Retiring Arizona Prison Watch...

This site was originally started in July 2009 as an independent endeavor to monitor conditions in Arizona's criminal justice system, as well as offer some critical analysis of the prison industrial complex from a prison abolitionist/anarchist's perspective. It was begun in the aftermath of the death of Marcia Powell, a 48 year old AZ state prisoner who was left in an outdoor cage in the desert sun for over four hours while on a 10-minute suicide watch. That was at ASPC-Perryville, in Goodyear, AZ, in May 2009.

Marcia, a seriously mentally ill woman with a meth habit sentenced to the minimum mandatory 27 months in prison for prostitution was already deemed by society as disposable. She was therefore easily ignored by numerous prison officers as she pleaded for water and relief from the sun for four hours. She was ultimately found collapsed in her own feces, with second degree burns on her body, her organs failing, and her body exceeding the 108 degrees the thermometer would record. 16 officers and staff were disciplined for her death, but no one was ever prosecuted for her homicide. Her story is here.

Marcia's death and this blog compelled me to work for the next 5 1/2 years to document and challenge the prison industrial complex in AZ, most specifically as manifested in the Arizona Department of Corrections. I corresponded with over 1,000 prisoners in that time, as well as many of their loved ones, offering all what resources I could find for fighting the AZ DOC themselves - most regarding their health or matters of personal safety.

I also began to work with the survivors of prison violence, as I often heard from the loved ones of the dead, and learned their stories. During that time I memorialized the Ghosts of Jan Brewer - state prisoners under her regime who were lost to neglect, suicide or violence - across the city's sidewalks in large chalk murals. Some of that art is here.

In November 2014 I left Phoenix abruptly to care for my family. By early 2015 I was no longer keeping up this blog site, save occasional posts about a young prisoner in solitary confinement in Arpaio's jail, Jessie B.

I'm deeply grateful to the prisoners who educated, confided in, and encouraged me throughout the years I did this work. My life has been made all the more rich and meaningful by their engagement.

I've linked to some posts about advocating for state prisoner health and safety to the right, as well as other resources for families and friends. If you are in need of additional assistance fighting the prison industrial complex in Arizona - or if you care to offer some aid to the cause - please contact the Phoenix Anarchist Black Cross at PO Box 7241 / Tempe, AZ 85281.

until all are free -

MARGARET J PLEWS (June 1, 2015)


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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Extracting ourselves from SUPERMAX.

If Maine Can Do It...

The state’s new governor and corrections commissioner have sharply reduced prisoners in solitary without a rise in violence. They may have shown other states a way out of the supermax morass.

Solitary confinement has become more contentious nationally. First there was the controversy over the isolation of Bradley Manning, the soldier arrested for allegedly giving classified documents to WikiLeaks.

Then, earlier this month, more than 6,000 inmates in California prisons began a hunger strike to protest its use at the Pelican Bay prison's Security Housing Unit or "supermax."

As of Thursday, several hundred California prisoners are still on strike, and the weakening condition of some may soon require officials to choose between allowing inmates to die or force-feeding them.

Surprisingly, on the other side of the country the new conservative Republican governor of Maine, Paul LePage, and his new corrections commissioner, Joseph Ponte, a veteran warden, may be able to show other states a way out of the sad, expensive morass that super-maximum-security solitary confinement has become.

Critics say solitary confinement is inhumane and counterproductive, and it costs two or three times regular imprisonment. Only the United States uses it for massive numbers of prisoners, a practice that has become common over the past 25 years.

Across the country, at least 25,000 inmates are in state supermax facilities — generally, in 23-hour-a-day isolation — and another 11,000 are in federal solitary confinement.

In a matter of weeks this spring, Commissioner Ponte dramatically reformed the Maine State Prison’s supermax, the Special Management Unit or SMU. Like others across the country it had been plagued by inmates "cutting up," by suicides and suicide attempts, hunger strikes, inmate assaults on guards, guard assaults on inmates and, in Maine's case, unexplained inmate deaths.

Like its counterparts elsewhere, Maine’s SMU had been increasingly accused of being a torture chamber, especially for the mentally ill.

Ponte's major reform has been to quickly shrink the number of supermax prisoners by almost 60 percent, from a nearly-always-full 132 cells to, recently, 54.

One immediate result is that the unit is calmer, and no great disruption has occurred from putting inmates back into the prison general population. Although wardens have defended supermaxes as necessary to decrease prison violence, academic researchers say there's no evidence this is so.

Maine's experience so far supports the research.

Shrinking Supermax Numbers

Maine is not the first state to shrink its supermax numbers. In recent years Mississippi reduced its Parchman supermax population by 90 percent, also without upheaval. But reforms there were forced by an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawsuit.

In Maine the reforms came about after a grassroots political campaign — and the appointment of a commissioner willing to listen to reformers.

In this respect, Maine is unique. Although its prison system is small and not fraught with gangs, and the reforms are quite recent, activists in other states and the nation's capital are looking closely at Maine and drawing lessons for their own anti-supermax efforts.

"These reforms, if sustained, will make Maine a national leader in rolling back the excessive and unnecessary use of solitary confinement," says David Fathi, head of the ACLU's Washington, D.C.-based National Prison Project.

"We've followed our colleagues in Maine with admiration, awe and envy," says Laurie Jo Reynolds, organizer of the campaign in Illinois to limit solitary confinement at the Tamms supermax.

Maine's own prison reformers are in a mild state of shock at seeing many of their long-time recommendations adopted. Ponte even appointed two members of the Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition to a Department of Corrections committee coordinating the reforms.

"For the first time in years we have a good relationship" with the commissioner, Judy Garvey, a coalition leader, told the Republican-dominated legislature's Criminal Justice Committee in May.

Committee members appeared pleased with Ponte's actions. A year previously, many of the same lawmakers had sided with the former corrections commissioner in defending solitary confinement.

The change in thinking about corrections in Maine has been astonishing.

Officials Fired

A 64-year-old turnaround specialist who had straightened out some of America's most violent prisons, Ponte also quickly made personnel changes. In the spring he fired two associate commissioners; and last month he dismissed four Maine State Prison guard captains along with the prison’s controversial security chief, a veteran deputy warden whom prisoners, prison critics and former employees had long accused of dealing harshly with both inmates and staff.

Ponte's reforms go beyond the SMU, changing how discipline is enforced throughout the 915-inmate, all-male, maximum-security prison located in the coastal village of Warren.

In the past, guards threw prisoners into the SMU for small infractions, like getting themselves tattooed. Then, in a vicious circle, as an inmate's rage or mental problems grew because of the isolation, his protests added time to his supermax stay.

If he was driven to throw feces at guards — a common supermax phenomenon — he could have years added to his sentence subsequent to a conviction for assault.

Among other changes, Ponte:

* ordered that inmates not be placed in isolation longer than 72 hours without his personal approval;

* imposed a seven-day limit on supermax stays for inmates being investigated for in-prison crimes (in the past, a prisoner might languish for months as an investigation dragged on without him being charged);

* reclassified and moved out of the supermax many prisoners who simply appeared to be there unnecessarily;

* stopped the once-frequent brutal “cell extractions” of uncooperative and often mentally ill inmates; there have been none since May;

* required guards to use what Ponte calls “informal sanctions” to discipline unruly prisoners, like taking away commissary or recreation privileges, as alternatives to "the hole."

The Model: Success with Juveniles

Heading up the committee overseeing the reforms is Rodney Bouffard, superintendent of South Portland’s Long Creek Youth Development Center, a lockup for adolescents.

Reflecting his background (he has run both the chief state psychiatric hospital and the state center for the developmentally disabled), Bouffard has a psychological-treatment approach to corrections.

"Good treatment is good security," he says.

Bouffard got Ponte's attention because he can point to the low recidivism rate of offenders released from Long Creek.

Since he and his team took charge nearly ten years ago, the Department of Corrections claims a one-year recidivism rate drop from 75 percent to between 15 percent and 20 percent. Moreover, there was a reduction in two years from 419 to 15 annual instances of increasingly brief solitary confinement.

Ponte is using Long Creek as a model for the prison system, even though Long Creek's "residents" are kids.

