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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Monday, June 25, 2012

MCSO Brutality: Catching up to the killers of Marty Atencio

I read this and wept. Thank you to Stephen Lemons for staying on it...

Marty Atencio, beaten, tased, stripped and left to die 
by cops and guards in a "safe cell" at the 4th Avenue Jail
Phoenix, December 15 2011

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

Jailhouse Goons Make Fun Of and Kill a Mentally Ill Inmate
By Stephen Lemons
Thursday, Jun 14 2012

It takes a twisted individual to delight in the sufferings of the mentally ill. A special type of sick, sadistic bully. The kind employed in spades by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.

The December 16 killing of Army veteran Marty Atencio is the latest example of the above, one of the most recent in a string of corpses that punctuates the timeline of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's nearly 20-year career as this county's top lawman.

As reported last week in my Feathered Bastard blog, the Atencio family's attorney, Mike Manning, has filed notices of claim, totaling $20 million, with both the city of Phoenix and Maricopa County in Atencio's brutal demise at the hands of Phoenix cops and MCSO detention officers working in the Fourth Avenue Jail.

Since the 44-year-old's death occurred just hours after the U.S. Department of Justice issued its scathing report on the MCSO's pattern of discriminatory policing, racial profiling, and abuse of Latinos in Joe's gulags, much has been revealed about the circumstances surrounding the Atencio homicide.

The county medical examiner's autopsy noted Atencio's history of mental illness and hospitalization for psychosis.

Toxicology results from specimens, including those taken at St. Joseph's Hospital hours after Atencio's arrest earlier that day, showed no illicit drugs in Atencio's system.

Phoenix Police Department reports reveal that Atencio generally was passive and compliant during the two encounters with Phoenix cops that culminated in his arrest on December 15.

Indeed, Atencio "showed no signs of being a danger to himself or others," according to Phoenix Officer Sarah Roberts.

Rather, Atencio "simply appeared to be not medicated and engaged in very random conversation," Roberts said.

Atencio was arrested in West Phoenix for scaring a resident, Cathy Boyd, after kicking the apartment door of her neighbor.

Manning quotes from Boyd's affidavit recounting details of the incident:

"Marty did not physically threaten me at any time . . . I knew there was something wrong with him, and I just wanted him to . . . get some help."

Apparently, Atencio was treated well until he was taken to Arpaio's infamous jail, where cruelty is king and an idiotic environment pervades.

The most damning evidence of Atencio's mistreatment comes from interviews with detention officers and Phoenix cops carried out within days, sometimes within hours, of Atencio's beat-down and Tasing, referred to euphemistically by the Medical Examiner's Office as a "law enforcement subdual."

The interviews were done by MCSO detectives. Manning's law office obtained them through a public-records request.

Apparently, Atencio's mind at the time was like that of a child's. Disoriented, spouting nonsensical comments, he often referred to himself in the third person as "Tony" and seemed to be mimicking Robin Williams' character in Good Morning, Vietnam.

Some detention officers and cops thought Atencio was on drugs, claiming that he told someone during his stay in Fourth Avenue that he had smoked meth earlier in the day.

But toxicology reports don't lie. Cops and detention officers are another story. Soon after Atencio was taken, brain dead, to St. Joe's, they were making assumptions to rationalize their behavior.

Thing is, the breakdown in law enforcement discipline — including a Phoenix cop's pushing Atencio with his cuffed hands bent awkwardly and painfully — cannot be rationalized.

It also included MCSO detention officers mocking and humiliating Atencio as they took his mug shot.

"They encouraged him to make funny faces and . . . kept saying, 'Let's make this one the Mug Shot of the Week,'" one witness said.

Another witness noted that when they took Atencio's picture, "It was a big joke" and "they all stood around and laughed about it."

This hilarity turned deadly once Atencio was surrounded by officers demanding that he remove his shoes. When in Phoenix custody, cops had gotten Atencio to take off his shoes by just being patient and repeating their request. Here, Phoenix police and MCSO guards were far from patient.

Two Phoenix police officers who were there to help process detainees initiated what Manning calls a "jailers' riot," even though Atencio was standing before them, arms crossed, presenting no threat.

The notice of claim identifies the Phoenix cops as Patrick Hanlon and Nicholas French.

Several MCSO gendarmes joined the fray, in what one onlooker called "a big ol' dog pile." Though Atencio was smothered by officers, MCSO Sergeant Jason Weiers Tased Atencio several times.

Anthony Hatton, a detention officer who since has left the MCSO, punched Atencio in the face three times. Hatton claimed the strikes were necessary, but a couple of his fellow guards did not agree.

"He shouldn't have been punching him," detention Officer Sergio Salinas told investigators. "It was excessive."

Later, after Atencio was hauled to a "safe cell," where he would be stripped of clothing and left to die, Hatton continued the abuse, kneeing Atencio as guards held him down.

Detention officer Blas Gabrial told detectives that he yelled Hatton's name upon seeing the force used on Atencio. When asked why, he said, "Because I didn't think it was necessary."

While Atencio was lying motionless and naked in the safe cell, where he would breathe his last breath without life support, what were many of these men and women of law enforcement doing?

Laughing, joking, and cutting up like teenagers. Video shows two women — one in uniform — dancing and bumping butts. Hatton laughs and demonstrates what looks like a fighting move to other officers. A Phoenix cop eats an orange and grins.

Minutes later, they're all gathering around the door, precious seconds slipping away as they take their time getting it open.

"[Prisoners] play that game a lot," Weiers told an investigator, referring to Atencio's stillness. "You know, playing like they're dead."

Atencio wasn't playing. He already was gone. But CPR was performed, and he was rushed to St. Joe's. On December 20, his family removed him from life support.

If you saw grown men and women abusing a mentally ill or disabled person, would you do something about it?

Likely so. Which is why, ultimately, I blame the voters of Maricopa County for what happened to Atencio.

They've been told about a lot of such brutality in Arpaio's jails over the years and, so far, have looked the other way.

Previous Posts: 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Resisting SB1070, Tent City, and White History's Lies

Excellent reflection below by the director of Puente Arizona on the immigrant rights movement this eve of the decision about SB 1070 from the US Supreme Court. 

Signs of resistance by Peggy Plews. 

Please come out to this weekend's:

Saturday, April 23, 2012 at 8pm. 
2939 W. Durango Street
"Imagine no prisons..."

maricopa county jail: tent city
phoenix AZ april 2011

----------------as posted at

Arizona, Arpaio and SB1070 Spur Crusade for Immigrant Rights


The migrant rights movement in this country is about to enter a new phase and every person, no matter their position, will have to decide how they will relate to it.

While many are waiting to see the decision of the Supreme Court related to the Department of Justice’s SB1070 case, a human rights crisis of epic proportions is already roiling in Arizona.

The status quo we face now and the results of even the best possible decision from the Supreme Court still represent a steady march toward anti-immigrant attrition that the state has constructed over years. First we faced efforts to restrict our ability to function in society: drivers’ license bans, denial of social services, and English only rules. Then they built ways to humiliate and dehumanize us through Sheriff Arpaio’s outdoor jails and Florence’s expanding penal colonies.

From 2007 to 2010, even before SB1070 was introduced, our community faced checkpoints, bore witness to women forced to give birth in shackles, and traveled to work and school on a daily basis already wondering if we would reunite with our families and loved ones at the end of each day. In 2010, Arizona sought to erase us from history with a ban on ethnic studies and remove us altogether through SB1070.

In what amounts to a state of war by attrition on our community, it could get worse this summer as we expect that the injunction will be lifted on some of the remaining portions of SB1070. Further criminalization and tools demanding all law enforcement to investigate and deport in massive numbers is set to become law.

