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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Friday, March 30, 2012

Mental illness in the CJ system: crises and diversions.

David's Hope is an education and advocacy agency designed to provide people living with mental illness, and all those involved in their care, the skills and knowledge needed to navigate the behavioral health and criminal justice systems. David’s Hope teaches people how to advocate for themselves and others by empowering them with information, training, resources, and mentoring. Through education and mentoring we hope to create understanding in the community of the issues facing those living with mental illness involved in the Criminal Justice System.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Vested interests: AZ Regents are prison profiteers

Excellent editorial - the abuses at Arizona's CCA prisons and detention centers alone are appalling. Regent Anne Mariucci should also resign from the CCA board. If both she and DiConcini fail to do so, I think it's time for direct action....

who wants more prisons?
AZ Regents do...

-----------from the Arizona Daily Wildcat-----------

Regent DeConcini should resign from CCA board

Published March 27, 2012

From statewide political rhetoric and policy proposals to the national Republican debates, there is no doubt that a raging anti-migrant sentiment is spreading across the nation, including the Arizona Board of Regents.

As students at the UA, we are bombarded by this rhetoric. So who profits from targeting and criminalizing the migrant community?

Regent Dennis DeConcini, a former senator, is also on the Board of Directors for the Corrections Corporation of America. 

The CCA is the nation’s largest for-profit prison corporation, holding approximately 75,000 state and federal inmates in more than 66 facilities around the country. This includes six prisons here in Arizona that import prisoners from the states of California and Hawaii, but most importantly the prisons import non-citizen detainees in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

As a publicly owned corporation traded on the New York Stock Exchange, the CCA’s sole purpose is to make profits for its stockholders through increased incarceration. Indeed, DeConcini is a shareholder who shares in the earnings generated by the CCA

Furthermore, public records and recent reports show the CCA invests heavily in lobbying at the federal and state levels and makes substantial contributions to candidates for political office through lobby consulting firms and its political action committee. More people behind bars means more contracts for the CCA, and Senate Bill 1070 proved to be a good way to get more contracts.

The CCA, through its lobbyists and Political Action Committees, made donations to Gov. Jan Brewer and legislators sponsoring SB 1070. Moreover, both Sen. Russell Pearce and the CCA were members of the public safety committee of the American Legislative Exchange Council, where SB 1070 was approved as “model legislation.” 

DeConcini publicly declared his opposition to SB 1070. However, through his service on the board of the CCA, he directly profits from the incarceration of undocumented families. If DeConcini truly opposes the separation of families, he should resign from his position on the CCA board.

The CCA is an unrepentant profiteer, operating at the expense of prisoners, their families, local communities and the public. Specifically, the CCA immorally profits from depriving hard-working families of their liberty and violating their human rights. The CCA manipulates public policy through lobbying efforts and campaign donations to political candidates via PACs. 

Trusting incarceration to a private entity unnecessarily compounds prisoners’ suffering. Private prison operators’ push for efficiency, and seeking profit inevitably leads to severe violations of prisoners’ most fundamental rights. 

The solution is not in trying to reform an inherently broken system, but rather in working toward achieving a society that no longer sees criminalization and incarceration as the de-facto response to every social problem.

DeConcini has worked for many years in public office and continues to hold leadership positions affecting student life in Arizona as a member of the Board of Regents. His support of an industry that profits from depriving human beings of their liberty stands in sharp contrast to his public statements in which he’s portrayed himself as a champion of the underserved. As a CCA shareholder, he personally benefits from policies driven by racism and corporate greed.

Anne L. Mariucci, another member of the Board of Regents, is also a member of the CCA’s Board of Directors.

Today, UA groups including No More Deaths/No Más Muertes, Jewish Voice for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine are running a similar divestment campaign to support migrant and Palestinian rights. These groups have joined a community-based coalition demanding that university leaders oppose profiting from the prison industry.

A new community coalition of local organizations called Fuerza Comunitaria Contra la Industria Carcelaria — including Corazón de Tucson, The Restoration Project, Coalición de Derechos Humanos, American Friends Service Committee, Tucson Childcare Collective, the Southside Worker Center, UA Jewish Voice for Peace, Students for Justice in Palestine and No More Deaths UA Chapter — call for former DeConcini to resign from Board of Directors of the Corrections Corporation of America.

We actively organize toward a society based on the principles of equality, justice, respect and freedom for all. As students at the UA, we need to hold our own representatives accountable.

As we rally against Pell Grants being taken away, tuition hikes and rising textbook prices, we also need to stand in solidarity with the broader community that we are a part of.

— Elisa L. Meza and Gabriel M. Schivone are former Daily Wildcat employees.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Thiopental controversy: Shame on the FDA; Tough luck to the dead.

Good for the AZ Republic for staying on top of this..


Judge: FDA allowed state to illegally gain execution drug

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration violated the law by allowing Arizona and other states to bypass regulations and import unapproved drugs to carry out executions, a U.S. District Court judge ruled Tuesday.

The ruling came in a lawsuit filed on behalf of three Arizona death-row inmates -- two of whom have already been executed -- and inmates in Tennessee and California.

• E-mails detail FDA's efforts to avoid responsibility regarding execution drug
• Arizona Supreme Court puts off date for execution
• State Supreme Court weighs killer's execution as FDA exits dispute over drug
Judge Richard Leon of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ordered the FDA to notify state corrections departments, including Arizona's, that they must surrender the drug, sodium thiopental, to the FDA. He also barred any future shipments from entering the country.

Leon called the FDA's decision to allow such shipments "contrary to law, arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of discretion."

However, his ruling established no penalties for the FDA's conduct and will not affect Arizona's execution schedule or procedures.

His ruling comes 18 months after The Arizona Republic disclosed that the Arizona Department of Corrections had obtained the drug from a supplier in Great Britain.

That discovery set off an international furor in which Britain and Italy shut down exports of thiopental.

The Corrections Department fought to conceal how it obtained the drug, but the FDA ultimately was identified as the agency that allowed -- even assisted -- the illegal importation.

Eventually, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration confiscated the drug from several states and informed Arizona that it could not be used in subsequent executions.

The state has since altered its execution protocol to include a different drug.

In his ruling, Leon wrote, "In the final analysis, the FDA appears to be simply wrapping itself in the flag of law-enforcement discretion to justify its authority and masquerade an otherwise seemingly callous indifference to the health consequences of those imminently facing the executioner's needle. How utterly disappointing!"

Neither the FDA nor the Arizona Attorney General's Office responded to requests for comment Tuesday.

Dale Baich of the Federal Public Defender's Office in Phoenix, one of the principal attorneys on the case, said he was not surprised by the ruling.

"The law is quite clear that unapproved drugs cannot be imported. The FDA went above the law in allowing these drugs into the country," Baich said. "We brought the illegal-importation issue to the attention of the Arizona Department of Corrections and the FDA almost two years ago, but we were ignored."

Corrections officials said Tuesday that they are no longer in possession of the thiopental, which is still listed as an option in its execution protocol.

Thiopental is a short-acting barbiturate that was used as part of a three-drug, lethal-injection cocktail. It served as anesthesia before a paralyzing drug and a heart-stopping drug were administered. But the sole U.S. supplier of thiopental stopped producing it in 2009 because it had largely been replaced in hospitals by more modern drugs.

The thiopental shortage became apparent in May 2010, when Ohio had to scramble to obtain enough to carry out an execution. That September, the Arizona Department of Corrections, following the lead of other states, obtained the drug from a supplier in London that was not authorized to export it to the U.S.

The Republic first reported the questionable import in October 2010, the day before it was used to execute Jeffrey Landrigan. That information caused the British and Italian governments to stop exports of thiopental to the U.S. for use in executions. It is illegal for anyone in the European Economic Community to assist in capital punishment in other countries.

The FDA initially told The Republic that there was no legal mechanism to import the drug. The state Corrections Department repeatedly denied that it had gone outside legal channels to obtain it. Then, in December 2010, an FDA spokeswoman told The Republic that it would exercise "enforcement discretion" on the matter.

