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, August 31, 2012

Feds bail out on Arpaio investigation. Surprised?

Cowards. Now he's free to run amok again, abusing his power. Why do we really think we can trust the police to police the police, anyway? Join Phoenix COPWATCH instead of signing a stupid petition appealing to Uncle Sam to rescue us this time. And vote the pig out of office, if you can...

4th Avenue Jail
Madison/4th Ave.
Phoenix, AZ

-----AZ Republic--------

 Feds shut down criminal investigation of Arpaio; no charges to be filed  

Aug. 31, 2012 07:29 PM
The Republic |

The U.S. Attorney's Office has closed its long-running abuse-of-power investigation into Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio -- without any charges to be filed.

document The press release issued by the U.S. Attorney's Office Friday
document Department of Justice letter with additional details
• An in-depth look at the self-dubbed 'America's toughest sheriff'
• Maricopa County feuds cost taxpayers $28 million

In a 5 p.m. Friday news release, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ann Birmingham Scheel, acting on behalf of the United States Department of Justice, announced her office "is closing its investigation into allegations of criminal conduct" by current and former members of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office and the Maricopa County Attorney's Office.

Federal prosecutors have advised Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery of the decision.
In a four-page letter to Montgomery, Scheel explained the reasoning for the decision.

Federal prosecutors decided to not prosecute matters tied to alleged misuse of county credit cards by sheriff's officials, alleged misspending of jail-enhancement funds and other matters. The U.S. Attorney's Office had already made public it would not pursue charges on those matters.

Scheel wrote that the agency declined to initiate any state criminal charges arising from its broader appointment to pursue state charges that may have come up in connection with the federal investigation.
Several federal attorneys had been deputized to handle state crimes arising from the investigation.

"Law enforcement officials are rightfully afforded a wide swath of discretion in deciding how to conduct investigations and prosecutions," she wrote. "Unfortunately, such discretion can act as a double-edged sword: although it empowers fair-minded prosecutors and investigators to discharge their duties effectively, it also affords potential for abuse. Our limited role is to determine whether criminal charges are supportable. After careful review, we do not believe the allegations presented to us are prosecutable as crimes."

Scheel wrote that federal prosecutors reached the same conclusion on potential federal criminal violations, specifically related to the allegations involving retired Superior Court Judge Gary Donahoe. Attorneys considered whether former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas and his former Deputy County Attorney Lisa Aubuchon committed perjury in causing a complaint to be filed to avoid a court hearing, and whether their pursuit of criminal charges amounted to a violation of federal criminal civil rights laws.

Scheel wrote that the agency was mindful that a disciplinary panel had concluded Thomas, Aubuchon, Hendershott and Arpaio conspired in a criminal manner to violate Donahoe's civil rights.

"However, our obligation is different from the State Bar disciplinary panel, under its rules and burdens of proof, has reached certain conclusions about the conduct of Thomas and Aubuchon," she wrote. "We must weigh the evidence and law under the far heavier burden associated with criminal prosecution. Based on this review, we have concluded that allegations of criminal misconduct under federal statutes are not prosecutable."

She wrote it was "not enough to show that Judge Donahoe was subjected to conduct that was abusive or even unconstitutional. While Judge Donahoe suffered severe turmoil resulting from the criminal charges, as evidenced by the record in the Bar proceedings, we don't believe there is sufficient evidence to meet our burden that he suffered the sort of complete job depreciation contemplated by existing precedent."

"I'm just pissed," said Maricopa County Supervisor Andy Kunasek. "If (former Deputy County Attorney) Lisa Aubuchon and (former Sheriff's Chief Deputy) David Hendershott are not prosecuted for perjury, then this is all about politics. This is about a Justice Department that is afraid to do their jobs."

Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, one of those who has sued Arpaio alleging she was improperly investigated, said she was shocked when contacted by The Republic.

"I can't imagine why they would do that when there's so much evidence there, particularly from the Thomas case and all the testimony that came out. I just am floored," Wilcox said.

Sheriff's Deputy Chief Jack MacIntyre commended federal prosecutors for their handling of the investigation that began in 2008.

MacIntyre also said the U.S. Attorney's Office recognized that many of the allegations related to the anti-corruption enforcement unit Arpaio started with former County Attorney Andrew Thomas were handled in the State Bar proceeding that resulted in Thomas being stripped of his license.

"The U.S. Attorney's Office and its investigators recognized what Sheriff's Office has said all along: we did not make any prosecutorial decisions, even through things were referred to the then-county attorney," MacIntyre said. "The sheriff and the Sheriff's Office commend the U.S. Attorney's office for having the honesty, the integrity and the strength of character to make the statement that they do today: clearing this office and dispelling the shadow that's been lingering over it for over three years."

Thomas, a onetime Arpaio ally, was disbarred earlier this year. During the disbarment proceedings, testimony was given that Arpaio or his subordinates had abused the power the office.

The investigation began in December 2008.

Bill Solomon, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, said he could not comment any further on the agency's decision. He said the agency would not immediately release records pertaining to the closed investigations.

CCA awarded Brewer's Prison Contract.

Corrections Corporation of America won the DOC contract for 2000 new beds. Is it any wonder?

 This should trouble AZ Regents Dennis Diconcini and Anne L. Mariucci - they will profit from the prisons that are funded with money that could have otherwise gone to Arizona's educational system. But I doubt they will do much but celebrate this news.

And of course, we all know about Jan Brewer's ties to CCA.

