $50 million supermax to warehouse people in.
In fact, the state is facing a class action suit not only for gross medical neglect, but also for their illegal use of administrative segregation (i.e solitary confinement, which the DOC denies they ever use) to manage the symptoms of priosners with serious mental illness in the current supermax facility. If some of the folks currently filling those cells don't belong there to begin with, why build another one?
The only explanation I can see for that new supermax - other than the financial incentives all the obvious beneficiaries have to push this through - is that Chuck Ryan wants this monstrosity to stand as a monument to his brief reign as the DOC's king-baby. I think it's criminal for the public to have to pay for him to fulfill that immature fantasy, especially while other state DOC's are shutting down prisons AND bringing down crime rates by redirecting resources to supporting the reintegration of prisoners in their communities. If Jan Brewer had any real courage or common sense she would fire DOC director ryan immediately and reconstruct the entire system based on contemporary models of crime reduction and the rehabilitation of offenders."
If you are a prisoner's loved one fighting Corizon and the DOC for their access to health care, here's a link to a post that may help:
State prisoners say lousy medical care is killing themTucson Citizen
But it seems even they can face a death sentence of sorts, delivered by a culture of medical neglect.
That's why two top dogs at the Arizona Department of Corrections are currently being sued, not only by the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, but also by the potent, San Quentin, Calif.-based Prison Law Office. In 2011, Prison Law scored a resounding U.S. Supreme Court victory that compelled California to reduce prison overcrowding.
The Arizona lawsuit was filed in March against Corrections Director Charles Ryan and his health services director, Richard Pratt. It alleges that "medical, mental health, and dental care" provided to inmates is "grossly inadequate and subjects all prisoners to a substantial risk of serious harm, including unnecessary pain and suffering, preventable injury, amputation, disfigurement and death...
"Critically ill prisoners," the lawsuit continues, "have begged prison officials for treatment, only to be told 'be patient,' 'it's all in your head,' or 'pray' to be cured."
Dan Pochoda is legal director for the ACLU of Arizona. He calls health care in our state prisons "the worst I've ever seen, in terms of clearly increasing harm unnecessarily because of the inadequate care, and the absence of anything except trying to save money on the backs of the prisoners."
Because of its sweeping implications, the case has since evolved into a class action lawsuit. The next step is proving in court just how dire the situation truly is, says Pochoda. "The ideal outcome would be a finding that there is clearly deliberate indifference to the serious medical and mental health needs of the inmate population, that people are dying unnecessarily, that folks who are in for sentences of a few years—not life sentences or death sentences—are coming out with permanent and serious illnesses."
Their ranks include Robert Plasa, now doing three years at the Tucson prison for violating his probation. Back in 2011, before he was sent to jail, Plasa says he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. He was waiting to have the gland removed when he was arrested.
Today, he's still waiting. "I have been strung along for almost a year-and-a-half here without treatment," he wrote me in a letter this March.
In that time, Corrections has turned its state-run prison medical program over to one private health care provider, and then to another. But for Plasa, apparently little has changed—except that his diagnosis has grown even more grim. "I have recently had blood work done and ultrasound on the thyroid," he wrote. "This revealed that the cancer not only spread through the whole thyroid, it is now in the lymph nodes. The thyroid could have been cut out before, and isolated the cancer. Due to the lack of medical attention and negligence on the part of the Department of Corrections, I have a more serious and maybe life-threatening medical condition."
When I asked Corrections for details on Plasa's plight, spokesman Andrew Wilder referred me to the state's current prison health care provider, Corizon Inc. of Brentwood, Tenn. Citing privacy laws, Corizon also refused to comment on Plasa. But in an email, company spokesman Brian Fulton did issue this boilerplate response: "We can say that since Corizon assumed providing medical services for the Arizona Department of Corrections in March 2013, our caregivers have worked hard every day to provide quality health care services that meet and exceed national accreditation standards."
To Caroline Isaacs, however, Plasa's version sounds much closer to the truth. She heads the American Friends Service Committee's Tucson office, which has long agitated for Arizona prison reforms. "This guy's problem is not an isolated issue," Isaacs says. "There are really serious consequences to this type of incompetence. But prisoners are people that nobody cares about."
Indeed, the ACLU's Pochoda provided a stream of examples in which prison medical care was seemingly riddled with negligence. They include the inmate displaying chronic and mysterious flu symptoms that were never treated. Or the prisoner with a growth on his throat that was left untreated until it burst. Following surgery, his condition was again ignored until it worsened. Only then did the doctors decide that the growth was cancerous; the man has yet to receive standard treatment such as radiation.
Then there's the guy who did have his cancerous prostate removed, but then received no follow-up testing to ensure that the cancer had not returned. Only much later—too much later, it appears—did he receive tests showing that the cancer had not only rebounded, but was now spreading.
In response to their panicky letters, distressed relatives or partners of inmates received cavalier responses from Corizon—at least when they weren't outright ignored. "Please be assured that (your boyfriend) is not going to die," a Corizon apparatchik finally wrote to one worried woman, after she repeatedly tried to get information. "It is important to remember that (the inmate) is an adult and must take some part in his day to day health care."
This current wave of incompetence dates to 2011, when the Legislature directed Corrections to put its health services out to bid. Last summer, a three-year, $349 million contract was awarded to Pittsburgh-based Wexford Health Sources despite the company's troubled history in other states. True to form, Wexford's Arizona tenure soon hit turbulence when Corrections blamed it for poor record keeping and staffing problems. In less than a year, prison medical care had switched over to Corizon.
But for critics such as Pochoda, that's like choosing which train to ride off the rails. "Wexford has a very spotty record, after getting kicked out of other states, and it was a disaster," he says. "After nine months, they got fired or quit, and now (Corrections) has brought in Corizon, also with a spotty record. And we don't believe it will make a bit of difference because the goal is to reduce costs. For the private firms, there's a profit motive: the less they spend, the more they keep."
Ultimately, he blames state lawmakers for privatizing prison health care to save a buck, "but not uttering a peep about how it should be a better service, and not result in so many deaths, etc."
That's hardly news for guys like Robert Plasa.
"I have a good company I work for and a beautiful family waiting for me," Plasa wrote in his letter. "I wasn't figuring that paying my dues to the state of Arizona meant a life sentence from cancer."