This choice recognizes that many inmates have mental illness. In the Warren supermax, over half have been diagnosed as seriously mentally ill (16 currently are in a special mental-health unit).

Ponte's choice also recognizes that punishment has "negative results. There's no study ever done that shows a punishment model gets good results," says Bartlett "Barry" Stoodley, associate corrections commissioner for juveniles.

"The punishment is what the court gives, the sentence," Ponte says. "We're not in the business of punishment, but corrections. We've got a lot to learn from the juvenile system."

But, he adds, "It's going to take a philosophical change" in the department.

Quiet and unpretentious, Ponte surprised reformers with his receptivity to progressive ideas because he came to Maine from the for-profit Corrections Corporation of America, which has seen its share of prisoner-abuse scandals. But for most of his career he worked for public systems.

In the 1980s in Massachusetts Ponte cleaned up violent Walpole prison, earning him a Boston Globe accolade as "the boy wonder" of state corrections. In the early 2000s he did the same at Shelby County Jail in Memphis, where gangs had sponsored "Thunderdome" fights among inmates.

He went to Maine recommended not only by his correctional colleagues but also, for fairness and responsiveness, by prisoner-rights advocates.

An aide to Gov. LePage said at Ponte's confirmation hearing in February that Ponte was brought to Maine to fix the prison system's problems. Although LePage is a member of the Tea Party-supported crop of Republican governors, with an agenda that includes reductions in taxes and state spending, he is progressive in sharply condemning the fact that prisons and jails have become de facto asylums.

Not Just the Commissioner

By no means are LePage and Ponte solely responsible for the reforms.

Ponte landed in the state as a rethinking was taking place on the part of corrections and elected officials, newspaper editorial writers, and others. They became more concerned about the humaneness, health effects, usefulness and cost of solitary confinement.

The new ideas had been promoted by a home-grown prison-reform movement that made curbing solitary its top priority.

Ponte and his committee guiding the reforms have as their playbook a bold report commissioned last year by the legislature at the behest of these activists.

The report resulted from a study of solitary confinement that legislators ordered as a substitute for a bill they defeated that had been pushed by prisoner-rights, civil-liberties, religious, and mental-health groups.

The bill would have greatly restricted the use of isolation.

The bill had stirred up a statewide discussion, with the Maine branch of the ACLU and churches affiliated with the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) playing major roles.

National and Maine experts testified at the bill’s hearing that extended prisoner isolation deteriorates brains and behavior and, under international law, is increasingly considered torture.

Ed NOTE: For more on this, please see "The Anti-Supermax Battle Broadens," The Crime Report, May 17, 2010.

Although the corrections department had opposed the study, a group of diligently researching supermax incarceration.

Delivered to the state’s Criminal Justice Committee early this year,their report signals a stunning turnaround in official thinking about the Warren supermax and the 22-cell SMU at the medium-security Maine Correctional Center at Windham, near Portland.

The report doesn’t oppose solitary confinement per se, but it offers pull-no-punches recommendations to reduce its use and make both SMUs more humane.

The report fell into receptive hands.

With Ponte, says the head of his department's clinical services, psychologist Joseph Fitzpatrick, "There's not a lot of meetings to talk about change.”

Eyes On Maine

In the only campaign similar to Maine's, the grassroots group Tamms Year Ten has tried for several years to improve conditions in the Illinois supermax.

The group twice had reform bills introduced in the legislature, "which we then dropped after reforms were promised. But the reforms never materialized," according to Laurie Jo Reynolds.

Recently, Tamms prisoners were allowed to make telephone calls, which had been promised "back in 2009 when they installed the telephones," she says.

Despite the slow pace of change in her state, Reynolds sees national consciousness of supermax issues expanding. "Maine is the model” for reform, she says, noting that the state has not only set a template for facing its problems, but included advocates in the decision-making process.

John Humphries, program coordinator for Washington-based NRCAT, says Maine's anti-solitary effort is "providing inspiration to similar efforts emerging in other states" — especially because NRCAT and the ACLU are promoting Maine as a model for political action.

In New Mexico, the legislature this year called for a committee to be established to study solitary confinement's impact on inmates, its effectiveness in "reducing problems," and its cost.

The committee will include representatives of the corrections department, the state psychiatrists' and psychologists' associations, the ACLU, and religious groups. A draft report is due next year.

In Colorado, legislators this year watered down a bill that would have made it harder to put mentally ill prisoners in solitary. The new law instead establishes guidelines for the use of solitary and finances more mental-health programs.

But Humphries says a new corrections commissioner "seems open to implementing reforms." Anti-solitary movements, he says, also exist in Texas, Pennsylvania, Oregon, and Virginia.

The Jury Is Still Out

Interviewed at the Maine State Prison, Joe Jackson, vice-president of the NAACP inmate chapter, reports that some guards are not happy with the changes.

Jim Bergin, a Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition member on the supermax reform committee, says the committee is grappling with the issue of how to re-educate guards: It's "probably the biggest problem we’re dealing with.”

Ponte acknowledges resistance among the staff, but “I’m holding all of their feet to the fire.”

With time and training — he has increased guard training — he believes those who oppose what he’s doing will come around.

There are other obstacles. Apprehensive about inmates with isolation-exacerbated behavioral problems being released into the general inmate population, reformers have pushed for more prisoner mental-health care. (Mississippi provided considerable mental-health care for its ex-supermax inmates.)

But providing more mental-health care may bump into a financial obstacle.

Three times as much money is spent annually per-prisoner at Long Creek ($149,000) than at the state prison ($47,000).

Long Creek is a smaller institution and therefore its overhead is higher, but its treatment also involves a lot of psychotherapy, and its many high-school and college courses contribute to its success in maintaining order and improving recidivism numbers.

By contrast, little inmate mental-health care or education takes place at the prison.

With savings from reducing supermax incarceration, Ponte may be able to do more for the mentally ill. And "some things will be at no cost," he says. Plus: "We will use current staff in different roles, and we will see what additional cost remains after we get through that process."

So far there has been no big ramping up of inmate programs and, given a strained state budget, extra money for them would be hard to come by.

Still, the reformers are optimistic.

"It's still early, and the challenge will be to sustain these changes over time," says the ACLU's Fahti of the Maine supermax reforms. "But this is a very promising start."

Lance Tapley is a frequent contributor to The Crime Report and a 2010 John Jay/H.F. Guiggenheim Reporting Fellow. This article draws on reporting done for The Portland Phoenix in Maine. The author welcomes comments from readers.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Hungry for Human Rights: Solitary and Pelican Bay

Barbarous Confinement
New York Tmes
Published: July 17, 2011

MORE than 1,700 prisoners in California, many of whom are in maximum isolation units, have gone on a hunger strike. The protest began with inmates in the Security Housing Unit at Pelican Bay State Prison. How they have managed to communicate with each other is anyone’s guess — but their protest is everyone’s concern. Many of these prisoners have been sent to virtually total isolation and enforced idleness for no crime, not even for alleged infractions of prison regulations. Their isolation, which can last for decades, is often not explicitly disciplinary, and therefore not subject to court oversight. Their treatment is simply a matter of administrative convenience.

Solitary confinement has been transmuted from an occasional tool of discipline into a widespread form of preventive detention. The Supreme Court, over the last two decades, has whittled steadily away at the rights of inmates, surrendering to prison administrators virtually all control over what is done to those held in “administrative segregation.” Since it is not defined as punishment for a crime, it does not fall under “cruel and unusual punishment,” the reasoning goes.

As early as 1995, a federal judge, Thelton E. Henderson, conceded that so-called “supermax” confinement “may well hover on the edge of what is humanly tolerable,” though he ruled that it remained acceptable for most inmates. But a psychiatrist and Harvard professor, Stuart Grassian, had found that the environment was “strikingly toxic,” resulting in hallucinations, paranoia and delusions. In a “60 Minutes” interview, he went so far as to call it “far more egregious” than the death penalty.

