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Court Denies Arizona DOC’s Motion to Terminate Monitoring of Prisoners’ Out-of-Cell Time

by Douglas Ankney

On September 16, 2019, federal judge Roslyn O. Silver signed an order that denied, in part, a motion filed by the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADOC) to terminate monitoring of out-of-cell exercise time for prisoners housed in maximum-security units.

The ADOC moved to terminate its obligation to monitor Maximum Custody Performance Measures (MCPMs), which mandate a minimum amount of out-of-cell time for prisoners held in maximum-security units pursuant to a court-enforced Stipulation. Prison officials argued the Stipulation provided that after 24 months of monitoring, their duty to monitor would end if they were in compliance for 18 of those months.

However, the district court found the ADOC’s monitoring methods failed to satisfy the Stipulation. For example, the ADOC’s documentation showed that prisoners often refused their out-of-cell exercise time, and prison officials argued they only had a duty to offer the required amount of time, not to ensure that prisoners used it. But the prisoners presented evidence that the reasons they had “refused” out-of-cell time included:

• staff members asking prisoners if they wanted exercise while the prisoners were asleep and could not hear them;

• staff members whispering the offer and then documenting it as a refusal when the prisoners didn’t answer;

• prisoners were not provided adequate footwear or clothing to go outside on cold mornings;

• due to staff shortages, prisoners were left in showers for four hours or more after exercising, which discouraged them from going to exercise;

• the recreation cages contained feces and smelled of urine, which also discouraged prisoners from using exercise time; and

• staff shortages resulted in frequent cancellations of recreation.

The district court also faulted the ADOC’s “randomization method” used in monitoring. The Stipulation required prison officials to review files “for 10 randomly selected prisoners” from “each designated location” once a month. But the compliance data showed the ADOC “randomly selected” the same prisoners, month after month.

Additionally, the ADOC argued its obligation to monitor MCPMs at ASPC-Florence’s Central Unit (Main Yard) and ASPC-Perryville should be terminated because maximum-security prisoners were no longer housed at those facilities. The district court agreed on that issue, and thus granted the ADOC’s motion in part and denied it in part.

PLN has reported extensively on this case since it was filed in 2012. See: Parsons v. Ryan, U.S.D.C. (D. Ariz.), Case No. 2:12-cv-00601-ROS. 

Related legal case

Parsons v. Ryan