Arizona Community Press | www.azcommunitypress.org
On Friday, January 25th those going to work at the Sandra Day O’Connor United States Courthouse in Phoenix were greeted by people doing chalk murals on the sidewalk. The murals are to remember those who have died in custody due to medical neglect and also show solidarity with 14 prisoners who are fighting to change the criminal neglect of health care of Arizona prisoners. These 14 prisoners are suing Charles Ryan, Director of the Department of Corrections and Richard Pratt, Director of Health Services for gross negligence, deliberate indifference, and unconstitutional conditions of confinement.
According to the Seawright Justice Prison Project, “Since Jan Brewer became Governor in January 2009, the homicide and suicide rates in Arizona’s state prisons has doubled and the assault rate has tripled.” Medical neglect and the abuse of mentally ill prisoners has grown so dramatically that the ACLU National Prison Project and Prison Law Office, along with others, have filed a suit against the Arizona Department of Corrections on behalf of 14 prisoners. They sought class certification on Friday afternoon in US Federal District Court so the case can move forward as a class action on behalf of all state prisoners.
Here are the stories of those still fighting for their lives:
Victor Parsons has ADHD and bipolar disorder. In June 2010, his medication was abruptly discontinued without explanation. When he began to experience psychotic symptoms, he submitted a request for treatment. His medication was restarted abruptly without titrating, placing him at high risk for severe side effects. When his tooth filling fell out, they gave him a temporary filing which fell out weeks later. Each time he was seen, he was given a temporary filing again, forcing him to restart the process.
Shawn Jensen had an elevated score on a Prostrate Antigen Test and a nodule on his prostrate in November 2006. The prison doctor ordered a prostrate biopsy in 2007, but Shawn did not receive the biopsy until 2009. By that time, he had Stage 2 prostate cancer, an aggressive form. He experienced delays of two months in getting medication prescribed by his urologist. He was not taken for surgery until July 2010, and as a result, suffered permanent injuries.
Stephen Schwartz was assaulted by another inmate in February 2010. He suffered eye injuries and extensive facial fractures, but was not referred to an ophthalmologist until January 2011, almost a year later. He filed numerous health care grievances for his pain, but waited months to learn whether pain medications would be approved. He was also diagnosed with bipolar and major depressive disorder, but has received inadequate mental health care while on suicide watch.
Dustin Brislan has bipolar disorder, schizo-affective disorder, and borderline personality disorder, with a designation of SMI (Serious Mental Illness). He engages in severe self-injurious behavior, including cutting, head banging, and self-starvation. As a result of his mental illness, he experiences depression, hallucinations, suicidal ideation, and paranoia. Despite the severity of his condition, the Dept. of Corrections has failed to provide him with minimally adequate mental health care. He has had medications delayed, has not been regularly monitored by a psychiatrist, and has been on suicide watch for excessive lengths of time without adequate supervision, where he committed repeated acts of self-harm.
Sonia Rodriguez is also designated as SMI, and experiences depression, anxiety and hallucinations. The Dept. of Corrections has failed to provide therapeutic treatment and has kept her in cruel and inhumane confinement in Perryville’s and on suicide watch. The harsh conditions and extreme isolation of the Special Management Unit (SMU) and on suicide watch. On multiple occasions, her medicine has been abruptly changed without explanation. As a result, she has severe side effects, including uncontrolled shaking, difficulty sleeping, and worsening of her mental health symptoms.
Christina Verduzco is diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and borderline personality disorder. She experiences auditory and visual hallucinations, anxiety, paranoia, and self-harm by cutting herself. She is confined in Perryville SMU and placed on suicide watch on several occasions. While on suicide watch, Christina is forced to wear a smock that barely comes up to the top of her thighs. The lights are kept on 24 hours a day, and she is subjected to ‘safety checks’ every 10-30 minutes a day where correctional officers wake her if she is asleep. She has minimal human contact, cannot go outside, cannot brush her teeth or bathe regularly. Outside of suicide watch, her experience is similar: extended isolation, limited exercise, and limited therapeutic treatment. Christina has asthma, but has been pepper sprayed repeatedly by correctional officers. After being sprayed, she has been dragged out of her cell, hosed down, and thrown back into her cell.