But e-mails obtained by The Republic under the federal Freedom of Information Act showed that FDA officials had allowed the shipments. Many of the e-mails had been redacted, but the encryption had failed, revealing that the FDA, with the approval of unnamed people at the White House, shifted responsibility for allowing the drug's import to U.S. customs officials.

That was done to avoid legal liability and to shield the FDA from any appearance of involvement with the death penalty. The FDA asked The Republic to return the unredacted e-mails. The newspaper declined.
One high-placed FDA official wrote in November 2010 that even if the agency issued a statement that it had not reviewed the drugs for "safety, efficacy or quality ... it will insert FDA into the death-penalty cases because attorneys will try to use the statement as a means to open proceedings on the safety of the imported drugs."

In a separate court proceeding in U.S. District Court in Phoenix last December, a former state Corrections official testified that a local FDA employee counseled him on how to lessen scrutiny of the foreign shipments and ease them past U.S. customs officials. In a videotaped deposition, the FDA official denied giving such advice. But his assistance in obtaining the drugs was interpreted as FDA "approval."

In April 2011, the drug was seized from some states by the DEA, and in June 2011, Arizona was told it could not use its supply. That came one day before the execution of Donald Beaty, the lead defendant in the lawsuit against the FDA.

Beaty was executed using a different drug, pentobarbital, which most states have adopted. Arizona's two most recent executions were carried out using only pentobarbital because the state Corrections Department had inadvertently let one of the other drugs in its three-drug protocol pass its expiration date.

In his ruling Tuesday, Judge Leon noted that the imported thiopental was a "misbranded and unapproved new drug," which by law cannot be distributed in the U.S. without FDA approval.

"No one is above the law -- not the Arizona Department of Corrections, not the FDA," Baich said. "The federal court, relying on the judgment of Congress, has sent a clear message that it is illegal to import drugs that have not been approved by the FDA. The states that have imported non-FDA approved drugs are now on notice that those drugs are illegal."

The Associated Press contributed to this article

AFSC and NAACP protesting for-profit prisons

Prison Legal News
March 27, 2012

Phoenix: The American Friends Service Committee and the NAACP of Maricopa County today took the second step in their protest of the Request for Proposals (RFP) issued by the Department of Corrections for 2,000 private, for-profit prison beds.

The protest, filed earlier this month, argues that the state of Arizona does not need and cannot afford more prison beds, and that the existing prison contracts are in violation of state statute as well as contract provisions which require private prisons to cost less and provide the same or better quality of service as state prisons. The groups cite Arizona Department of Corrections cost studies that show that some private prisons are more expensive than equivalent state units. They also point to a host of security inspections, Auditor General Investigations, and other published data that reveal that private prisons have inferior safety standards, faulty alarms, chronic understaffing, and do not measure recidivism.

The initial protest was dismissed on Monday March 19th by the Chief Procurement Officer of the Department of Corrections. In his dismissal letter, he argued that the groups do not have standing to protest under the state procurement code. In addressing the numerous and well documented objections raised by AFSC and the NAACP, he responds by stating only that they are “wrong,” without offering any evidence or documentation to refute them. The dismissal is attached.

The groups are now taking the next step—an Appeal to the Director of the Department of Administration. They contend that AFSC was specifically directed to file a protest under the Procurement Code by the Attorney General in his Motion to Dismiss their lawsuit against the last private prison RFP, and question why he would have done this if the group did not have standing. They also point out that the Arizona Department of Corrections is itself implicated in the violations of state law, and has failed in its responsibility to properly screen bids, monitor contracts, or hold private prison corporations accountable for their mistakes.

Caroline Isaacs, the Director of the American Friends Service Committee’s Arizona office, says that allowing the Department of Corrections to determine the outcome of the protest is “akin to letting the fox tell the farmer whether the henhouse is properly managed.”

The groups are asking the Director of the Department of Administration to immediately halt the prison RFP process while he reviews the appeal. They then have requested that the state formally and permanently cancel the RFP and award no contracts for new private prisons.

Suicide attempt results in prison for vehicular homicide.

A few months ago I heard a story in a community forum about the criminalization of people who are mentally ill that troubled me deeply. It was reported that the City of Phoenix was prosecuting a man for disorderly conduct due to his attempt to jump off a bridge when suicidal one day. A month or so before that I was told about a man in another county who had tried to kill himself by jumping into traffic, and was being prosecuted for the damage he did to the car that hit him. Last year the AZ Department of Corrections prosecuted a prisoner for arson who had set himself on fire and was burned over 80% of his body. And state prisoner Tony Lester was prosecuted and imprisoned in the first place for injuries friends incurred while trying to prevent him from cutting his throat in a psychotic state. 

All this impressed me as being unnecessarily punitive of individuals who were themselves already victims of suicidal despair and clinical depression, and I have a soapbox set up just for this issue. So when I read about this guy going to prison for killing someone during a suicide attempt, I expected more of the same kind of story. It wasn't. This guy is a real self-absorbed bastard who seems like he'd do or say anything to save his own life.

Now, granted, the prosecution only tells the state's version of a story - that version is the one posted below. If their premise is true, however, then Buot intentionally drove his SUV into an unsuspecting woman's path to hurt his wife by killing himself. That's pretty criminal in my book and deserves prosecution. What this man did was something like firing a sub-machine gun into a crowd while hoping to be taken out by a cop. It was reckless, cowardly, and could predictably end in someone else's grave injury or death. 

In the course of his "suicide attempt" (why would he really think he'd die by plowing his huge SUV into another car is beyond me), Buot killed a young mother of three, and lived to lie about it. Good for Bill Montgomery for holding him responsible. I'm not sure I'd send him to prison for the next 22 years, myself - there must be some better way to teach people not to be so careless when so consumed with self-destructive rage that they're driven to risk lives other than their own in the course of acting on suicidal impulse. Lacking that alternative sentencing option right now, though, I'm glad the guy will be off the streets for awhile.

I don't know if Buot has a serious mental illness that impaired his judgement, or if he's just a selfish, manipulative bully. In any case, my heart goes out to the family of this man's victim, Christine Ann Anderson. Condolences to all her loved ones. I still reject the criminalization of mental illness - but I'll remember what happened to Christine the next time I protest the prosecution of someone who endangers others in the course of trying to harm themselves.

Rikers, Solitary, and Schriro...

City Limits


There's been a 44 percent jump in the number of punitive segregation cells in city jails the past two years. Jail officials say it's to prevent violence, but advocates argue the punishment is counterproductive.

Jeanmarie Evelly
March 27, 2012
Elmhurst - Over the last two years, the Department of Correction has nearly doubled the number of "punitive segregation" cells—the Department's term for solitary confinement—at the jail facilities at Rikers Island. The 44 percent jump, DOC Commissioner Dora Schriro testified at a City Council budget hearing this month, constitutes "the most significant increase in the department's history," one that prisoners rights groups say gives New York City one of the highest solitary confinement rates in the nation.
At press time, 914 inmates were being held in segregation at Rikers, meaning they are typically confined to their cells for 23 hours a day. Jail officials say this is a necessary tool to curtail an uptick in violence, maintain safety and order and deal with inmates who commit serious rule violations.

But prisoner advocacy groups say the increase is alarming at a time when the inmate population in the city's jails is at a low, and in light of a growing body of research that says solitary confinement does little to curb bad behavior, and could actually make some inmates act more violently.

Correctional systems across the country have been reducing their use of segregated units, and this fall, a United Nations expert called an all countries to ban the practice except under the most extreme circumstances, likening the mental health effects of prolonged solitary confinement to torture.

"We're at a terrible point where management is really overly punitive, and not able to grasp that it's wrong, that it's not working," says Sarah Kerr, of the Legal Aid Society's Prisoners Rights Project. "The idea that other places are realizing the error and trying to reform, and New York is doing the opposite, is really a problem."

