Arizona’s privatized prison healthcare system routinely abuses and ignores sick and mentally ill inmates, according to newly released confidential reports from doctors who visited prisons and reviewed inmates’ medical records. The experts are serving as witnesses in a class-action lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and expected to go to trial this fall.
The physicians described a dysfunctional health care system that withheld important medications, ignored serious warning signs and denied inmates’ pleas for medical care. Many inmates became seriously ill and even died of treatable diseases. One patient who repeatedly complained of intense pain and disorientation was allegedly mocked for “faking” his symptoms. He eventually died of lung cancer, which was not diagnosed until a few days before his death. Another prisoner died of AIDS-related pneumonia after prison staff ignored his requests for an HIV test. Others waited months for vital surgeries or prescriptions.
One sick inmate said he fell and was left on the floor for three to five hours. “I would just like to feel safe and not fall. That’s all,” he told one of the visiting doctors.
“In my more than three decades of doing this work, I have never seen such callous disregard demonstrated over and over again,” Dr. Robert Cohen wrote in his report.
One 55-year-old stroke victim told doctors he had developed multiple ulcers and sores from sitting in an unchanged diaper in a wheelchair. Medical staff “treat him as if he is lying” about being unable to get from the wheelchair to a toilet, Cohen said, and leave him sitting in his own urine and feces.
Other experts focused on the prison system’s treatment of mentally ill prisoners, warning that mental health services are “in a state of disarray, and have been for some time.” Some facilities had no psychiatrists on staff at all, while others were so understaffed that some doctors were handling more than 500 patients at a time.
Corizon, Inc., the nation’s largest private prison healthcare provider, took over management of Arizona prisons from another for-profit company, Wexford, in March of 2013. Wexford was ousted after charges of incompetence and multiple deaths. But conditions haven’t changed much under Corizon. Another report last year found that instead of treating ailing inmates, staffers told them to “be patient” or “pray.”
Corizon is facing a slew of lawsuits and investigations in other states that have privatized prison medical care. A 73-year-old New Mexico woman recently sued, saying she was put into solitary confinement for over a month because she complained that Corizon was denying her and other women medical care. Lawsuits following the deaths of two inmates in Kentucky forced several Corizon workers to resign, while an investigation in Idaho charged the company with “inhumane treatment” of inmates. Corizon was also caught using a sham contractor to run its prisons in Philadelphia, and lost contracts in Maine and Maryland after charges of negligence.