But that will not be our future. We are on the move, and we’re not going anywhere. We’re not running away as the authors of SB1070 had hoped, we’re moving our communities forward, and we will not let the last violent gasps of a dying generation’s prejudice stop us.

This struggle has both destroyed parts of our community and made us stronger. In the past years, we have learned important lessons and developed new ways to fight. The name ‘Arizona’ currently is a mark of embarrassment that makes people think of bigotry. But in the not too distant future, people will think of the birthplace of a new human rights movement when they hear talk about the state.

For more than a decade, we petitioned Congress for immigration reform only to be kicked around as a political football by both parties. We hoped things would change with President Obama but instead of feeling our pain, he caused more of it. Instead of executive action to grant us relief, he gave us record deportations and unprecedented quotas. When all else failed, we looked at the courts but even they seem ready to deny us our humanity.

Since Governor Brewer signed the bill meant to send us running, migrant communities have responded by losing our fear and peacefully defending ourselves. By learning our rights and more importantly, how to defend them when law enforcement tries to ignore them, we have created networks of protection that are prepared for the raids and the wrongful arrests. We have deepened our culture and celebrated our vision for a world without hate. People who before hid in our homes for fear of being picked up by police now are leading marches and supporting neighbors in efforts to keep our families together.

If Arpaio wants to find us, we will instead find him because we have learned that we are safer coming out of the shadows than living in them. When undocumented people confront the system, it crumbles and it becomes clear that they are more afraid of us than we are of them.
If undocumented people are willing to risk everything by confronting Sheriff Joe Arpaio, what are other supporters, allies, and family members willing to do?

As more of SB1070 is poised to go into effect and federal policies spread the same nation-wide, what will you do as we learn to defend our neighborhoods?

We have declared that we will not comply with hate. Every single person and institution must make the same evaluation. Will the federal government willingly deport Sheriff Arpaio’s victims when he hands over those caught in his raids? Will school districts agree to ask kindergarteners for the documents? Will neighbors draw the shades when checkpoints go up on their block?

Or will we refuse to comply and as a result prevent SB1070’s strategy from working?

In Solidarity with Tucson's Ethnic Studies students and teachers
Arizona's Centennial Day (February 14, 2012)
Attorney General Horne's Office

If they are coming for us now, they will be coming for you next. Immigrants are today’s scapegoats but there will be someone next to blame and fill the private prisons.

As undocumented people fill the vacuum of leadership on these issues and demonstrate real courage, all of us are called to follow their example.

The truth is that the suffering in Arizona isn’t caused by the cold hearts and bigoted minds of our adversaries. It is the apathetic souls of those who look upon Arizona and stand idly by. Perhaps people hear ‘immigrant’ and believe it does not apply to them or that we somehow deserve the treatment we receive.

White fear of the re-browning of this continent and general worry over unemployment and economic security has turned many against migrants as an easy scapegoat. But if we look deeply enough, we see that we hold in common both the cause of our troubles and the solution to our suffering. Around the world, people are toppling those who have ruled by broken promises and brutal policies. Arizona and the US will be no exception.

Change has always come when people challenged and broke unjust laws. Nonviolent civil disobedience has been used to historically to challenge racism and inequality from factory floors to lunch counters and buses.

And so, this is a call to action whether you are a community member directly affected, consider yourself an ally, or someone who up until now has been a bystander in the immigration battles. The undocumented youth movement has set an example of what it is to be unafraid, and the bravery they display far outweighs the courage elected officials lack. They have proven that the safest place for anyone targeted by these laws is out, proud, and part of an organized community.

As the migrant rights movement steps into this new phase, we do not do it alone. Allies can harbor anyone targeted, hire anyone fired, and refuse to allow Arizona or Arpaio to become the new normal. At the end of June, we will rally together in Phoenix at Sheriff Arpaio’s self-described ‘concentration camp,’ tent city and begin a summer of resistance in the state and across the country where these laws and their champions are calling for a challenge.

The present may feel heavy but the future is bright. Because love always overcomes hate. Our numbers are on our side. The truth is on our side. With or without those in power, history is on our side. We just have to put our shoulders to the gears of history and push.

Carlos Garcia is the director of Puente Arizona, a Phoenix-based human rights organization dedicated to empowering migrant communities.

Freewayblogging the SB1070 Resistance
Phoenix, AZ (July 28, 2010)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

ToersBijns to Twist: Walking Arizona's other death row

Opening night of "Political Descent"
Firehouse Gallery, Phoenix
June 9, 2012
 The names of Arizona's victims of prison violence, 
gross neglect and despair under the administration of Chuck Ryan.

The excellent letter below was written by Carl Toersbijns, a retired AZ Department of Corrections Deputy Warden. He worked at the state's Supermax prison in Florence, ASPC-Eyman, and knows of what he speaks. The opinion piece by Steve Twist that Carl is responding to  is here.

Find Carl's personal blog here, and his blog on AZCentral under kodiakbears, here.

-----from Carl ToersBijns---

June 17, 2012


 In reply to Mr. Steve Twist’s story on Arizona state prison systems, I am compelled to write to set the record straight from another viewpoint that differs very much with those of Mr. Twist. In order to do this, I will reveal  I have 25 years in corrections with the last 5 years with the Arizona Corrections agency as a deputy warden of operations. I left on good terms but was viewed critical by many because of my viewpoints that were not shared by peers and co-workers inside the prison system. That having been said, I am readily identified as a critic of the agency and how it spends its money and how it operates it systems statewide. Being viewed as a “progressive” in this state can cause heartburn by many and conflict as well.

 Yes, Mr. Twist, Arizona prisons do make an easy target for the media but not just the Arizona Republic. There have been numerous critical reports delivered to the community by good investigative reporters who researched their stories for accuracy for they knew they would be challenged by the DOC for accuracy.

 The characterization made for the alleged “gross mischaracterization” of the “unofficial death row” that exists within the prisons statewide is accurate. There cannot be a debate about the deaths that have occurred since Director Ryan took over in the end of January 2009. To set the record straight do your homework and visit the agency’s web page at news releases and do the math.

Reporters are reporting exactly what is being provided by the agency in a most non-transparent manner as many deaths are “pending investigation”, natural deaths, suicides and homicides, just as it was reported by all media reporters especially Mr. Bob Ortega, who requested hundreds of freedom of information documents to solidify and document his data accurately.

Truth in sentencing rules of engagement were dominated by political influences of ALEC, PRIDE and many other groups who promised financial support for those who supported their views on his to be tough on crime. This is hardly an admirable position to take for what is suppose to be a task driven for justice and equality for all under our constitutional demands.

You boldly speak of “Maximum-security inmates, those who have committed brutally violent crimes, and those who have demonstrated predatory, unruly and violent behavior by being a danger to other inmates and staff, generally make up the population housed in high-security settings” and say this without one solid contribution to personally observing these conditions or walking the tiers as many of us have for at least 16 hours a day, five days a week.

 You speak of them not being in “dark isolation, deprived of human contact or anything comparable to solitary confinement.” I challenge your knowledge and ask how you arrived at this conclusion without setting one step inside one of these facilities for no less than 8 hours.

Again, as a former deputy warden of one of the highest and most restricted security units in the state, Eyman SMU II, Florence Arizona, I never remember you walking the corridors and making this evaluation or observation first hand thus I must assume you either took a 20 minute “dog and pony” tour that was offered to all politicians and attorneys from the AG’s office or you were told this by someone who didn’t work there either.

 Regardless, you information is totally misinformed as I can validate these conditions through spending my time walking, talking and interacting with both staff and inmates inside these dark corridors where direct sunlight only hits them in the outdoor recreation box if the sun is up at high noon.