"It's interesting that DOC is doing this when the jail population is falling," says Jennifer Parish, director of criminal justice advocacy at the Urban Justice Center. Indeed, from 2001 to 2010, admissions to city jails fell by 20 percent and their average daily population dropped by 10 percent. "I find it incredible that there's actually a need for this, and that there aren't management strategies they could use to address the problem."

Split lips, broken bones

Violence has long been the most-cited rationale for solitary confinement, and the DOC is under considerable pressure to make sure its facilities are safe.

"Our core objective is to protect both the inmate population and the workforce from harm," Commissioner Schriro says.

For the last several years, union officials who represent jail workers have complained of an uptick in violence against their members. In 2010, there were 84 incidents of inmate assaults on staff resulting in serious injury, according to DOC statistics, up from 63 in 2009 and 53 in 2008.

"Correction officers bear the brunt of it by being assaulted on a daily basis," says Norman Seabrook, president of the Correctional Officers Benevolent Association (COBA). "Every day, every other day, three or four times a day, I'm getting a text message or an e-mail from the Department of Correction notifying me of how many of my correction officers have been assaulted—split lips, sutures, broken bones. This goes on and on and on and this has to stop."

Seabrook blames the increase, in part, on insufficient staff numbers, saying the DOC is not hiring enough correction officers to replace those who retire, get promoted or leave for other reasons.

At the budget hearing last month, Commissioner Schriro said that while the department is hiring several hundred new posts, there is still a shortfall in the department's budget for authorized uniformed staff.

But union officials have also pointed to a shortage of punitive segregation units—known as "Bing" beds—for putting officers at risk. Last fall, the DOC was blasted after media outlets reported on a backlog of inmates who had been sentenced to solitary confinement but who were being held with the rest of the general population because there weren't enough segregated beds. In one incident in November, the Daily News reported that two men involved in a violent slashing in a recreation room were supposed to have been in solitary for previous infractions.

This backlog is the main reason prison officials give for the recent expansion of segregated housing units. In 2009, DOC spokeswoman Sharman Stein said, there were over 1,200 inmates waiting to be placed in solitary. Since then, the department has added 325 units, bringing the total capacity to 1,035 solitary beds, or seven percent of the average daily jail population (a number the DOC says is comparable to other correctional systems, but which advocacy groups argue is much higher than the average—the Legal Aid Society says that the nationwide solitary rate is between two and four percent.)

Today, Stein says, only a "handful" of inmates owe Bing time.

"Resolving this backlog was important to address – all too often, inmates who had remained in general population pending imposition of the punishment for assaulting another inmate or staff, harmed another person," Stein wrote in an e-mail.

Running the New York City jail system, the second largest in the country, is not a simple task. The population at Rikers is an ever-changing one. There are over 87,000 admissions and more than 88,000 releases a year, according to the DOC. Unlike the state prisons, a majority of the population at Rikers is made up of detainees awaiting trial. Some are felons awaiting transfer to a prison facility upstate. Others are those serving short-term misdemeanor sentences, generally less than a year.

Schriro says that while the number of inmates being held in the city's jails is at a low, Rikers has seen an increase in the types of inmates who are prone to bad behavior and who are responsible for the majority of jail incidents: "high-custody" inmates, deemed by jail officials as more inclined to institutional violence, including inmates with gang affiliations, adolescents and the mentally ill.

"The inmate census is lower now than before, but the inmates who are in jail are far more difficult to manage and far more damaged than the inmate population previously," Schriro says.

"The very good news is the vast majority of inmates in our custody are violation-free. They're here to work through their case and then be gone," the Commissioner says. "But there are several populations in particular that have the greatest likelihood of breaking the rules, breaking the law, assaulting a member of the workforce or causing serious injury. There's this group that's pretty dedicated to those endeavors."

Overused and overly punitive?

Prison advocacy groups, however, dispute the DOC's assertions that they need more punitive segregation units. The backlog in inmates waiting for solitary beds, they say, is not due to lack of space but on the DOC's reliance on segregation as a punishment and as a management tool.

"My feeling is, it's being overused," says Barbara Hamilton, a former law librarian at the DOC who now works as a staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society, handling appeals for Rikers detainees challenging their punitive segregation time. "Sometimes it's used as retaliation, sometimes it's used to control mental health inmates."

Mentally ill inmates, experts say, are more prone to violent outbursts and other disruptive behavior in jails and prisons. At Rikers, just over a third of the population has a mental health diagnosis. Mentally ill inmates who violate rules and get sentenced to segregation time are placed in what's called a Mental Health Assessment Unit for Infracted Inmates, or MHAUII—200 solitary confinement beds where, according to Stein, there is increased access to clinicians staffed by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Research has shown that psychiatric symptoms are aggravated by the type of isolation used in punitive segregation, and advocates say even the MHAUII units are not sufficient and lack the resources for dealing with inmates with serious mental health problems.

"It's nothing like what would qualify as a mental health treatment unit," says Parish. "They have some mental health staff who checks on people every so often."

(At the same time, the DOC has been criticized in the past for not segregating mentally ill inmates. In 2001, for example, a detainee was beaten to death by his cellmate, a 19-year-old inmate whose own lawyers said should have been placed in solitary for his psychotic tendencies).

Schriro says Rikers staff carefully evaluates the needs of every inmate to determine where they should be housed. The department has spent the last two years fine-tuning their inmate classification system, "scoring" inmates based on factors like mental and medical health needs, as well as their propensity towards violent behavior. Someone deemed high-security, for example—like a known gang member—might be put in a housing unit where food is brought to their cell, instead of one where they need to be escorted to the chow hall, reducing the chance of a fight that might happen en route.

Inmates are re-assessed every 60 days, Schriro said, and good behavior can lower an inmate's score, which can get them moved into a less restrictive housing unit that offers some kind of reward incentive, like a common room that has two television sets instead of one.

Schriro adds that the DOC's hands are tied in many ways by city rules, set by the Board of Corrections' minimum standards, that allow all inmates in the general population—essentially, anyone other than those sentenced to punitive segregation—the option of leaving their cells or "locking out" for up to 14 hours a day. If the DOC were given more discretion in determining lock out periods for individual inmates, she says, they wouldn't depend as much on punitive segregation.

Further still, she insists, the city's solitary units are less restrictive than those in the state prisons or in so-called "super max" facilities, where inmates are often placed indefinitely and for years on end. At Rikers, where the average length of stay is 50 days, punitive segregation is more a "temporary assignment," she says, one that's largely reserved for inmates who've committed a grade 1 offense, typically a violent infraction.

Inmates who commit lesser violations, grade 2 or 3—say, drug possession or disobeying orders—will often receive less harsh reprimands, Schriro says. "But for that group where incentives do not entice, where lesser sanctions are not sufficient to otherwise modify their conduct, punitive beds become an important strategy," she adds. "Not by any means the only strategy, but it's something that's necessary, just as jail itself is."

Inmates rights groups, however, assert that it's common for individuals to get Bing time for minor offenses, like disobeying orders, and that much of the discretion is left in the hands of correction officers. The Legal Aid Society, which represents many Rikers inmates and detainees, says clients report a "culture of brutality."
Many accused of committing violence are often reacting to assaults committed first by officers, advocates say, pointing to DOC statistics indicating an increase in uses of force by jail staff as proof.

"I don't think it's running as smoothly as the Commissioner thinks," Hamilton says.

Victor Herrera, 45, was locked up in Rikers in 2010 for a drugs possession charge. He describes himself as a "boisterous" inmate and says he was disliked by the staff for complaining about his meals—he's a vegetarian—and for disobeying orders. He estimates he spent four or five months in the Bing, a period during which, he says, he was at the mercy of correction officers.

"Every need has to be met by the COs," he says. "They don't care about the inmates, they have this view that inmates are the lowest on the totem pole, that they're trash."

He says some officers would intentionally not deliver his meals as retaliation for bad behavior, and that he was routinely ignored if he tried to request something. He would take to covering up the small window looking into his cell—a security violation, because officers then couldn't check in on him—just to get someone's attention.
"They'd walk right by my cell and I could bang and yell and scream and nobody does anything," he says.