Officials at Pelican Bay, in Northern California, claim that those incarcerated in the Security Housing Unit are “the worst of the worst.” Yet often it is the most vulnerable, especially the mentally ill, not the most violent, who end up in indefinite isolation. Placement is haphazard and arbitrary; it focuses on those perceived as troublemakers or simply disliked by correctional officers and, most of all, alleged gang members. Often, the decisions are not based on evidence. And before the inmates are released from the barbarity of 22-hour-a-day isolation into normal prison conditions (themselves shameful) they are often expected to “debrief,” or spill the beans on other gang members.

The moral queasiness that we must feel about this method of extracting information from those in our clutches has all but disappeared these days, thanks to the national shame of “enhanced interrogation techniques” at Guantánamo. Those in isolation can get out by naming names, but if they do so they will likely be killed when returned to a normal facility. To “debrief” is to be targeted for death by gang members, so the prisoners are moved to “protective custody” — that is, another form of solitary confinement.

Hunger strikes are the only weapon these prisoners have left. Legal avenues are closed. Communication with the outside world, even with family members, is so restricted as to be meaningless. Possessions — paper and pencil, reading matter, photos of family members, even hand-drawn pictures — are removed. (They could contain coded messages between gang members, we are told, or their loss may persuade the inmates to snitch when every other deprivation has failed.)

The poverty of our criminological theorizing is reflected in the official response to the hunger strike. Now refusing to eat is regarded as a threat, too. Authorities are considering force-feeding. It is likely it will be carried out — as it has been, and possibly still continues to be — at Guantánamo (in possible violation of international law) and in an evil caricature of medical care.

In the summer of 1996, I visited two “special management units” at the Arizona State Prison Complex in Florence. A warden boasted that one of the units was the model for Pelican Bay. He led me down the corridors on impeccably clean floors. There was no paint on the concrete walls. Although the corridors had skylights, the cells had no windows. Nothing inside could be moved or removed. The cells contained only a poured concrete bed, a stainless steel mirror, a sink and a toilet. Inmates had no human contact, except when handcuffed or chained to leave their cells or during the often brutal cell extractions. A small place for exercise, called the “dog pen,” with cement floors and walls, so high they could see nothing but the sky, provided the only access to fresh air.

Later, an inmate wrote to me, confessing to a shame made palpable and real: “If they only touch you when you’re at the end of a chain, then they can’t see you as anything but a dog. Now I can’t see my face in the mirror. I’ve lost my skin. I can’t feel my mind.”

Do we find our ethics by forcing prisoners to live in what Judge Henderson described as the setting of “senseless suffering” and “wretched misery”? Maybe our reaction to hunger strikes should involve some self-reflection. Not allowing inmates to choose death as an escape from a murderous fate or as a protest against continued degradation depends, as we will see when doctors come to make their judgment calls, on the skilled manipulation of techniques that are indistinguishable from torture. Maybe one way to react to prisoners whose only reaction to bestial treatment is to starve themselves to death might be to do the unthinkable — to treat them like human beings.

Colin Dayan, a professor of English at Vanderbilt University, is the author of “The Law Is a White Dog: How Legal Rituals Make and Unmake Persons.”

Middle Ground challenges new ADC "fees".

The following press release just arrived in my box, and speaks for itself. Middle Ground Prison Reform has a considerable amount of information on their website on ADC and other prisoner-related issues, so check them out if you haven't already. I'm just a blogger who makes a lot of noise; the Hamms have the legal resources and knowledge to help people sue the ADC on matters like this that I don't.



On Monday, July 18th, with Middle Ground Prison Reform's assistance, David Arner, a prisoner in the Arizona Department of Corrections/Eyman/Meadows Unit, filed a Pro Se Complaint for Special Action and Declaratory Judgment against Charles Ryan, Director of the Arizona Department of Corrections, challenging a new law that will go into effect on July 20, 2011.

The law, which was part of SB 1621, authorizes the DOC to deduct a fee from each deposit made into a state prisoner's bank account (known as a "spendable" account), but requires that 100% of the deductions be placed into a newly-established Building Renewal Fund for the Department of Corrections. None of the "fee" is used at all to defray the cost of managing inmate bank accounts. Hence, under existing case law, it is a tax, not a fee, and constitutes an unconstitutional "special law."

A copy of the Complaint is attached in Pdf. format to this email AND if you have trouble with the attachment, it is also posted on the website for Middle Ground at:

Arizona prisoners do not earn interest, dividends or any monies at all on any monies on deposit in their spendable accounts (or in any other accounts), no matter how long the money is on deposit nor how much money is in the account. Instead, interest earned on these monies is diverted to the DOC's "special services fund." This fund was originally established to provide for purchases that related to the "welfare and benefit of inmates." However, in recent years, the legislatutre has permitted that fund to be used to provide incentive salary increases to prison guards, and for other uses that are wholly unrelated to the welfare and benefit of inmates.

"Now, not only does the state continue its long-term practice of declining to pay interest on prisoners' monies on deposit, but it also wants to tax prisoners' funds by charging a so-called banking deposit fee. None of the monies from the tax are used to defray the cost of actually maintaining the prisoners' spendable accounts, however. Instead, 100% of the illegal tax will be diverted to a Building Renewal Fund for exclusive use by the DOC," said Donna Leone Hamm, Director of Middle Ground Prison Reform.

"Ironically, legislators don't tax themselves, lobbyists or their employees or visitors for leaky roofs or clogged plumbing at the state capitol, but they are perfectly willing to tax prisoners -- and by default their families who make deposits to prisoner's accounts -- for such routine maintenance obligations," said Hamm.
"This so-called "fee", which is actually a tax, is nothing but a pretext to raise money for the building renewal fund of the ADOC. It's an illegal tax -- pure and simple -- imposed on a select group of people -- for a purpose that is legally the responsibility of all taxpayers who benefit from the public safety provided by the prison system," added Hamm.

SB 1621 also authorized the DOC to charge a background check fee for potential visitors who apply for visitation to a prisoner on or after July 20, 2011, and Middle Ground will soon be challenging that fee for the same reasons as above. The fee, set by the ADOC, is $25 for each applicant for visitation over the age of 18. It does not apply to lawyers or their agents. Per the statute, none of the monies collected by the DOC for the "fee" are used to defray the cost of processing background checks. Instead, 100% of the fee is required to be placed in the DOC Building Renewal Fund for building maintenance and renewal projects. This, too, is an illegal special tax. Visitors are not the only persons who use prison buildings. They are used by law enforcement personnel performing interviews of prisoners, lawyers and their agents, prison guards and other prison staff, victim's groups who visit the prison for reconcilation activities, volunteers, and others. All taxpayers have an obligation to pay for general maintenance and renewal of state agency infrastructure.
The separate lawsuit challenging the visitor background check fee will be filed shortly after July 20, 2011, when the fee goes into effect. Donna Leone Hamm and James J. Hamm, principals in Middle Ground, will be the named Plaintiffs in that litigation, representing themselves.

Donna Leone (Hamm)
Criminal Justice Consultant
Executive Director - Middle Ground Prison Reform

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Bill Montgomery on Sentencing reform.

The Maricopa County Attorney, Bill Montgomery, recently submitted the following response to a piece on sentencing reform written originally for ASU's Cronkite News (republished by the Capitol Times) in May. His letter is comprehensive, which I appreciate - and his criticism of the case used to represent non-violent offenders was taken to heart by Cronkite News, who consequently edited it out of their final version of the article, which I've pasted after his commentary.

I disagree with many of Montgomery's conclusions - and question his data and sources - especially where he estimates how much money has theoretically been "saved" on crimes prevented by imposing longer sentences on offenders across categories. But I'll let him and the story that follows speak for themselves right now. Just don't take this post as an endorsement of Montgomery and the MCAO's positions - I'm still in Rep. Cecil Ash's corner on sentencing reform.

What I should note here, however, is that Montgomery was recently given kudos by the ACLU of Arizona for the MCAO's emphasis on diversion of juvenile offenders arrested for graffiti. Some may recall that Thomas was draconian in his efforts to criminalize and punish youth, and routinely ignored evidence-based practice in juvenile justice matters. The MCAO under Andrew Thomas also referred more youth to private vendors for diversion programs, which can be unaffordable to many families and force low-income youth down a criminalized path instead of promoting rehabilitation and community accountability. Montgomery's folks don't appear to be catering to the private punishment industry like Thomas' did (ask the ACLU-AZ for their new briefing paper, "Protecting What Works: Juvenile Diversion in Maricopa County" for more on that issue - it hasn't been posted to their site yet).