In your letter you wrote “Nevertheless, these dangerous inmates are appropriately housed for the safety of the public, themselves, and other inmates and staff” which is a statement we can agree on for sure.

Your perspective in your “discussion of the rate of inmate deaths in the Arizona prison system” is either outdated or unreal. Although you mention valid reasons for death, you purposely omit the long delays of constitutionally mandated healthcare standards that accelerate or impact the risks of recovery and while we are talking about drug overdose, suicide and homicides, these events are never clearly explained or revealed as most investigations are shoddy, incomplete and designed to close the matter as “pending further investigations” with no real follow up to reveal the actual cause of death. You cite traditional and known factors as contributors to death just so you can marginalize these deaths as human beings not provided the proper custodial care and protection under law.

Your reflection of your “housing environment” is positive but lacks the details that might reveal to you problems contributing to the overall efficiency of these housing units especially in a hot state such as Arizona.  The prisons are aging and maintenance or rather preventive maintenance has been severely impacted by budget cuts and personnel cuts that once were available to take care of these physical plants and repair as needed to keep all HVAC systems in compliance and other maintenance tasks timely.

These “variety of housing environments: dormitories, double-person cells, detention areas where inmates are temporarily segregated, and maximum-security single-person cells that are exclusively for problematic, dangerous inmates -- the worst of the worst” is an untrue statement.

They are not the “worst of the worst” as I estimate at least 26 % are mentally ill; 50 % are protective segregation or death row and the rest are gang validated and behavioral problems that need to be kept out of general population because of their supervisory needs.

 For those gang and violent offenders, the state needs to review their policies and see how they can reduce their custody levels through step down programs that will allow them to return back to general population at one time or another instead of indefinitely.

There are too many mentally ill prisoners housed there who don’t belong in max custody but rather a treatment center for stabilization, recovery programming, medication compliance and crisis intervention. Mixing them with non-mentally ill prisoners impacts and upsets these “housing environments” severely and creates more uses of force, more medical injuries, more self-inflicted wounds and more staff getting hurt because of triggers inside there that is best described as chaotic and loud once the others join the rants and anger of those kept there for reasons that warrant another review by both clinical personnel and medical personnel who are violating their ethical oaths and licenses for not treating these prisoners kept there in max custody.

You state “But in all cases, an inmate is able to interact with others. This includes the worst inmates, whose cells are in areas where they can speak with others in cells around them” thus you marginalize their housing conditions as acceptable and humane yet you have no idea what goes on inside these cell areas that turn into “bedlam” or craziness on a moments notice that impacts the sanity and insanity of everyone housed there as the need to use chemical agents is often not reserved for the one individual acting out but the entire pod will be exposed because of the ventilation systems that are joined and linked to each other through their venting systems. It is obvious you have never engaged in making housing assignments for as you had, you would know there is a systematic manner of making housing assignments inside prisons that carries with it many factors too long to mention.

The fact is that I am a critic of the agency. I am a critic in the manner they dispose of human beings in a cultural demeanor that dictates “deliberate indifference” to their civil rights and standards of care as well as custodial responsibilities.  I am a critic in hope of finding change in the manner we do business in Arizona prisons.

Many of these prisoners, both the mentally ill and the others will return back to our neighborhoods without treatment, programming and successful release planning. Their chances of staying out of prison are reduced by the lack of understanding and comprehension of how prisoners do time in Arizona as you have so superbly demonstrated by your letter indicating you are endorsing the manner it is being run and that civil rights and human rights don’t matter as long as you are incarcerated in the state of Arizona.

For the record, we have a prison system that provides “food and shelter, education, work programs, alcohol- and drug-addiction programs, and medical- and mental-health care that meet community standards” and that is most certainly truth to some extent. Your statement is misdirected to those lower custody yards not written about by Mr. Bob Ortega.

However, Bob Ortega wasn’t writing about the open yards where these amenities are so closely monitored and delivered and in compliance to a large degree. He was talking about the max custody units [and administrative segregation / detention units] where a fair proportion of Arizona prisoners are now housed under current policies to fill max custody beds so they can justify asking the legislature for more max custody beds. Beds that are the most expensive type to keep and filled but that doesn’t matter to those who pay taxes as they are willing to shell out $ 1.1 billion dollars for a system that has so many problems, they are “money pits” and wasting valuable funds that could be redirected to educational and other social needs for this state instead of prisons.

The only way you can save money on prisons is to reduce the population (what a concept) and find alternative sentencing and give the discretion back to judges to apply justified prison sentences for all persons equally under the law. 

Carl ToersBijns

Monday, June 18, 2012

Durango jail: gangs, not Joe, run the house...

sign left at Wells Fargo Building, Phoenix
Remembering Arpaio's dead
(June 7, 2011)

More excellent work by Paul Rubin - this piece below came out last week.

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

Joe Arpaio Turns a Blind Eye to Jailhouse Justice

By Paul Rubin

published: June 14, 2012

A  few months ago, Alan DeLong sat down to watch a new reality show on the Discovery Channel.

First Week In goes inside jails around the nation and does mini-profiles of newly incarcerated inmates as they experience degradations at their hardcore digs.

The episode was titled "Intimidation" (not to be confused with the subsequent installment, "Fresh Meat").

The subject matter hit DeLong hard.

He is a crusty Phoenix man who has had his share of dark times in his 57 years, and he doesn't scare easily.
But DeLong says his emotions overwhelmed him as he watched the part of First Week In filmed inside the Durango Jail, which is part of Maricopa County's array of penal facilities.

Almost eight years ago, as an inmate at Durango, DeLong endured what he calls simply "my worst moment."

The moment, which actually lasted about a minute, changed DeLong's life forever.

Four or five thugs attacked him without warning one night in September 2004 after he stepped into a bathroom to fill up a water jug.

It was the sole bathroom in D-pod of housing unit 6 at Durango, a "general population" facility in South Phoenix that opened in 1976.

The lead "torpedo," or enforcer, inside the bathroom was a member of the "Chicanos," American-born Latinos locked up at the time. He was Abel Hinojosa, a sturdy Gila Bend man in his mid-20s who was about to be sentenced on a criminal damage rap.

Hinojosa sucker-punched DeLong in the right eye after the older man turned around after feeling a tap on his shoulder. He and his pals then beat DeLong savagely until he was able to escape from the room.

The detention officer who escorted DeLong to the county hospital fainted when he saw the horrific damage to the inmate's eye.

Alan DeLong turned out to be the wrong target, a tragic case of mistaken identity. Another older white man who apparently owed a "Chicano" about $60 was the true target.

All this happened just hours after a Maricopa County judge had sentenced DeLong to 2 1/2 years in prison on an aggravated-drunken-driving conviction.

But a scheduling snafu led to his temporary return to Durango instead of getting shipped to a state prison in Kingman.

The bathroom where the torpedo and his cohorts pummeled DeLong was the longtime epicenter of Durango's continued prisoner (or prisoners)-on-prisoner assaults.

Most beatings were sanctioned by leaders of various incarcerated ethnic groups — mostly Latinos and Anglos — ostensibly to keep the general peace between races.

The bathroom was the pod's ground zero with good reason:

Citing "privacy concerns," sheriff's officials declined to install security cameras or audio equipment inside Durango's bathrooms, and detention officers usually had no idea what was going on there.

In a 2009 civil deposition, MCSO Sergeant Rocky Medina was asked: "From your experience as a detention officer, are the restrooms a problem area?"

"Yes," Medina replied. "Because there is no detection. There is no visual. There is no camera. It's a blind spot to everybody. And the way the pods are set up at Durango, even if you're looking on the monitor or you're looking directly into the pod, you cannot see into the restroom or the cells themselves, to be honest."

