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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AZ Prison Watch BLOG POSTS:

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Transinstitutionalizing the mentally ill: still filling the prisons.

Nationally, 4 times as many mentally ill people are now in prisons than in hospitals.

Arizona ranks as one of the worst offenders...
(image from

I've seen this journalist doing research in the field - excellent reporting. Between her and Bob Ortega, the prisons have been getting a close look at by the AZ Republic these days. What's about to happen here is catastrophic. The Arizona Department of Corrections is the last place we should be sending people with mental illness - and it's the next place many will be heading. Someone has to fill all those new private prison beds, after all...the good prisoners will go to them, and the mentally ill will be kept in the fire traps they call state prisons.

Paul Rubin's Phoenix New Times article about the murder of Shannon Palmer comes to mind when I think of people who never should have been in prison to begin with - and wouldn't have, if our mental health system wasn't already so damaged and our communities so gutted of basic resources. Phoenix is so certain that more police are the answer that they're taking it out of the food tax - thank God we have the resources to arrest the poor when they steal to feed their families now.

Anyway, if we don't spend our tax dollars in the community folks - BEFORE people feel the need to call the police - we'll be spending it keeping a lot of these folks in horrendous conditions behind bars. We already are, sadly - for every one mentally ill person we hospitalize in Arizona, we put over nine more in jail or prison. Only Nevada is more brutal to their mentally disabled.

Needless to say, our disability rights advocates in this state have a lot of catching up to do if they're going to protect these folks all the way to prison and back. Most seem to stop at the courtroom door, I'm afraid...

---------from the Arizona Republic-------

Mental-health cuts: Experts fear long-term costs

Arizona taxpayers are providing fewer services to fewer people with serious mental illnesses than they were last year, for annual savings of roughly $50 million.

But the short-term savings from state budget cuts threaten to have long-term consequences for patients, providers and the community, mental-health experts say.

The budget reductions eliminated services for about 12,000 Arizonans who don't qualify for Medicaid, removing the foundation of a system intended to keep the seriously mentally ill, healthy and out of emergency rooms, hospitals, jails and prisons.

State lawmakers instead provided money for generic medication and additional funding to beef up a statewide crisis-response system to help prevent people from falling through the cracks. But in the 15 months since this population lost case management, brand-name prescription drugs, therapy, transportation and other benefits, more than 2,000 people have stopped receiving any state-funded services and are unaccounted for.

Local and county jails, emergency responders and hospitals often shoulder the costs when people with untreated serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, fall into crisis.

The precise financial costs to those entities are unknown, but health professionals do know that it's far more expensive to treat people who have spiraled into crisis than to keep them stable. And once in crisis, health professionals say, it's more difficult for people to rebound, which means those higher costs continue to recur.

"It's a penny-wise and pound-foolish approach," said Bill Kennard, former executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness' office in Phoenix. "More people in jail and prison with mental illness, more time that law enforcement spends dealing with a health issue as opposed to a public-safety issue."

The costs

The state has not conducted an analysis that compares ongoing treatment with crisis costs.

But a March 2011 study that examined proposed mental-health cuts in Texas put the average daily cost of services at $12 for adults, compared with $401 a day in the state's mental hospital, $137 a day for a jail inmate with mental illness and $986 for an emergency-room visit.

The study, by Health Management Associates for the Texas Conference of Urban Counties, also showed that gaps in services put those discharged from psychiatric hospitals and jail at greater risk of relapse, readmission and recidivism.

Janey Durham, who is in charge of a workshop program at Mesa's Marc Center, said she lost 120 people to the budget cuts, including a man diagnosed with schizophrenia who deteriorated almost before her eyes. The non-profit agency center provides job training and other services to the mentally ill and developmentally disabled.

Durham said the man, a former alcoholic in his 50s, worked hard at his job in the manufacturing warehouse, at maintaining his sobriety and in treating his mental illness. But soon after the budget cuts forced him to switch to a generic medication, Durham said, he stopped taking his medication, started drinking again and grew increasingly paranoid, plagued by voices in his head.

Over the past year his erratic, disruptive behavior led Marc Center employees to call Mesa police at least once. He is believed to be homeless, she said, but contact with him has been sporadic since last winter.

Clarke Romans, who runs the NAMI office in Tucson, said a once-eager volunteer has been reluctant to leave her house since last summer, when her anti-psychotic Seroquel was replaced with a generic drug. Many of the most commonly prescribed brand-name psychoactive medications have no generic equivalent. Generics in some cases are less effective or have side effects that deter people from taking them, health officials say.

"She's been suicidal. She has not been able to come in and volunteer. She kind of hides in her house," Romans said. "These are people who are suffering in silence."

Before the budget cuts last July, individuals with serious mental illness were entitled to a full array of community-based services, from supportive housing to intensive case management and in-patient hospitalization, regardless of their income.

Mental-health advocates argue that city and county law enforcement, hospitals, jails and homeless shelters have picked up some of the costs of caring for the seriously mentally ill who lost benefits. Over the past year, many of these venues have seen an increasing number of people with severe mental illness.

State lawmakers made the cuts to help close a $1 billion deficit in fiscal 2011. House Appropriations Committee Chairman John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said the state's financial crisis forced lawmakers to cut $3 billion over four budget cycles, and all of the cuts carried some consequences.

"The question is, are the consequences so dire that it shouldn't be done? We don't believe so," Kavanagh said. "The changes really were not dramatic. . . . We're still providing these people with treatment."

Treatment, recovery

Publicly funded mental-health treatment can be highly effective, and the vast majority of people can improve their quality of life and relieve symptoms, such as hallucinations or depression, with consistent therapy, medication and other support.

But experts say treatment and services must be comprehensive and consistent.

"I don't think these kinds of services are luxuries for people with mental illness. They are part and parcel of their treatment for an underlying disorder," said Dr. Paul S. Appelbaum, a Columbia University psychiatry professor and past president of the American Psychiatric Association. "Unless you provide a package of services, just throwing pills at them isn't going to do it."

Those who work closely with the mentally ill say that is the situation for thousands of Arizonans who are ineligible for Medicaid. And they worry that people who stopped showing up at their assigned clinics may have become incarcerated, homeless, hospitalized or homebound.

Dennis Culhane, a University of Pennsylvania professor and nationally known expert on homelessness, said studies show people with serious mental illness who are not receiving regular, supportive services are more likely to become homeless.

Culhane's own research has shown that it costs less to provide apartments and other permanent housing for people who are homeless than to provide emergency shelter and services. People with serious mental illness who become homeless, he said, "have significant secondary costs," including emergency, hospital and incarceration costs.

Once they have fallen into crisis, the road back to recovery can be much harder.

"Untreated psychiatric illness is just more difficult to treat," said Dr. Jason Caplan, chief of psychiatry at St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center. "You have an increased risk of relapse. It's just harder to get you back."

Repeat visitors

Case management was a key benefit lost to the non-Medicaid mentally ill. Among other things, caseworkers helped people who were jailed or hospitalized to transition back into society and tried to prevent their relapse.

