The bill is just a starter to the discussion about what exactly the feds can do to help improve transparency and conditions in state prisons. I've been hounding the DOJ for nearly a year with my postcards and documentation, but hadn't even seriously thought of contacting US House and Senate members, assuming they'd just say the prisons are a state issue, but this is a promising opening.
This Deaths in Custody thing sitting around the Hill now calls for action. There are apparently no co-sponsors to join Representative Robert Scott (D-VA) on it. We need to:
1. Contact Rep. Scott's people to thank him for putting this out there, and ask them how we can help it get passed. His contact information is:
Official website: http://bobbyscott.house.gov/
1201 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
None of Bobby's bills - or even the one's he's co-sponsored - have successfully passed into law, however, so don't just leave the bright ideas to his people on how to address this.
2. Lobby your own Congress members to PLEASE co-sponsor and push HR 2189. Arizonans: tell members of the delegation about the deaths in Az Department of Corrections' (ADC) custody by suicide and homicide doubling in our state since Brewer/Ryan took over.
The lack of state or local law enforcement response or legislative oversight into the prisons makes our need for federal intervention all the more desperate - I've been pounding state legislators and bureaucrats on this stuff for two years with no results.
Here are the websites for members of our congressional delegation:
US Senator Jon Kyl
US Congressman Paul Gosar, District 1
US Congressman Trent Franks, District 2
US Congressman Ben Quayle, District 3
US Congressman Ed Pastor, District 4
US Congressman David Schweikert, District 5
US Congressman Jeff Flake, District 6
US Congressman Raul Grijalva, District 7
US Congressman Gabrielle Giffords, District 8
Since this bill is in the House, they are the most important members to write to. Here's the snail mail address to give prisoners to write to our US Representatives:
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
Inform legislators I can show them criminal investigations' unit and administrative investigation reports from the ADC back to 2005 demonstrating the change in death rates, problems with investigative procedures, sloppy handling of crime scenes, and the mis-characterization of at least two homicides (one as a suicide, one as an accidental overdose) despite eyewitness testimony given to investigators at great personal risk.
There has been consistently poor follow-through to prosecution for neglect, abuse, and violent offenses against prisoners, the CIU has blatantly ignored the existence of testimony and evidence that would cast a critical light on the ADC's policies or practices, or or one of their employees deliberate indifference to human life.
I can provide documents and contacts with witnesses as to a number of other concerns about the treatment of prisoners under this administration well beyond what they will ever find on my blogs.
3. Finally, in the course of your conversation with legislators, please remember the family members who survive prison violence, like Dana Seawright's mom, Kini (follow that link and read), who have been denied the same basic rights and protections every other survivor of violent crime has under the Arizona Constitution because their loved one died in custody where you would think their rights would be even more protected, not less).
We need to challenge whether or not the AZ victims' rights statute deprives survivors of crime against persons in custody of their due process and equal protection rights under the US Constitution. Ask our congress members how this can be corrected so moms like Kini aren't being additionally punished for the state's failure to protect their kids, and ask what they will do to help victims like her. HR 2189 is only a small step.
Death in Custody Reporting Act of 2011 - Requires states that receive certain criminal justice assistance grants to report to the Attorney General on a quarterly basis certain information regarding the death of any person who is detained, arrested, en route to incarceration, or incarcerated in state or local facilities or a boot camp prison. Imposes penalties on states that fail to comply with such reporting requirements. Requires the head of each federal law enforcement agency to report to the Attorney General annually certain information regarding the death of any person who:
(1) is detained or arrested by any officer of such agency (or by any state or local law enforcement officer for purposes of a federal law enforcement operation); or
(2) is en route to be incarcerated or detained, or is incarcerated or detained, at any federal correctional facility or federal pretrial detention facility located within the United States or any other facility pursuant to a contract with or used by such agency.Requires the Attorney General to study such information and report on means by which it can be used to reduce the number of such deaths.