As for the City of Eloy - it's essentially owned by CCA, and its prisons seem to be a haven for abusive people (the ones in the brown uniform, that is). CCA is already being sued for serious abuse of their Hawaiian prisoners at Saguaro prison in Eloy AZ, among other things. They seem to have particular problems with sexual predators working in their prisons in that town. One Saguaro guard was recently convicted of forcing a prisoner to give him a blow job. And the ICE facility in Eloy run by CCA is being sued for abusing a transgender detainee. I don't think that was the best town to trust with more of our prisoners.

-----good question yesterday from the AZ Republic-----

Why are we building private prisons when crime is down?

Laurie Roberts

AZ Republic (AUG 30, 2012)

On Friday, the state of Arizona plans to award one lucky – or perhaps just well connected -- company the contract to build and operate 1,000 private prison beds for medium security inmates.

This, despite the fact that we have 2,000 empty beds and the overall crime rate is down.

This, despite the fact that it actually costs taxpayers more to operate  private prisons.

This, despite that fact that it’s been only two years since three inmates escaped from a private prison in Kingman, murdering an Oklahoma couple in New Mexico. That prison, which was later found to have a number of deficiencies (clearly), was run by Management & Training Corporation.

Yep, Management & Training Corp. is one of the five out-of-state companies in the hunt for the lucrative contract to be awarded on Friday. Another of the bidders is Corrections Corporation of America, whose lobbyist is no less than Gov. Jan Brewer confidante, Chuck Coughlin. Among others, that is. All five companies employ a phalanx of lobbyists to roam the Capitol hallways.

Apparently, it pays off.

House Minority Leader Chad Campbell today renewed his call for Attorney General Tom Horne to investigate possible violations of state law and the procurement code.

“The Attorney General’s Office has the power and an obligation to intervene before that contract is signed and nothing is being done,” Campbell said. “We should not be rewarding out-of-state, for-profit prison companies with contracts if they are violating the law and wasting taxpayer money.”

Among the possible violations, Campbell says, is a requirement that any proposed private prisons save taxpayers’ money while providing the same or better quality prison digs.

Yet a report this week by The Republic’s Craig Harris suggests that private prisons are nearly 10 percent more expensive to operate.  The average daily cost per inmate in a state-run medium-security prison in 2010 was $48.42 while the cost in a similar private prison was $53.02.

Corrections Director Charles Ryan says the savings come in having a private company foot the bill to build the prison.

So says the man with 2,000 empty beds – some of which surely could be reconfigured to hold drunk drivers and other non-violent criminals.


AZ Republic: Why do we need more prisons?

Arizona prison contract will go to private firm

Corrections Department will award 1,000-bed deal to 1 of 5 contenders

Craig Harris / AZ Republic (AUG 26, 2012)

The state Department of Corrections plans Friday to award a private prison contract for 1,000 medium-security beds for men, citing a lack of beds for violent offenders and a projected increase in the overall inmate population.

Five out-of-state companies are vying for the contract. The value of the deal has not been disclosed while the state reviews the bids, but it likely will be worth millions of dollars annually. Sites being considered are in Coolidge, Eloy, Florence, San Luis and Winslow.

• PDF: A look at the bids

The contract comes even though the state's overall prison population is expected to remain flat the next two years and increase only slightly thereafter. State records also show it's more costly for taxpayers to have private businesses run prisons.

According to state records, there currently are about 2,000 empty beds in Arizona's prison system, which houses 39,876 male and female inmates. Critics of the prison expansion point to those empty beds as a key reason why the state doesn't need to spend more money on beds.

State Corrections Director Charles Ryan acknowledged the empty beds but said the state has a shortage of permanent medium-security beds -- an 11-bed deficit as of Friday. Most of the empty beds are in minimum-security or women's facilities, and the populations cannot be mixed.

Ryan said the shortage will get worse by 2016, when the total prison population is projected to increase by about 600 more inmates, to 40,477 prisoners. Ryan said the increased projections are based on historical growth trends from the past five fiscal years. He added that the state doesn't foresee a significant decline in sex offenders or violent criminals, who would be housed in medium-security prisons.

"We need the medium (security) beds," Ryan said. "This is an issue of preparing and planning for the future."
The contract calls for up to 2,000 medium-security beds. The first 500 would come online in January 2014. The next 500 would be in place in January 2015. The Legislature has not determined when, or if, the remaining 1,000 beds would be added, but their decision would be based on increases in the medium-security population.

The state also plans to build a 500-bed maximum-security facility in Buckeye that's scheduled to open July 1, 2015. The cost for that facility is projected at $50 million. The Legislature allocated $20 million toward the new facility this budget year, which began July 1.

Corrections records also show that in fiscal 2011 there were 296 fewer prisoners than the previous year, and this past fiscal year that ended June 30, there were 304 fewer inmates for a total of 39,877.

Ryan attributed the overall decline to fewer parole revocations, fewer illegal immigrants being placed in state custody and an overall downturn in crime, but he still contends the additional beds are needed.

He said 735 of the empty beds are in women's facilities, where men can't be housed. There are another 1,127 empty beds at minimum-security prisons for men, but male inmates at medium-security sites can't be transferred there because the sites are not as secure, and there would be safety risks to other inmates, officers and the public. It would be cost-prohibitive, he said, to retrofit a minimum-security facility for more serious offenders.

"You can't mix and match," Ryan said. "You have to keep them separate."

Ryan said the 15,500-plus medium-security inmates are not allowed to work outside a prison's secured perimeter, and they typically are serving sentences that average 9.7 years. Just more than half of them have been sentenced for violent crimes, including assaults, sex offenses and robbery. The rest are serving time for drug offenses, drunken driving, forgery, theft and burglary, according to Corrections records.

Business model criticized

Records show it's more expensive to have private companies operate prisons.