People often lose their housing while they're locked up and, if they're on probation or court-ordered treatment, they have a list of rules to follow upon release.

Now, there is no one to meet people as they are released from jail or a psychiatric hospital.

In Maricopa County, 54 people with serious mental illness were released to the street or to a homeless shelter in the past year after being stabilized at one of the Valley's two urgent psychiatric care facilities, according to Magellan, the for-profit contractor that administers behavioral-health care in the county.

Dr. Dawn Noggle, mental-health director for Correctional Health Services, which provides health care at Maricopa County's jails, said the seriously mentally ill are staying in jail longer. And, she said, police have arrested some more than 30 times for a variety of crimes, mostly low-level non-violent offenses, such as trespassing or theft, or probation violations.

Incarceration and prosecution of the mentally ill doesn't just affect taxpayers who foot the bill, she says.

"What happens after they get felonies? And there is an incredible impact on families," she says. "It's not just the immediate financial costs. It's the social costs as well."

There also are repeat customers at the county's psychiatric hospital, where the budget cuts mean court-ordered evaluations must be completely redone for people discharged only weeks earlier. Staff at the county's Desert Vista Behavioral Health Center, which handles involuntary commitments, say it's a new phenomenon.

In the past, people were typically court-ordered to continue treatment for at least a year, long after they were discharged from the hospital. Since the budget cuts, judges have been dismissing court-ordered treatment for non-Medicaid patients upon their discharge, reluctant to require them to participate in services, such as therapy and job training, they no longer have. Within months, some of those people are brought back for a new evaluation, a costly legal and medical process that delays treatment for several days.

"It's taking an enormous amount of resources to redo something that's already been done," said Sherry Fraley, legal-services manager.

Reach the reporter at 602-444-8603.

Murder of Shannon Palmer: Lewis lieutenant stands up.

"SOS: Chuck Ryan is Killing AZ Prisoners"
Phoenix New Times Sidewalk
November 12, 2010

The ACLU National Prison Project and the Prison Law Office (which took California DOC to the Supreme Court over medical care for prisoners) are investigating the abuse and neglect of prisoners at the Arizona Department of Corrections and may sue Arizona for injunctive relief over the poor medical and psychiatric treatment. ADC employees, ex-prisoners, family members and others with first-hand knowledge or eyewitness testimony that can be offered to help protect prisoners and staff from the deteriorating conditions inside our state prisons should contact me ( / 480-580-6807) or the ACLU of Arizona for more information. The ACLU-AZ is at:

American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona
P.O. Box 17148
Phoenix, AZ 85011


Please see my post from yesterday about the escalating violence in the state prisons, also.

Thanks to both Paul Rubin and Chuck Bauer for the following...

-----------from the Phoenix New Times-------------

A Respected State Prison Officer Quits Over Dangerous Conditions for Inmates and Guards

By Paul Rubin


published: September 29, 2011

Chuck Bauer loved his job as a lieutenant at the Lewis Prison Complex in Buckeye. He gradually had risen in rank over eight years (in two stints) with the Arizona Department of Corrections, winning Supervisor of the Year at Lewis twice.

But the 56-year-old Peoria resident says he became increasingly discouraged by what he saw on the job — cutbacks in personnel and resulting safety issues for "his people" (corrections officers) and for inmates.

On September 10, 2010, Bauer heard over his walkie-talkie about an inmate who was badly hurt inside Cell A-26 in Building A of the Buckley Unit, a so-called "protective segregation" area.

The incident led Bauer, within days, to quit his job and try to move on with his life — something, he says, that has been difficult.

"I am a loyal guy, and it still makes me sick to think that I abandoned my people," he tells New Times. "I just had to do it. I know from up close that bad things happen in prisons, but what happened to inmate [Shannon] Palmer that day just didn't have to happen.

"For one thing, we were short-staffed to the max, as we have been for a long time now, and couldn't keep an eye on those inmates like we're supposed to — simple matter of numbers. It was like a nightmare, and it could have happened to one of my officers just as well as to that poor guy."

Bauer contacted New Times after reading our recent "Hell Hole" cover story (September 1) about the horrific murder of Shannon Palmer, 40, a seriously mentally ill Mesa man who had but a few months left to serve on a three-year criminal-damage rap. Palmer was attacked with a razor-blade shank by Jasper Rushing, who had been his cellmate (in a cell designed for one person) for about three weeks.

Rushing was a decade into a 28-year sentence for first-degree murder when he took his weapon to Palmer's throat and then to his penis (which he cut off) after knocking him out with a makeshift club (a small sheet wrapped tightly around hardcover books).

Bauer says he immediately rushed to the wing, where he saw Palmer lying inside the cell, mutilated, bleeding profusely, and all but dead. Jasper Rushing still was in the area, handcuffed and, Bauer recalls, "as calm as a man can be."

Bauer decided to perform CPR on the unconscious Palmer himself, with the assistance of his colleague Captain Ron Lawrence.

"It was so bad that I didn't want the staffers to have to deal with it," Bauer says, without a hint of braggadocio. "There was blood everywhere, like out of a horror movie, and I knew he wasn't going to make it. But we had to try our best, and we did. I didn't even notice [Palmer's penis] on the floor until later."

Afterward, Bauer dictated his report on his role in the tragedy, changed his bloodied shirt, and tried to go about his duties. But he says he couldn't shake the feeling that Shannon Palmer's homicide, while obviously extreme, was symptomatic of issues increasingly plaguing the corrections department.

"I knew that quitting a job I have loved during this economy was pretty drastic, and people I talked to about it thought I was nuts," he says.

"But there's a time in a person's life when you have to do what makes sense to you, and I just couldn't stand by any longer and just wait for something to happen to one of my [corrections officer] guys or gals. I just didn't want to be the one that would have to make that call to an officer's wife or husband about an injury, or worse."

Bauer pulls out a piece of paper on which he has scribbled some talking points:

• The lights were off in the Palmer/Rushing cell for weeks, which was dangerous for all concerned, including the corrections officers: "We couldn't get the maintenance people to fix the lighting and lots of other things at that time. I know that sounds hard to believe, but it's true. Being in the dark is gonna drive anyone nuts."

• The corrections officer who made the ill-fated decision to assign Palmer and Rushing to the same cell in August 2010 "was completely overworked — too much on her plate — doing seven or eight different jobs, which meant she was doing none of them too good."

• Many seriously mentally ill inmates are in harm's way because of their inability to anticipate a potentially violent situation, and because Arizona's corrections department is doing a poor job of isolating that population: "There's no place to put the mentally ill, outside of prison, so we end up trying to look after them, trying to make sure they get the right meds in them, and whatever."

• Morale among state corrections officers is poor, in part, because of mandated furloughs, at the same time that Arizona's prison population continues to grow: "I know [corrections department Director] Charles Ryan has no idea who I am, but he's an idiot if he doesn't know that his officers are not happy with the safety issues and the money issues involving corrections officers that are happening on his watch."

Bauer points out that even though Rushing and Palmer were in a protective-segregation unit, this meant little.

