(JUNE 7, 2013 UPDATE: "C" was re-classed back down to a 4/4 and moved to a level 4 GP yard, apparently as of 5/20/13. For his safety, in light of that, I'm removing identifying infomration about him. His request for protective custody has clearly once again been denied. I think he was probbly happier -or at least felt safer - in the Supermax than where he is now, which is an especially scary place. Think good things for my friend, people. I think he's being set up to be hurt for being so outspoken...)
Clearly Gov. Jan Brewer and Arizona Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan have not been paying attention to the same facts as syndicated columnist George Will, who convincingly painted the self-defeating practice of holding people in solitary confinement (“Solitary confinement ruins inmates forever,” Opinions, Feb. 21).
The suggestion that Arizona needs more prison beds — especially maximum-security beds that lock people in 8-foot-by-10-foot prison cells for 23 hours per day for years at a time — flies in the face of common sense.
Our prison population has plateaued. We have seen negative growth over the last three years, and DOC’s own estimates point to more of the same for the next three. Yet the governor included in this year’s budget 1,000 new privately contracted prison beds and 500 new maximum-security prison beds, adding to the already bloated $1 billion annual corrections spending that eats up 11 percent of Arizona’s general budget.
The $50 million for construction of these 500 beds was originally taken from federal funds designated for victims of the mortgage crisis. Now the governor is asking for $4.5 million more in order to cover operational and staffing costs. As Will points out, “solitary confinement costs, on average, three times as much per inmate as in normal prisons.” Using money intended for victims of the mortgage crisis to build expensive new prison beds is ill-conceived and wrong.
If construction goes forward, taxpayers will be responsible for unneeded prison beds for the foreseeable future, costing three times more to operate than other facilities. Why should taxpayers invest in facilities that have been shown to cause mental illness and 50 percent of all prison suicides?
There are already 2,000 maximum-security inmates in solitary confinement in Arizona prisons. Ninety-six percent of people who are incarcerated will one day be released. No one leaves solitary confinement untouched by psychological scars of isolation. Recent research demonstrates that following solitary confinement, people are particularly ill-prepared for life on the outside. The impact of solitary confinement makes even simple social interaction traumatic, leaving the realities of finding employment, housing and health care nearly impossible.
Arizona is alone in considering construction of a new maximum-security prison. Mississippi has proven that it is possible to dramatically curb the use of solitary confinement, and still put safety first. Prison officials there reduced the solitary-confinement population by 90 percent. Doing so resulted in a 70 percent decrease in violence and $8 million annual savings. Arizona needs to follow Mississippi’s lead.
The use of solitary confinement fails at creating a safer Arizona by contributing to untreated serious mental illness and high rates of suicide.
The enormous cost of maximum-security prisons diverts millions of dollars away from other public initiatives such as education, evidence-based alternatives to incarceration and behavioral-health services.
Matthew Lowen is program coordinator of the American Friends Service Committee in Arizona.