The most recent information available shows the average daily cost per inmate in a state-run medium-custody facility in 2010 was $48.42, while the average daily cost for an inmate in a similar private facility was $53.02. That translates into a 9.5 percent higher cost per inmate for a private prison.

If the new private 1,000-bed facility operates at just 90 percent capacity, the annual cost for taxpayers would be $17.4 million, based on 2010 figures. A state-run facility, under the same scenario, would cost taxpayers $15.9 million annually.

Ryan countered that Arizona saves up-front construction costs by having a private company build the facility. The coming contract also calls for the state to assume ownership of the facility in 20 years.
Rep. Cecil Ash, R-Mesa, disagrees with Ryan's conclusions.

"Private prisons are the wrong business model," Ash said. "They are in the business for profit. The problem is most legislators just don't pay attention to this issue. Inmates don't vote, and the public doesn't see the inmates. They are out of sight, out of mind."

Ash, who is running for a justice of the peace position and will not return to the 2013 Legislature, is one of the few Republicans who have publicly opposed adding private prison beds, saying they waste taxpayers' money. Other outspoken opponents include the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker group and watchdog organization.

"For-profit prison corporations are not accountable to Arizona taxpayers," said Caroline Isaacs, American Friends Service Committee program director.

She also contends they are not subject to the same transparency, reporting or oversight requirements as government agencies, and she believes the for-profit prison industry is getting a contract because it has exercised its political muscle in Arizona by hiring a cadre of lobbyists and made campaign contributions to influential legislators.

At least one of the companies, Corrections Corporation of America, employs one of Gov. Jan Brewer's key advisers as a lobbyist, and former Arizona U.S. Sen. Dennis DeConcini serves on the company's board.

Who's bidding

Arizona got into the private prison business in 1993, with a facility in Marana in southern Arizona.

Today, about 6,500 Arizona inmates or about 16 percent of the inmate population are in private prisons. The state houses roughly 33,000 inmates in 10 complexes across Arizona. The overall Corrections budget is about $1 billion.

Management & Training Corporation and the GEO Group Inc. currently have contracts at five prisons in Phoenix, Florence, Kingman and Marana. Both are bidding for the additional medium-security beds. The other bidders are Corrections Corporation of America, Emerald Correctional Management and LaSalle Corrections. All five are headquartered outside Arizona.

Following steady growth in the inmate population, the Department of Corrections in 2009 sought bids from private prison operators for an additional 5,000 beds in Arizona.

During the bidding process, three inmates escaped July 30, 2010, from Management & Training Corporation's private prison in Kingman. Two of the escapees are accused of murdering an Oklahoma couple who were vacationing in New Mexico.

An Arizona Department of Corrections review of the Kingman facility after the escape found numerous deficiencies with training and equipment, including an alarm system that issued false alarms so frequently that staff members began to ignore them.

The state suspended the bidding process after the escape and revised a bid for 5,000 beds. That bid was canceled and a new request for up to 2,000 beds was issued after the prison population forecast changed. The Legislature most recently authorized funding for 1,000 of the 2,000 beds.

Local debate

While the American Friends Service Committee and ACLU have adamantly opposed the addition of private prison beds, many residents in communities that may house the inmates have been very supportive, Ryan said.

That was the case earlier this month at a public hearing in Florence, known as Arizona's prison capital for its state-operated and private prisons.

Florence's mayor, town officials and the schools superintendent all voiced support for more inmate beds, after they were told by GEO Group that the company's proposal to build a new 1,000-bed prison would create 200 construction jobs, 260 jobs at the facility and a $12 million annual payroll. The company, however, would not say how much the company pays its guards.

"We are proud of our institutions, and proud to have a much-needed service to the state," Florence Mayor Tom Rankin said during the hearing. "It will create more jobs, and more jobs means more people will shop here."

Rankin also took a shot at critics of the proposed prison, saying they didn't live in his community and shouldn't try to derail a jobs creator.

But opponents, including Isaacs, countered that any new prison was a waste of money for all Arizona taxpayers.

A GEO executive had to correct himself during the hearing for saying the company had never had an escape at one of its facilities after an opponent pointed out that an escape had occurred in 2006 at a GEO facility in Florence. Last year, when The Republic was examining the bidders for new private prisons, the newspaper found that at least 27 escapes have been reported from GEO facilities over the previous seven years, including one in Texas that led to a murder.

Pablo Paez, a GEO spokesman, said the Florence escape occurred at a low-security DUI-offender facility shortly after the company took over from a prior operator. He added the other escapes predominantly occurred at low-security facilities, such as halfway houses where offenders are placed in the months nearing their release.

During other questions from opponents, GEO officials at least twice attempted to take control of the meeting from Corrections Director Ryan by telling the critics that their allotted time to speak had ended, when it had not. Ryan allowed the critics to continue.

"It was evident that the representatives from the local community are very supportive of the proposed facility," Paez later said. "Unfortunately, during any public hearing, outside interest groups which are not related to the local community can at times overtake a meeting and bring up issues that are not related to the community's views on the proposed project. This can lead to spontaneous exchanges which unfortunately can take away from the central purpose of these public hearings, which should be for the local community to express its views on the proposed project."

GEO officials did not attempt to cut short comments from supporters of its proposal.

Reach the reporter at or 602-444-8478.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Dear Governor Brewer: Build Communities, Not Prisons!

Cell-Out Arizona, Tucson Citizen (AUG 28, 2012)

As the August 31st deadline for award of a new private prison contract draws near, there’s been a healthy public debate as to the justification (or lack thereof) of the state’s plan for up to 2,000 more medium security prison beds.

Last week, Tucson Citizen Editor Mark Evans asked the $17 million question: “Private prisons are not saving us money–so why do we still have them?”