"It doesn't mean that the inmates in that unit aren't going to get hurt [or killed]," he says. "Those guys [Palmer and Rushing] were in an [isolation] cell and weren't out in the yard, and look at what happened."

Bauer says his decision to quit his $52,000-a-year job has had great repercussions on every part of his life.

"It's not as if I had this big fancy game plan to quit my job and lose my benefits and all that," he says, adding that he and his wife don't have healthcare insurance at the moment.

Bauer recently has been trying to get his new construction-cleaning business together, and he says things are looking up. Still, he often thinks back to his last day of work at Lewis at the end of September 2010.

A warden wanted to chat with him, Bauer says, but Bauer was worried that he might be persuaded to rescind his resignation.

So instead of meeting with the warden, Bauer found his way to the opposite end of the sprawling complex and stepped through the prison gates for the last time as a corrections officer.

"One of the hardest things I've ever done," he says. "Part of me wishes that I had stuck it out and part of me doesn't. I'd like to think I had the respect of my officers and of the inmates. The inmates may not have liked me much, but they knew I stuck to my word."

Bauer asks if he can add a few final thoughts:

"What happened in that cell between those guys was as bad it gets. I still have these real bad dreams about it.

"I don't know whether to blame the Arizona Legislature for wanting to lock everyone up but not wanting to pay for it, or to blame the current director [Ryan] and the direction he's been taking.

"How about if I just blame everyone?"

Another chance for the Second Chance Act

Signed into law on April 9, 2008, the Second Chance Act (P.L. 110-199) was designed to improve outcomes for people returning to communities from prisons and jails. This first-of-its-kind legislation authorizes federal grants to government agencies and nonprofit organizations to provide employment assistance, substance abuse treatment, housing, family programming, mentoring, victims support, and other services that can help reduce recidivism.

Please contact your senators today.

More can be found at the National Reentry Resource Center


Dear Second Chance Act Advocates,

Recently, the Senate eliminated funding for the Second Chance Act in their version of the FY 12 funding bill for the Department of Justice. In July, the House Appropriations Committee provided $70 million in their fiscal year 2012 Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations bill.
Although funding was eliminated in the Senate bill, there is still time to restore funding for the program when the House and Senate Appropriations Committees attempt to resolve differences between the two spending bills. It is crucial that the field respond quickly with letters to the Hill to ensure that the Second Chance Act is funded in FY 2012.

The Second Chance Act passed with overwhelming bipartisan support and was signed into law in April 2008. It is a common sense, evidence-based approach to improving outcomes for people returning to communities from prisons and jails. This first-of-its-kind legislation authorizes federal grants to government agencies and nonprofit organizations to provide employment assistance, substance abuse treatment, housing, family programming, mentoring, victims support, and other services that can help reduce recidivism.


1. Please contact your members of Congress and send a letter of support by visiting If you would like to personalize your letter with examples from your state or community, please email Jay Nelson at for a MS Word version of the sample letter.

2. Sign the national sign-on letter <> in support of Second Chance Act funding by contacting

3. Visit the Justice Center/Reentry Policy Council page at to access talking points, fact sheets, list of Second Chance Act grantees and additional information.

4. Share this information and ask your colleagues and friends to help protect funding for the Second Chance Act.


The Senate and House are working on FY12 funding now, so it is imperative that you contact your Members of Congress as soon as possible.

Thank you for your continued support for the Second Chance Act. Together, we can show Congress the need to continue funding for this important program that improves the lives of people returning prisons, jails, and juvenile facilities.

Jamal (Jay) Nelson

Government Affairs

Council of State Governments Justice Center

4630 Montgomery Ave., Suite 650

Bethesda, MD 20814

240.482.8580 (direct)

The Council of State Governments Justice Center is a national nonprofit organization that serves policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels from all branches of government. It provides
practical, nonpartisan advice and consensus-driven strategies—informed by available evidence—to increase public safety and strengthen communities.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Jail Re-entry: Elected Official's Tool-kit.

LinkFrom the Urban Institute. They aren't abolitionists, but they do interesting research. It would be wise for some of our local politicians and policy-makers to download this manual and re-think their approach to criminal justice in Arizona...


The Elected Official's Toolkit for Jail Reentry

The text below is an excerpt from the complete document.
Read the entire report in PDF format.


Every year, millions of people are released from incarceration, and the vast majority—about 9 million individuals—exit from local jails. Within this population, recidivism rates are high, resulting in a damaging cycle of incarceration, release, and reincarceration. Recidivism harms local communities and places a tremendous burden on local governments trying to maintain public safety and manage costs.

Local governments spent an estimated $109 billion on criminal justice in 2006, a 17 percent increase over the 2003 level and 138 percent more than was spent on criminal justice functions in 1992. These criminal justice expenditures reflect in part the cost of failing to reintegrate individuals returning from our nation's prisons and jails. Many released inmates face serious problems that contribute to the commission of new crimes, including drug and alcohol addiction, mental illness, unemployment, and homelessness. Neglecting these issues not only raises criminal justice costs but increases the demand for social services, such as homeless shelter beds and emergency rooms. It also carries social costs that are difficult to quantify, including harm to victims, strain on communities, and hardships imposed on the families and social networks of released inmates.

Focusing on jail reentry is an opportunity for local governments to reduce recidivism and associated costs. Jail reentry initiatives encourage jails, social service providers, and other agencies to work together to identify and address factors that increase the risk that inmates will recidivate. Jail reentry initiatives also focus on changing the behavior of returning inmates and promoting accountability. Such initiatives help local communities strategically deploy limited resources to reduce harm and maximize community benefit.

Local elected officials play a vital role in jail reentry initiatives by bringing diverse stakeholders together in a shared effort with a common mission and vision. Local governments are wellpositioned to coordinate the reentry process. Not only do they operate law enforcement and jails, they run health and human services, housing authorities, workforce development boards, and local schools, which are key partners in any comprehensive reentry effort. Elected officials also have standing with community service providers and faith-based organizations that already provide many of the social services urgently needed by those leaving jail.

Jail reentry initiatives offer numerous benefits for communities in addition to improving outcomes for individual inmates. Jail reentry initiatives have the potential to reduce crime; affect community problems, such as homelessness; and increase public health, safety, and well-being. Reentry initiatives can also improve system performance by increasing coordination and information-sharing among criminal justice agencies, community- based organizations, and other groups. This can reduce duplication of efforts and enhance the impact of existing resources. Taxpayers ultimately reap the benefits of smaller jail populations, reduced need for new jail facilities, and lower costs across the criminal justice system.

Jail reentry initiatives have found support from a broad array of stakeholders, including law enforcement, corrections, social service providers, the faith community, and victims' groups. These groups increasingly recognize their role in the reentry process and are looking to elected officials for support and leadership. Jail reentry initiatives supported by elected officials bring these groups to the table and encourage them to work together to develop effective interventions. By spearheading a cooperative reentry effort, elected officials foster shared responsibility and ensure a common approach to addressing this problem.