"You can talk until your mouth is dry and they will ignore you."

‘No better way to create a violent individual'

Inmates held at the Bing are typically on lockdown for 23 hours a day, experts say. They are allowed out for an hour of recreation, required by the Board of Corrections' standards, and for occasional meetings with lawyers or to meet with religious advisers, but their access to showers can be reduced at the discretion of staff. Reading materials and meals are brought to inmates in their cells by guards.

The isolation imposed by segregated confinement, many experts say, can cause severe psychological distress, even in otherwise healthy people. According to Dr. Stuart Grassian, a psychiatrist who studies the effects of solitary confinement, isolating inmates can result in agitation, paranoia, panic attacks, hallucinations and problems with impulse control—symptoms that can make someone already prone to violence even more so.

"There's no better way to create a violent individual than to put them in solitary," Grassian says. "Are there moments when a person should be housed by themselves until they calm down? Sure. We do it in psychiatric hospitals. But we do it in situations where there's an effort in re-engaging the patient. That's usually in a matter of minutes, hours, but not weeks, months or many years."

That's the argument that critics of solitary confinement make—that as a tactic to control violence, it just doesn't work. Jails should attempt to focus on fixing their management techniques, advocates say, and focus on rehabilitative efforts over lockdown.

"It may sound good politically to say you're tough on crime, but what you're really doing is being tough on the community, because we're going to see those people on the outside," Grassian says.

St Louis: Women's resistance and the wrongful death of Anna Brown.

This devastating story from St. Louis sounds eerily like it could have been Maricopa County. The damage we do to the lives of those we criminalize in crisis begins long before they arrive in court - if they ever make it there. Had people not just assumed that this young mother was drug-seeking and treated her like a criminal, they could have saved her life...

Women's rights groups out there really should be all over this one...

 ----------------from St. Louis Today------------

Woman unhappy with care at St. Mary's hospital arrested for trespassing, dies in jail.

March 25, 2012

Christine Byers

RICHMOND HEIGHTS • Anna Brown wasn't leaving the emergency room quietly.

She yelled from a wheelchair at St. Mary's Health Center security personnel and Richmond Heights police officers that her legs hurt so badly she couldn't stand.

She had already been to two other hospitals that week in September, complaining of leg pain after spraining her ankle.

This time, she refused to leave.

A police officer arrested Brown for trespassing. He wheeled her out in handcuffs after a doctor said she was healthy enough to be locked up.

Brown was 29. A mother who had lost custody of two children. Homeless. On Medicaid. And, an autopsy later revealed, dying from blood clots that started in her legs, then lodged in her lungs.

She told officers she couldn't get out of the police car, so they dragged her by her arms into the station. They left her lying on the concrete floor of a jail cell, moaning and struggling to breathe. Just 15 minutes later, a jail worker found her cold to the touch.

Officers suspected Brown was using drugs. Autopsy results showed she had no drugs in her system.

Six months later, family members still wonder how Brown's sprained ankle led to her death in police custody, and whether anyone — including themselves — is to blame.

There seems to be no simple answer.

St. Mary's officials say they did all they were supposed to do for Brown. Richmond Heights police said they trusted a doctor who said she was fit for jail.

Brown's mother, Dorothy Davis, isn't sure what to think.

"If the police killed my daughter, I want to know," she said. "If the hospital is at fault, I want to know. I want to be able to tell her children why their mother isn't here."

Davis also faults the St. Louis County Family Court, which she said forced her into a heartbreaking dilemma after the state took away Brown's children on a claim of neglect. Davis could take in her grandchildren or her daughter, a judge said, but not both.

"I'm mad at myself because if I hadn't listened to the courts, she would still be here," Davis said. "If she had been here at this house, she would be here today."


Anna Brown was one of 10 children. She graduated from Kirkwood High School. At 18, she had her first child, a boy. She had a daughter nine years later. Brown was raising them alone when a tornado destroyed her north St. Louis home on New Year's Eve 2010. She moved to Berkeley.

Shortly after, she lost her job at a sandwich shop. Bills lapsed. The electricity was turned off. So was the gas. And the water.

Family members say Brown and her children appeared fine during visits at Davis' home in Normandy.

They weren't.

In April, a state Children's Division representative found Brown's toilet filled with feces. Burn marks scarred the floors and sinks where Brown had used small fires to stay warm. One refrigerator could not be opened. Insects and rotting food filled another, according to state reports given to the Post-Dispatch by Brown's family.

Brown was not lucid and seemed confused as Berkeley police arrested her for parental neglect. The courts awarded legal custody of the kids to the Children's Division. Davis could have physical custody, as long as Brown didn't live with her.

Brown's home was condemned. She ended up on the streets. She lived in four homeless shelters from May to September 2011.

At first, she visited her children at her mother's home. That ended in June, when Brown started telling the children they didn't have to listen to their grandparents and called the police to report they were being abused. Police found no evidence of abuse.

After that, Brown had supervised visits with her children at the Children's Division. She also called her mother daily to check on them.


Brown struggled with officials' requirements for reuniting with her children. She passed two drug tests but balked at others. "She felt that she had passed them, so there was no point in doing them again," Davis said.
A court-ordered psychological evaluation to determine whether Brown had cognitive, developmental, behavioral or mental illnesses came back inconclusive. So the courts ordered a psychiatric evaluation to determine whether Brown needed medication or a doctor's treatment.

But Brown resisted, not understanding the difference between the two evaluations, according to her caseworker's notes.

Still, she may have known something was wrong. She joined the St. Louis Empowerment Center, a drop-in center for the mentally ill.

"It was like a light bulb went on when she heard others tell their stories," said Kevin Dean, a peer specialist at the center. "She was just starting to make progress."

Brown's witty comments often broke the ice during group meetings, said Warren Brown, another peer specialist and no relation to Anna.

Anna Brown one day said she hurt her ankle while walking near a ditch, Dean and Warren Brown recalled.
The last time they remember seeing her was in August 2011; she said she couldn't walk up the stairs.

Brown told her caseworker on Sept. 14 that she had been admitted to St. Louis University Hospital for a sprained ankle.

Bills her mother received show Brown stayed at that hospital from Sept. 13-15 and underwent an EKG, some radiology services, lab work and cardiovascular services.

"She wasn't very eager to go home, but we do all we can to take care of the whole patient, and we want to make sure that we do not push someone out the door as soon as she came here," said SLU spokeswoman Laura Keller. She said there was no indication of a blood clot in Brown's leg.

Krystle Brown said she saw her sister for the last time after she was discharged from SLU. She dropped Anna off on Market Street downtown, where Anna said she wanted to be.

Davis didn't want her daughter out in the rain and ordered Krystle to bring her home — regardless of the court order. It was too late. Krystle couldn't find her sister.

Four days later, Brown had her last supervised visit with her children. She was on crutches.


State inspectors working for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services — a federal agency that regulates hospitals — interviewed St. Mary's staff and reviewed medical records after the Post-Dispatch asked about Brown's case in January.

They found that on Sept. 20, Brown returned to SLU Hospital for knee and ankle pain. X-rays of her knees were negative and she was given a prescription for a painkiller.

She refused to leave. Hospital security called St. Louis police, who responded about 5 a.m. Brown told them she wanted to go to a better hospital but refused to go in an ambulance, police said.

She then wheeled herself next door to Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center, where doctors found tenderness in her legs. They told her she was at a pediatric hospital. She said she wasn't leaving unless someone took her to an adult hospital, according to the inspectors.

An ambulance then took her to St. Mary's, inspectors found. She arrived at 11:45 a.m. Her left ankle was swollen. She was there for about seven hours, during which ultrasounds on both of her legs were negative for blood clots. A nurse said she saw her stand up. A social worker gave her a list of shelters and a phone number for transportation.

She returned eight hours later by ambulance complaining of abdominal pain only, inspectors said. She refused to sign discharge papers but was discharged at 7 a.m.