Then, Craig Harris of the Arizona Republic put out an excellent and comprehensive analysis of the facts–prison population is down, private prisons cost more–contrasted with the bogus rationale touted by Department of Corrections Director Chuck Ryan to justify their plans to go ahead with the contracts anyway. All you Psychology Majors out there can use this for your term papers on “cognitive dissonance.”

Even Linda Ronstadt took a shot at the for-profit prison industry on CNN’s Situation Room Friday. In a scathing rebuke of Gov. Brewer’s stance on immigration, Ronstadt connected the dots for viewers on the influence of the for-profit prison industry, which manages immigrant detention centers as well as prisons. Ronstadt stated, “…let’s look at the money for a minute. What Arizona is spending an awful lot of money on is private prisons. And Chuck Coughlin and Paul [Senseman]…are two of her top advisers. They are both lobbyists for the Correction Corporation of America, which is the biggest — one of the prison giants, private prison giants in the country.” At this point she was cut off by the host. Go figure.

Finally, a broad coalition of over 50 state and national leaders and organizations sent a letter to Governor Brewer today asking her to halt plans for a new for-profit prison contract. The list of over 50 leaders and organizations includes several Arizona elected officials—both Democrat and Republican—from the state, county and city levels of government. Also signed on to the letter are Arizona groups such as the League of Women Voters, the NAACP, the National Organization for Women’s Phoenix/Scottsdale chapter, and the Center for Economic Integrity.

We are posting the letter in its entirety here, along with the full list of signatories:

    August 28, 2012

    Dear Governor Brewer and Director Ryan,

    We write as organizations and individuals, both in Arizona and nationally, to oppose Arizona’s planned expansion of its for-profit prison beds. We urge you to immediately cancel the 2,000-bed prison RFP and do not award a contract for this procurement. These beds are unnecessary and costly, and the corporations bidding for the contract all have histories of mismanagement, abuse, and safety problems—including several incidents in Arizona prisons already under contract.

    Firstly, Arizona does not need more prison beds, private or otherwise. The state prison population is dropping, and this decrease is projected to continue.[1] Furthermore, crime rates are down and thus investing $17 million in a new facility is a poor use of the state’s limited resources, particularly considering the crippling cuts to vital services of the last few years.

    Years of study by the Arizona Department of Corrections reveal that for-profit prisons are a bad bargain for state taxpayers. These studies have shown that, even though the corporate vendors promised the facilities would save the state money, in fact Arizona is overpaying for its private prisons. A recent investigation showed that many private prisons are more expensive than their state-operated counterparts. This study estimates that Arizona taxpayers are wasting $3.5 million per year on for-profit beds.[2]

    All five of the prison corporations under consideration have spotty records of poor management, violence and disturbances, chronic understaffing of facilities, safety lapses, and other problems. Perhaps most notable is Management and Training Corporation (MTC), which manages the Kingman state prison where three prisoners escaped in 2010, leading authorities on a two-week, multi-state manhunt culminating in the murder of a couple vacationing in New Mexico. Investigations after the incident revealed that the alarms in the facility had been malfunctioning for over a year, but were never fixed.[3]

    After the escapes from Kingman, the Arizona Department of Corrections conducted security audits of its other private prisons. At the three GEO prisons – Florence West, Phoenix West and the Central Arizona Correctional Facility – inspectors found such issues as inmates having access to a control panel that could open emergency exits; an alarm system that did not ring properly when doors were opened or left ajar; and that staff didn’t carry out such basic security practices as searching commissary trucks and drivers.[4] Similar problems were uncovered at MTC’s other Arizona facility in Marana, where inspectors also found that the swamp coolers were not working (in August), making it hotter inside the prison than outside.[5]

    Three additional corporations that do not currently have contracts with the state of Arizona have also submitted proposals: Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), Emerald Corrections, and LaSalle. Corrections Corporation of America operates 6 prisons located in Arizona that import prisoners from other states and the federal government, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). A national investigation revealed that the company’s Eloy Detention Center had the highest number of immigrant detainee deaths of any ICE facility.[6] The Inspector General for the State of California (which houses prisoners in CCA’s Red Rock, La Palma, and Florence Correctional Center in Arizona) slammed CCA in 2010 for serious security flaws and improper treatment of inmates.  Inspectors found faulty alarms and malfunctioning security cameras, prisoners evading metal detectors, and discovered that CCA was not checking the arrest records of employees or screening out those with gang affiliations.[7]

    Emerald’s only facility in Arizona is an immigrant detention center in San Luis. LaSalle currently operates prisons only in Texas and Louisiana.  Both companies have had issues in other states where they operate. For a full accounting of the problems in all five corporations’ prisons, please see the attached “Rap Sheets,” drawn from published news accounts.

    In their efforts to reduce operational costs, private prison managers often focus cost-containment strategies on personnel and training, the two most expensive aspects of incarceration. Privately managed prisons generally minimize costs by reducing labor expenditures, including providing a lower level of salaries, staff benefits, and professional training. Consequently, there are higher employee turnover rates in private prisons than in publicly operated facilities.

    This trend is reflected in Arizona’s existing private prisons. The Department of Corrections’ Biennial Comparison Review found that, across the board, all five of the state’s privately managed facilities had higher staff turnover and vacancy rates than publicly managed facilities, and guards frequently scored lower on core competency tests. GEO Group’s Phoenix West facility had a 61% turnover rate in 2011 and MTC’s Marana prison had a turnover rate of 56.8% that same year.[8] Deficiencies in personnel and programming among private prison facilities can compromise correctional operations, including basic safety and security. Undertrained and inexperienced guards may not be prepared to handle serious incidents. Security audits revealed that at the time of the escapes from MTC’s Kingman prison, 80% of the staff were new or newly promoted.[9]

    There is ample evidence to suggest that for-profit prison corporations are not accountable to the citizens and taxpayers of Arizona. As private companies, they are not subject to the same transparency requirements or checks and balances as the Department of Corrections, despite the fact that they are performing the same functions and are paid with taxpayer dollars. The public has very little information about these facilities, or a voice in how they are run.