This toolkit is designed to help elected officials meet the challenges of addressing jail reentry in their communities. It provides information and tools to improve the jail-to-community reentry process, whether that involves implementing a jail reentry initiative for the first time or expanding an existing initiative.

It is important to note that the toolkit is not meant to be a comprehensive guide to developing a reentry initiative. While we have sought to include the most significant information for elected officials who want to get involved in jail reentry, the reader should treat the toolkit as a starting point rather than a final destination. To this end, we have included a short directory of more extensive and in-depth resources that address the process of implementing a jail reentry initiative as well as specific needs of returning inmates. Many helpful reentry resources covering a wide range of topics are easily accessible online. We encourage readers to access these resources for more information about the topics introduced here, as well as for detailed guidance on the particular challenges their communities may face.

End of excerpt. The entire report is available in PDF format.

GAO report on foster children with parents in prison.

From a decent blog I just stumbled on, Youth Today. I don't post on the issue of youth with parents in prison enough.


Foster Children with Incarcerated Parents a Murky Subject for States, Report Finds

September 28, 2011 by John Kelly

At least 30,000 foster youths have a parent behind bars...

States child welfare agencies are resistant to pursuing reunification with parents – 30,000 or more – who are incarcerated while their child is in foster care, according to a report issued by the Government Accountability Office this week. The study was requested by U.S. Reps. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) and Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), both members of the House Ways and Means Committee.

At the same time, the main federal instrument for measuring the performance of child welfare agencies – Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS), is limited in its ability to depict an accurate number on how many foster children have a parent behind bars.

AFCARS only reveals cases in which a child was removed “at least partly due to the incarceration of a parent”; it does not capture any child removed from a parent well after the other parent was locked up, or cases in which the parent was incarcerated after a child was removed from the home.

Of the 420,971 open foster care cases in 2009, AFCARS figures show 30,038 cases (7 percent) in which the child’s removal was in part or entirely based on the incarceration of a parent.

But estimates from two federal surveys of inmates suggest that the AFCARS figure might capture most of the total. A 2004 survey of federal and state prison inmates found an estimated 19,300 inmates who had at least one child in state care. A 2002 federal survey identified in the GAO report, this one of adults in jail, found 12,000 with children in foster care.

Combined, the jail and prison survey estimates are in line with the 30,038 AFCARS figure from 2009.

The 2004 federal and state prison survey found 13,700 men and 5,600 women who had a child in foster care. Based on a 2007 estimate that there were 809,800 parents in prison, that means 9 percent of female parent inmates had a child in foster care compared with 2 percent of male parent inmates.

The report authors also studied state legislation related to incarceration as a factor in the termination of parental rights. Most states had some legislation that enabled its child welfare agency to use incarceration as a determining factor for termination, and a number of the states allowed the system to forgo reasonable efforts at reunification with a parent who was incarcerated.

Nebraska was the only one of the 10 states studied where “a petition to terminate parental rights shall not be filed on behalf of the state if the sole factual basis is that the parent or parents are incarcerated.”

GAO’s recommendations include the idea that states always include incarceration status in a youth’s AFCARS information, not just when it is a factor in removal, and that the incarceration information get updated periodically throughout a youth’s stay in foster care.

The Administration for Children and Families, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, recently solicited comments on how to redesign its Child and Family Services Review process, which could include changes to what AFCARS measures and how often it measures those entries.

According to GAO, “Officials [have] not yet determined whether the new proposed rule would include the same requirements on gathering additional information on a caretaker’s incarceration at multiple times throughout the foster care case as had been included in the 2008 proposal. Officials also said that they did not know when a final set of reporting requirements would be issued.”

The total number of children under 18 with a parent in prison rose to 1.7 million by 2007, a 20 percent increase from 1997 and nearly double the number in 1991.

Click here to read “More Information and Collaboration Could Promote Ties Between Foster Care Children and Their Incarcerated Parents.”

ACLU-AZ: Juvenile Diversion Works.

Below are excerpts from the new ACLU-AZ report this summer:

Protecting what works: Juvenile Diversion in Maricopa County.


In 2010, four percent of Arizona’s youth, or 41,040 juveniles, received at least one delinquency referral to the juvenile justice system.1 About half of these youth had not had any previous contact with the justice system, and 66 percent were referred for misdemeanors or status offenses.2 Fortunately, the rate of juveniles referred to the justice system who are being diverted is on the rise. Diversion is a process by which juveniles can avoid formal court processing, and therefore, a delinquency record, by successfully completing one or more diversion “consequences.” The consequences can range from writing an apology to community service, counseling, or teen court. In 2010, 46% of the youth referred were diverted.3 Two thirds of the youth diverted had never been referred to the court before.4 More than 86% of these youth had one prior referral or less, and 83% were referred for non-felony offenses.5

The concept of diversion has been around since the early days of the juvenile justice system. It is based on evidence that processing youth offenders through the court system can do more harm than good. Indeed, court involvement for low-level offenders has been shown to be related to lower educational attainment, more limited employment prospects and higher rates of re-offending. By handling such cases outside of the formal system, courts and prosecutors can avoid exacerbating these effects and also reduce the strain on overloaded dockets.

In 1967, partly in response to concerns that processing youth through the formal system could lead to further delinquency, the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice called on communities to establish local youth agencies or bureaus that could serve as an alternative to putting youths through court.6 The Commission’s recommendation led to a proliferation in diversion programs in the late 1960s and 1970s. Today, most diversion programs are no longer sustained by federal grants, but by state and local funding sources. As these budgets continue to get slashed, policymakers will undoubtedly face pressure to reduce the investment in good quality diversion programs and shift more of the cost onto the families of referred youth who may not be able to afford the cost. This would be a mistake. Diversion offers an important opportunity for many young people who, with limited intervention, need never return to the juvenile justice system. By investing in diversion, we not only increase the chance that these youth will succeed, but also save money over the long run and enhance public safety.

In 2010, following the announcement of some significant changes to the diversion program by the local county attorney’s office, the ACLU of Arizona undertook an investigation of juvenile diversion in Maricopa County. Maricopa County contains 60% of the state’s population and is home to the large metropolitan community of Phoenix.7 It handles just over half of the state’s juvenile referrals and an almost equal share of the diversion.8 As part of its investigation, the ACLU of Arizona examined data from the juvenile court, probation department and two private contractors that were retained by the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office (MCAO) to provide fee-based diversion services. The ACLU also interviewed court and probation department staff, juvenile defenders, a juvenile prosecutor, and representatives from the private companies. This paper presents the findings and recommendations of the investigation.