Richmond Heights Officer Jason Tharp was at St. Mary's on another call about 10 a.m. when a security officer, Steve Schaffer, told him a woman was claiming she "did not receive adequate medical attention and did not have to leave."

She was sitting in a wheelchair and told officers she was waiting for a ride. Tharp told her to wait outside or face arrest for trespassing.

"You can't arrest me. I know my rights, I can't even stand up!" she yelled, according to police.

Officer Scott Stebelman said he waited for about three hours for a doctor to examine Brown before taking her to jail. At 12:30 p.m., a doctor issued a "Fit for Confinement" report, according to the state inspectors.

The inspectors' report, however, contains some differences from reports written by Richmond Heights police and the county medical examiner's office:

• Police and medical examiner reports, based on interviews from that day, quote St. Mary's staff as saying Brown did complain of leg pain on her return visit, not just abdominal pain.

• A St. Mary's nurse told the medical examiner that Brown was still complaining of leg and abdominal pain at 12:40 p.m.: "She was advised that she had already been treated and needed to leave the hospital."

• Police said the doctor's "fit for confinement" decision was made at 1:20 p.m., not 12:30 p.m. Police also said Brown yelled "My legs don't work!" as they wheeled her out after the exam.


Once in custody, Brown initially cursed at Tharp inside his patrol car during the ride to jail and asked for a wheelchair after officers ordered her out of the car, according to surveillance tapes.

"I can't put any pressure on my legs," she told them.

Two officers then pulled her into the station by her arms. Police listed "suspected drug use" as Brown's physical state and "unknown leg pain" under medical notes.

While at the police station, Brown's condition worsened. Officers carried her by her arms and legs into a cell and left her on her back on the floor. She moaned and moved her head back and forth. She's last seen moving on the tapes at 2 p.m.

A dispatcher with East Central Dispatch zoomed a surveillance camera in and out on Brown because "it was difficult to determine if the prisoner was still breathing later due to the pixilation grain on his monitor," police reported.

Fifteen minutes later, a jail worker readying meals found Brown unresponsive. Several responders shocked her with a defibrillator and started CPR. Paramedics rushed Brown back to St. Mary's.

Within hours of being declaring fit for confinement, Brown was pronounced dead.

Back in the jail cell, Richmond Heights Fire Chief Kerry Hogan was putting away the jail's defibrillator when, according to a recording of the conversation, a Richmond Heights officer told him: "We got a 'fit (for confinement') on her a half hour ago. I mean, literally, a half hour ago we brought her in here."

"Where at?" Hogan asked.

"St. Mary's."

"What was, uh. Any problems at all?"

"No, they thought she was a drug seeker."

"Well, that could very well be ... And that's a shame."

Acting Police Chief Maj. Roy Wright refused to identify the officer on the tape. He also wouldn't let the Post-Dispatch interview Stebelman, who sat with Brown for three hours waiting for a doctor's exam. Wright said his officers had no way of knowing Brown's dire condition.

"A lot of times people don't want to stay in jail and will claim to be sick," he said. "We depend on medical officials to tell us they're OK."

Likewise, the dispatcher monitoring Brown as she died had no way of knowing she wasn't just sleeping, said Mark Dougherty, general manager of East Central Dispatch.

"It's not unusual to have someone lay there lethargic," he said. "If he felt it was more severe, he would have called."


All nine of Brown's siblings went to St. Mary's after learning she was gravely ill. Confusion and frustration took over as they waited 45 minutes for a doctor to tell them their sister was dead.

"They told us she came in from the jail unresponsive and, 'We don't know what happened,'" Krystle Brown recalled.

Davis said she did not receive a bill from St. Mary's, as she had from SLU Hospital. She said she has been told she cannot see the medical records without proving a legal right to them.

She vowed to not give up.

"When you lose a child, it's like a part of you you will never, ever get back," Davis said. "It's like a part of your soul, a part of you is totally gone. And when you don't know why, you keep wondering, you keep guessing."

Brown's cause of death puzzles Davis because immobility is a risk factor for deep vein thrombosis, the medical term for clots in the legs. "My daughter was homeless. She had to move around constantly."

But trauma, such as a sprained ankle, also is a risk factor. So is obesity, said Dr. Samuel Goldhaber, a Harvard Medical School professor and director of Brigham and Women's Hospital's Venous Thromboembolism Research Group. At autopsy, Brown was 5 feet tall and weighed 189 pounds.

"The body responds to trauma by revving up the coagulation system to prevent the individual from bleeding to death from the trauma," Goldhaber said. "But half the time, DVT is silent and there are no symptoms whatsoever."

In most cases, diagnosed patients take blood thinners and walk out of the hospital, said Dr. Elliott Haut, an emergency medicine expert for Johns Hopkins Medicine.

"Relatively small periods of immobility can potentially cause DVT," Haut said. "Not every test is 100 percent, but if you do the test and see the veins you are supposed to, you shouldn't miss it."

St. Mary's staff leaned heavily on the state's investigation in defending its actions.

"Our records show that, in this case, everything that should have been done medically was done properly. We found nothing that would have changed this tragic outcome," according to a statement.

Hospital spokesman Neil Keisel said, without providing specifics, that the medical examiner's report had inaccuracies and, "If that information was true, we would've been cited by the" state inspectors.


Brown's family hired an attorney, but a lawsuit hasn't been filed.

Should the matter make it to court, it will rest on whether St. Mary's violated state medical malpractice laws, said Sean Fosmire, a Michigan attorney with more than 30 years of experience representing hospitals and physicians.

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services "must have seen there was enough … medical testing to satisfy the federal law," Fosmire said. Federal law does not require accurate treatment, he noted.

If St. Mary's doctors "went through an exam, did testing and determined that the diagnosis was something else like a leg cramp, they may have been wrong, but that doesn't mean they're in violation of the federal law," he said.

The family's success in court also would depend upon how much a jury finds her life was worth — in dollars, said Tom Keefe, a Belleville-based personal injury attorney.

"If you kill a homeless man with no job, he's not worth very much. But if you wipe out (Cardinals star) Matt Holliday, who is making $20 million a year, it's worth a lot of money," Keefe said. "Even though they are both human beings and both victims, the truth is, death cases are evaluated by the losses you can prove the survivors have suffered."

Davis said she still has trouble sleeping and eating, and constantly questions whether she should have taken in her daughter. She said she wants permanent custody of her grandchildren, now 11 and 2.

Brown's son is in counseling to deal with his mother's death but is earning A's and B's. The girl kisses a picture of her mother whenever her grandmother wears a T-shirt bearing her image.

The family wore the shirts to Brown's burial on Oct. 8. Krystle Brown still wears hers to bed.

"She was not a drug dealer or a hooker or doing other things that she could've ended up dead for," the sister said. "People assume things because of they way they talk or the way they live or the things they do.

"My sister is not here today because people passed judgement."

Blythe Bernhard and Jeremy Kohler of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

Monday, March 26, 2012

"Stand your ground": ALEC, the NRA, and Trayvon Martin.

For those not yet up on the Trayvon Martin case, he was a young black teen who was shot dead by a Neighborhood Watch member, George Zimmerman, in Florida. Zimmerman claimed self-defense and wasn't arrested or charged with Trayvon's murder due to that state's "Stand Your Ground" law. Thing is, Trayvon was just walking home from the store, armed with nothing but skittles and a Arizona Iced Tea. 911 tapes recorded that was Zimmerman following a young man he called a "coon", despite instructions from the 911 dispatcher to stop following him. Neighbors heard Trayvon screaming for help before he was shot. There are just so many pieces of evidence that suggest that not only was Trayvon murdered, but his execution by Zimmerman was also a hate crime. 

 trayvon martin

Now, since Florida didn't handle their own racist problem, the FBI is investigating the violation of Trayvon's civil rights. Following an international outcry, charges are expected to be filed against Zimmerman soon. Whether or not that will bring Justice for Trayvon is yet to be seen, however. 

 trayvon's parents...

What follows is an essay connecting the dots between the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the law that led Zimmerman to think he would get away with murder...