-----------------from the Capitol Times------------------

Setting the record straight on sentencing

by Bill Montgomery / Guest Opinion

Capitol Times

Published: July 11th, 2011

I am writing to correct a number of inaccuracies in the May 20 “special report” printed in your newspaper (A push from the right: More conservatives joining fight to change sentencing guidelines”). I am sure the reporter’s intention was to present a thorough examination of this important topic, but her final product was extremely one-sided and lacking in several important facts. As the chief prosecutor for the 4 million residents of Maricopa County, I feel it is my duty to set the record straight.

The problems in this article begin with the characterization of Candita Gottsponer, the convicted felon featured in the opening of the report. She is described as someone “with a record for marijuana possession” who “didn’t expect to go to prison for her first DUI.” The impression most readers might have is that Gottsponer was given a lengthy prison sentence (23 months) for what seems like a mild offense.

In fact, a simple Internet search of publicly available court documents would have revealed that Gottsponer had eight criminal cases, five of which involved felony offenses, including misconduct involving a weapon, possession and use of a dangerous drug, credit card theft, involving a minor in a drug offense and failure to appear. The writer also fails to mention that Gottsponer’s first DUI was an aggravated felony offense — she was driving under the influence with children in the vehicle.

Gottsponer received a prison sentence not because her offenses were “non-violent” as the article mistakenly suggests, but because she committed multiple felony crimes — exactly the type of repeat criminal Arizona’s tough sentencing laws are designed to target. Further proof of the efficacy of her sentence comes from Gottsponer herself, who readily admits that prison afforded her the opportunity to get an education, turn her life around and become, in her words, “a good role model for her kids.” I applaud her change in attitude.

If anything, Gottsponer is a prime example of how well our current sentencing regime works.

The article goes on to suggest, with no objective supporting data, that Arizona has eliminated alternatives to incarceration such as fines and substance abuse treatment in favor of lengthy prison sentences. Exactly the opposite is true. In 2010 alone, more than 4,400 felons in Maricopa County have been offered diversion programs instead of prison, while defendants in some 6,200 drug cases were sent to substance abuse programs, not prison.

The common misconception, repeated throughout the article, is that a simple drug possession conviction in Arizona results in jail or prison time. Again, not true. The overwhelming majority of first-time felony drug possession cases result in probation. And under Proposition 200, with very limited exceptions, first and second-time drug possessors must be placed on probation and offered the opportunity of drug treatment. The indisputable fact is that a first time drug user has to work pretty hard to get into prison in Arizona.

Had the reporter relied on the actual numbers instead of generalities from various interest groups, she would have discovered that only 68 of the roughly 40,000 inmates in the Arizona Department of Corrections are there for possessing drugs — and most of those convicts pled their cases down from more serious offenses. All other drug offenders in our prisons are there for narcotics trafficking, a serious crime which no true conservative — or anyone with a true concern for public safety — would say should be treated lightly.

The article is also rife with distortions of Arizona’s sentencing statutes. Here’s just one example: “a bill signed by Gov. Jan Brewer made causing an accident while driving with a suspended license a felony rather than a misdemeanor, raising the penalty from a maximum of 30 days in jail to a minimum of nine months behind bars.” Left out of this truncated description is any mention that the type of “accident” addressed in this statute is one which results in a death or serious physical injury. As a result, the reader is left to believe that you can go to jail for nine months or more for causing a simple fender bender on a suspended license.

I also take issue with the quantitative analysis underpinning many of the article’s assertions about the cost of our current sentencing regime. The budget for Arizona’s Department of Corrections, we are told, has risen from $41.4 million in fiscal 1979 to $721 million in fiscal 2000 (no effort is made to adjust those dollars for inflation, but let’s put that aside for the moment). Additionally, according to the article the number of inmates has increased “10 times over since the late 1970s, while the state’s population had only doubled.”

By themselves and without the proper context, these numbers appear to be excessively large. Yet a more responsible and complete analysis would have also looked at what Arizona’s presumably large investment in incarceration has yielded in the way of benefits. Nowhere in the article is there any mention of the huge reduction in crime the state has enjoyed over this roughly 30-year period. Such details, of course, would have provided the inconvenient and incontrovertible truth that our current incarceration policies have actually made Arizona a much safer place to live, work and raise a family.

In Maricopa County, with 65 percent of the state’s population, violent and property crimes have fallen nearly 29 percent (as the number of inmates rose 38 percent). Before comprehensive sentencing reform, Arizona was perpetually among the top three states in serious crime. By 2009 (the most recent reported year), we’re down to 15th. A decade ago, Phoenix was ranked the top city for auto theft. Today we’re down to 56th place. Many other types of crimes are also down significantly.

The financial impact of these declines is substantial (and also absent from the article’s analysis). Research data compiled by the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office and the Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys’ Advisory Council found that Arizona’s strengthened sentencing statutes have led to the incarceration of an estimated 3,100 additional offenders in Maricopa County since 2005 who would have otherwise not been sent to prison. These are largely repeat offenders who have been found to commit an average of just under one felony per month. With an average prison sentence of 33 months under Arizona’s truth-in-sentencing laws, that works out to roughly 98,038 additional crimes prevented in Maricopa County alone.

Assuming 90 percent of those deterred crimes (88,234) are property crimes with an average cost of $1,900 each, that works out to a savings of $167.7 million. Assuming the remaining 10 percent (9,804) are violent offenses, generally estimated to cost $20,000 each, that savings approaches $196 million. So, not only are we safer thanks to tougher sentencing, we’ve also saved a bundle — roughly $363.7 million.

And this is precisely the outcome proponents envisioned when they enacted tougher sentencing laws: fewer crimes, fewer crime victims, greater savings, and safer neighborhoods.

But wait, the reporter warns us, the number of inmates in Arizona continues to rise! Scary looking figures supposedly supporting this trend are offered as the article’s parting shot. But these miss the mark entirely. Yes, many people are going to prison — but more are actually coming out. In fact, over the past 11 months there’s actually been a net outflow of inmates. So images of an ever-expanding prison population are simply wrong.

Given the many inaccuracies throughout the report which I’ve cited, I’d like to respectfully ask that the Capitol Times revisit this topic and apply a more rigorous analysis of our sentencing laws, one informed by actual facts instead of opinions and generalities. There is a strong, substantiated argument that Arizona’s current sentencing regime has made our state safer and saved the taxpayers substantial amounts of money. Your readers deserve to hear it.

— Bill Montgomery is the Maricopa County attorney.

-------------------From Cronkite News-------------

More conservatives joining push to change sentencing guidelines

Editor’s Note: The introduction to this story has been corrected to remove a reference to a case that erroneously represented the issue of sentencing guidelines in Arizona. A corrective to the story is available here. The 21st paragraph of the story has been corrected to reflect that recently signed legislation involves accidents that cause serious injury or death. A corrective on that point is available here.

Arizona's prison population:

– 1970 : 1,672
– 1974 : 1,752
– 1980 : 3,480
– 1985 : 8,152
– 1990 : 13,699
– 1995 : 20,742
– 2000 : 26,510
– 2005 : 33,471
– 2010 : 40,508

PHOENIX – Rep. Cecil Ash, a Republican representing a conservative district in Mesa, considers himself anything but soft on crime.

“When a person commits … an intentional violent felony there’s not much excuse for that,” he said.

But his five years as a deputy public defender in Maricopa County Superior Court helped make him question whether changing the way Arizona deals with non-violent criminals would offer an opportunity to save tax dollars and help those offenders turn their lives around. He pointed to lesser drug offenses and white-collar crimes as examples.

“There are only limited funds to go around, and it’s being used in the Department of Corrections,” Ash said. “If we are wasting money in some areas that could be better used in health care or education, then it has an impact.”

Since the late 1970s, state and federal lawmakers have reacted to rising crime and the illicit drug trade by mandating prison time for many non-violent offenses, ranging from driving under the influence to possession of small amounts of marijuana. Those sentencing guidelines also targeted repeat offenders regardless of whether their offenses were violent.

