by Paul Wright
Welcome to the last issue of PLN for the year. This month’s cover story reports the landmark court ruling in Parsons v. Ryan — now known as Jensen v. Shinn — the class-action lawsuit over inadequate medical care and conditions of confinement in the Arizona Department of Corrections. Since the enactment of the Prison Litigation Reform Act in 1996, sweeping class-action lawsuits around prison and jail conditions have become much rarer — not because conditions improved, but because the PLRA made it much harder for prisoner plaintiffs to prevail in federal court challenges.
That it has taken a decade of litigation to get to this point should not be a surprise. Nor should be the dozens of prisoners who needlessly died for lack of adequate medical care, or the pain and suffering imposed on countless others. And through it all the government of Arizona — both its executive and legislative branches — has done nothing but fight the effort to provide the medical care the state is legally required to provide.
We will continue reporting on the case and likely government appeal. Worth noting is the private medical company that Arizona until recently contracted — with hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money — in order to provide medical care to prisoners: Centurion. The court ruling notes the abysmal role Centurion plays in perpetuating the death and misery of Arizona prisoners by not providing the medical care it is being paid for.
On November 14, 2022, The Human Rights Defense Center, the organization that publishes Prison Legal News and Criminal Legal News, was sued by Centurion in Putnam County court in Florida. The lawsuit seeks declaratory relief that HRDC cannot legally seek public records from Centurion related to its medical care of prisoners. We also currently have public records lawsuits pending against Centurion in New Mexico and Vermont. Filing a public records request with Centurion for the settlement of a case filed by the estate of a prisoner killed through the firm’s medical neglect is what apparently triggered this lawsuit.
Suits against media entities to intimidate us and prevent us from carrying out our news gathering and reporting functions are called Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP). In 32 years, this is the first time we have been sued by the prison profiteers we report on. We must be doing something right. The resource disparity between a massive corporation like Centene Corporation, Centurion’s owner, with over $34 billion a year in revenue and HRDC is, well, massive. Just how big is Centene? They are number 26 on the Fortune 500 list. The clear intention is to attempt to silence us and keep us from reporting on just how they make those $34 billion a year and how many lives are sacrificed on the altar of its corporate greed and avarice.
As this issue goes to press, we are filing our response and our own Anti-SLAPP motion to dismiss the case and seek our attorney fees. The Seattle law firm of Davis Wright Tremaine, which has long represented media organizations including HRDC, and Tallahassee attorney James Slater are representing HRDC pro bono in this matter, along with HRDC staff attorney Hara Fischbein. We are grateful for their help and, needless to say, we will not be silenced.
I think almost everyone who reads PLN likes what we have to say, or you would not be reading it. Obviously, some people don’t like what we have to say, and they try to silence us or shut us down, historically through government censorship and now through filing frivolous SLAPP suits against us. This is where we need your help. If you can donate to help us fight this fight and keep publishing and printing, please do so. For 32 years I have said that free speech is not free. If you believe in a free independent media that publishes the truth without fear or favor, this your chance to support it.
We have not stopped fighting or advocating for prisoner rights in over 32 years, and we have not gotten as far as we have without support from readers like you. Please donate what you can afford and encourage others to do so as well. We will report the outcome of the SLAPP suit.
Best wishes for the holiday season and the new year from everyone at HRDC to our readers, advertisers, and supporters.
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