I seldom ever re-write blog posts, but sometimes new information or insight calls for a re-evaluation of my positions or strategies. In this case, time and reflection has compelled me to re-evaluate both. This is therefore a rewrite - the older version is gone.
Last week, Governor Jan Brewer announced the retirement of the current director of the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections, Michael Branham. This alone concerned me, as I knew he'd been resisting her desire to privatize the whole department. What concerned me more, however, is the naming of his replacement: current Deputy Director of the Arizona Department of Corrections, Charles Flanagan - the one man for whom I've had more animosity towards than his boss, Chuck Ryan.
My feelings about Deputy Director Flanagan are rooted in experiences I've had or been privy to behind the scenes that aren't necessary to detail here. What matters is that under his watch the homicide and suicide rates in the state prisons have skyrocketed. The ACLU is investigating the ADC's abuse and neglect of seriously mentally ill prisoners - all too often managed with solitary confinement, which has been shown to be especially harmful to the mental health of prisoners with pre-existing psychiatric disorders.
As an example of both the effects of solitary and the cruel mentality of the state: one young man I know of, Mark, set himself on fire in desperation after begging for a year to have a cellie or be re-classified to a different yard (out of SMU-I, which is where he was when he set himself on fire), the experience of exile and isolation was so tortuous for him. Characteristic of this administration, despite being burned over 80% of his body - arguably punishment enough for an apparent suicide attempt - the state prosecuted him for arson and gave him more time. Is it any wonder that the level of despair and violence has risen so high in there, when the most vulnerable and impaired prisoners are so brutally treated by the ADC as a matter of course?
Such responses to mentally ill prisoners already traumatized by the conditions of their confinement not only shows an institutional culture void of compassion, but also a lack of competency and creativity. Charles Flanagan may have only been in his current position for the past 2 1/2 years, but one of the cases made for his appointment as the new ADJC director is that he's been helping build the ADC into what it is all this time - he's a career soldier there. If he wants credit for that - as if it's something worth claiming - then he needs to take responsibility for where things have gone awry, too - the pattern of abuse and neglect emerging at the state prisons under this administration has been festering for decades under bureaucrats like Chuck Ryan and his mentor, Terry Stewart.
The degree to which Charles Flanagan is part of the same good old boys network at the ADC or part of the resistance to it has yet to be seen. Former ASPC-Eyman Deputy Warden Carl Toersbijns - who I respect immensely, for an officer of the law in this state - keeps trying to convince me that Flanagan is one of the "good guys". My own verdict came in on him long ago - but with new testimony and a look at the old evidence, I'm willing to give his case another look. I want the judiciary in this state to do the same more often for our prisoners with wrongful conviction claims, so I'll try to lead by example.
Still, a good many people have died while Deputy Director Flanagan has helped whitewash the festering conditions inside his prisons over the past couple of years. That's not for me to forgive - that's for those victims and survivors of prison violence and neglect to wrestle with. My job, as I see it, is to amplify their voices, their protest, their resistance to what's happened and continues to happen to Arizona's state prisoners under the current regime, not to give those already in power even more by giving them "equal" space or consideration in my blogs. They already have the benefit of the doubt from everyone else - I'm often the only one to present the other side.
So, while I'm open to Carl's version of the deputy director's role in things under Chuck Ryan, I'm not cutting Flanagan a break. He's responsible by his own claim to leadership there for where the ADC is now at this point in history. I just recognize that I'm not in a position myself to judge accurately what he's done behind the scenes on behalf of prisoners to counter the damage his boss' leadership through the years has done - that is, I'm not absolutely sure if he's part of the problem or part of the solution.
In either case, Charles Flanagan's going to be part of this whole system injustice for some time to come, since the ADJC feeds so many of its kids to the ADC when they're done "correcting" them. In light of that, I invited him to have a dialogue with me; that, after a year or so of having ADC General Counsel Karyn Klausner run interference between us because I simmered with rage at the thought of him (I can only imagine how he feels about me). He promptly and graciously accepted. We'll talk after he settles into his new job - assuming I'm not sidelined over my graffiti by then.
In the meantime, those of you who have questions for him about his term in the adult system or his vision for criminalized youth, please shoot them to me between now and July 1. I can't promise that they'll be answered, but I'll make sure that they're publicly asked. Let your friends and loved ones inside know the invitation extends to them as well, and have them write to me at:
Arizona Prison Watch
PO Box 20494
Phoenix, AZ 85036
I'd love to get some prisoner feedback to share with the community out here about this new appointment; put the word out that it would mean a lot to me what the guys who have seen Flanagan rise through the ranks have to say about his integrity and competency as a CO and administrator.
Anyone interested in following juvenile justice issues in Arizona and helping to maintain a new blog, Arizona Juvenile Prison Watch, please contact me as well.
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