Advocates, generally offering a liberal perspective, have responded that eliminating the options of fines, work release, substance-abuse treatment and house arrest in favor of prison time can turn non-violent offenders into career criminals. Losing contact with their families, communities and jobs contributes to this, they argue.

As states face large budget deficits, calls for reforming sentencing for non-violent offenders also are coming increasingly from conservatives such as Ash who call prison costs unsustainable.

While Arizona’s population increased by 24.6 percent from 2001 to 2010, the population in state and private prisons rose 50.8 percent to 40,508. Bill Hart, a senior policy analyst at the nonpartisan Morrison Institute for Public Policy at Arizona State University, said laws requiring mandatory minimum and maximum sentences for a broadening range of non-violent offenses contributed to that.

“Incarceration has long been a growth industry in Arizona,” he said.


Before the push toward tougher sentences, nearly every federal and state system gave judges latitude on sentences and allowed parole boards to periodically review whether an offender should be released. Judges could consider factors such as marital status, employment and social class as well as the crime itself when determining how much, if any, time a defendant would face.

In the 1970s, concerns about variability in sentencing and rising crime rates prompted a bipartisan push, led by Sens. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., that in the 1980s led to federal sentencing guidelines.

“It was strange bedfellows,” said Cassia Spohn, a professor in Arizona State University’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice. “The conservatives argued that it’s a tough-on-crime control mechanism; the liberals argued that indeterminate sentences were unfair, that they were racially and ethnically disproportionate.”

The guidelines base sentences on the severity of the offense and the offender’s criminal history. It’s a complex formula that Spohn equates to lines intersecting on a grid.

Meanwhile, states added their own sentencing guidelines, with their own complex formulas, for offenses not covered by federal laws.

The results were mandatory minimum sentences, most often targeting drug-related crimes such as possession or trafficking but also applying to DUIs, crimes involving weapons and repeated offenses.

Hart, with the Morrison Institute, said Arizona has been a national leader in such laws.

“Incarceration is very much used here as a tool, and in fact Arizona has kind of a reputation nationwide as a fairly punitive corrections system, meaning a heavy emphasis on incarceration,” Hart said.

In 1978, Arizona adopted a criminal code laying out minimum, maximum and presumptive sentences for dozens of felonies. It included additional penalties for repeat offenders and those who commit crimes while on probation.

One provision, for example, calls for a parolee charged with a felony drug crime involving eight or more pounds of marijuana to face a life sentence and serve a minimum of 25 years on top of any other sentence.

Since then, lawmakers have regularly made changes, large and small, to that code, sometimes increasing sentences but also reclassifying offenses as more severe crimes, which has the effect of boosting penalties. This year, for example, a bill signed by Gov. Jan Brewer made causing an accident involving serious injury or death while driving with a suspended license a felony rather than a misdemeanor, raising the penalty from a maximum of 30 days in jail to a minimum of nine months behind bars.

In addition, Arizona established “three strikes” laws requiring judges to give extended prison terms to those convicted three times or more of violent or aggravated offenses. A so-called truth-in-sentencing law requires violent and non-violent offenders to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences before being eligible for parole.

Hart said such laws have boosted prison populations and rates of incarceration around the country.

“Arizona has been a leader even among these in its rates,” he said.

Spohn said that another outcome of the push for mandatory sentences was that power over criminal penalties shifted from judges to prosecutors, who decide which crimes carrying which mandatory minimum sentences defendants will face.

“We haven’t eliminated discretion in sentencing, we just moved it across the parking lot to the U.S. Attorney’s Office,” Spohn said, quoting a federal judge she interviewed for her research.

After 10 years on the Maricopa County Superior Court bench, Penny Willrich has become an advocate for amending sentencing guidelines for non-violent offenders.

“This is sort of a rough-and-ready state, and they have a sort of narrow and myopic view of criminal rehabilitation,” Willrich said. “Being soft on crime is a misnomer; any time you impose punishment on somebody, you’re not being soft on crime.”

She added: “I think we really have to work on getting rid of the misnomer so that people can get down to business of really evaluating whether the sentences that are there fit the crime.”

Conservative voices

Last year, an Arizona Office of the Auditor General report on the Arizona Department of Corrections’ prison population and the associated costs noted that the number of inmates had increased 10 times over since the late 1970s while the state’s population had only doubled. To keep up with that growth, it said, the state would need to add 8,500 beds by 2017.

Until now, the state has addressed that growth by building more prisons, the report said. Lower-cost options for the future could include diverting more non-violent, low-risk offenders from prison or reducing their time in prison, report concluded, adding that state could look at expanding the use of alternatives to prison, such as house arrest.

Out of a total state budget of $8.9 billion going into the current fiscal year, which ends in June, $949 million was designated for the Department of Corrections. The department’s budget has risen from $41.4 million in fiscal 1979, just after Arizona’s new criminal code went into effect, $413 million in fiscal 1990 and $721 million in fiscal 2000.

It’s the costs associated with Arizona’s rising prison population that have conservatives such as Ash, the state representative, looking for alternatives for non-violent, low-risk offenders.

He authored seven bills this year that would have provided judges discretion to sentence certain non-violent offenders to alternatives to prison, reduced charges for certain non-violent offenses or reduced prison time for low-risk offenders.

“Some people are not malicious; they’ve just made mistakes,” Ash said.

One bill would have prevented underage girls arrested for prostitution from being charged with sex crimes. That change would allow judges to sentence those offenders to diversion programs and counseling rather than prison.

Another bill would have established a process allowing inmates with severe medical conditions to apply for parole if they aren’t serving life sentences or facing the death penalty, releasing the Department of Corrections from responsibility for their care.

Ash said such changes would take into account public safety, the need to rehabilitate inmates and fiscal responsibility.

“At some point you have to balance financial resources you have with what’s needed to be done, and it’s difficult when you just have limited resources,” he said.

However, Ash’s only bill dealing with the subject to reach committee was a measure that would have established a legislative committee to study sentencing guidelines. It won a unanimous endorsement from the House Judiciary Committee but didn’t reach the floor.

The Goldwater Institute, a private think tank dedicated to limited government and free markets, has included alternative sentences for non-violent offenders in its recommendations for reducing the state budget.

Byron Schlomach, director for the Institute’s Center for Economic Prosperity, said judges and juries should be allowed to look at whether options other than incarceration would allow low-risk offenders to earn money to pay restitution and help cover the cost of their supervision.

“Anything that’s cheaper than what we are spending on incarcerated individuals now – that’s just fiscal sense,” he said. “So why wouldn’t we do that, especially if there’s evidence, and there is, that it’s at least as effective as a deterrent on future crime as the current system is.”

Schlomach said he sees a “weird confluence” of liberal and conservative arguments on the subject.

“That just sounds all kinds of conservative to me, and it also sounds merciful to these other people who come from a different point of view,” he said.

Ash’s efforts have national support from organizations such as the Texas Public Policy Foundation, whose RightOnCrime project focuses on reviewing mandatory sentences. The project has gained support from national conservatives leaders such as Grover Norquist and Newt Gingrich.

Marc Levin, the foundation’s director of the Center for Effective Justice, said the states’ budget issues will persuade people who wouldn’t consider sentencing reform before to take a closer look at the issue.

“In the past, people were extremely reluctant to address it – they didn’t want to be accused of being soft on crime,” he said. “I think people have realized that need to be both tough and smart.”

Hart, with the Morrison Institute, said he sees many states reconsidering their stands on sentencing.

“There’s a realization across the country that states can no longer afford these enormous costs of incarceration,” he said. “There’s a lot of belief and, I think, a lot of evidence that this large-scale incarceration does not seem to have really worked very much in correcting people.”

A prosecutor’s view

Hart said deterrence, not rehabilitating criminals, was the goal of mandatory sentencing.

“The aim was really to take discretion away from judges who were perceived back then as being soft on crime and not harsh enough,” he said.

Hart said those opposed to changing the current system contend that non-violent offenders are a very small part of the equation.