-----------------from the Center for Public Integrity-------


In 2004, the National Rifle Association honored Republican Florida state legislator Dennis Baxley with a plum endorsement: Its Defender of Freedom award.

The following year, Baxley, a state representative, worked closely with the NRA to push through Florida’s unprecedented “stand your ground” law, which allows citizens to use deadly force if they “reasonably believe” their safety is threatened in a public setting, like a park or a street.

People would no longer be restrained by a “duty to retreat” from a threat while out in public, and would be free from prosecution or civil liability if they acted in self-defense.

Florida’s law is now under a cloud as a result of the controversial February shooting of Trayvon Martin, 17, in Sanford, Fla. The 28-year-old shooter, George Zimmerman, who was licensed to carry a gun — and once had a brush with police — claims he acted in self-defense after a confrontation with Martin, and some legal experts say Florida’s law could protect Zimmerman, who has not been charged. The case has inflamed passions nationwide in part because Zimmerman is Hispanic and Martin was African-American. Baxley, whose state party has benefited from large NRA donations, contends his law shouldn’t shield Zimmerman at all because he pursued Martin.

The NRA has been curiously quiet on the matter since the shooting as the nation takes stock — in light of the Martin case and other similar examples — of whether “stand-your-ground” laws are more dangerous than useful to enhance public safety. The gun-rights organization did not respond to requests for comment. But the group’s silence contrasts sharply with its history of unabashed activism on stand-your-ground legislation. Since the Florida measure passed, the NRA has flexed its considerable muscle and played a crucial role in the passage of more than 20 similar laws nationwide.


The Florida law is rooted in the centuries-old English common law concept known as the “Castle Doctrine,” which holds that the right of self-defense is accepted in one’s home. But the Florida law and others like it expand that established right to venues beyond a home.

Since Florida adopted its law in 2005, the NRA has aggressively pursued adoption of stand-your-ground laws elsewhere as part of a broader agenda to increase gun-carrying rights it believes are rightly due citizens under the 2nd Amendment. 
To gain attention and clout at the state level, the NRA has ponied up money and offers endorsements to legislators from both parties. The NRA and the NRA Political Victory Fund, its political action committee, have donated about $2.6 million to state-level political campaigns, committees and individual politicians since 2003, according to records compiled by the National Institute on Money and State Politics.

And ambitious politicians take note that the NRA is heavily invested and involved in congressional races.

The organization showered the Florida Republican Party Committee with a total of $125,000 in donations between 2004 and 2010. That sum tops the list of all NRA donations to state party committees between 2003 and 2012, according to National Institute on Money in State Politics records. The Senate Republican Campaign Committee of New York was next with $119,700.

The NRA energetically monitors state elections, from governor’s races down to the most obscure special election for a state legislative seat — if the seat is considered crucial — and, as its legislative action website shows, it regularly mobilizes constituents to flood lawmakers with calls and e-mails.    

Following the Florida victory, the “Stand Your Ground” movement accelerated. In July 2006, the NRA posted celebratory news on its website, noting that legislators in eight more states — Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi and South Dakota — had already followed Florida’s lead.

“This train keeps a rollin’ — Castle Doctrine Sweeps America,” the NRA’s 2006 message said. The campaign, the group said, “is turning focus from criminals’ rights to those of the law-abiding who are forced to protect themselves.”

Since then, a host of other states have passed various laws expanding the “Castle Doctrine.” 

Among them: Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee Texas, Utah, Washington and West Virginia.

To spread the word, the NRA said in an Aug. 12, 2005 website posting, it approached the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, which drafts legislation for like-minded state lawmakers. ALEC, as it is known, adopted model stand-your-ground legislative language in 2005 after Florida’s top NRA representative made a presentation.

And along the way key lawmakers benefited from NRA support. In Indiana, for instance, GOP Gov. Mitch Daniels, who took office in 2005, received $12,400 in NRA donations between 2004 and 2008. Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue got $7,500 from the group between 2004 and 2006. Mark Shurtleff, Utah’s attorney general, received $22,500 between 2004 and 2008.  

Case study

But it hasn’t been smooth sailing quite everywhere. An emotional debate in Minnesota this year resulted in passage of a proposal in both houses, which are GOP-controlled, but a veto just this month from Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton. A couple of GOP lawmakers changed their votes from no to yes in the course of the legislative process, state records show.

“We had a few people tell us apologetically and privately that they were afraid of the NRA,” said Joan Peterson, a Minnesota activist with the Northland chapter of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Proponents didn’t get enough votes to override Dayton’s veto.

Heather Martens, executive director of Citizens for a Safer Minnesota, which opposed the proposal, said that a newly elected Democratic legislator who reluctantly voted yes had faced a tough special election campaign in 2011. At the center of the campaign were accusations that she would be anti-gun.

“Take your best shot,” a Minnesota Republican Party-sponsored mailer against Democrat Carly Melin said back then, urging voters to protect their gun rights from St. Paul liberals. 
The Minnesota bill’s Republican sponsors, state Rep. Tony Cornish and state Sen. Gretchen Hoffman — who is now running for Congress against a Democrat who's had NRA support — did not respond to requests to discuss their proposal.

Fighting back

Opposition to the laws has gone beyond gun-control activists. Some of the staunchest critics the NRA has faced while promoting “stand your ground” laws have been state police chief’s and sheriffs’ associations and district attorneys’ groups.

In 2007, the Virginia-based National District Attorneys Association issued a report, “Expansions to the Castle Doctrine,” warning that the phenomenon “could have significant implications for public safety and the justice system’s ability to hold people accountable for violent acts.”

Scott Burns, the association’s executive director, said legislators’ decisions to buck law-enforcement officials on this issue can only be explained by “the volatile issue of guns rights and the 2nd Amendment.” He said many of these laws, in his opinion, have nothing to do with the true intent of the Castle Doctrine.

How can the Castle Doctrine apply, he said, seven miles from your home, at a shopping mall?
In Florida, the Tampa Bay Times reported that “justifiable homicides” in Florida spiked after the 2005 law, from an average of 34 yearly to more than 100 in 2007.

Prosecutors said the law permitted gang-related assailants from being prosecuted after a 2008 shoot-out in Tallahassee that killed a 15-year-old boy, the paper reported. A judge dismissed charges based on the “stand your ground” defense.

In 2010, Trevor Dooley, upset about a skateboarder on a Valrico, Fla., basketball court, marched into a park with a handgun, for which he was licensed and legally able to take into the park. Dooley ended up in a confrontation with David James, who was in the park with his young daughter. Dooley and James scuffled and Dooley shot James dead. In a case that is still pending, he was arrested for manslaughter but also claims he is protected by the “stand your ground” law.

Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Violence, accuses the NRA of “feeding on fear and paranoia” to expand concepts such as the Castle Doctrine. His group’s research, he said, shows that politicians can survive an NRA stamp of disapproval more than they think, and that his priority is to convince more politicians the group is a “paper tiger.”
“We are behind closed doors with politicians all the time,” Gross said, “who say they want to do the right thing, but that the gun lobby will ruin them.”

Back in Florida, the soul-searching about the law has now extended to the legislature. Baxley, the sponsor, told CBS News that “sometimes the application or interpretation of its use is the problem.” He defended the law as important to “law-abiding citizens,” but suggested, according to other reports, that perhaps legislators should look at limiting crime-watch volunteers’ ability to pursue people and confront them.

“Nothing,” he said, “is ever finished in the legislature.”

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Grand Canyon Institute: Sentencing Reform and Public Safety

Dave Wells is an extremely thoughtful professor of political economy, and has been active in peace and justice issues in the valley for a long time. His arguments below are worth the read. The original piece by the state's prosecutors that this responds to is pasted at the bottom of this post.


