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Advocates say Arizona prison health care is inadequate

Caroline Isaacs, director of the American Friends Service Committee's Tucson office, addresses a news conference at which her group released a report detailing allegations of inadequate care provided by Brentwood, Tenn.-based Corizon, which has handled health care at all state prisons since March. (Cronkite News Service photo by Anne M. Shearer

PHOENIX -- An advocacy group alleges that a private health care company contracted by the Arizona Department of Corrections has delayed inmate care, failed to provide medication and hasn't offered any treatment at all to some needing it.

At a news conference to release a report detailing its allegations, the American Friends Service Committee called on the agency to terminate its contract with Brentwood, Tenn.-based Corizon, which has provided health care at all state prisons since March, replacing another private company.

"While prisoners have always written to us complaining of the poor quality of medical care in the Arizona Department of Corrections, there was a noticeable uptick in the number and seriousness of these requests over the past year," said Caroline Isaacs, director of the American Friends Service Committee's Tucson office.

Last year, the ACLU of Arizona filed a class-action lawsuit against the Department of Corrections over health care provided to inmates.

Daniel Pochoda, legal director for the ACLU of Arizona, said that in his 40 years of prison litigation he's never come across worse treatment of prisoners than in Arizona.

A Department of Corrections spokesman said the agency wouldn't comment on the group's allegations due to the lawsuit.

A Corizon spokeswoman emailed a statement saying that since the company began providing care in Arizona prisons it has "increased the number and skill level of our health care staff with the goal of continually improving patient outcomes."

The statement said that while lawsuits are inevitable in health care the vast majority against Corizon are dismissed or settled with no findings of wrongdoing.

But Isaacs said that the problems cited in the ACLU's lawsuit have worsened, in part because awarding the contract to Corizon created additional upheaval.

"This includes delays and denials of care, lack of timely emergency treatment, failure to provide medication and medical devices, low staffing levels, failure to provide care and protection from infectious diseases, denial of specialty care and referrals and insufficient mental health treatment," she said.

Eleanor Grant, who joined Isaacs and Pochoda at the news conference said her 70-year-old husband, Thomas Vogt, an inmate at a state prison in Tucson, isn't getting sufficient care for prostate cancer, diabetes and heart and respiratory problems, among other medical issues.

According to the Department of Corrections' website, Vogt is serving five life terms for armed robbery, burglary, kidnapping and aggravated assault.

"Corizon is trying to kill him and the others in the unit he is in, not overtly but through procrastination and deliberate indifference," she said.

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