A 2010 report by the Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys’ Advisory Council, produced in response to state budget concerns, said that violent and repeat offenders make up about 94 percent of the Arizona’s prison population. The report also noted Arizona’s crime rate dropped by 42.3 percent from 1995 to 2008.

“Their whole point of argument is, ‘No, we don’t have a lot of the wrong people in prison; the right people are in prison, even though there are so many,’” Hart said.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said he looks to crime rates to see what’s working.

“If we’re warehousing them, fewer crimes are being committed, and then other offenders who are out there on the streets don’t have the professionals teaching them what to do,” he said.

Montgomery added that there’s a lack of objective data on the effect of alternatives to prison sentences.

“And without being able to do that I would be very suspect of people trying to say, ‘Aha! Diversion reduces crime which reduces an inmate population,’” Montgomery said.

Ash’s bills faced legislative gatekeepers with tough-on-crime reputations. Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, brought only one of Ash’s bills before the committee. The one bill that did wasn’t taken up afterward by the House Rules Committee, chaired by Rep. Jerry Weiers, R-Glendale.

Neither Farnsworth nor Weiers responded to repeated phone messages and e-mails.

Sen. Ron Gould, R-Lake Havasu City, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was quoted by Capitol Media Services as saying he wouldn’t hear such bills.

“Just because we’re in a budget crisis doesn’t necessarily mean that we need to let prisoners out of prison,’’ said Gould, who also didn’t respond to interview requests from Cronkite News Service. “It’s the basic function of government to punish evildoers.’’


Adam Gelb, director of the Public Safety Performance Project for the Pew Center on the States, said research shows that new ways of treating substance abuse and other underlying causes of criminal behavior can help reduce the chance that offenders will commit more crimes when released. That’s helping lawmakers in other states ask the right questions when it comes to alternatives to prison.

“Part of that is due to the budget situation, but it’s also in a large part due to recognition that there are more effective, less-expensive strategies,” Gelb said.

Levin, with the Texas Public Policy Foundation, said that this is a message conservatives can respond well to.

“They realize that the growth in government has been unsustainable, and the growth in the number of criminal laws – the number of people in prison – has just been one aspect of the enormous growth in government that we have to rein in,” he said.

Texas, for example, started programs in 2007 that allow more non-violent offenders into substance abuse programs combined with probation as an alternative to prison.

The Arizona Auditor General’s report also noted Mississippi had increased early releases for non-violent offenders, Florida had expanded house arrests and Georgia had allowed non-violent offenders to serve time during the day but be home at night.

Levin said that financial realities will force Arizona to take a hard look at following suit.

“We don’t want to just write a blank check for any other government program,” he said. “Why should we write a blank check for prisons?”

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Chuck Ryan and prison insecurity...

Maybe I missed this, but was there no mention of ASPC-Tucson's Christmas Day escape attempt in this article about state prison security? Nor any mention of the skyrocketing homicide rates in the state prisons under Chuck Ryan's management? Nor any reference to the vote of no confidence in ADC leadership by the correctional officer's union in November due in part to their safety concerns?

Hmm. Wonder where the Republic gets all their information from...looks like the PR wing of the ADC itself is their main source of insight. No wonder.

-------------Arizona Republic----------------

Security lapses found at all of Arizona's prisons

Bob Ortega
Arizona Republic
June 26, 2011

The same kinds of serious security lapses that led to the escape last July of three prisoners from the Kingman state prison have been and continue to be found at the 14 other Arizona state and private prisons, according to interviews, audits, correspondence and other documents obtained by The Arizona Republic.

The failures include faulty alarm systems, holes under fences big enough to crawl through, broken perimeter lights and cameras, and scores of poor security practices across the board by state and private corrections officers and managers.

While Corrections Director Charles Ryan says the department is correcting these problems, it seems to be doing so on a piecemeal basis as they're found; and there is no evidence that wardens or senior managers, aside from those at Kingman itself, are being held accountable to address or prevent security issues.

Though he didn't say so publicly, within days of the Kingman escapes on July 30, 2010, Ryan ordered a security review of every state facility: the two run by Utah-based Management & Training Corp., including Kingman; the three run by Florida-based Geo Group; and the 10 operated directly by his department. Those reviews, obtained by The Republic through public-records requests, show security problems run across the entire system.

Among the more damning findings were large holes under the razor-wire fencing and blind spots at the Florence, Eyman and Douglas state prisons; constant false alarms going unchecked at Perryville; alarms at Yuma's Cibola unit that often were missed or went unchecked because they sounded the same as the call buttons that officers pushed to get in and out of buildings. There were long gaps between patrols of the perimeter fence at Yuma. At all of the state prisons, officers up to the deputy-warden level admitted they didn't understand their perimeter-security systems well, according to an Aug. 20, 2010, internal memorandum by Ivan Bartos, regional operations director.

At the three Geo prisons - Florence West, Phoenix West and the Central Arizona Correctional Facility - Corrections Department inspectors found such issues as inmates having access to a control panel that could open emergency exits; an alarm system that didn't ring properly when doors were opened or left ajar; and that staff didn't carry out such basic security practices as searching commissary trucks and drivers, among many other failures.

At MTC's Marana prison, there were broken monitors, a control-room panel that didn't work, missing perimeter lights, missing razor wire, missing visitor passes. Marana's swamp coolers - in August, in Arizona - weren't working, making it hotter inside the prison buildings than outside.

The inspectors made a slew of recommendations, focused on repairing or replacing broken equipment and on training staff. Ryan sent these to Geo and MTC, and to wardens at the state-run prisons.

Geo declined comment on how it responded, saying in writing only that its facilities "adhere to contractual requirements and standards set by our clients."

In a written reply, MTC listed 16 changes it made or says it is making to improve security, including replacing the control panel and enforcing medium-security standards even though Marana holds only minimum-security inmates. It also fixed the swamp coolers.

Corrections spokesman Barrett Marson, said reinspections show Geo and MTC have addressed these issues.

After the August reviews, Ryan ordered new, tougher audits. And the more they looked, the more problems inspectors discovered.

At the Lewis state prison, in January 2011 - five months after the Kingman escapes and the August security review - auditors found holes under the fence "big enough for a person to crawl through unimpeded."

They also found areas where someone could cross the perimeter without activating the alarms; one captain said he had tried to report the problem and had been told to keep quiet. Some zone lights along the perimeter had been out for months. "Count boards," used to identify prisoners, were missing 137 photos; most inmates weren't wearing IDs, and there were dozens of fundamental security failures, including such basics as properly searching visitors and staff.

In February 2011, auditors found equally worrisome issues at the Yuma prison: problems with the alarm and control systems; lights randomly shutting off; monitoring cameras that had been broken for five months; staff uniforms and tools stored in rooms accessible to unsupervised inmates; areas where visitors could approach the fence and throw things over unseen; and the same litany of failures to properly search people or carry out other basic security practices.

Corrections spokesman Marson said equipment issues identified in these two audits have been fixed, and that, as necessary, staffers at those two prisons have been retrained. Asked whether such flaws should have been apparent to wardens and senior officers and addressed sooner, Marson replied that "it was determined that the findings did not relate to 'top-down administrative failings.' "

Corrections critics say it shouldn't be surprising that security has been lax systemwide.

"They know about these problems; they've known about them for years," said Caroline Isaacs, who monitors prisons for the American Friends Service Committee, in Tucson, which advocates for alternatives to incarceration. Especially at private prisons, department officials have tended to avoid delving into problems they come across because they don't want to deal with it, Isaacs said.

"These kinds of issues go on in both private and state prisons - lack of training, sometimes poor leadership, alarms that go off constantly. People become complacent, and that's when problems happen," says Tom Jones, a Florida attorney and former quality-assurance manager at Corrections Corporation of America, the country's largest private-prison operator. "You need a very active, very good monitoring plan, and you must carry it out. With private prisons, you have to have a contract that allows you to fix things when they're broken. . . . You need to do unannounced inspections."

Ryan said, "That was the most telling thing at Kingman, the complacency of the staff."

But Ryan also concedes that the problems go well beyond Kingman. He says he noted a change in the culture of the Department of Corrections when he returned as acting director in January 2009.