Grand Canyon Institute Logo

Response Report
March 21, 2012
County Attorneys Criticism of Reducing Incarceration Costs while Maintaining Public Safety: 
GCI Response Evidence-Based Programs Work
Dave Wells, Ph.D.
 Fellow, Grand Canyon Institute
Read the original study "Reducing Incarceration Costs While Maintaining Public Safety"
Subscribe to Grand Canyon Institute Emails:
The Grand Canyon Institute’s recent report “Reducing Incarceration Costs while Maintaining Public Safety: from Truth in Sentencing to Earned Release for Nonviolent Offenders,” and an op-ed that appeared on behalf of the Institute in the Saturday, March 3 Arizona Republic by GCI Board Member Bill Konopnicki was criticized in an op-ed piece that appeared in the Saturday, March 17 Arizona Republic co-signed by five County Attorneys: Bill Montgomery (Maricopa County), Barbara LaWall (Pima County), Daisy Flores (Gila County), Sam Vederman (La Paz County), and Brad Carlyon (Navajo County).[1]
The Grand Canyon Institute appreciates our County Attorneys’ steadfast commitment to public safety.  However, we wish they had taken a bit more care to review our report before criticizing it, as the Grand Canyon Institute purposely chose to focus on nonviolent offenders in the “ultra low,” “very low” and “low” recidivism risk categories developed by Darryl Fischer in his 500 page report that was released by the Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys' Advisory Council.[2]
GCI would much rather see our County Attorneys as allies than opponents in efforts to improve the efficiencies and outcomes of our criminal justice system.  Incarceration has a role in criminal justice, but at a cost of $20,000 per year, for some nonviolent offenders, we have better options that are at least as effective and at significantly lower cost.  Our County Attorneys are already heavily invested in programs to divert offenders from incarceration, which we applaud.  The GCI report was intended to open a conversation about the structures of incentive-based programs, who might be eligible, and how best to structure the community supervision and drug treatment components that would need to accompany them.  We hope they see merit in these ideas, and look forward to working with them constructively to reduce incarceration costs while maintaining public safety.
Positive interventions are far more impactful than negative ones, so earning release to community supervision has the potential to be a powerful motivator for inmates to change behavior.
Recidivism rates are particularly challenging to lower. However, the criminal justice field has embraced evidence-based practices, which is what GCI encourages Arizona to adopt.  For instance the HOPE (Hawaii Opportunity Probation with Enforcement) program in Hawaii has been particularly successful because it catches noncompliance well and applies swift and certain sanctions.  The sanctions do not need to be severe, but they do need to be swift and certain.  The HOPE program targeted high risk individuals, the hardest group to impact, while GCI had focused on low risk individuals.  The results of the one-year randomized trial of the HOPE program are noted below[3].
(source: National Institute of Jusice, April 23, 2010,
Below are the Grand Canyon Institute’s responses to the concerns expressed by the County Attorneys in their op-ed.
County Attorneys Concern: Funding Education or Prisons is a false dichotomy
“Overwhelming evidence and history clearly prove that we do not have to rob the criminal-justice system to cover the legitimate costs of education. Both are constitutional duties and responsibilities for Arizona.”
GCI response: Since 2002  the Department of Corrections budget increased 75 percent, while state general fund investments in state universities declined by 11 percent. 
 Between rigid sentencing policies and a state fiscal crisis, universities were perceived as a discretionary expenditure.  However, every state agency should seek to operate in the most cost-effective manner, including Corrections.  GCI examined cost efficiencies that would not harm public safety (details below).
County Attorneys Concern: Konopnicki op-ed didn’t recognize the cause of prison population decrease.
“Konopnicki is correct in noting that Arizona is seeing a decline in its prison population for the first time. Yet this is not because we're releasing more prisoners. It's primarily because fewer people are being sent back to prison for minor or technical probation violations.”
GCI Response: Bill Konopnicki credited the Safe Communities Act and evidence-based initiatives at the county probation level, especially Maricopa County, as the cause of the prison population decrease.Reposted below:
“For the first time since we’ve kept prison statistics, Arizona has experienced a modest decline in its prison population.  The reason has been evidence-based practices with our probation population, reducing those sent to prison. The Safe Communities Act of 2008, a bipartisan effort, sponsored by then State Senator John Huppenthal (R) gave county probation agencies incentives to reduce crime and violations rather than return offenders into state custody.   Under the law, offenders earn 20 days off of their probation term for every month that they meet all of their obligations, including payment of victim restitution if it was ordered.  The Grand Canyon Institute’s latest report “Reducing Incarceration Costs While Maintaining Public Safety,” notes that in Maricopa County alone the drop in probation revocations to prison saved taxpayers $27 million annually over costs in 2008.”
County Attorneys Concern: Konopnicki and GCI advocated putting felons “on the street” which would increase crime and negatively impact public safety.
“Konopnicki ignores the reality that putting inmates on the street would increase crime and the attendant costs on society. His misguided idea also begs the question: Who should be released? Konopnicki states that "nearly 20 percent of our prison population are non-violent offenders." But he ignores the fact that this "non-violent" population includes people convicted of drug trafficking, multiple or aggravated DUIs, child molestation and other offenses classified as Dangerous Crimes Against Children.”
GCI Response: Using classifications developed in a report for the Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys' Advisory Council, GCI identified a number of possible classifications of nonviolent offenders at low risk for recidivism as candidates for diversion or earned release to community supervision with drug treatment.
GCI didn’t advocate simply releasing people to the street, but to place nonviolent felons into evidence-based community supervision programs that would not impact public safety.  The targeted categories offered included;
  1. First-time nonviolent offenders who were considered in the Fischer report as “ultra-low”, “very low” or “low” risk of recidivism.
  2. Nonviolent offenders convicted of class 4 to 6 felonies serving sentences of two years or less who also fell in these recidivism categories
  3. All nonviolent offenders who fell in these recidivism categories.
Truth in Sentencing for nonviolent offenders treats all offenders the same, when they are not.  An inmate who refuses work assignments, uses drugs in prison, gets in fights, and enrolls in zero behavior modification programming serves practically the same prison time as an inmate who goes to work every day, stays drug free, attends all programming offered, has no disciplinary problems, and gets a GED.
Earned release would reward the second-type of inmate, while also helping reduce the likelihood of recidivism. 
The most common new crime committed by those released (violent and nonviolent were not separated by the Fischer report for this[4]) was Drug Possession and DUI, suggesting substance abuse issues remained after release, which is why drug treatment was mandated in the GCI recommendations for anyone with such a history who was released to community supervision.  Currently only about 1 in eight inmates with significant substance abuse histories are receiving treatment in ADC.[5]  The GCI report lists evidence-based outcomes reproduced below that are designed to reduce recidivism as reported by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy, a research arm of the Washington legislature.
Percent Reduction in 8-year Recidivism[6]
(number of studies based on)
Adults Drug Courts
-10.7%    (56)
In-Prison “therapeutic communities” with community aftercare
-6.9%       (6)
In-Prison “therapeutic communities” without community aftercare
-5.3%       (7)
Cognitive-behavioral drug treatment in prison
-6.8%       (8)
Drug treatment in the community
-12.4%    (5)
Drug treatment in the jail
-6.0%       (9)
General and Specific cognitive –behavioral treatment for overall offender population
-8.2%     (25)
Cognitive-behavioral treatment in prison for sex offenders
-14.9%   (5)
Cognitive-behavioral treatment for low-risk sex offenders on probation
-31.2%   (6)
Intensive Supervision: treatment-oriented program (w/o treatment, not impactful)
-21.9%    (10)
Correctional industries in prison
-7.8%      (4)
Basic adult education in prison
-5.1%      (7)
Employment train and job assistance in the community
-4.8%     (16)
Vocational education in prison
-12.6%    (3)
County Attorneys Concern: Cost savings doesn’t include cost of additional crime.
“Research data compiled by 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 not have otherwise been imprisoned. Based on cost-of-crime models of leading crime economists, keeping these offenders off the streets prevented 98,038 additional crimes and generated a cost savings of more than $360 million dollars that would otherwise have been spent on crime-related damages to people and property.”
This is a shortened version of what has been written elsewhere: “The number of felonies by repeat offenders averages just under one per month. Under Arizona's truth-in-sentencing laws, the average prison sentence is 33 months. Thus we have prevented approximately 98,038 additional crimes in Maricopa County alone. Assuming 90 percent of those deterred crimes (88,234) are to property with an average cost $1,900 each, that works out to a savings of $167 million. Assuming the remaining 10 percent (9,804) are violent offenses, which are generally estimated to cost $20,000 each, that savings approaches $196 million. Not only is this proof for the adage "crime doesn't pay," it supports the corollary - "incarceration saves" - to the tune of $363.7 million.”[7]
GCI Response: Repeat felony offenders committing crimes once a month (and not always getting caught) does not sound like a group the Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys' Advisory Council research report would classify as “ultra low”, “very low” or “low” risk of recidivism.  Incarceration has its function, but what happens afterwards is equally important.
One of the primary functions of prison is to incarcerate those who would otherwise be victimizing law abiding citizens.  However, an equally important question is what’s happening after 33 months?  Are these individuals returning to their life of crime?  Our guess is that absent systematic interventions to improve their odds of success, this is crime that is temporarily avoided, not permanently avoided.
County Attorneys Claim: Truth in Sentencing is why Arizona’s crime rate has dropped faster than the national average.
“Incapacitating these criminals is certainly one reason Arizona is enjoying a much larger drop in crime than the nation as a whole. Releasing prisoners will not save money. It will not make us safer. And it will certainly not help our education system. To argue otherwise is irresponsible and inconsistent with an intelligent public-policy-making process.”
GCIresponse:  The causality in this claim lacks merit; the decline in Arizona’s crime rate occurred nine years after Truth in Sentencing was adopted.
Of course, if you incarcerate more people, they cannot commit more crimes.  However, we don’t find that the states with the highest incarceration rates have the lowest crime rates.  Truth in Sentencing was adopted in Arizona in 1994, yet it’s not until 2003 that Arizona experiences the first of a succession of years in declining crime rates[8].  Despite that decline, Arizona’s crime rate still exceeds the national average.  The sources of that decline are definitely worth exploring, but the prima face evidence does not suggest Truth in Sentencing, especially for nonviolent offenders, is responsible.
Dave Wells holds a doctorate in Political Economy and Public Policy and is a Fellow at the Grand Canyon Institute.
Reach the author at DWells@azgci.orgor contact the Grand Canyon Institute at (602) 595-1025.
The Grand Canyon Institute is a centrist think thank led by a bipartisan group of former state lawmakers, economists, community leaders, and academicians. The Grand Canyon Institute serves as an independent voice reflecting a pragmatic approach to addressing economic, fiscal, budgetary and taxation issues confronting Arizona.
Grand Canyon Institute
P.O. Box 1008
Phoenix, AZ 85001-1008
[1]Konopnicki, Bill, “State can save money by reducing prison population,” My Turn, Arizona Republic, March 3, 2012, and Montgomery, Bill, Barbara LaWall, Daisy Flores, Sam Vederman, and Brad Carlyon, “Releasing prisoners will not save money,” Our Turn, Arizona Republic, March 17, 2012,
[2]Fischer, Daryl, “Prisoners In Arizona Truth-In-Sentencing, Time Served and Recidivism,” Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys’ Advisory Council, December 2011, pp. 340, 395, 396, 400, 410, 424