How Juvenile Diversion Works in Arizona

In Arizona, for cases processed through the 15 county juvenile courts, the authority to decide whether or not a case will be eligible for diversion rests with the prosecutor, or county attorney.9 However, the county attorney may designate certain offenses that are eligible for diversion, and those cases that fall within the criteria set by the county attorney may be handled directly by juvenile court probation officers assigned to diversion. Alternatively, the county attorney may refer diversion-eligible cases to an approved program in the community.10 Cities and towns can also establish their own diversion programs, but starting in 2009, those programs must also be pre-approved by the county attorney.11

Whether diversion is administered by the juvenile court or by a provider approved by the county attorney’s office, in order to participate, the juvenile must acknowledge responsibility for the offense.12 The juvenile must also complete each of the consequences imposed, including, where applicable, the payment of restitution to the victim.13 Participation in diversion cannot be used against the juvenile in any future proceeding.14 If the juvenile successfully completes diversion, the county attorney will not file any charges in court and the juvenile will be able to avoid a delinquency record.15

There are certain offenses that are always ineligible for diversion under Arizona law. For example, a juvenile that is referred for driving under the influence or related offenses will not be eligible for diversion.16 Chronic and violent felony offenders are also ineligible.17 In 2008, “dangerous offenses” involving the use or threatening exhibition of a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument were added to the list of ineligible offenses.18 And in 2009, lawmakers amended the law again to exclude juveniles referred for any alcohol or drug offense from diversion if they had participated in a diversion program twice in the preceding 24 months.19 Further, juveniles that are detained for any offense for more than 24 hours will be ineligible for diversion since a petition must be filed within that time period by law.20

Juvenile diversion programs are funded through a combination of state grants, county appropriations and fees collected from the families participating in diversion. Each year, the Administrative Office of the Courts of the Arizona Supreme Court (AOC) calculates a “per juvenile” reimbursement rate for the provision of diversion services. The juvenile courts then receive a grant based on the number of juveniles they serve through diversion. Courts are further required to assess parents a fee of $50 unless they can demonstrate an inability to pay.21


As a result of the ACLU of Arizona’s study, we make the following six recommendations:

1. Reduce disproportionate minority treatment in the juvenile justice system by increasing opportunities for minority youth to be diverted, including selection into restorative justice programs107 such as CJCs and Teen Courts. This will require a concerted effort to establish more CJC panels and Teen Courts in underserved neighborhoods with a high concentration of low-income and minority youth.

2. Ensure that diversion programs are financially accessible to youth. While it may make some sense to increase the “stake” that families have in diversion by charging a nominal fee, care should be taken to accommodate those families who may be unfairly precluded from diversion because they cannot afford to pay the fee. MCAO or fee-based diversion providers should charge families a maximum of $50 for diversion and a $25 victim fee and create a sliding scale fee structure for families who cannot afford to pay. They should modify their materials to inform families of this option. County officials should explore options for tapping into public or private funding to make this possible, or keep the programs in the probation department.

3. Reduce other barriers to diversion. The probation department should explore options for operating after hours to accommodate single and working parents, and increase the use of satellite offices. This can have a significant impact on a family’s ability to complete diversion. All diversion providers should consider locating programs in the community, so that juveniles can meet with providers and complete diversion consequences without leaving their own neighborhoods. Establishing such community-based, culturally competent services in local neighborhoods would be an important step to expanding access to diversion. Providers should also update the way they communicate with youth and not rely solely on letters. Promising communication methods include text messaging and email. Providers should also ensure that diversion services are available in Spanish and other languages.

4. Increase public awareness about diversion. Many families do not have enough information about the juvenile justice system to make informed decisions about whether or not to go through with diversion. The juvenile court and other key players should conduct outreach and public education to increase awareness about the benefits of diversion, both for the juvenile and for the community at large.

5. Increase offenses that are eligible for diversion. The last year has shown that offenses such as graffiti can be effectively tackled through diversion and need not result in
a juvenile court petition. Policymakers should experiment with additional offense categories to see if they can be effectively addressed through diversion.

6. Invest in more comprehensive data collection and reporting so that the effectiveness of program changes can be evaluated. The juvenile court currently has only one primary
researcher who is responsible for gathering and analyzing yearly data. Further, it is not clear whether the results of diversion are being captured across the board in a way that
is conducive to analysis; nor is there currently an attempt to reliably assess the reasons why juveniles do not complete diversion. More resources for data collection, reporting,
and analysis can save money by allowing policymakers to understand how program changes positively or negatively impact other aspects of the system.


The rate of juveniles being diverted in Arizona is on the rise. This is significant because diversion can offer swifter and more effective intervention for juveniles referred for a delinquency offense without the stigma and cost of a lengthy court process. Many young people who successfully complete diversion programs never return to the juvenile justice system. Indeed, research shows that juveniles who participate in diversion re-offend at lower rates than those who are processed through the court. It is imperative that we continue to invest in cost-saving juvenile diversion programs that help keep kids out of the court system and in school. Furthermore, the juvenile justice community can strengthen existing programs by increasing diversion opportunities for minority youth and ensuring that diversion remains financially accessible to low-income families.

Although there has been some progress made on the diversion front, the fact remains that too many kids are referred to the justice system for minor offenses in the first place. Misdemeanors and status offenses still make up 66% of referrals. In addition to maintaining and expanding upon diversion programs, members of the juvenile justice community should make the reduction of referrals for minor offenses a policy priority.

Violence still climbing in AZ State prisons...

I've been perusing the Arizona Department of Corrections' (ADC) website of late and came across this report with a few things worth sharing. As many regular readers are aware, the ADC is the only state agency this year to have received an increase in their funding, placing their annual budget at about $1 billion. This came despite a decrease in the number of prisoners committed there by the courts since 2009. In fact, the ADC is getting a whole lot of new stuff despite the public's decreasing demand for their services.

To convince us of their dire need, Chuck Ryan and the state's prosecutors have been clamoring all year that 94% of ADC prisoners are "violent or repeat offenders" (as if Vicodin addicts and serial rapists pose an equal threat to the rest of us) and therefore MUST be imprisoned for our safety (see this long report - read between the propaganda, if you can). They argue that our high incarceration rates over the past decade are responsible for a falling crime rate (which was actually seen nationally due to many factors).

In truth, though, there's been a
marked decrease in violent offenders among new prisoners being admitted over the past 2 years, so it's not going down because they're all getting put away. Far too many of our resources continue to go towards imprisoning people who have smuggled themselves over the border or worked hard at a job no one else wanted too many times - over 6,000 of our prisoners are foreign nationals - most of whom we just plan to deport after we expend a fortune punishing them.

Actually, contrary to what Chuck Ryan's public claims would lead one to believe, 36% of the state's prisoner population is considered so low-risk that they're in minimum security settings - which means they could be safely walking among us right now. That's over 12,000 people who don't REALLY need to be locked into their beds at night (at about $20,000/year per prisoner) for the sake of public safety.

So why aren't we talking sentencing reform at the legislature this year instead of building 5,000 new prison beds? There's plenty of evidence of the meddling of the private prison lobby and American Legislative Exchange Council in our lawmaking activities here. But there's also a large contingent among law enforcement and corrections - such as ADC Director Chuck Ryan - leading us even further down the path of mass incarceration with fear, not reason. Whether crime goes up or down, their constant refrain is that we need more prisons and police - even when our school budgets are being ravaged.