He had retired in 2003 after more than 25 years in the department. Then he served in Baghdad as part of a team overseeing the Iraqi prison system - including Abu Ghraib - for nearly four years. Ryan played no part in and appears not to have known about the abuses in the separate section of Abu Ghraib run by the U.S. military, according to a 2005 report by the Department of Justice's inspector general.

"One thing I recognized after I came back" to Arizona, said Ryan, "were major incidents occurring that I'd ascribe to complacency." These included an escape attempt, assaults on staff and the death of Marsha Powell. A Perryville prison inmate, Powell died May 20, 2009, after being left for four hours the day before in an 107-degree outdoor cage without shade, food or water.

To combat that complacency, even before the Kingman escapes, Ryan instituted a policy requiring officers to rotate to different units every three years. That move continues to draw bitter complaints from staff posting anonymously on Corrections blogs.

As the department's audits of other prisons continue, Marson said, one other state monitor has been reassigned and replaced with a more seasoned deputy warden. He did not identify any structural changes other than at Kingman.

Ryan says he sees two defining moments in the history of the department. The first was the 1978 escape of two murderers from a lower-custody unit at Florence. They killed six people. That incident led to sweeping changes in how inmates were classified, and reduced the autonomy of wardens.

The second moment was the murder of correctional Officer Brent Lumley on March 7, 1997, at a unit in the Perryville prison. According to Ryan, that incident led to changes meant to place more priority on protecting prison staff and controlling inmate movement.

As in those two "defining moments," the Kingman escapes and murders of Gary and Linda Haas revealed systemwide issues that Corrections continues to address nearly a year later.

AZ Private Prison Watch: RFP Finalists.

The Arizona Department of Corrections has named their finalists in their quest to add more private prison beds to our massive inventory of human storage pods here. Any town who invites these snakes into their economic development plan deserves what they have coming to them - they'll end up with abusers and rapists wearing badges in their communities, and lose their collective souls like Eloy did when it was bought by CCA. It's just a shame that it's the kids who end up having to pay for the decline of their community once it becomes a prison town.

Globe lucked out here, by the way -
Congrats to the Town of Hospitality; no plans for a prison there in all this. Our condolences to those of you still in the running for a prison in your backyard, however. There will be public hearings in your community, though, so it's theoretically not too late to stop it.

Here are the rap sheets from Private Corrections Working Group on each of these prison profiteers:

Geo Group
Corrections Corporation of America
Emerald Correctional Management
LinkLaSalle Southwest Corrections (not much of a track record yet, I guess...)
Management & Training Corp

-----------------from the AZ Republic--------------

Arizona to expand private prisons
Bob Ortega
July 11, 2011
Arizona Republic

This month, and possibly as early as next week, the Arizona Department of Corrections is expected to recommend what company or companies should be awarded a contract to provide 5,000 new minimum- and medium-security prison beds.

That contract, put out to bid last January, is moving forward even though, after years of steady growth, Arizona's state-prison population has leveled off for the past year and a half - and even though all five bidders have checkered records of managing other private prisons.

Plans to add 5,000 new prison beds first surfaced last year as part of an unprecedented and massive bill legislators passed to privatize the entire state prison system. That ambitious privatization plan fizzled when no corporations showed any interest in a wholesale takeover. The proposal for 5,000 new private-prison beds survived, however.
Growth projected

At the time, based on growth rates, the Department of Corrections projected that Arizona would need another 8,500 prison beds by 2017. But since the end of 2009, when there were 40,585 inmates in the state prison system (including five private-contract prisons), the daily inmate count has fallen 1 percent to 40,181 at the end of June.

The Department of Corrections was the only major state agency to avoid a budget cut for the 2012 fiscal year, which began Friday. Its budget rose $10 million from last fiscal year, to $1.06 billion.

Some observers say that, given tight economic times, the state should reconsider paying to build more prisons.

"I don't think there's a need for it," said Rep. Cecil Ash, R-Mesa, who tried unsuccessfully last legislative session to promote sentencing reforms.

Ash noted that Texas, Missouri, South Carolina and other states have managed in recent years to reduce their prison populations and their crime rates at the same time.

He says Arizona should move in that direction instead of expanding private prisons.

A variety of federal and state studies have shown that Texas, Mississippi, Georgia, North and South Carolina, Kansas, Michigan and other states have managed to reduce both their crime rates and their prison populations by increasing alternatives to prison for some drug and nonviolent offenders, and creating more flexible sentencing practices.

The plan for the new beds was part of Gov. Jan Brewer's executive budget in 2010. The Governor's Office did not return calls seeking comment on the need for the contract.
Over capacity

Corrections Director Charles Ryan said that even with prison population growth tailing off, essentially all the state prisons are over capacity.

"There are temporary beds that have been there 30 years," he said recently, at the state prison at Florence. The new beds would allow the state to eliminate many double bunks in cells or overcrowding in dorms that weren't built for the number of prisoners they now hold, he said.

Ryan also said he doesn't expect the number of inmates to stay level indefinitely.

The department didn't offer any theories as to why the inmate population has stayed level of late.

In any event, Ryan noted, the state's request for proposals would phase in the beds, with 2,000 to be filled by April 2013, and the remaining 3,000 to be completed by April 2015. The request notes that everything is subject to the legislative appropriations process.

All five companies that bid on the project have experienced escapes and other issues at other prisons they operate. All of the companies are supposed to disclose, in their bids, any escapes, homicides, assaults on staff or inmates, riots or other disturbances, and various other issues at any prisons they operate. That history, however, accounts for less than five percent of the point total in the criteria used to evaluate the bids.
The bidders

Those companies are:

- Geo Group Inc., of Boca Raton, Fla. A publicly-traded company, Geo operates about 80,000 prison beds at 116 federal, state and local prisons and treatment facilities in the U.S. and three other countries. It reported $62.8 million in net income on $1.27 billion in revenues for its most recent fiscal year ending Jan. 2. It operates three prisons under contract with the Arizona Department of Corrections: the Central Arizona Correctional Facility (medium security) in Florence, and the minimum-security Phoenix West and Florence West prisons.

Geo has had at least 27 escapes in the past seven years, according to press accounts, including one three years ago that led to a murder in a convenience store in Houston. In 2007, Texas canceled an $8 million contract with Geo and closed the Coke County Juvenile Justice Center, citing filthy conditions. The company is currently fighting a suit by the American Civil Liberties Union alleging the use of excessive force, and unconstitutional and barbaric conditions at its Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility in Walnut Grove, Miss. Meanwhile, the FBI and a federal grand jury are investigating alleged illegalities in the appropriations and the construction of Geo's $120 million Blackwater River Correctional Facility in Florida. The company did not respond to calls and e-mails seeking comment.

- Management & Training Corp., of Centerville, Utah. A privately-held company, MTC operates 20 prisons in seven states, with a capacity of 26,000 prisoners. It does not publicly release financial data. It began in 1981 operating federal Job Corps centers. MTC operates two prisons under contract with the Arizona Department of Corrections, a medium/minimum security facility in Kingman and a minimum-security facility at Marana.

MTC currently faces lawsuits over the deaths of an Oklahoma couple killed after three inmates escaped from its Kingman prison last year. The company has also had escapes from prisons it operates in Texas and Utah. In two separate instances, it has been ordered by the U.S. Department of Labor to repay a total of more than $650,000 in back wages to officers from whom it withheld overtime pay in Texas and four other states. MTC spokeswoman Issa Arnita noted that the Utah escapees were inmates working outside the prison. And she said MTC added razor wire - not then required by Texas at minimum-security facilities - after the Texas escapes. She said that after the Department of Labor determination, MTC voluntarily audited all its facilities and compensated any employees who were due back wages.

- Correctional Corp. of America, of Nashville, Tenn. CCA is the largest private-prison company in the U.S., housing about 80,000 federal and state prisoners in 66 facilities across 19 states and the District of Columbia. A publicly-traded company, CCA reported net income of $157 million on $1.67 billion in revenues for 2010. It has no contracts with the Arizona Department of Corrections, but houses federal inmates and inmates from Hawaii, California and Washington at six prisons in Eloy and Florence.