    And as a result of the corrections budget bill passed last session, the Department of Corrections is no longer required to conduct a biennial comparison review of the cost and quality of these facilities, removing the last shred of public oversight over for-profit prisons and leaving lawmakers with little information on which to base budgetary decisions.

    This action recently prompted Arizona State Legislator Chad Campbell to call on Arizona’s Attorney General to initiate an investigation into possible violations of state law and/or contract provisions requiring private prisons to save money and provide the same or better quality of service as the Department of Corrections. Given the Department’s own cost studies showing that for-profit prisons are more expensive and recent investigations into safety lapses, staff vacancies, and poor quality of service, there is substantial basis for such an investigation. It would be unwise for Arizona to award a contract to a corporation that may later be found to be violating state law and/or the terms of its existing contracts.

    If containing costs is a goal, changes to sentencing and community supervision can help to further stabilize Arizona’s prison population and avoid unnecessary expenditures on prison expansion. The significant decline of Arizona’s prison population is attributed in part to legislative and probation policy changes enacted in the past few years that have effectively reduced revocations to prison for technical violations. A bill passed in the 2012 legislative session expanding eligibility for diversion programs has the potential to contribute to a further decline in prison populations. Continuing this trend with additional policy reforms in the upcoming session could render new beds completely unnecessary, while saving taxpayers millions and doing more to protect public safety.

    The evidence is clear: For-profit prisons are costly, ineffective, and are not accountable to the citizens and taxpayers of Arizona. To invest millions more in this failed enterprise is throwing good money after bad. We urge you to show strong leadership and stewardship of public funds. Immediately cancel the 2,000-bed prison RFP and do not award a contract for this procurement.

    We appreciate your consideration and would be pleased to provide further information.


    American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona
    American Friends Service Committee, Arizona Office
    Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice
    Arizona Ecumenical Council
    Arizona Prison Watch
    Center for Economic Integrity
    Citizens to Protect Globe’s Resources
    David’s Hope
    Justice 4 All
    League of Women Voters of Arizona
    NAACP, Arizona State Conference
    NAACP of Maricopa County
    National Organization for Women, Phoenix/Scottsdale
    State Representative Cecil Ash
    House Minority Leader Chad Campbell
    State Representative Tom Chabin
    State Representative Debbie McCune Davis
    Pima County Supervisor Richard Elias
    State Representative Ruben Gallego
    State Representative SallyAnn Gonzales
    State Representative Katie Hobbs
    Tucson City Council Member Steve Kozachik
    Former Arizona State Representative Phil Lopes
    State Senator David Lujan
    State Representative Catherine Miranda
    State Representative Macario Saldate
    Tucson City Council Member Regina Romero
    Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild
    Senate Minority Leader David Schapira
    State Representative Bruce Wheeler
    Bishop Minerva Carcaño, Resident Bishop of the Phoenix Episcopal Area of the United Methodist Church
    Billie K. Fidlin, Chair, Public Policy Commission, Arizona Ecumenical Council
    Anne Morgan-Roettger, Parish Secretary, The Community of Blessed Sacrament
    The Rt. Reverend Kirk Stevan Smith, The Episcopal Diocese of Arizona
    Bishop Stephen Talmage, Grand Canyon Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
    Mark Homan, Pima Community College Professor (Ret.)
    Susan Maurer, New Jersey Department of Corrections Commissioner, Ret.
    Dr. Doris Marie Provine, ASU Professor
    David Wells, ASU Professor



    AdvoCare, Inc.
    Citizens for Criminal Justice Reform
    Criminon New Life, DC
    Grassroots Leadership
    Human Rights Defense Center
    In the Public Interest
    Justice Strategies
    Private Corrections Working Group
    The Sentencing Project
    Church of Scientology
    The Disciples Justice Action Network
    National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd
    Presbyterian Criminal Justice Network
    Samuel Dewitt Proctor Conference
    Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations
    United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society

[1] Janice K. Brewer, Executive Budget Summary, Fiscal Year 2013. January 2012:

[2] Isaacs, Caroline, Private Prisons: The Public’s Problem. American Friends Service Committee, February, 2012

[3] (“Prison chief says that state didn’t detect prison flaws,” Arizona Republic, 8/19/10

[4] “Security lapses found at all of Arizona’s prisons,” Arizona Republic, 6/26/11

[5] Sonberg, Shelly. Memo to Robert Patton, “Security Assessment—MTC: Marana and GEO: Phoenix West, Florence West, and CACF.” September 22, 2011

[6] ‘Lost and Ignored’ Tucson Weekly 2/11/10.

[7] “Prison firm optimistic about Arizona bid despite incidents,” The Arizona Republic, 8/8/11

[8] Arizona Department of Corrections, Biennial Comparison of “Private versus Public Provision of Services Required per ARS §41-1609.01,” December 21, 2011

[9] Charles Ryan, “Cure Notice” memo to MTC, December 29, 2010

ASPC-Lewis: Albert Tsosie's killers plead guilty.

The level of violence in Arizona's state prisons has skyrocketed since Jan Brewer took office, appointing Chuck Ryan as the AZ DOC director. The suicide and homicide rates doubled and the assaults rate tripled. An excellent article by Bob Ortega from the Arizona Republic in June highlights some of the murders.

