Parsons v. Shinn was ordered to trial following a federal judge’s order rescinding an earlier settlement between the parties.
PHOENIX, Ariz. — A federal court trial challenging the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry’s (ADCRR) inhumane and unconstitutional failures to provide adequate medical, mental health, and dental care to people in state custody and to end abusive conditions in solitary confinement units is set to begin today.
The case, Parsons v. Shinn, was originally filed in 2012 and was settled by the parties in 2014. However, after years of noncompliance by Arizona officials, two findings of contempt against ADCRR, two fines that cumulatively totaled over $2.5 million, and millions of taxpayer dollars wasted, a federal judge threw out the settlement agreement in July 2021 due to the state’s complete failure to live up to its constitutional duty to provide adequate care to incarcerated people.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), ACLU of Arizona, Prison Law Office, the Arizona Center for Disability Law, and Perkins Coie LLP are co-counsel on the case and filed the lawsuit on behalf of all incarcerated individuals in the state’s 10 prisons, totaling more than 27,000 people.
“Arizona state prison officials were given chance after chance to comply with a settlement they freely agreed to. While state officials have been dragging their feet and wasting millions of taxpayer dollars to defend their noncompliance, people in Arizona prisons have been struggling to receive the health care they desperately need,” said Corene Kendrick, deputy director of the ACLU National Prison Project. “ADCRR had the opportunity to save lives and provide the necessary health care the Constitution requires. Instead, we’re heading to trial again to argue why incarcerated people must be treated with dignity.”
Arizona has the fifth highest incarceration rate in the United States and during the seven years ADCRR had to comply with the original settlement, reports of people suffering inside Arizona prisons repeatedly made news. When the settlement agreement was rescinded, the federal judge presiding over the case issued a scathing order where she noted: “The pervasive theme of Defendants’ conduct throughout the course of attempted enforcement of the Stipulation is indifference. Defendants have always deflected their failures and employed scorched-earth tactics to oppose every attempt to resolve outstanding noncompliance. Defendants’ longstanding refusal to acknowledge their shortcomings and identify plausible paths to compliance evidences their pattern of conduct will not change.”
“The state made promises it seemingly never intended to fulfill,” said Alison Hardy, senior staff attorney at the Prison Law Office. “More than seven years later, people continue to languish inside prison walls or struggle to cope with an illness that went untreated while they were incarcerated. This cannot continue — ADCRR must fulfill its constitutional obligations.”
The trial is expected to last three weeks. Plaintiffs are asking the court to impose remedies including the appointment of a receiver, to ensure ADCRR and the state of Arizona fully comply with their constitutional duty to provide adequate medical, mental health, and dental care and constitutional conditions of confinement to all incarcerated people.
“Nothing has motivated ADCRR to fulfill its constitutional obligations — not findings of contempt, fines, or even a change in prison leadership. Arizona taxpayers have been forced to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to a private, for-profit contractor, while people in prisons continue to receive subpar care,” said Maya Abela, supervisory attorney at the Arizona Center for Disability Law. “People are suffering needlessly for weeks and months, and some die preventable deaths. This is unlawful and has no place in our society.”
WHAT: The federal court trial hearing in Parsons v. Shinn. Plaintiffs will challenge ADCRR’s failure to provide adequate health care and its unconstitutional use of solitary confinement.
WHEN: Begins Monday, Nov. 1, 2021, at 9 a.m., and is scheduled to run through Friday, Nov. 19.
WHERE: Sandra Day O'Connor U.S. Courthouse, 401 W Washington St, Phoenix, Ariz. 85003.
More information about the Parsons case and original complaint can be found here: https://prisonlaw.com/post_case/parsons/.