CCA has had at least 21 escapes at various facilities over the past decade, including several that have led to assaults and other crimes. CCA also faces several lawsuits over its Idaho Correctional Center, dubbed the "Gladiator School" for allegations that guards and supervisors there regularly allowed violent inmates to assault and beat other inmates during 2009 and 2010. In January 2010, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear ordered hundreds of female prisoners removed from CCA's Otter Creek Correctional Complex after a series of charges that guards regularly sexually assaulted female inmates there. CCA did not respond to calls and e-mails seeking comment.

- Emerald Correctional Management, of Lafayette, La. A privately-held company, Emerald operates about 3,800 beds at six federal, state and local prisons. It has no contracts with the Arizona Department of Corrections, but operates the San Luis Regional Detention Center south of Yuma in partnership with the U.S. Marshals Service and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. It has had at least five escapes in the past decade.

Last year, the Houston Chronicle, reporting on the death of a Cuban immigrant, investigated the company's Rolling Plains Regional Jail and Detention Center in Texas. It noted that the company had no doctors to care for more than 500 immigration detainees at the facility, using only poorly supervised vocational nurses. Emerald did not respond to calls for comment.

- LaSalle Southwest Corrections, of Ruston, La. A privately-held company, LaSalle operates about 7,700 beds at 12 prisons in Texas and Louisiana. It has no contracts with the Arizona Department of Corrections. It has had eight escapes in the past six years, including three of minimum-security prisoners who walked away while on work crews outside the prisons.

Billy McConnell, a managing director of LaSalle, said that the company has never had an injury to a citizen or staff member as a result of an escape. "Anytime something like that happens we review our policies and procedure to make sure we know what went wrong, and we try to eliminate the possibility of that happening again," he said.

Suicide at Lewis Prison: Jesse Cabonias.

Jesse Joe Cabonias is just the latest Arizona state prisoner to kill himself; prisoner homicides and suicides have skyrocketed under the present administration. Why can't the most fortified police agency in the state - and the best funded - keep their prisoners safe? I hope this fellow has family with standing to sue so that they can compel an answer to that question in court...too many ADC prisoners are dying this way. Our condolences to Jesse's loved ones, wherever you may be.

Knowing these kinds of events also bring up feelings for violent crime victims and survivors, our thoughts go out to the loved ones of this man's elderly victim as well.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Grieving Tony Lester: Candlelight Vigil



Monday July 11, 7:30pm

Bolin Memorial Park

AZ State Capitol Complex
17th Ave Crosswalk
(between W. Jefferson and W. Washington)

November 14, 2010

Sidewalk art and altered state: The Prison Abolitionist
Original Photo: Robert Haasch

Please join Arizona’s survivors of prison violence
for a candlelight vigil with Tony Lester’s family on the 1-year anniversary of his death.

Your presence would be a message to power
that these lives mattered.

peggy plews / 480-580-6807

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Pelican Bay hunger strike spreading across CA

Sign the petition to support the strikers!

---from the LA Times----

Inmate hunger strike expands to more California prisons

Inmates in at least a third of California's prisons are believed to be refusing meals in solidarity with maximum-security prisoners at Pelican Bay.

By Sam Quinones,
Los Angeles Times
July 6, 2011

Inmates in at least 11 of California's 33 prisons are refusing meals in solidarity with a hunger strike staged by prisoners in one of the system's special maximum-security units, officials said Tuesday.

The strike began Friday when inmates in the Security Housing Unit at Pelican Bay State Prison stopped eating meals in protest of conditions that they contend are cruel and inhumane.

"There are inmates in at least a third of our prisons who are refusing state-issued meals," said Terry Thornton, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

The number of declared strikers at Pelican Bay — reported Saturday as fewer than two dozen — has grown but is changing daily, she said. The same is true at other prisons.

Some inmates are refusing all meals, while others are rejecting only some, Thornton said. Some were eating in visitation rooms and refusing state-issued meals in their cells, she said.

Assessing the number of actual strikers "is very challenging," Thornton said.

Prison medical staff are "making checks of every single inmate who is refusing meals," she said.

More than 400 prisoners at Pelican Bay are believed to be refusing meals, including inmates on the prison's general-population yard, said Molly Poizig, spokeswoman for the Bay Area-based group Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity.

The group had received reports on the strike from lawyers and family members visiting inmates over the weekend, she said.

The group's website claims that prison officials attempted to head off the strike by promoting a Fourth of July menu that included strawberry shortcake and ice cream. According to the website, the wife of a Security Housing Unit inmate said her husband had never had ice cream there and "has never seen a strawberry."

Inmates at Calipatria State Prison — with more than a thousand prisoners — were among those reported to be refusing meals, Poizig said. Prison officials could not be reached for comment.

But Thornton acknowledged that inmates at the prison were refusing to eat state-issued meals.

The strike was organized by Security Housing Unit inmates at Pelican Bay protesting the maximum-security unit's extreme isolation. The inmates are also asking for better food, warmer clothing and to be allowed one phone call a month.

The Security Housing Unit compound, which currently houses 1,100 inmates, is designed to isolate prison-gang members or those who've committed crimes while in prison.

The cells have no windows and are soundproofed to inhibit communication among inmates. The inmates spend 22 1/2 hours a day in their cells, being released only an hour a day to walk around a small area with high concrete walls.

Prisoner advocates have long complained that Security Housing Unit incarceration amounts to torture, often leading to mental illness, because many inmates spend years in the lockup.

Gang investigators believe the special unit reduces the ability of the most predatory inmates, particularly prison-gang leaders, to control those in other prisons as well as gang members on the street.

Prison administrators are meeting with inmate advisory councils to discuss the inmates' complaints, Thornton said.

But "I have not heard there's been any decision" to modify policies governing the Security Housing Unit, she said. "A lot of those policies have been refined through litigation."

Monday, July 4, 2011

Arizona's tax base eroded by anti-immigrant legislation.

Even the cookie monster says: "STOP SB1070"
Resistance Alley, Phoenix (June 4, 2011)

Apparently, America's undocumented immigrants paid $11 billion in taxes last year, while the multinational GE paid NOTHING. No wonder Arizona's economy is still in the gutter - we chased away all the honest, hard-working taxpayers, while cutting extra breaks to freeloading, exploitative corporations...So, thanks a lot SB1070, ALEC, Russ Pearce, and Jan Brewer - and all the idiots who voted for the right wing last election thinking they were protecting their own interests. You screwed us all.


Unauthorized Immigrants pay taxes too.

Immigration Policy Center

April 18, 2011

Estimates of the State and Local Taxes Paid by Unauthorized Immigrant Households

Tax Day is an appropriate time to underscore the often-overlooked fact that unauthorized immigrants pay taxes. The unauthorized, like everyone else in the United States, pay sales taxes. They also pay property taxes—even if they rent. At least half of unauthorized immigrants pay income taxes. Add this all up and it amounts to billions in revenue to state and local governments. The Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) has estimated the state and local taxes paid in 2010 by households that are headed by unauthorized immigrants.

These households may include members who are U.S. citizens or legal immigrants. Collectively, these households paid $11.2 billion in state and local taxes. That included $1.2 billion in personal income taxes, $1.6 billion in property taxes, and $8.4 billion in sales taxes. The states receiving the most tax revenue from households headed by unauthorized immigrants were California ($2.7 billion), Texas ($1.6 billion), Florida ($806.8 million), New York ($662.4 million), and Illinois ($499.2 million) {See Figure 1 and Table 1}. These figures should be kept in mind as politicians and commentators continue with the seemingly endless debate over what to do with unauthorized immigrants already living in the United States. In spite of the fact that they lack legal status, these immigrants—and their family members—are adding value to the U.S. economy; not only as taxpayers, but as workers, consumers, and entrepreneurs as well.

Prisons, guards, and the manifestation of Evil.

The 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment proved that "otherwise good" people can do really horrible things to others. This clip from Democracy Now lacks some political analysis, but as to the psychology of the abuse of power and the effects on prisoners, it lends a little insight into how it all goes down. Well worth the watch, even if you're familiar with the story..

Here's the latest press release from Stanford on the good professor Zimbardo, by the way.