 The 2010 killing of native American prisoner Albert Tsosie was a gang hit that helped give ASPC-Lewis a reputation for being one of the bloodiest prisons around; Dana Seawright was murdered there just a few weeks later.  Marlon McCowan and Richard A. Johnson, both Native American as well, have finally pled guilty to the hit. The gangs, of course, are most unforgiving of  - and violent towards -those they consider their own...remember that, young men out there, when you choose who you call your "brother". Most prison gangs are blood in, blood out.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Art of Resistance: Justice Day Action at the Phoenix Art Museum!

On August 10, 2012 a small handful of us in Arizona celebrated Prisoners' Justice Day, which is a day to remember those who have died in state custody.  Some of us in the "free world" descended upon the Phoenix Art Museum for a sunrise action, seizing the public space in front of their sign on Central and Coronado for our canvas. There, about 25 members of the community chalked a 100-foot wide community memorial to nearly 70 victims of prison violence, neglect or despair, recommitting in the process to our fight for the living as well.

Security at the Art Museum seemed slow to respond for their part and they were mean when they did - we'd covered at least 80 feet by the time the chief came out to find out what was going on (he's lucky I can't find his card now and name him...). Turns out he called the Phoenix Police to see if they could send someone out to stop me, but Sgt Schweikert told him it wouldn't do any good. So, unable to have me arrested for soiling "their" clean sidewalk with my free speech, the custodians of our community's art and culture had a city crew hover on stand-by to wash away the names of the dead - including those put down by their mothers - the moment we left the sidewalk. 


I found that to be downright disrespectful of everything from the first amendment to the grief of the families who were with us that day, not to mention petty and intolerant. If we were there about sick children and cancer instead of dying prisoners and AIDS or Hep C, would they have been less cruel? We decided that they wouldn't render us invisible again that easily, and Facebook was flooded with photos of the morning's action, mostly of the names of the dead.

In addition to the mothers of Carlo Krakoff, Joseph Venegas, and Dana Seawright, and loved ones of current prisoners, we were joined by former prisoners, anarchists from my neighborhood, Occupiers I was arrested with, artists from the Firehouse Gallery, immigrant rights activists, and Haley from the Phoenix Harm Reduction Organization (PHRO - check them out!). A cross section of the community I live and work in - small wonder that the Phoenix Art Museum thought it was too good for us.

Below is a little something I made from the photos of the action, many of which were taken by my comrade from 4th Ave jail, Janet Higgins, who made a special effort to document the individual names. Please print it up and send it inside, if you correspond with any prisoners. Let them know they have not been forgotten...

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Betty Smithey: Free at last...

Congratulations to Betty, and blessings to Donna Hamm for sticking with this fight all these years. Now we need to figure out how to get Brewer to let Bill Macumber go, too, before he dies...he doesn't even have a freedom4bill website anymore - I think he gave up.


Betty Smithey with advocate/criminal justice consultant Donna Hamm 
after the clemency board decision Monday. 

Woman walks free after 49 years in Arizona prison

Nation's longest-serving female inmate was granted clemency

Bob Ortega 
Aug. 13, 2012

After 49 years behind bars, the nation's longest-serving female inmate is free.

Betty Smithey, 69, whose prison term began following her conviction for the murder of a 15-month-old Phoenix girl in 1963, appeared at a parole hearing Monday morning and by that afternoon walked, with the aid of a cane, out of the gates of the Perryville state prison in Goodyear.

"It's wonderful driving down the road and not seeing any barbed wire," Smithey said by phone as she traveled with relatives to her niece's Mesa home, where she will reside. "I am lucky, so very lucky."

"Like I told the (parole) board, I know it's going to be a big adjustment, but I'll take it and I'll make good," she said.

Members of Arizona's Board of Executive Clemency agreed that Smithey had proven she is no longer the troubled woman who at age 20 murdered Sandy Gerberick on New Year's Day 1963, while working as the family's live-in baby-sitter, or the woman who that same year threatened to kill herself after being sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

Board members voted 4-1 to grant an absolute discharge, not only freeing Smithey from prison but also any community supervision.

Smithey became eligible for discharge after Gov. Jan Brewer granted her clemency in June, reducing her sentence to 49 years to life.

"I really see no value in keeping you in prison any longer. I really see no value in keeping strings on you any longer," Parole Board Chairman and Director Jesse Hernandez told Smithey before voting to grant her discharge.

Monday's vote was a rare occurrence. Sentenced to life before August 1973, Smithey was numbered among the so-called "old-code lifers" who are eligible for parole only if first granted a commutation by the governor. She is only the third such inmate to be granted clemency since 1989.

In 1994 and 2003, boards recommended clemency for Smithey only to have first Gov. Fife Symington and then Gov. Janet Napolitano deny it.

Last spring, not long after the board unanimously recommended clemency for Smithey, Brewer replaced three of its five members; on Monday, the new members in particular sought reassurance that Smithey doesn't pose any danger of violence. Much of their questioning of Smithey, her attorneys and supporters and psychiatrist Elizabeth Kohlhepp focused on Smithey's youthful mental state, whether the board could be sure she'd changed, and whether she could handle the stress of returning to the outside world after five decades.

As the deciding vote came down in her favor, Smithey crossed herself and looked down briefly as if in disbelief that the moment had finally arrived.

Smithey endured a horrific childhood of abandonment, abuse and mistreatment by foster and adoptive parents, creating, Kohlhepp said, a fragile youth with poor coping skills who became psychotic under extreme stress.

