Lawyers unable to reach new deal over inmate care in Arizona

FILE - This July 23, 2014, file photo, shows a state prison in Florence, Ariz. Attorneys trying to renegotiate a settlement over health care in Arizona's prisons say they're unable to reach a new deal. A judge will now have to decide whether to order more mediation sessions or toss the earlier agreement and schedule a trial. Attorneys for the inmates said Monday, Jan. 13, 2020, that they want a trial.

PHOENIX (AP) — Attorneys trying to renegotiate a legal settlement over the quality of health care in Arizona’s prisons say they’re unable to reach a new deal, leaving it to a judge to decide whether to order more mediation sessions or toss the earlier agreement and schedule a trial.

The negotiations were ordered three months ago by U.S. District Judge Roslyn Silver, who criticized the state’s persistent failure to follow through on promises in a 5-year-old settlement to improve inmate care. It arose from a lawsuit saying some prisoners complained that their cancer went undetected or that they were told to pray to be cured after begging for treatment.

In a court filing Monday, lawyers representing the state and inmates laid out their disagreement on how to move forward.

Attorneys for Arizona’s 34,000 inmates want a trial. The state is asking for more mediation sessions, arguing that the judge doesn’t have the power to modify the agreement because it was a private deal between the state and prisoners, not a court order.

The state's failure to comply with the settlement led to a 2018 civil contempt-of-court finding against then-Corrections Director Charles Ryan and a $1.4 million fine against Arizona.

Silver has threatened a second round of contempt fines.

Lawyers for the inmates also previously asked the judge to take over health care operations in all state-run prisons and appoint an official to run medical and mental health services because of a repeated failure to improve care.

A report by a court-appointed expert concluded understaffing, inadequate funding and privatization of health care services are significant barriers in improving health care in the 10 state-run prisons.

The 2014 settlement followed a lawsuit that alleged Arizona's prisons didn't meet the basic requirements for providing adequate medical and mental health care.

The state denied allegations that it was providing inadequate care, and the lawsuit was settled without the state acknowledging any wrongdoing.

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