PHOENIX (AP) — Attorneys representing inmates in a legal settlement over the quality of health care in Arizona’s prisons have asked a judge to hold a hearing soon to discuss her threats to impose contempt-of-court fines against the state for not complying with the deal and others matters.
The lawyers said in a filing Thursday that U.S. District Judge Roslyn Silver hasn’t held a status conference in the class-action lawsuit since December 2018, though another judge who was assigned by Silver to mediate disputes in the case held a video teleconference nearly six months ago to talk about compliance with the settlement during the coronavirus pandemic.
In any case, the prisoners’ lawyers want a hearing to discuss Silver’s threats to impose contempt fines as high as $100,000 per violation against the state for not adequately following through on its promises in the 2014 settlement to improve care for inmates. The attorneys have estimated in court filings that those fines could reach as high as $13.9 million.
It wouldn’t mark the first contempt fine the state would face in the case. The state and then-Corrections Director Charles Ryan were fined $1.4 million in the summer of 2018 for noncompliance with the settlement. Though the state paid the fine, the company that at the time provided health care services within the prisons had reimbursed the state for that amount.
Silver also has raised the possibility of throwing out the settlement and bringing the case to trial. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the 30,000 inmates in Arizona’s 10 state-run prisons and doesn’t challenge health care in private prisons in the state.
Attorneys for the prisoners also want to hear about the state’s plans to offer the coronavirus vaccine to inmates.
No dates have been set for when inmates will receive the vaccine, which has already been offered to corrections officers and people who work in health care operations within state prisons.
The first inmates who will be offered vaccinations are those who are 65 or older, followed by inmates who have high-risk medical conditions. Vaccinations will be offered to the remainder of state prisoners in a later phase.