Charts are from the ADC's 2011 "Data and Information" report. Increases in violence
over the past 2 years appear to be more dramatic than the changes in prisoner population and and apparent increase in the staff/prisoner ratio. Despite ADC claims that the violence grew due to budget and staffing cuts, there aren't a significant number of additional CO positions slated to be filled this year.

While there's no hard evidence that Chuck Ryan has - across his career - actually served to reduce crime in Arizona by fighting to secure longer sentences for vast numbers of petty criminals, there's ample proof that he's having a harder time than his predecessor did maintaining a safe environment for both prisoners and staff behind bars. Under his tenure, suicides and homicides have skyrocketed, and assaults
are up all over.

Indicators of prison violence are projected to jump even more next year. One would think the ADC would set goals to reduce those rates, not project increases.
Sadly, they seem far more concerned with bringing down health care costs than reducing prison violence - even that which is against their own people. In 2009, as Ryan's predecessor was leaving office, 1 in 40 prisoners and 1 in 17 staff were involved in an assault. Things have deteriorated so badly under his directorship that in 2012 1 in 23 prisoners are expected to be involved in fights and assaults, and 1 in 16 staff will be attacked.

Assaults on both prisoners and staff are expected to jump again in 2012. Nothing in the ADC's current 5-year plan addresses how to reduce the assault, suicide or homicide rates. Dora Schriro's reports, on the other hand, looked at these concerns closely.

Meanwhile, prisoners and their families have been told that their lives are of no value to the rest of us short of the revenue that the commodification of their bodies and the enslavement of their labor produces. Visitors have to pay for their security clearance now, rehabilitative programs have been gutted, prisoner pay was cut while medical visit co-pays increased, account deposits are being assessed a new fee, only 2 meals are served each day on the weekends, and women are dying while begging to see a doctor. Things are so bad now that the ACLU National Prison Project and the Prison Law Office are actually talkin
g about suing the ADC for injunctive relief due to the gross medical neglect of their general prison population, as well as the abuse of solitary confinement for prisoners with psychiatric disabilities. That's pretty serious.

AZ prison violence: higher security yards are least secure...

The guys are also writing to me more for help getting protective custody throughout the system, saying that the gangs run all the 3 and 4 yards (medium and maximum security) - and few are getting it, despite being assaulted repeatedly. The guards are often part of the problem - I know of at least one guard who was prosecuted for taking a $1000 bribe to let someone try and kill a friend of mine for being gay. Look at the assault statistics for different custody levels - they tell the story of prison violence spiraling out of control.

All that those violent perpetrators seem to be getting from being in Chuck Ryan's custody, frankly, is target practice on vulnerable prisoners like Shannon Palmer, carelessly housed among the most dangerous. That way both the thugs and the brutalized are good and ready for us when they get out. That's neither tough nor smart on crime - It's just hardest on the most easily victimized prisoners, like the very old, the very gentle, and those with psychiatric, developmental, and physical disabilities - many of whom landed in prison due to the shredded safety net in our state, not due to their inherent criminality.

I suspect from all that I've seen that the violence among prisoners in our state institutions is actually serving a purpose for the ADC. The gangs keep prisoners divided by race and high on heroin so they can't unite against the real enemy and resist the conditions of their confinement. Fear keeps people spending all their energy just surviving prison life, too, and posits other prisoners as sources of danger while making it appear as if their only hope for safety will come from the institution (often in exchange for something), if it comes at all.

In order words, the gangs and yard leaders are in on it with Chuck in a very convenient relationship. How ironic that they're the ones demanding to see guys' police reports for evidence they haven't snitched on anyone when they're the main parties in collusion with the guards and ADC brass.
Gang members and leaders make a show of resisting authority, but they are hardly the enemy of the state, by any means. They are in bed with them. Feel free to tell them I said that, too. Too many prisoners are being tattooed and led astray by the very rats who sell all of you out to maintain their own comfort and safety every day. If you were to unite amongst yourselves and start organizing around a new analysis of power inside, you might have a chance at disrupting that particular culture.

So spread the word and call them on their shit, guys - not only does the police report they insist on seeing fail to identify those who turned state's evidence later (everyone pisses their pants when they get busted, so they know you're likely to have something in that report they can make a big deal of), but they have no business questioning your integrity when they've been collaborating with the police state for a long time now. The gang violence also makes you all look bad out here, dehumanizing prisoners for those of us who wish to ignore your desperate predicament. In every way, those guys are just doing prisoners as a whole harm - and doing Chuck Ryan a service by keeping you down so he doesn't have to.
They keep his guards in line, too.

On that note, I encourage folks to check out the ADC's website for more information about how our tax dollars are being spent fostering even more criminal activity - and destroying the lives that might be salvaged -behind bars. Here are their collected reports and statistics. The Corrections at a Glance monthly briefs are especially interesting for what they show the ADC isn't doing for the 75% of prisoners these days who come in with drug problems. Even the drunks aren't getting treatment. Given the physical state of most of the prison system, it kind of makes you wonder where all that money has been going...

CCA "Gladiator School" settles with prisoners

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A potential class-action lawsuit against the nation's largest private prison company over allegations of violence at the Idaho Correctional Center has been settled in federal court.

The agreement between the inmates and Nashville, Tenn.-based Corrections Corporation of America was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Boise.

In it, CCA doesn't acknowledge the allegations but agrees to increase staffing, investigate all assaults and make other sweeping changes at the lockup south of Boise. If the company fails to make the changes, the inmates can ask the courts to force CCA to comply.

The inmates, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, sued last year on behalf of everyone incarcerated at the CCA-run state prison. They said the prison was so violent it was dubbed "Gladiator School," and that guards used inmate-on-inmate violence as a management tool and then denied prisoners medical care as a way to cover up the assaults.

CCA has denied all the allegations as part of the settlement, but the agreement is governed under a section of the Prison Litigation Reform Act which only applies in cases in which prisoners' constitutional rights have been violated.

As part of a prepared statement written by the ACLU and approved by CCA, both sides said that rather spending time and resources trying to litigate allegations of past problems, the groups would work toward improving future conditions at the prison. Those steps include hiring three additional correctional officers, ensuring prison staffing meets state requirements and following standard operating procedures already set up by the Idaho Department of Correction.

The agreement came after both sides spent three days in federal mediation sessions last week. Federal oversight of the settlement will last for two years.

In the lawsuit, the inmates cited an Associated Press investigation that found the private prison had more cases of inmate-on-inmate violence than all other Idaho prisons combined.

"The unnecessary carnage and suffering that has resulted is shameful and inexcusable," the ACLU wrote in the lawsuit. "ICC not only condones prisoner violence, the entrenched culture of ICC promotes, facilitates, and encourages it."

While the prison is owned by the state, it is run for a profit by CCA under a contract with the Idaho Department of Correction. The inmates claimed the company made decisions based on profit rather than on "responsible administration of the prison."

The prisoners' lawsuit didn't ask for money, just changes in the way CCA runs the lockup.

Under the settlement, the company has agreed to leave more prison beds open so it can easily move threatened inmates to new cellblocks when necessary. It also agreed to report all assaults that appear to amount to aggravated battery to the Ada County sheriff's office, to increase the level of training given to guards and to discipline staffers who don't take appropriate measures to stop or prevent assaults.