Jackie Thomas is diagnosed with depression and seizure disorders. Although Jackie did not have suicidal ideation when he first arrived at the SMU, his mental and medical health conditions have deteriorated during his isolation in the SMU. He was placed on suicide watch many times, where he received minimal mental health care. He has experienced many failures of his medical treatment, including improper cessation and initiation of psychotropic medications, failure to administer prescribed medication, repeated use of ineffective medications with severe side effects, lack of informed consent, and long delays in follow up and psychiatric evaluation.
Jeremy Smith has depression, aggravated by interruptions in his mental health treatment and prolonged isolation in the SMU. His medications have been abruptly discontinued without explanation and restarted at inappropriate times and after lengthy delays. Jeremy has also been prescribed powerful medications not indicated for depression.
Robert Gamez suffered a childhood head injury and was diagnosed with borderline IQ, possible Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and possible frontal lobe dysfunction, symptoms of which include major depression, panic and anxiety. Although his symptoms are consistent with frontal lobe dysfunction, the Dept. of Corrections never conducted follow-up tests to confirm his diagnosis. He has experienced multiple interruptions in care, received improper medications, and was not given psychological services for his pronounced mental health deterioration during his prolonged isolation in SMU. In August 2009, Robert began experiencing intense paranoia, anxiety, panic, and psychosis, asking to be taken off his medication and out of isolation. Despite his severe condition, he was not seen for five months.
Maryanne Chisholm has been diagnosed with hypertension but was not referred to a cardiologist for eight months, despite experiencing chest pain and shortness of breath. She has bipolar disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and depressive disorder. Maryanne has experienced significant delays in psychiatric care, medications, and follow-up, which has contributed to worsening symptoms. In April 2011, she had a nervous breakdown and requested an adjustment of medication; she was not seen for a month. Her mental health condition is exacerbated by guard harassment. She has been subject to repeated and frequent room searches, and her art supplies, which she relies on to manage metal health symptoms, were confiscated.
Desiree Licci has a family and personal history of cancer. In 2010, she observed multiple masses growing on her breasts, mouth, and arms. In December 2010, Desiree requested testing. In April 2011, the prison doctor referred her to an oncologist. However, she was not seen for a CT scan until September 2011. In the interim, she began experiencing diarrhea, nausea, exhaustion, weight loss, and pain. Desiree did not receive an MRI until December 2011 and it was not properly administered. She had to submit a grievance and wait another month until a proper MRI was done, confirming multiple masses on both ovaries.
Joseph Hefner’s vision rapidly deteriorated after a Dept. of Corrections nurse gave him expired eye drops. In 2006 and 2008, Joseph did not receive timely doctor-prescribed eye medication following eye surgery. Although he has submitted numerous health care requests for eye pain and his doctor has referred him to the ophthalmologist, he has been waiting to see an ophthalmologist for over three years.
Joshua Polson has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, mood disorder, and psychosis. He has a family history of suicide and has attempted suicide three times. Nonetheless, he is in isolation, where he has minimal human contact, which results in increased suicidal ideation. He has experienced repeated gaps in his medication and sporadic monitoring of his medication levels. Additionally, he has chronic ear infections and permanent hearing loss in his right ear following significant delays in care. After losing hearing in his right ear, Joshua submitted health care requests for pain in his left ear, but was not seen for over a month.
Charlotte Wells has a history of heart disease and high blood pressure and suffered a heart attack prior to being incarcerated. She arrived in custody complaining of chronic chest pains, and continued to experience dizziness and high blood pressure, but was not seen by a cardiologist until she was hospitalized for a blocked artery four months later. Charlotte was not seen by a doctor or returned to the hospital thereafter, despite her history and the high risk of heart attack following the placement of a stent. Additionally, Charlotte experienced broken fillings in two of her teeth in 2010. She complained of pain and requested fillings be repaired, but was told the only option was to have the teeth pulled, or wait months to have the filling approved. She did this, and endured pain for several months before her fillings were replaced; however, when she got the filling, the dentist cracked an adjacent tooth.