It’s no secret that mentally ill people require greater attention and care than other inmates in Arizona and elsewhere. Mental health advocates believe this means more prison workers are required to meet the unique needs of mentally ill inmates in prisons.
The prison system in Arizona has fought demands for greater staffing.
However, at the end of 2018, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with lawyers who represent inmates. The justices found a federal magistrate judge made a mistake when he concluded a past settlement in Arizona prevented the court from ordering a plan that increased prison staffing.
The appeals court ruled a lower court has the power to order prison officials to develop a general staffing plan that benefits mentally ill inmates, reported KTAR News.
An Associated Press report noted U.S. District Judge Roslyn Silver said an agreement reached four years ago could be thrown out for non-compliance.
Attorneys representing mentally ill inmates say the lack of healthcare workers at 10 state-run prisons is one of the most significant obstacles to meeting the needs of inmates.
The recent ruling clarifies the settlement in a 2012 lawsuit. Advocates for the inmates said Arizona’s state-run prisons fail to meet basic requirements for providing proper mental health care and other health services. Some inmates complained serious conditions like cancer went undetected and there were even reports of inmates being told to pray for treatment.
The lawsuit was settled two years later. The state of Arizona did not acknowledge any wrongdoing.
Although the settlement in 2014 gave the court the power to enforce the agreement, it said the judiciary lacked the power to order a new prison building or the hiring of staff. However, Silver can tell prisons they need more staff to meet the needs of inmates with mental health issues, she concluded.
KTAR noted the new ruling means the court may issue a general staffing order for prisons. However, this does not require the state to hire a specific number or type of personnel to remedy any noncompliance with the prior settlement.
Inadequate staffing and the inability of prison staff to meet the needs of mentally ill inmates remains a problem in Arizona. At the Garcia Law Firm, we have decades of experience in helping the mentally ill in the criminal justice system. Call us at (602) 340-1999.