"This settlement is in the best interest of our clients, CCA and the state of Idaho," ACLU senior attorney Stephen Pevar said in the prepared statement.

Idaho Department of Correction Director Brent Reinke said he was pleased with the settlement, because he thinks it will improve the sometimes adversarial relationship the state has had with CCA. Idaho has increased the number of employees it has monitoring operations at the private prison and in the past has fined CCA thousands of dollars for failing to meet contract requirements. Still, Idaho officials decided to renew CCA's contract to run the prison and the state has even added more than 600 beds to the lockup, making it the state's largest prison.

"We are working with the contractor, rather than against the contractor, which is huge — it's huge — when you can try to get things resolved," he said.

Reinke said he was also pleased that ICC warden Timothy Wengler was one of the CCA officials who signed the settlement agreement.

"I respect those in Tennessee (CCA's headquarters). But I really want to have a good manager here," Reinke said. "The fact that he's stepping up and has signed the agreement, well, his name is on the line now."

The Department of Correction was originally named as a defendant in the case, but the inmates agreed to drop the allegations against the agency after state officials agreed to enforce any of the court's actions.

Idaho officials will closely review the 18 key items listed in the settlement to make sure they comply with the contract between CCA and the state, Reinke said. If not, the contract may be adjusted to add the requirements.

CCA spokesman Steve Owen said his company is "turning a page and looking forward" and the settlement reflects "how pleased we are with the progress that's been made at the facility."

Any costs associated with the increased staffing, investigations and training aren't a concern, he said.

"I think we view all those things that are being done as positives," he said.

CCA has faced several lawsuits in Idaho over violence and assaults at the prison. Security cameras from the facility showed one attack, in which guards watched while an inmate named Hanni Elabed was beaten unconscious and then stomped in the head multiple times. The company reached an undisclosed settlement with Elabed, who was left with brain damage and likely permanent disabilities from the attack.

Many of the attacks listed in the ACLU lawsuit happened while former warden Phillip Valdez was leading the prison. CCA eventually reassigned Valdez to the assistant warden post at the Leavenworth Detention Center, a prison the company runs for the U.S. Marshals Service in Kansas.

Just last week, CCA reached a settlement with an inmate named Marlin Riggs, who was the lead plaintiff in the potential class-action lawsuit in Idaho until the court split the case into two lawsuits. He contended he warned guards that he was about to be attacked by other inmates but they refused to move to him to another unit or give him any other protection. Shortly after returning to his cellblock, Riggs was beaten so badly that bones in his face were broken and his blood was splattered across the walls and ceiling of his cell.

CCA's settlement with Riggs was sealed by the court.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

AZ Auditor General's report on private prison security

Here's the AZ Auditor Generals' website, the link to the report highlights, and the link to the full report. Thanks to Bob Ortega for staying on top of developments around the Arizona's prison privatization debacle...


Arizona prison safety lacking, report says

Auditor finds flaws but notes progress

by Bob Ortega - Sept. 24, 2011 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic

Arizona's Department of Corrections needs to do more to improve security at private-contract and state-run prisons, a report released Friday by the state's auditor general concludes.

The report credits the department with making many significant improvements since the July 2010 escapes of three prisoners from the Kingman prison.

These improvements include revamping the state's monitoring and inspection programs, which had failed to detect obvious security flaws at Kingman before the escapes; new, tougher annual audits of each prison; better security and reporting requirements in new contracts; and stiffer requirements and better training for state monitors who oversee private prisons.

The audit called for further steps to address ongoing security problems.

On their visits to several state prisons between December and May, auditors noted instances of correctional officers failing to pat down inmates properly when they were being moved, failing to inspect personal property and food items that were brought into prisons by employees and contractors, failing to adequately inventory tools, and failing to require inmates to wear their IDs. These issues also had been noted by the department's own inspectors, as previously reported by The Arizona Republic.

Corrections Director Charles Ryan, in a written response, didn't dispute the issues raised by the auditors, though he stated that, according to the department's data, "over 93 percent of the time policies and procedures are followed and no violations are found." But Ryan agreed with all of the audit's recommendations, which included:

- Carrying out a biannual comparison of private and state-run prison services, as required by state law. As The Republic has reported, Corrections has never conducted this comparison, but Ryan said the department designed its new inspection program with this comparison in mind and will complete its first such study next month.

- Continuing to develop and carry out formal training for contract-monitoring staff. Ryan said the first such training, lasting 32 hours, was conducted this week.

- Using the new inspection process to identify systemic or ongoing security issues and analyze ways to address them across the prison system, whether by training, making written orders known as "post orders" more consistent, or improving supervision.

- Giving supervisors more leadership training as part of their required annual training.

The audit also noted that Corrections spent more than $29 million on overtime and compensatory leave last fiscal year, to cover for staff shortages. Ryan asked to add 306 officer positions this fiscal year but didn't receive the funding for them, though Corrections was the sole department to see its budget rise from the prior fiscal year.

The auditors noted that, before the Kingman escapes, Corrections' annual audits of each prison were conducted by officers at other prisons, creating a "quid pro quo" culture in which officers reviewing each other had incentives not to report problems. Now, those audits are conducted by the department's Inspector General's Office.

And although the department plans to impose tougher security and reporting requirements in contracts for up to 5,000 prison beds it is now evaluating, it said it can't impose those requirements on existing private-prison contracts until they come up for renewal or are rebid.

Friday, September 23, 2011

ASH: Sentencing reform, not more prisons, is smart on crime.

He's not the abolitionist that I am, but I truly love this man (I hope no one holds that against him). His piece here speaks for itself.

----------------from the Arizona Republic------------------

by Representative Cecil Ash

Sept. 23, 2011

While headlines in 13 other states read, "State reduces prison capacity," the headline in Arizona will soon say, "State awarding bids to private prisons for 5,000 new beds."

As a conservative Republican, I support the privatization of many government services: in schools, where the consumers of the product are its purchasers; in construction, where the project is open to public scrutiny; in maintenance, where performance can be observed or measured. In each of these cases, the provider's goal of a profit is subject to the forces of the competitive marketplace.

With private prisons, however, the consumers of the product (the inmates) have no say in its quality. The free market is not in play. They cannot take their business and go elsewhere.

The goal of the private prison - profit - is antithetical to the goals of the state: incarceration, rehabilitation and the reduction of recidivism. In fact, the less rehabilitation, the more recidivism, the greater numbers to be incarcerated, the better for the private-prison industry's bottom line.

Inherent in the argument to use private prisons is the claim that they operate more cost-effectively than state-run institutions. Studies have not shown this to be true.

Nor does the state's experience last summer in Kingman, when three dangerous prisoners escaped, suggest that they are more secure.

The exact amount of the expenditure for these 5,000 new beds is unknown. But it will be in the millions of dollars.

There is another alternative: Re-examine the provisions of our criminal code. Here are some options:

- Grant medical parole to prisoners whose physical condition prevents them from being a threat to public safety. For example, Arizona houses a female inmate who has become blind in prison. Is there really any reason to continue her incarceration?