[3]“‘Swift and Certain’ Sanctions in Probation Are Highly Effective: Evaluation of the HOPE Program, National Institute of Justice, February 3, 2012,  See also discussion in Kleiman, Mark  (2011), “ Justice reinvestment in community supervision,” Criminology & Public Policy, Vol. 10, Issue 3, pp. 651-659.

[4]              Fischer, Daryl, “Prisoners In Arizona Truth-In-Sentencing, Time Served and Recidivism,” Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys’ Advisory Council, December 2011, p. 278,
[5]On intake ADC reports 75 percent of inmates have significant substance abuse histories, yet drug treatment was provided to about one-tenth of the total number of inmates entering ADC in 2011.   As other reports indicate that substance abuse issues may be much higher than that, so about one in eight who need treatment are receiving it.  See Ryan, Charles, “ADC Data and Information Fiscal Year 2011,” Corrections at a Glance June 2011 at end of report after 13-6, Arizona Methamphetamine Conference Report 2006, “Addressing the Meth Crisis in Arizona,” p. 10,
[6]If the 8 year recidivism rate were 50 percent, a 10 percent reduction would be to 45 percent.  Programs with no decrease are omitted from the chart, but may still be cost-effective provided that program is cheaper than the alternative (e.g., Intensive Supervision alone did not reduce recidivism, but it’s significantly less expensive than incarceration, so for the same result, the cost is less.  Note when combined with drug treatment intensive supervision is very impactful at less cost than incarceration.).  For full details, Aos, Steve, Marna Miller, and Elizabeth Drake, Washington State Institute for Public Policy “Evidence-Based Adult Corrections Programs: What Works and What Does Not,” January 2006, p. 3 for specific table.
[7]“Mandatory Sentencing is Working for Arizona, County Attorney Op-ed from Arizona Republic, Dec. 28, 2010, “Top Five Myths About Arizona’s Sentencing Laws,” Arizona Sentencing Report,
[8]Fischer, Darryl R., “Prisoners in Arizona: A Profile of the Inmate Population,” Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys Advisory Council,  March 2010, pp. 6, 8.

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

County attorneys: Releasing prisoners will not save money

Former state Rep. Bill Konopnicki presents a false choice based on selective data in claiming Arizona's investments in public safety have come at the expense of education ("State can save money by reducing prison population," My Turn, March 3).

Overwhelming evidence and history clearly prove that we do not have to rob the criminal-justice system to cover the legitimate costs of education. Both are constitutional duties and responsibilities for Arizona.

Konopnicki is correct in noting that Arizona is seeing a decline in its prison population for the first time. Yet this is not because we're releasing more prisoners. It's primarily because fewer people are being sent back to prison for minor or technical probation violations.

In parroting the popular fallacy that releasing more prisoners would free up funds for education, Konopnicki ignores the reality that putting inmates on the street would increase crime and the attendant costs on society.

His misguided idea also begs the question: Who should be released? Konopnicki states that "nearly 20 percent of our prison population are non-violent offenders." But he ignores the fact that this "non-violent" population includes people convicted of drug trafficking, multiple or aggravated DUIs, child molestation and other offenses classified as Dangerous Crimes Against Children.

Apparently, Konopnicki is eager to welcome these people into his neighborhood. But most Arizonans would shudder at the thought, which is why there is strong support for truth-in-sentencing laws that keep these offenders behind bars.

In focusing only on the cost of incarceration, Konopnicki overlooks the tremendous savings Arizona has enjoyed by preventing repeat offenders from committing additional crimes. Research data compiled by 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 not have otherwise been imprisoned.

Based on cost-of-crime models of leading crime economists, keeping these offenders off the streets prevented 98,038 additional crimes and generated a cost savings of more than $360 million dollars that would otherwise have been spent on crime-related damages to people and property.

Reading Konopnicki's argument, one might conclude that prison is the default for non-violent offenders in Arizona. In fact, our state has been a leader in offering prison alternatives such as substance-abuse treatment and diversion programs to most first- and second-time offenders. Konopnicki has it backwards when he suggests we should follow Mississippi's example in this regard. The reality is that Mississippi is following ours.

The truth about Arizona's truth-in-sentencing laws is that they have put the right people in prison for the right reasons: More than 95 percent of our incarcerated population are violent or repeat felony offenders.

Incapacitating these criminals is certainly one reason Arizona is enjoying a much larger drop in crime than the nation as a whole. Releasing prisoners will not save money. It will not make us safer. And it will certainly not help our education system. To argue otherwise is irresponsible and inconsistent with an intelligent public-policy-making process.

Signers to this column: Bill Montgomery, Maricopa County attorney; Barbara LaWall, Pima County attorney; Daisy Flores, Gila County attorney; Sam Vederman, La Paz County attorney; and Brad Carlyon, Navajo County attorney.