Another detention officer, Trevor King, was asked: "If someone has to assault someone, is [the bathroom] where they would do it?"

"You can say that. Yes," King said.

"And that was because there weren't any cameras there?"

"Well, because they don't want to get caught."

A twist: From 2000 to 2003, the Maricopa County sheriff's website championed Joe Arpaio's "Jail Cam," a 24-hour webcast that showed live video of arrestees moving about at the Madison Street Jail. Plaintiffs in a civil case that Arpaio eventually lost alleged that, for months, one camera had captured images of the toilet and nearby area in the women's holding cell. They argued that MCSO officials repositioned the camera only in response to the lawsuit. Arpaio countered that his officers had moved the camera hours after learning that images of the toilet area were on the Internet.

Beyond having no cameras in the Durango bathrooms, detention officers later admitted that they rarely stepped inside to see for themselves what was going on.

One officer said in a deposition that he would seek assistance if a colleague did go in the bathroom and didn't reappear by the count of five.

"He has a problem or he's in a world of hurt," the officer said of the hypothetical situation.

The Durango Jail in 2004 was a "gladiator school," as one inmate later dubbed it.

Back to that Discovery Channel show that aired in Phoenix earlier this year.

What infuriated Alan DeLong most about First Week In was how little had changed since he fled D-pod holding a blood-soaked towel over his shattered eye.

The show's unfettered access to Sheriff Arpaio's jail spoke for itself.

The bathroom situation at Durango was precisely the same late last year (when the TV cameras were inside) as in 2004 — only the names and faces of the inmates were different:

The latest generation of "torpedoes," also known as "chin checkers," continued to use their fists with impunity in the privacy of the john with little fear of reprisals from MCSO officials.

DeLong says the show made him physically ill.

"I nearly got killed in that damned bathroom after those jerks jumped me," he tells New Times. "Just because Joe Arpaio didn't put security cameras in so they don't have to do anything when whippings happen. You might think that they would have learned a lesson in jail security and inmate safety from what happened to me. But Arpaio doesn't give a damn about a nobody like me losing an eye."

In April, Joe Arpaio announced that jail officials were "locking down" the third floor of downtown Phoenix's Fourth Avenue Jail.

The sheriff told reporters that Mexican Mafia inmates were causing an excessive number of brawls and other mayhem, placing detention officers at increased risk.

The inmates' endgame, according to Arpaio, was to take over "his" jail.

"What do they have to lose?" the sheriff said. "Nothing other than to make a name for themselves and be a hero when they go to prison and say, 'We took care of that jail, the sheriff, and his officers.'"

Arpaio said his lockdown was designed to "send a message not only to this group of mafia, but to everybody in the jail. You will not run our jail system."

The irony of Arpaio's comments did not escape Alan DeLong, who learned firsthand that the sheriff does not have a problem allowing inmate "leaders" to dispense so-called jailhouse justice.

No doubt, many jails and prisons — and not just Joe Arpaio's highly controversial facilities — are violent places where inmates routinely fight like mad dogs and sometimes maim and kill each other.

Hundreds of detention officers suffer various levels of assault around the nation every year. Some are seriously hurt, and occasionally an officer is killed in the line of duty.

Jails aren't kindly places, aren't supposed to be.

But Joe Arpaio's jails have cost inmates their lives and county taxpayers multi-millions of dollars in litigation costs, adverse jury verdicts, and out-of-court settlements. (New Times published a story in late 2007, "Inhumanity Has a Price," stating that county taxpayers at that point had been on the hook for $41.4 million in lawsuit payouts during Arpaio's reign. That figure has climbed to more than $50 million, according to county sources.)

The U.S. Department of Justice investigated the Maricopa County jail system in an ill-fated investigation that began in 1995 and ended tepidly after then-Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano made political book with Arpaio ("Napolitano's Sorry Service in Arizona," November 27, 2008).

Still, the feds did find a "pattern of excessive force" by Arpaio's detention officers against inmates in jails both grossly overcrowded and understaffed.

More akin to what happened to Alan DeLong than excessive force by officers was the case of Jeremy Flanders, a jail trusty nearly beaten to death by fellow inmates at Tent City in 1996.

A Maricopa County jury later awarded Flanders $440,532 in actual damages and $195,000 in punitive damages.

The judge in this case wrote, "The history of violence, the overcrowding, the abundance of weaponry, the lack of supervision, and the absence of necessary security measures supports the jury's findings of deliberate indifference to inmate safety."

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Flanders verdict in an opinion that was worded just as strongly.

Joel Robbins, a Phoenix attorney who is representing DeLong in an ongoing lawsuit against Sheriff Arpaio, also represented Flanders.

Arpaio's lawyers deny wrongdoing, writing that the sheriff "has consistently denied that he was negligent, much less grossly negligent. An assault by one inmate on another, because of a mistaken identity, does not equal gross negligence. Additionally, inmate-on-inmate assaults can and do occur in every correctional institution."

Correct, on the latter point.

But one of Arpaio's detention officers, James Sawyer, told the Discovery Channel team something on camera that altered the playing field in the DeLong civil case.

"When inmates first arrive to the facilities," Sawyer said, "you'll have these racially designated leaders, if you will, that will make up their own rules.

"The inmates do get brought around — they get shown what to do, where they can go. That's how [inmate leaders] maintain their interior social dynamics. These rules are not authorized by the county, and the inmates will follow these rules, or they'll be beaten up in the bathroom."

Attorney Robbins ran with that, noting in legal papers, "Officer Sawyer's comment suggests that "rather than being a case of [simple] negligence, [it] supports a conscious decision to permit the racial gangs to inflict injuries to enforce gang rules within the jail."

A trial date is scheduled for later this year.

"I knew in 2004 how crazy things were inside that place," Alan DeLong says. "Now I know a whole lot more."

He concedes that it was his fault that he landed in Durango for drinking and driving.

But he can't reconcile the loss of his eye with his belief that the unprovoked attack could have been prevented by basic security measures.

"I didn't have a life sentence coming to me for a DUI," DeLong says. "But I kind of got one anyway."

That he has to stick a glass eye into his empty right socket every day before work constantly reminds DeLong of 2004, as do the throbbing headaches, the depression, and other emotional upheavals.

"I want it all to be gone," he says of his trauma. "But I dream it, think it, feel it all day long. I can't escape it."

A cocky young man recently incarcerated on charges of heroin possession is about to be berated on camera by the head of the "Woods."

That would be short for "Peckerwoods," a slur usually employed against Caucasians, but is used in this instance by white inmates themselves at the Durango Jail to distinguish themselves from the "Pisces" (Mexican nationals), "Chicanos" (American-born Latinos), "Kinfolk" (African-Americans), and "Chiefs" (Native Americans).

The Woods' boss in this episode of First Week In is Jason Ginn, a burly, straight-talking fellow in his mid-30s. Standing in his jail black-and-whites, Ginn carefully explains his "law and order" role inside the pod.
"Basically, each race has its own head, [its] own counsel," says Ginn, who was facing aggravated identity theft and other charges at the time.

"We try to maintain order when someone needs to be disciplined. This whole place [the Durango Jail] has got cameras, so anytime we need to handle anything, it gets taken care of in the bathroom."

Yes, the infamous Durango bathrooms.

Two of Ginn's "aides" hover over the addict as Ginn evenly informs him that punishment is at hand (or fist).
"When you come in here, you read the rules," the boss tells him. "You understand that the number-one rule is no disrespect. I was told yesterday you disrespected the head of the Pisces. You said, 'You don't know who the fuck you're talking to.'"