In her early years in prison she was rebellious and troublesome, escaping four times from three different prisons between 1974 and 1981.

But Kohlhepp, who evaluated Smithey's mental health in 2003 and again recently, said that over the decades Smithey worked hard to transform herself.

"She has no risk factors for violence," said Kohlhepp. "She doesn't have a criminal mind-set."

The key moment, said Smithey, came in 1983 when she received a letter from Emma Simmons, Sandy Gerberick's mother, forgiving her for the crime.

"She made me feel that I wasn't a monster," said Smithey. "I felt if she could forgive me for taking her child's life, I could forgive myself. ... It was my responsibility to try to become a better person than I was."

Dozens of supporters turned out for Monday's hearing.

Andy Silverman, a University of Arizona law professor who has known Smithey since working on an appeal for her in 1971, said, "I've changed over those 41 years, and I can assure the board that she has as well. ... She's a good and caring person. She always shows more interest in others than in herself."

After Monday's vote, Smithey smiled and waved to her supporters, mouthing "thank you" and then clutching her niece Rebecca Henderson in a tearful hug. Smithey shook each board member's hand and thanked them before being led into the prison to prepare for her release.

Family members said they painted and decorated a room for her to live in.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Art of Resistance: Prisoners' Justice Day, Phoenix.

Private Prison hearings coming up fast...

from our Friends at  AFSC-TUSCON

URGENT! Hearings scheduled for proposed for-profit prisons.

We just learned that a new round of hearings has been scheduled for proposed private prisons in AZ. The first hearing was last night in Coolidge. The second is scheduled for Thursday IN ELOY. Details below.
We desperately need people to attend these meetings and speak out against the prisons. It is always preferable for these to be local people who live in the community. But since these prisons “belong” to everyone in AZ (and will be paid for with your tax dollars), anyone has the right to give their input.
We will be organizing carpools to the next two hearings (Eloy and Florence), so please contact me ASAP if you can go. The last two are in Yuma and Winslow, and I doubt we can get people together to go from Tucson, so if you know ANYONE who lives in these towns, please send them the info and encourage them to speak out.
Finally, if you are not able to physically attend, please consider submitting written testimony to the Department of Corrections. Please explicitly state that you are submitting formal testimony and you want it included in the record.  Also be sure to reference the solicitation in your letter or email: 
 Proposal No.: ADOC12-00001388 / ADC No. 120088DC - Medium Security Prison Beds, up to 2000
And send to:
 Denel Pickering, Chief Procurement Officer, ADC
1601 W. Jefferson
Phoenix, AZ 85007
We need your help! Thanks,
August 9, 2012
Contact:  Caroline Isaacs, 520.256.4146;
Public Hearings Scheduled for Proposed For-Profit Prisons in
Coolidge, Eloy, Florence, San Luis/Yuma, and Winslow
The Arizona Department of Corrections is considering final bids from five private, for-profit correctional management corporations for the construction and management of an additional 2,000 state prison beds.
The Department of Corrections will be holding public hearings in each of the towns under consideration for a new prison or prisons.  The public is encouraged to attend and voice their concerns about having a private prison as a neighbor. 

Here is the schedule of the hearings:

1.   Coolidge:  Management and Training Corporation (MTC).  The public hearing will be held Thursday, August 6th, 5-7pm at the Coolidge City Council Chambers, 911 S. Arizona Blvd., Coolidge. *
2.   Eloy:  Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).  The public hearing will be held Thursday, August 9th, 5-7pm at the Eloy Junior High School Auditorium, 404E. Phoenix Ave., Eloy. 
3.   Florence: GEO Group. The public hearing will be held Monday, August 13th, 5-7pm, at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites, Grand Ballroom, 240 W. Hwy 287, Florence.
4.   San Luis (Yuma):  There are three corporations vying for a contract for Yuma: 
 Management and Training Corporation (MTC), GEO Group, and Emerald Corrections.  The public hearing will be held Tuesday, August 14th, 5-9pm at the City of San Luis City Parks and Rec Cesar Chavez Cultural Center, 1015 N. Main St., San Luis.
5.   Winslow:  LaSalle/Southwest Corrections.  The public hearing will be held Thursday, August 16th, 5-7pm at the Winslow High School Performing Arts Center, 600 E. Cherry St., Winslow.
* Our apologies for the late notice, but the Department of Corrections announced the hearings on August 6, the day of the first hearing.
The American Friends Service Committee condemns the decision to build more private prisons as unnecessary and deeply irresponsible given the state’s economic crisis and the dismal safety records of all of the corporations involved. 
Arizona’s prison population is decreasing, and the Department of Corrections projects negative growth for the next few years. Yet, the Governor and state legislature appropriated $16 million for new prison beds. Arizona’s annual corrections budget is over $1 billion, consuming 11% of the state general fund.  The Department of Corrections was the only state agency whose budget saw an increase this year, even as education, social services, and health care funding was slashed. 
In February of 2012, AFSC of Arizona released Private Prisons: The Public’s Problem, a comprehensive report on the for-profit prison industry in Arizona that presented damning evidence that these facilities do not save the state money, have serious safety problems, and are not accountable to the taxpayers of Arizona:
The American Friends Service Committee is a non-profit organization that works for justice and human rights both nationally and internationally.  The Arizona office, based in Tucson, advocates for criminal justice reform.
Caroline Isaacs,
Program Director,
American Friends Service Committee, Arizona Area Program
103 N. Park Ave., Ste. 111
Tucson, AZ  85719

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Prison town follies: Coolidge "still the right choice"

I'm sorry Coolidge - I've almost given up on you. Your sad little city is putting all her eggs - your children's futures - into the prison system. Listen to the economic experts, not me - they say that only perpetuating and profiting from all this crime and punishment will save you, while I say that only your highest, not your lowest, aspirations will. If you settle for less and build a prison, your town is already dead.

