ACLU Files Big Class-Action Lawsuit Against State of Arizona Prison System

The American Civil Liberties Union (and other public-service organizations and law firms) filed a monumental class-action lawsuit within the hour on behalf of 14 prisoners against the Arizona Department of Corrections and its current direct, Charles Ryan.

The 78-page complaint was filed at the federal courthouse in downtown Phoenix.

Among its sweeping claims is that the state's correctional officials continue to fail to provide even remotely adequate medical, mental health and dental care to prisoners, and with grossly over-using solitary confinement to house inmates in the "special management" units.

We will dig deeper into this lawsuit later today, but one of the lawsuit's main talking points, i.e. allegations, is this:

"For years, the health care provided by Defendants in Arizona's prisons has fallen short of minimum constitutional requirements and has failed to meet prisoners' basic health needs. Critically ill prisoners have begged prison officials for treatment, only to be told `Be patient,' `It's all in your head,' or `Pray' to be cured.

"Despite warnings from their own employees, prisoners, and advocates about the risk of serious injury and death to prisoners, Defendants are deliberately indifferent to the substantial risk of pain and suffering to prisoners, including deaths..."

The anecdotal evidence detailed in the class-action suit is chilling (we'll describe some of it in subsequent blog posts).

"In recent years," the lawsuit claimes, "Defendants ignored repeated warnings of the inadequacies of the health care system and of the dangerous conditions in their isolation units that they received from inmate grievances, reports from outside groups, and complaints from prison personnel, including their own staff.

"For example, in December 2009, a prison physician emailed Defendant Ryan complaining that ADC officials were breaking the law by not providing adequate health care. Dr. James Baird, the Director of Medical Services, responded on behalf of [ADOC Director] Ryan and stated:

"The Department has not been found, as yet, to be deliberately indifferent....Is the Department being deliberately indifferent? Maybe. Probably. That would be up to a federal judge to decide. I do think that there would be numerous experts in the field that would opine that deliberate indifference has occurred."

Perhaps Dr. Baird was onto something.

More later on this lawsuit.

By the way, the ACLU's local attorney, Daniel Pochoda, is listed as the lead lawyer on the suit.

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