The kid starts to say that he meant no disrespect to the Latino, but Ginn interrupts him: "Regardless of how you meant it, we take disrespect really seriously."

Ginn informs him that he will be punished inside the bathroom by a Woods torpedo with a punch or two to the jaw.

The torpedo of choice is 19-year-old Spencer Bird, whose broken right hand is wrapped in a cast, the result, he says, of a previous day's chin check in the same bathroom.

Bird leads the camera crew into the john and points to a corner where, he says, he prefers to administer chin checks.

This bathroom is designed just like the one in the pod where Alan DeLong was thrashed in 2004.

"It gets really ugly," Bird says. "People's teeth get chipped. I don't enjoy doing it. But when people break the rules, we gotta do what we gotta do to keep the peace in here."

The show never reveals whether the chin check ever happened.

Alan DeLong pleaded guilty to aggravated drunken driving in August 2004, and because of an earlier DUI conviction a decade earlier, he faced mandatory prison time.

He had migrated to Arizona from his native Missouri in his early 30s, stopping by to visit a sister after a trip to California.

DeLong stayed here and found a job with Paddock Pools, for whom he had worked for more than a decade by 2004. After his guilty plea, company officials promised DeLong they would rehire him after prison.

He was incarcerated at the Durango Jail after his guilty plea, where he awaited a sentencing date in late September 2004.

It was hellish at the jail.

More than 100 prisoners crammed into the D-pod, designed to hold just 32. They spent much of their days in "boats," which is what inmates called their plastic cots they stuck wherever they could find a space — anyplace but the bathroom.

"It was wall-to-wall men in there," DeLong says.

That led to increased tensions and almost-daily fights and chin checks, most of them relegated to the bathroom.

"It was gladiator school in there," former inmate Ronald Paliai said of Durango during his deposition in DeLong's civil case.

"You gotta realize you're in jail, where there's no supervision at all. You got a [detention officer] that walks in there every 30 minutes. He's just getting a paycheck.

"I'm not saying their job is not dangerous, because they have things they have to deal with. [But] just because you made a mistake in life and you're being detained until you have your day in court, regardless of the charge, you're not supposed to be treated like an animal . . . It's living back in the 1800s."

Detention officers were scarce at Durango, often with only two or three on duty at any given time.

That wasn't nearly enough manpower to provide meaningful security for DeLong's D-pod and its 100-plus inmates, much less for the entire jail, more than 2,000 prisoners in September 2004.

DeLong recalls that the then-head of the Woods told him briefly about the jail's unofficial inmate rules when he first got there, just as the modern-day gang leader instructed the young heroin addict years later on the Discovery Channel show.

In September 2004, that Woods leader was Jason Lewis, an honorably discharged U.S. Marine now in prison for armed robbery.

DeLong is a bulky man who has been in a fight or two in his time. But he says he didn't need anyone's advice on how to behave in the jail.

"I laid low 24-7," he says.

DeLong positioned his "boat" where detention officers, if they were around, might see him. He read books or just daydreamed as days passed, killing time until his sentencing on September 21, 2004.

Both inmates and detention officers questioned later in DeLong's civil suit remembered him as low-key in the jail maelstrom.

As he tried to stay invisible, DeLong says, he also kept vigilant. He says he saw three or four assaults in D-pod during his month there and observed one inmate exit the bathroom holding teeth that just had been knocked out.

"I wanted to roll up out of there because it was insanity," he tells New Times. "I told the guards it was a madhouse, and they needed to put me someplace else, anyplace. They said, 'You did the crime; just do the time. Get back where you belong.'"

Which DeLong did, until the night he fatefully stepped into D-pod's wicked bathroom.

About 10:30 p.m., DeLong decided to fill up his water jug to make some Kool-Aid from his personal stash.
He told an attorney during a 2007 deposition what happened next:

"I remember getting out of bed and going to the bathroom. I walked in there, and the next thing I know, I was getting tapped on the shoulder in the kind of dark in there and the lights out.

"And I turned to my right to see who it was, and I got hit in the eye. And then, like, four or five other guys jumped in on that, and I was beaten and hit and slammed to the floor, and I didn't know what was going on.
"I was screaming for help and fighting to get out of there before any more damage was done to me. I didn't know it was coming . . . My mouth was busted, my teeth were all knocked loose. I had ribs caved in. My knees were raw, no skin, scratches. Just pretty messed up."

He says he recognized the man, Abel Hinojosa, who smacked him in the eye, an inmate with whom he never had communicated in any way.

"I had a direct view of him," DeLong says. "The others rat-packed me. I didn't see them."

Immediately after he escaped from the bathroom, DeLong says, he ran to an emergency buzzer in the pod, and, "I pressed and pressed, but nobody came."

The "bubble," which is where detention officers often sit, was empty, so DeLong retreated to his cot. He grabbed a towel to hold over his destroyed eye.

The pain, he says, was awful.

"Blood was all over me," DeLong says. "I sat there, started passing out, as white as a ghost. Then I got a second wind and was ready to go back and get the guys that did this to me. They all backed off, apologized to me. I was the wrong guy."

Jason Lewis, head of the Woods, says he learned about the attack on DeLong within moments and immediately walked over to address the Chicanos' boss, his equal inside Durango.

In a deposition, Lewis said the other guy avowed that DeLong's beating was "unsanctioned," which meant Hinojosa and the others had made a serious mistake.

Several inmates said later that it took about a half-hour before detention officers responded, during which time emotions inside the pod reached a fever pitch.

The Woods and Chicanos lined up across from each other, hurling insults and threatening to wreak violence on each other.

"It was about to pop," Jason Lewis later recalled, but somehow it didn't.

Finally, the officers unlocked a door and allowed DeLong to leave.

A SWAT team armed with guns and tear gas entered the pod, locked it down, and soon started their routine of "knuckle checks" — observing inmates for signs of blood or bruising.

DeLong penned a short statement at the request of authorities before they transported him to the Maricopa Medical Center.

"The Hispanics in the pod said they made a mistake," he wrote that night. "I was not the intended victim!"
DeLong recalled in his deposition that one detention officer told him at the time, "That's what you get for not ducking."

Another allegedly said, "'You're just trying to get your name in the New Times like every one of you SOBs.' They were very hateful."

Except, DeLong added, for detention officer Raymond Ferreira.

"He was telling me how his wife wanted him to quit," DeLong says. "He held my hand right into the surgery room when they were taking my eye, prayed over me. He was a really nice fellow."

Ferreira is a retired firefighter and U.S. Army veteran. When lawyers in DeLong's lawsuit deposed him, he already had left the Sheriff's Office and was working for the Arizona Department of Education.

But in September 2004, Ferreira was deployed to the county hospital to guard DeLong after the Durango assault. He said he never had spoken to the inmate before that night.

DeLong was "a real easygoing guy," Ferreira told lawyers, who had spoken openly about the attack in the Durango bathroom.

"The bathrooms are a problem from this regard," the ex-detention officer testified. "They don't have any security cameras."

Ferreira said he prayed with DeLong at the hospital that night:

"I mean, we're human just like they're human. As far as I'm concerned, anyone [who] was at Durango, until he went before a judge and was found guilty, was just an inmate that was there. [DeLong] was the wrong tall white guy. Tragic. And it cost him an eye."

By the way, the inmate who was the torpedo's actual intended target soon left D-pod without getting injured.

At the hospital that night, another MCSO detention officer saw the extent of Alan DeLong's eye injury for the first time.

"The eye bulged," the officer (now a probation officer) said in a deposition. "I fainted. The hospital has security that came in. I guess I was only unconscious for, like, five seconds, they said."

The specialist told DeLong how bad the injury was and that he probably would lose the eye.

