(The email below was sent individually to members of the AZ State Senate Friday and Saturday, and to the rest of the legislature today from me for the Friends of Marcia Powell. If I left anything out, folks, chime in now - at least contact your own legislators before Monday is through.) ---------------------
Friday, November 20, 2009
Dear Arizona State Legislators;
This to let you know that there are more than a few voices out here in support of early release for low-risk prisoners as one of the current budget-cutting proposals. Many of those voices belong to members of prisoners' families and communities. We are especially concerned about elderly, disabled, and terminally ill prisoners, but there are some children who would love to see their healthy folks home for the holidays, too.
We want our legislators and public officals to remember that not all prisoners are "bad people", and that their punishments affect more than themselves alone - as would an act of grace. When you decide what to do with them - how you punish them, for how long, and under what kinds of conditions - think of them not only as "criminals", but as mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters and friends to many of us.
Some of us have been agitating for awhile about lengthy sentences, the Department of Corrections' health services and mental health care, and deteriorating prison conditions. Others are just getting organized. Between us, it doesn't look like we can count on many legislators to go out on a limb on behalf of our loved ones. So, stand with us, feel free to follow along, or move out of the way, because there's a lot we'll need to be talking about in the coming year, and there's no gettting around all of us. We don't care what party a senator or representative is with: there are a lot of problems with the criminal justice system, and you can be "tough on crime" without being so tough us. We've been hurt, too.
"Sunbelt Justice" by UC-Irvine Professor Mona Lynch provides a good foundation for understanding the issues we'll be raising with public officials in constituent meetings, at the Capitol when the legislature re-convenes, and throughout the 2010 political campaign season. Professor Lynch will be in Tempe on December 2, speaking about her research into the history of the Arizona DOC and the potential turning point we find ourselves at. Your appearance would be a show of interest and perhaps support, but your voices and votes are what we'll be paying most attention to.
In the meantime, as you deliberate the budget crisis this weekend, please give your consideration the human aspects of authorizing an early release program. Look into the research about crime and punishment. Prison over-crowding alone takes a toll, stressing everyone from prisoners with physical and mental health conditions to corrections officers whose safety is placed at greater risk.
There are also simply more effective ways to deal with things like alcoholism or the absolute desperation of poverty than long-term incarceration. Many of these interventions would help our families, and protect our communities from further harm in the long run. We are sure Director Ryan can develop a good list of low-risk prisoners to consider for early release to community supervison, and redirect Arizona Department of Corrections' resources appropriately.
Thank you for your time.
Friends of Marcia Powell
"Our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to it.
To deprive it of oxygen.
To shame it.
To mock it.
With our art, our music, our literature,
our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance,
our sheer relentlessness,
and our ability to tell our own stories..."
- Arundhati Roy