I want to know why the Chief of Police thinks that building a prison will reduce local crime, though. How absurd. That's like thinking another prison will solve the community's economic problems for generations, too. They're surrounded by prisons to go work at already and still have an outrageous unemployment rate - and a good share of the county's crime as well...if a lot of a "good thing" is bad for you, why would you go for more? That sounds like a soul sickness of some kind.

By the way, former AZ DOC director and enabling architect of post-invasion Iraqi prisons Terry Stewart is consulting with MTC on getting this contract, as I recall. Remember Abu Ghraib? We exported Stewart's and Ryan's philosophies to oversee that place - before anyone was tortured by Americans there. Is it any wonder that Arizona prisons are so full of violence and despair right now? Such is the culture these men breed.

The good city of Coolidge may well get what's coming to them, after hopping so happily in bed with MTC and Terry's just that their kids still deserve better options than to be guards or prisoners - they aren't the ones making these decisions today, but they have to live with them for decades. Once you build a prison it's hard to figure out what to do with it when you don't need it anymore...and if your whole economy depends on that place thriving, you quickly become invested in perpetuating the need, which means finding more humans to criminalize and exile and imprison. 

If we were really smart we'd elect a legislature that would take control and outlaw the privatization of prisons as inefficient and unethical. But that's apparently too much to hope for right now...

 ------------------from the Coolidge Examiner at Tri-valley Central------

Public hearing brings loads of public support

By Joey Chenoweth
Staff Writer

Published: Wednesday, August 8, 2012 4:09 AM MST
With a final decision less than a month away, the Arizona Department of Corrections held a public hearing in the Coolidge City Council chambers to hear the final pitch from city officials and the public on why they should choose Coolidge as the site for a new 1,000-bed, medium-security prison.

And whereas the public hearing held here last year brought both sides of the debate to the microphone, Monday’s event revealed an apparently unanimous support for the facility, as a majority of the people in the audience were wearing T-shirts stating “Coolidge: Still The Right Choice.”
Members of the Department of Corrections committee in charge of choosing the site, including department director Chuck Ryan, sat in the chair normally reserved for councilmembers in front of a packed chamber. First, Ryan let the audience know that there will be hearings for all the remaining seven site candidates, including one in Florence and one in Eloy, with a final decision of the winning candidate by August 31.

Management and Training Corporation, the company who will own the private facility, then gave a presentation promoting the credentials and values of the company. MTC’s representatives particularly emphasized their history of training underprivileged people to have skills that will lead to future employment, which led to their prison rehabilitation program, which aims to educate inmates to be better qualified for the workforce. They also emphasized their economic impact, which includes an extra $300,000 in tax money to the city and 200 construction jobs.

Mayor Tom Shope then came to the podium to kick off the public statements, which included a picture of Coolidge’s economic struggles, including 15 percent unemployment, and how the facility might help.

“In May 2010, the Coolidge City Council unanimously passed a resolution in support of a proposal to locate a private correctional facility in Coolidge,” he said. “We support this proposal for many reasons, including jobs, the economic benefit to city government, a great location, a comfort level with MTC and a comfort level with having a prison within our city.”

Shope then introduced some special guests that attended the meeting to show their support for the facility. Frank Pratt, District 23 representative, and Pete Rios and David Snider from the Pinal County Board of Supervisors, appeared in support.

“Pinal is absolutely committed to having private prisons,” Snider said. “It’s a clean industry. You feel rather safe.”

“If we look back historically, which county has been most receptive of private prisons in the history of this state,” Rios said. “When nobody else wanted a private prison in their backyard, Pinal County said, ‘We’ll take it.’”

Locals then flooded the podium, beginning with Police Chief Joe Brugman, who sees the facility as a great partner to the police department in lowering crime in the city.

“I’ve been involved in the prison project for quite some time,” he said. “I feel confident to say that building a prison here in Coolidge makes complete sense, and is absolutely the right thing to do.”

Sharon Boyd, the drug prevention director for the Coolidge Youth Coalition, stressed the importance of a better economy when it comes to keeping kids on the right path.

“I support the youth of Coolidge,” Boyd said. “I support the city of Coolidge. I support the schools of Coolidge. I support the families of Coolidge.”

Leon Stock, the president of the Chamber of Commerce, expressed local business owners’ support of this facility, because the more people have jobs, the more people will spend in the city.

“On behalf of the Chamber of Commerce, I would like to lend my voice of support for this facility,” Stock said. “The people of Coolidge are not intimidated at all about having this facility right next door.”

After City Manager Bob Flatley, Coolidge Unified School District Superintendent Cecilia Johnson, former Superior Court Judge William Platt and school board member T.J. Shope reiterated the significance of the new facility in improving Coolidge’s economic situation, others looked toward the long-term benefits.

“It’s immediate benefit and immediate income,” said Alton Bruce, Growth Management director. “But it’s also more long term than that and helps develop that area into what we want it to be.”

Even those who do not live in Coolidge came to express the importance of a correctional facility in developing a community. Ruth Conrad, an employee at a competing prison, said she studied MTC’s proposal and was very impressed with their commitment to rehabilitating inmates. The recent Poston Butte High School graduate Lorenzo Teruya, who is pursuing a career in law enforcement, said he respects the Coolidge community, and wants the students in the city to receive the same benefits of learning from a correctional facility as he did in San Tan Valley.

“It allows local schools to partner with the prison to further education in law enforcement,” Teruya said. “It’s awesome to see a community that bands together because they believe in something.”