"I went into a frenzy just thinking about that," DeLong says.

His longtime girlfriend, Cindy Dubois, and his since-deceased sister didn't find out what had happened until the following day.

"We thought he was going off to prison, and then this," says Dubois, a mother of six grown children who stuck with DeLong throughout the ordeal and subsequent prison term.

A sheriff's investigator interviewed DeLong at the hospital. The inmate was able to identify Abel Hinojosa in a photograph as the man who had clocked him in the bathroom.

The investigator then went to Durango to chat with Hinojosa, who proclaimed innocence.

Hinojosa succeeded in persuading officers to remove him from D-pod because he feared for his safety in the aftermath of the assault.

He didn't say who scared him more, the Woods or his own group, the Chicanos.

County prosecutors later added an assault charge to Hinojosa's criminal-damage case. He pleaded guilty to the assault, but served only about a month more behind bars (less than a year in all) than he would have on the original charge.

"One month for one eye," Alan DeLong says. "Justice."

(Court records show that Hinojosa was sentenced last February to 11 years for a subsequent aggravated assault in Pinal County.)

Doctors removed DeLong's right eye six days after the beating.

Infections hampered his recovery after hospital officials returned him to a county jail in downtown Phoenix for what he describes as a nightmarish few weeks. Remarkably, the officials wanted to ship him back to Durango until he complained mightily.

On October 13, 2004, authorities finally transported DeLong from the county jail to a minimum-security prison, where he quietly served his DUI sentence until his July 2006 release.

He caught a break when his sister successfully appealed to a local Lions Club to donate money for a glass eye — at a cost of about $3,000.

Though he still prefers to wear dark glasses in public, DeLong says that the "new" eye helped him feel a bit better — "on a good day" — about how he looks.

Alan DeLong's reentry into society in 2006 was eased by the positive presence of his girlfriend and by the job that Paddock Pools held for him as promised.

He still works for the firm, in a customer-service capacity. But all is not well.

"I feel ashamed of myself," he said during his civil deposition (a sentiment he repeated to New Times in a recent interview).

"I don't feel like I'm complete anymore. I cry a lot about that, not being able to do the things I used to do. I feel like people are staring at me a lot. Like I used to do to people, and now I know how it feels. It's horrible."

David's Hope: Prison, Solitary and the Mentally Ill.

Community member Mike Shipley remembering victims of prison violence and despair at the opening of "Patriotic Descent", an art show on the exercise of political speech at the Firehouse Gallery in Phoenix (June 9, 2012)


The letter below was posted to the AZCentral website in the comments following the June 16 guest editorial in the AZ Republic by Steve Twist titled 

 ----from David's Hope------

I am writing as an advocate and founder of David’s Hope, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting treatment rather than incarceration for all those with mental illness and addictions. It is extremely sad to see former deputy AG Steve Twist write his ridiculous opinion piece, published  June 16 in "My Turn", wherein he claims our Arizona state prisons to be both humane and secure.

Arizona has a long history of brutality in its prisons, being first at producing a supermax prison and choosing to incarcerate endless numbers of individuals with serious mental illness within its walls. As an advocate for those with mental illness, I receive frequent requests for help from the mentally ill and their families who are seeking to find just a glimpse of humanity from the administrators of our AZ state prisons. Instead they find themselves cast into the abyss of brutality under the reign of current ADOC administration. The current director has replaced rehabilitative policies with chemical gassing and attack dogs which are used frequently. Even those suffering from psychosis due to severe mental illness are not immune from the brutality, regularly being sent to long term isolation for refusing to obey commands of the officers in charge. Those with severe disorientation due to psychosis can be kept in isolation for years, without sunlight or fresh air, permanently cut off from contact with any other human being in any meaningful way.

You won't hear the DOC call their isolation policies solitary confinement. Officials sanitize the term calling it segregation and tell us only the most violent are sent there. I speak as an advocate in the state of AZ in behalf of those with mental disorders. I do not believe this correctional regime is forthright in their disclosures.  The ACLU of AZ filed a class action lawsuit in March of this year regarding the lack of medical and mental health care provided in ADOC. This lawsuit is a real Godsend to all those who want justice and decency to prevail in Arizona's prisons. The opportunities this lawsuit brings, give our state prisons their best chance of achieving lasting reforms, rehabilitation of offenders and successful reintegration of offenders back into our communities.

Our society will be judged by how we treat the least among us. Without adequate mental health care, our incarcerated mentally ill will return to us more ill and damaged than before we locked them up. How will this make our communities safer or save taxpayer dollars? All inmates in Arizona prisons should be treated humanely.

Over 95% of all inmates will return to our communities one day. I ask you to consider our state correctional policies and then decide.........What is it we will have taught them?

We want to express our deepest gratitude to investigative reporter Bob Ortega for shining the light of truth on the despicable lack of respect for human dignity, under which our present day DOC operates. You can find more info regarding our efforts to increase collaboration between Arizona's mental health and criminal justice systems at

Mary Lou Brncik

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Victims of the State: The family of Tony Lester to Steve Twist.

The aunt of Tony Lester and the mother of Dana Seawright
remember other victims and survivors of state violence, neglect and abuse
at the AZ Crime Victims' Memorial, AZ State Capitol.
(March 9, 2012)

Steve Twist's June 16 editorial in the AZ Republic defending the AZ DOC (dismissing the research and articles done by investigative journalist Bob Ortega earlier this month as "malicious) has invited a response from the family of Tony Lester. His Aunt, Patti Jones, forwarded the following comment to us. 

I urge other families who have lost loved ones to the state prison system due to violence, abuse and neglect to read Twist's letter and post to the AZ Republic's site as well. He's the guy who explicitly wrote prisoners out of the AZ Victims Bill of Rights, making the state and state agents the only criminal perpetrators whose injured and dead are constitutionally deprived of the rights all other victims (and their survivors) can count on.

I think we should invite Mr. Twist and his prosecutorial colleagues to help us rewrite that part of the state constitution, so that every rape, murder, and abuse victim's rights are equally protected, whether or not they are in custody for an offense...if he won't then at the very least he should get out of the way of those trying to reduce further victimization of prisoners and trauma to their families...

------------from Patti Jones---------------

"First of all Mr. Twist I realize that we as United States citizens are entitled to freedom of Speech that is what I LOVE about our country so well.  I certainly appreciate your input regarding your opinion in regards to the INHUMANE TREATMENT within our AZ Prisons, but I am a NAIVE OUTSIDER looking in; to the treatment of the mentally- ill prisoners within our prisons.

It was not until my Nephew Anthony Lester was placed into the ADOC that our Family realized the mentality of all prison officials regarding the care and treatment of our mentally-ill. Especially when all prison staff and administrators were repeatedly warned of Tony's fragile mental state of mind and when Doctors within the prison were warned of the voices that Tony heard and all prison staff referred to Tony as a Manipulator and Gaimer of the system....

From the moment our family received the news of Tony's injuries we were told that he was taken to hospital with non life threatening injuries, and then to receive  a call a few hours later that Tony had died!!!!   Then  the worse thing was to view this ICS Video taken that night that Tony committed suicide which showed a  nineteen and half minute video in which for approximately twelve minutes correctional officers stood, rummaging through the cell looking for a suicide note shining a small flashlight on Tony watching him bleed, gurgle, gasp moan struggle to breath, not one officer stepped forward to even try to render aid, now there excuse not to render aid is that he was pretty much dead so there was no need to render aid although medics when they arrived did not think twice whether or not to render aid..... What kind of human being stands around and watch someone bleed to death?????

Now the state and ADOC have placed a protective order upon this video, if these correctional officers did their job and rendered aid then why is there a protective order placed upon this video????  Answer is that if anyone were to see this it would show the total disrespect for human life...

