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Fri, Nov. 22

State urges review of prison health ruling: Decision clears way for about 33,000 inmates to join lawsuit

PHOENIX, Arizona - The state of Arizona has asked a federal appeals court to reconsider its ruling nearly two months ago that concluded about 33,000 inmates could join a lawsuit protesting the quality of healthcare in the state's prisons.

A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in early June had rejected an appeal by corrections officials who argued the inmates didn't have enough in common to merit class-action status. The court said the prisoners met the requirements for expanding the number of inmates covered under the suit from 13 to the entire population in state prisons.

The state asked earlier this month for an 11-judge panel to reconsider the ruling. Its attorneys questioned whether class-action certification rules were satisfied simply because the inmates are confined at the same prison and make the same type of liability claim. They said the inmates have different health care needs and different exposure to varying conditions while in prison.

Lawyers for the inmates on Tuesday urged the court to reject the state's request for another hearing, arguing that all prisoners are at risk if their health care is deficient, not just those who are currently sick.

The 2012 lawsuit against Arizona Corrections Director Charles Ryan and another prison official alleges state prisons don't meet the basic requirements for providing adequate medical and mental health care to inmates, and that prisoners face dangerous delays and outright denials in receiving treatment.

Prison officials have denied the allegations.

The lawsuit accuses corrections officials of having a deliberate indifference toward the suffering of prisoners and failing to correct problems that were brought to their attention. It says there aren't enough health care workers in prisons to treat the large number of inmates, and that critically ill inmates were told to be patient and pray to be cured after they begged for treatment.

The prisoners who filed the case aren't seeking monetary damages and instead are asking for a court order declaring that Arizona's prisons violated prisoners' Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment. They also want an order requiring a plan to better staff the prisons with health care workers and other steps.

An Oct. 20 trial has been scheduled in the case.

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