- Restore incentives for prisoners to earn earlier release. Currently, all prisoners must serve 85 percent of their sentence, leaving the last 15 percent to be served under community supervision. Is there any reason that inmates who have a good disciplinary record and who have taken all the rehab programs available and otherwise abided by the rules should not be released at 60 percent of their sentence and be under community supervision for the last 40 percent of their sentence?

- Give judges discretion to deviate from mandated sentences where appropriate. In Payson last month, the criminal code required the judge to give a 73-year-old man a 90-year sentence for a non-violent first offense. The judge felt probation was more appropriate.

- Provide for more rehab and treatment programs for substance abusers, even where people may have failed the first time. (How many people quit smoking on their first attempt?)

- Allow DUI defendants who agree to refrain from alcohol and wear a GPS bracelet that indicates alcohol consumption to remain on home arrest rather than serve time in prison. Appropriate exceptions could apply where there has been serious injury or where the person has violated the probation by consuming alcohol.

The implementation of any or all of the above options could save the state millions of dollars, negating the need for 5,000 new prison beds.

I would then use these savings to restore funding to the developmentally disabled population and to perform long-delayed maintenance on existing prison facilities.

There may be problems with any one or all of the above recommendations. But Texas recently avoided spending $750 million on more beds by restructuring its criminal-justice system and simultaneously saw its crime rate drop. This is happening in a number of other states. Arizona should do the same.

Cecil Ash, a Mesa Republican, represents District 18 in the Legislature.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A million hearts just shattered: the execution of Troy Davis.

Solidarity Vigil for Troy
Arizona State University Hayden Lawn
September 21. 2011

Troy Davis was murdered tonight by the state of Georgia and the US Supreme Court,

and a million hearts were shattered.

Blessings to his family, who lost the most. We will not give up this fight.


The Death of Troy Davis

Atlanta Journal Constitution
September 21, 2011

Andrew Cohen

The Georgia execution, carried out amid so many reasonable doubts, marks a watershed in America's grim experiment with capital punishment

In a perfect world, the execution of Troy Davis Wednesday tonight in Georgia would herald a new era in America's grim history with the death penalty. It would shake the criminal justice system out of its self-satisfied torpor and force government and the governed both to face the ugly truth about capital punishment in the United States in the twenty-first century. It would propel this question to the forefront both of the nation's political debate and the Supreme Court's docket: How many exceptions to the rule must we allow or tolerate, how many legitimate questions must linger beyond the death chamber, before we either fix the system or end the experiment?

When the state kills those whose guilt is in serious doubt, or when the state kills those to whom it has not given fair justice, it doesn't just perform an injustice upon the individual, the rule of law, and the Constitution. It also undermines the very legitimacy of the death penalty itself, for its continuing use as a sentencing option derives its civic and moral strength mostly from the fiction that it can be, and is, credibly and reliably imposed. Once our confidence in that credibility is shattered, as it should be now that Davis is gone, all that's left of the death penalty is state-sponsored retribution and the hangman's noose.

In a perfect world, the haunting execution of Troy Davis would spawn vital reforms to the clemency and parole process in states like Georgia and Texas, where such proceedings routinely make a mockery of the idea of reasoned justice. It would light a fire under local prosecutors to ensure that witnesses in capital cases are not coerced by law enforcement officials. It would cause jurors to think twice about rushing to judgments. It would force a supine Congress to reevaluate its so-called "effective death penalty" statute, which neuters legitimate post-conviction appeals. And it would at long last shame state court judges to cast off the yoke of their campaign contributors, who push them to be "tough on crime" at the expense of fealty to the Bill of Rights.

Georgia says that it has given Davis more due process than any single man would have a right to expect. Up the state appellate ladder and down again. Up to the Supreme Court and back. Hearing upon hearing. Brief upon brief. At some point, Georgia says, there has to be finality in capital cases. At some point, the justice system has to accept the work of judges and juries and impose the sentence that was initially given. There is truth to all of this. And there is both rhyme and reason to many of the rules which govern appellate law and practice in capital cases. But those rules almost always place the state's interest in finality ahead of the condemned's interest in accuracy. "Enough is enough" is a great campaign slogan -- but it's hardly a worthy motto for a civilized nation's death penalty scheme.

Here's what Davis was up against, to cite just one example. Last summer, at the request of the United States Supreme Court, U.S. District Judge William Moore held an evidentiary hearing to examine the new claims, and new evidence, presented by Davis and his attorneys. Under federal law, Judge Moore reminded the litigants and the world, Davis had the nearly insurmountable post-conviction burden of establishing by "clear and convincing evidence'' that no reasonable juror would have convicted him based upon the new evidence. Applying that standard, which flips on its head the standard applied at trial, Judge Moore unsurprisingly held that Davis had failed to meet his burden.

In a perfect world, Davis would have had his new evidence evaluated under a legal standard more tuned to ensuring the reliability and accuracy of his conviction rather than upon the timing of his execution. His case wouldn't have been shoved like so many of the rest down a sterile and formalistic legal hole forced upon the federal courts by the Clinton-era Congress. And, even if it somehow were, even if the justice system failed, Davis would have had a parole board willing to acknowledge what seems so self-evident; that an uncertain death sentence harms more than just the executed.

Last week, in an op-ed which appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, William Sessions, the former federal judge and FBI director, and a man not known for willy-nilly considerations, once again called upon Georgia to halt Davis' execution. His view of the 2010 hearing is the most accurate view I've read yet and is quite chilling. Judge Sessions wrote:

What the hearing demonstrated most conclusively was that the evidence in this case -- consisting almost entirely of conflicting stories, testimonies and statements -- is inadequate to the task of convincingly establishing either Davis' guilt or his innocence. Without DNA or other forms of physical or scientific evidence that can be objectively measured and tested, it is possible that doubts about guilt in this case will never be resolved.

Alas, the world, and the world of capital punishment in America, are far from perfect. When Georgia executed Troy Davis, despite the grave doubts cast upon his capital conviction, it wasn't just thumbing its nose at the new evidence which tends to exonerate him. It wasn't just ignoring the considered judgments of experts in criminal justice and capital cases. It wasn't just winking and nodding at the protections of the "cruel and unusual" clause of the Eighth Amendment. It was instead declaring war on all of that. It was proudly proclaiming its infidelity to a fundamental premise of American law -- that the courts, and the state, will always try their best to get things right no matter how long it takes.

Now that's he gone from the face of the earth, and whether he was guilty or not, Troy Davis will leave one of two legacies. Either his story will fade with time, as have the stories of so many other men executed under a cloud of questions about their guilt, or his story will propel meaningful change in this area of the law. His many supporters, in and out of public life, hold in their hands the ability to determine that legacy. What they could not accomplish during his lifetime they may still try to accomplish in his death; a renewed appreciation for the notion that no man, neither the high nor the low, neither the rich nor the poor, neither white nor black, deserves the lamentable injustice done this day.

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