Tony and our entire family accepted his punishment and trusted the system and the system failed Tony and more importantly my sister Tony's mother Eleanor lost her only child.  Prisons are for punishment not for the mentally ill to be warehoused and abandoned, especially when several judges recommended that Tony be placed in a mental health unit and court ordered to stay on psychotropic medications.  

I realize Mr.Twist you feel prisoners are treated humanely, but how many family members and ex prison inmates tell you repeatedly how the treatment is inhumane; you feel there is humane treat but that is what ADOC and the state would like one to think, that's what I thought until our NIGHTMARE began!!!!!

We are so much better than this we are the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA!!!!!  Not a third world country, we can close our eyes to these injustices this cycle of inhumanity will continue other mothers will loose their children, the mentally-ill will be abandoned as outcasts rejects of society unless people such as Bob Ortega, KPNX channel 12 Wendy Halloran step forward and expose these travesties...."

The Voice for AZ Crime Victims is not Steve Twist...

 Some of the  68 names of the AZ DOC's victims of violence, neglect and abuse over the past 3 1/2 years,  from the roof of Phoenix's Firehouse Gallery during the opening of "Patriotic Descent".
(June 9, 2012)

 The letter and video link below came to me as a response to the editorial in the Arizona Republic today by Mr. Steve Twist, titled: "Ariz. prisons are humane, secure despite criticism". As implied, the letter is a defense of the state-as-perpetrator, not an argument that human life and rights should be vigorously protected.

Mr. Twist is a founder of the conservative Goldwater Institute, and the former assistant attorney general who authored the AZ Victims Bill of Rights, a constitutional amendment passed in the early 90's which explicitly excluded anyone "in custody for an offense" (as well as their survivors, if the crimes perpetrated against them result in death) from the legal definition of victim - and thus from all resource the state allocates to help victims cope with the devastating consequences of assault, rape, murder and other such serious crimes.

The letter was composed for the occasion by a real-life survivor of the state's cruelty and neglect; she lost her brother to it. Michelle gave me her blessings to post it widely - this is one of the voices we can trust. Please pass it on.

---------------from Michelle Lependorf------------------- 

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The recent articles written by Mr. Ortega in The Arizona Republic were primarily aimed at highlighting the deficiencies in health care provided to Arizona’s most seriously ill prisoners, those having severe mental and medical conditions.  It was fact-based, investigative reporting and not a media campaign or ACLU conspiracy aimed at generating sympathy and support for reduced prison terms or less restrictive environments within Arizona’s prisons.
The focus of the articles written by Mr. Ortega was not to question the housing protocol within the Arizona Department of Corrections.  Rather, it was to highlight the deliberate indifference shown to inmates who suffer from serious medical conditions wherever housed within Arizona’s prisons.  These inmates have been systematically, persistently and consistently denied or delayed meaningful and effectual medical care, the result being that far too many are dying, many of whom have not been incarcerated for violent, predatory crimes and who have not been perpetrators of inmate on inmate violence.
If officials within the Arizona Department of Corrections are, as is claimed by Mr. Twist, aware that “a significant percentage of those who live in Arizona prisons are in poor health when they enter prison,” don’t these same individuals have a heightened duty to ensure that an adequate health care system is in place to address the needs of these individuals?  This includes, at a minimum, ensuring that properly trained staff are in place and available to deliver the sophisticated health care required by such a high-risk prison population.  

Despite Mr. Twist’s assumptions to the contrary, there is a vast low-income segment of society that exists outside of the prison environs.  In that segment of society, there are a statistically larger number of individuals suffering from poor health conditions, as compared to more affluent segments of society.  This is primarily due to a lack of resources, high unemployment, low education levels, poor diet and nutrition, lack of health insurance and, perhaps, to some degree, genetic predispositions from the continuity of poor health conditions inherited by each successive generation.  That does not mean, however, that such individuals do not deserve adequate and effective medical care.  Should we deny or delay medical care for such individuals because they are born into and continually exist within a segment of society that renders them more susceptible to healthcare challenges?  Why can we not expect the same level of care for prisoners who enter Arizona’s prison systems with existing chronic conditions?  It may be true that many prisoners are entering into Arizona’s prisons “suffering from a litany of conditions.”  However, that does not mean that such individuals should not expect to receive or are undeserving of quality medical care – care that is delivered when it is needed and when it can make the greatest difference in the life of an inmate.  In fact, perhaps addressing the needs of such individuals would go a long way to improving conditions in the medically underserved communities from which these individuals come, as Mr. Twist claims. 
Given the threat it poses to public health in general, the failed healthcare system in Arizona’s prisons can no longer be denied, ignored or tolerated on the premise that prisoners, by virtue of their past misdeeds, are not deserving of adequate healthcare.  Although many in society believe that prisoners are not entitled to the same standard of medical care as individuals who have never been convicted of a crime, this view fails to take into consideration the high cost to society of substandard medical care provided to prisoners.  Inmates with serious illnesses or contagious diseases, who do not receive proper medical treatment while incarcerated, will eventually return to their communities.  When they do, they will likely be more unhealthy, unable to work and, more importantly, ineligible for health insurance.  This, in turn, will surely place a greater strain on the state’s already scarce resources.  So denying very ill prisoners adequate medical care is simply akin to being penny-wise and pound-foolish. 
What Bob Ortega’s articles make clear is that we have a failed health care delivery system in place within Arizona’s prisons.  It is a substandard, inhumane system that is responsible for the needless suffering and deaths of thousands of inmates.  For anyone who believes otherwise, the next time you or someone in your family becomes ill, by all means, opt for an exam with one of the paramedical professionals in Arizona’s Department of Corrections.  Mr. Twist, with his twisted notions, should be the first one to do so! 

For those of you who need further proof of just how inhumane healthcare is in Arizona’s prisons, you can get a first hand glimpse by clicking on the following link:
Michelle Lependorf is a NJ lawyer and the sister of Ferdinand Dix, a former AZDOC inmate who died while incarcerated in Arizona from undiagnosed, untreated metastatic small cell lung cancer.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Steve Twist and the invisible victims of Arizona's state crimes...

The following editorial in the Arizona Republic today (here, if you want to read it first) comes from Steve Twist, the author of the Arizona Victim's Bill of Rights and is founder of both the Goldwater Institute and "Arizona Voice for Crime Victims."  Here's a good link to his own narrative of his involvement in the victims' rights movement - from the early days - which is more useful and fair.

What precedes Twist's letter is my response to it, as submitted to the AZ Republic and Gannett News. I urge everyone out there who cares about prisoner rights to contact the Arizona Republic / Channel 12 ( Editor, The Arizona Republic, P.O. Box 1950, Phoenix, AZ 85001, or here), and Gannet News (email ) every which way you can, and tell them to keep up the good work - this is just a sign that the real bad guys are getting scared, and resorting to their usual tactics (like scaring everyone else into trusting them).

Survivors of Prison Violence: 
mural made naming 68 victims from AZ Department of Corrections at the art show opening: Patriotic Descent" at the Firehouse Gallery, Phoenix (June 9, 2012).  

The prisoners listed were victims of homicide, suicide, and gross medical neglect under the administrations of Governor Jan Brewer and AZ DOC director Charles Ryan.


In his June 16 editorial in the Arizona Republic, Steve Twist complains about the recent investigative series by Bob Ortega on the high number of deaths in the state prisons under the current administration. I found it interesting that instead of writing to advance the rights of those human beings documented to be seriously neglected and abused in custody, Twist works overtime to frame the state as the victim of a "flagrantly malicious" attack by the media.

