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Arizona TV Reporter Blames Prisoners for Citizens’ Lack of Healthcare

When Lynette Barrett was searching for someone to blame for her husband’s battle with liver disease and his long wait for a transplant, a TV reporter was quick to point his finger at America’s favorite scapegoat: prisoners.

Morgan Loew, a reporter for KPHO in Phoenix, Arizona, concluded during a May 2012 broadcast that Barrett’s husband, Murray, had been waiting nine years for a new liver because the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) provides “life-saving” medical care to prisoners and, more specifically, to those on death row.

Loew’s investigative report revealed that on November 20, 2011, the ADC gave convicted murderer Robert Moorman – who was awaiting execution for killing his adoptive mother in 1984 – a quintuple heart bypass at “taxpayers’ expense,” only to execute him three months later.

Meanwhile, Murray Barrett has had three hospital stays, each costing more than $50,000, and he and his wife have had to pay $100,000 upfront for his treatment because they were dropped from the state’s Medicaid system – as have thousands of other Arizonans.

For viewers who didn’t see the correlation between Moorman’s bypass surgery and Barrett’s need for a liver transplant, Loew edified them: “Some of these condemned inmates are receiving the kind of state-funded medical care being denied to law-abiding citizens who don’t have health insurance,” he stated.

And because constitutional and human rights continue to be foreign concepts in Arizona, Loew asked Dan Pochoda, legal director of the Arizona ACLU, “Why does the state pay for healthcare for prisoners?”

“Because there’s no choice,” Pochoda told him, likely wondering why he would have to explain that the state must provide medical care to prisoners because they have no other way to receive treatment – and that the failure to provide care for serious medical conditions is a violation of the Eighth Amendment.

Apparently oblivious to such constitutional requirements, Loew also failed to mention that at the time Moorman received bypass surgery he had neither exhausted his final attempt to have his sentence commuted nor had his execution date been scheduled. But that would have complicated Loew’s premise that Barrett’s inability to obtain a liver transplant was somehow related to the healthcare that prisoners receive.

In reality, as most people know who have served time, medical treatment in prisons and jails is predominately poor – and Arizona is no exception. In fact, a class-action suit is currently challenging the adequacy of healthcare in ADC facilities, which has been contracted out to Corizon, a for-profit company. The lawsuit, which remains pending, was filed in March 2012 – two months before Loew aired his news report. See: Parsons v. Ryan, U.S.D.C. (D. Ariz.), Case No. 2:12-cv-00601-PHX-NVW [PLN, July 2013, p.1].

On November 6, 2013, the Arizona chapter of the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization, released a report titled “Death Yards: Continuing Problems with Arizona’s Correctional Health Care.” The report cited numerous case studies describing delays in and denials of medical services for prisoners, problems with chronic and infectious disease care, medical staffing shortages and deficiencies in mental health care, among other issues. The AFSC report concluded that inadequate medical treatment in ADC facilities was “the result of policies, organizational culture, and an operating model that prioritizes cutting costs over delivering adequate and timely care.”

Which is a far cry from the ample medical services that Loew glibly implied prisoners receive at the expense of non-incarcerated citizens. As of the end of November, almost 80 Arizona state prisoners had died during 2013, mostly due to medical-related causes.

“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 AFSC director Caroline Isaacs.

Sources:, KPHO-TV,,

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