It always troubles me when it's an advocate for people who have been violated and victimized who comes to the rescue of one of the worst offenders, the prison system, by dismissing the evidence of brutality, corruption, loss of life, and sheer waste in front of them. Mr. Twist authored the Arizona Victims Bill of Rights, and has a long history of work on behalf of victims. Yet here Twist adamantly defends the perpetrators of gross neglect and facilitators of violence when it comes to the prisons - not the targets of it.

Twist argues that public safety will be compromised if we even look at the issue of the seriously mentally ill being tormented in solitary confinement and killing themselves, or the high incidence of assaults and murders in AZ's prisons. That kind of fear-mongering has been pretty effective, I'm afraid: America incarcerates more of our people than the Soviet Union or Communist China did at any time - and so much of it is for addiction and mental illness, not heinous crimes. I don't know how enforcing the law to reduce victimization behind bars could put the rest of us at risk, though. It seems to me that ignoring the soaring levels of violent criminal activity in prison is just giving the real bad guys more target practice, so they're especially vicious and well-rehearsed when they come back to our communities - which 95% of prisoners eventually do.

Twist's editorial also come to the aid of the current AZ DOC director, Chuck Ryan, on whose watch the homicide and suicide rates doubled as he eliminated mental health treatment programs, changed policies about how to match cellies, and curtailed the resources available to staff to treat the injured and dying. Ryan's also cultivated the climate of contempt for human life throughout his institution that allows such cruel and unusual medical neglect to occur as what goes on in Arizona's state prisons -  like that which Ferdinand Dix endured as he wasted away from cancer untreated, and unnoticed. Mr. Ryan should be forced to resign, frankly - he is a growing embarrassment to the Brewer Administration, and is clearly not in control of his prisons.

Mr. Twist is one who has stood with crime victims and their families time and time again. The organization he founded, Arizona Voice for Crime Victims, aspires "to establish a compassionate justice system in which crime victims are informed of their rights, fully understand those rights, know how to assert their rights, have a meaningful way to enforce those rights, and know how to seek immediate crisis intervention when they become victims of crime."

Such a vision of justice and compassion for victims doesn't apply, however, if the person against whom a crime was committed "is in custody for an offense" - no matter if one is even guilty of anything. A grocery store has more rights as a victim prosecuting a shoplifter than an Arizona prisoner who is raped in custody. That's the one category of person that was excluded from protection when Twist wrote the Victims Bill of Rights - prisoners.

The Victims Bill of Rights is part of our state constitution, having been approved by popular vote in 1990 to the applause of victims' rights advocates everywhere. I wasn't privy to discussions 20 years ago about the exclusion of persons in custody from the definition of "victim" while that document was being drafted. I have a hard time believing that idea came from the victims and survivors of violent crime themselves, though.

The government (especially the Attorney General's office) at the time this amendment was passed had ulterior motives - and they weren't to keep the People safe or even to be tough on crime. Quite the opposite:  the state was (and is) primarily concerned with making sure that two kinds of culprits - its institutions and agents - are exempt from being held to the same standards that other criminal perpetrators are. Twist's letter to the editor demonstrates one of the ways he and his partners in crime managed to get buy-in from the families and survivors of crime victims: by minimizing the extent of victimization in custody, and portraying victims of violence and abuse in prison as non-people who essentially deserve what they get. All of this is to render the victims and survivors  of prison violence irrelevant and invisible - which the Victims' Bill of Rights is partly intended to do.

By making prisoners exempt from the definition of victim in our state constitution, we communicate to their keepers and perpetrators (often one in the same) that individuals in custody are acceptable targets for violence, exploitation, and abuse. The ones most often violated in prison are not the hardened criminals who society thinks get what they deserve if they get raped or even killed, as Twist and his colleagues would have us think. The most victimized behind bars are actually the most vulnerable among us - the mentally ill, the developmentally and physically disabled, and those who have already endured physical and/or sexual abuse in their lifetimes.

If Mr. Twist doesn't plan to lead the effort to reduce their victimization behind bars, he should at least get out of the way of those who have been doing it for awhile - particularly the survivors. It's time to re-write the AZ Victim's Bill of Rights to include all human beings when they become targets of crime.

Margaret Jean Plews
Phoenix, AZ

below: Kini Seawright, whose 26-year old son 
was murdered in Lewis prison (July 2010)

 from the opening of "Patriotic Descent"
The Firehouse Gallery, Phoenix
June 09, 2012

------from the Arizona Republic's "My Turn" page today------------

Ariz. prisons are humane, secure despite criticism


Steve Twist -

Jun. 16, 2012 12:00 AM


Prisons are an easy target for the media. The case in point is the recent series of articles in The Arizona Republic about inmate deaths in the state prison system.

The opening sentence of the series states, "Arizona's prison system has two death rows," followed by a gross mischaracterization of an "unofficial" death row where inmates die as a result of prison violence and neglect.

It compares the Arizona Department of Corrections' use of maximum security to house dangerous and violent inmates to "solitary confinement," citing the case of a woman held in a prison in Iran for 14 months who is now psychologically traumatized. There's something flagrantly malicious about using a prison experience in Iran as a comparison to an Arizona prison experience.

Having advocated for truth in sentencing, and wanting a prison system that focuses not only on the rights of inmates but also the rights of the victims of their crimes, I know firsthand that the term "solitary confinement" does not exist in the vocabulary of the Arizona Department of Corrections. DOC's practice is to employ multiple custody levels based on the nature of a crime and an inmate's assessment and behavior while in prison.

Maximum-security inmates, those who have committed brutally violent crimes, and those who have demonstrated predatory, unruly and violent behavior by being a danger to other inmates and staff, generally make up the population housed in high-security settings. No, they are not in dark isolation, deprived of human contact or anything comparable to solitary confinement. Nevertheless, these dangerous inmates are appropriately housed for the safety of the public, themselves, and other inmates and staff.

Certainly, some perspective is necessary in a discussion of the rate of inmate deaths in the Arizona prison system. In any population of 40,000, deaths will occur. Among those deaths will be a number due to serious illness, drug overdose, suicide and, tragically, even homicide.

I do not argue that those types of deaths in prisons are not proportionately higher than deaths that occur in a community with a population roughly matching that of our prison system.

But consider this: Unlike the vast majority of the people who live outside the system, a significant percentage of those who live in Arizona prisons are in poor health when they enter prison, suffering from a litany of maladies caused by years of a lack of health care and a basic understanding of taking care of oneself; drug addiction; physical abuse; and mental illness.

Moreover, prisoners frequently come from sociopathic and often violent backgrounds brought about by drugs, gang activity, or both, which have become so prevalent in our society. It is reasonable to assume that characteristics such as these are a major contributing factor in proportionately higher numbers of inmate deaths caused by illness, drug overdose, suicide or homicide.

We have a prison system in Arizona consisting of a variety of housing environments: dormitories, double-person cells, detention areas where inmates are temporarily segregated, and maximum-security single-person cells that are exclusively for problematic, dangerous inmates -- the worst of the worst. But in all cases, an inmate is able to interact with others. This includes the worst inmates, whose cells are in areas where they can speak with others in cells around them.

Critics of the Arizona Department of Corrections -- the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International and inmate advocacy groups -- blindly blame maximum security as a cause of inmate deaths and want a less-restrictive environment in our prisons.

What we have now is a humane prison system that provides food and shelter, education, work programs, alcohol- and drug-addiction programs, and medical- and mental-health care that meet community standards.

Further, it is a system designed with emphasis on safety and security for inmates, staff, and, most of all, the public. Arizonans should want it no other way.

Steve Twist, a Phoenix lawyer, was chief assistant attorney general in Arizona from 1978 to 1991.