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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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Cruel and Unusual: Arpaio's new jail visitation limits hurt families, children.

(EDITED 1/31/2014 12:15pm)

I discovered that visits have been reduced to one 30 minute visit/prisoner today when I went to visit someone at the jail, and my heart sank. This reduction in visits to only one 30-minute visit each week (and a max of 2 visitors) must have been devastating for prisoners and their loved ones when it went into effect - still is, I would bet. I hope people are grieving this policy and sue over it, especially since the mail policy still only allows for postcards - no letters are allowed in unless they qualify as legal mail. That means no paperwork about one's medications, or one's rights while incarcerated, or issues related to one's case unless a lawyer sends it. They don't even allow letters from children, or cute pencil drawings on the postcards. It's bad enough to do that to someone who has been convicted of a crime - but, as Kelly Flood from the AZ ACLU said: 

"It seems particularly unjust and unfortunate when we’re talking about pre-sentence detainees,” Flood said. “For those folks to be completely deprived of their families’ visitation, it’s unjust and unfortunate and dehumanizing."

Many are trapped in pre-trial custody just because they can't afford bail, not because they are necessarily more dangerous or guilty or evil than those who are free pending trial. Do you know how hard it is to defned yourself when all the information you can get from the outside world is what Sheriff Joe allows on the TV screen and what you can get from a postcard?

So many folks in the general public say criminals shouldn't have the right to visits, that it's a privilege for the law-abiding that they don't deserve, but maintaining family connections is critical to mitigate the harm that incarceration does to the imprisoned as well as their loved ones, like their kids, who are undoubtedly being hurt by losing contact with their parents. 

This visitation restriction is probably also pretty hard on the mentally ill being held in solitary confinement, getting only more disturbed the more they're isolated, abused, and separated from support. Evidence-based practice suggests that visitation and close family/community ties are critical for helping prisoners succeed once back in the community...unfortunately, the MCSO doesn't abide by contemporary professional corrections practices, as we can all see.

So not only is cutting everyone to a single 30-minute visit cruel to people who haven't even been convicted yet,  it's really dumb on crime as far as those who have been. It certainly isn't "fair" to hurt everyone equally, which is the justification for cutting back visitation where there shouldn't be any disruption of the visitation areas for these kiosks to be installed. It's simply justifying being abusive to more prisoners than he really has to be hurting, that's all.
For those of you looking for current jail policies and info for families, here they are (effective December 1, 2013). If the link is broken, its probably outdated, so head to the MCSO main website.



MCSO to allow video jail visits – for a price

The Republic | Tue Dec 10, 2013 10:58 PM
Maricopa County jails are installing a new video system that will allow inmates to have virtual visits with family, while earning the county Sheriff’s Office hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, but make it harder for some relatives to see loved ones.

The high-tech system, which will be the largest of its kind in the country, according to the manufacturer, will let family and friends anywhere in the world talk with inmates via video, so long as they have access to a computer with a camera and a credit card to pay $12.95 for a 20-minute conversation.

The system, which is expected to be in place early next summer, is meant to make visits easier and improve security at the county jails, which book 100,000 people every year. But as work begins on installing the Internet-based system, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office cut regular visiting time from three hours per week to 30 minutes.

Although sheriff’s officials say the system will make visiting inmates easier, it’s not being welcomed by prisoner-rights advocates. The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona criticized MCSO for planning to eliminate face-to-face visits at its Towers, Estrella and Durango jails because it could mean fewer people have access to inmates.

Visitors to the county’s other three jails communicate with inmates through closed-circuit video accessible at terminals inside jail lobbies.

ACLU senior staff attorney Kelly Flood said the need for people to have access to a video-enabled computer to visit with an inmate would make it harder for some families and prevent people like Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who eschews technology and relies on a typewriter, from having a virtual visit with an inmate in his jails.

The vast majority of jail inmates have not been sentenced for their crimes, she said, and many remain in custody because their friends and family members cannot afford to bail them out.

“They’re making it harder and harder. It seems particularly unjust and unfortunate when we’re talking about pre-sentence detainees,” Flood said. “For those folks to be completely deprived of their families’ visitation, it’s unjust and unfortunate and dehumanizing.”

The $2.6 million system, which the manufacturer is installing at no cost to Maricopa County, will also turn into a money maker for the Sheriff’s Office once it gets paid off and the agency starts to receive a 10 percent cut of the fee paid for every conversation.

The sheriff’s share, which would average more than $300,000 each year if the agency maintained its current visitation rate, is designated to go into the Inmate Services Fund, a pool earmarked for drug-rehabilitation programs and other services for inmates.

The Sheriff’s Office has come under scrutiny in the past for using the inmate funds, which topped $12 million in fiscal 2012, to pay for deputies who didn’t work in the jails, a violation of county policy.

State leaders have also swept those funds in the past to help balance the budget.

Both the Sheriff’s Office and the system’s manufacturer expect jail visits to increase once the system is in place, because friends and family will have virtually unlimited access to inmates from anywhere with a reliable Internet connection.

“You can use this system in China, Russia, on the moon, wherever they have an Internet system, including airplanes,” Arpaio said.

Other agencies in Arizona that have converted to video-visitation systems have seen an increase in visitors after inmates’ friends and family members became familiar with navigating the software and comfortable with paying a fee for each visit.

Pinal County opened its video-visitation system in April, and inmates have received more than 15,000 video visits in the first eight months. The agency still allows on-site visits and averages slightly more than 1,500 each month.

Apache County used the same company installing Maricopa County’s system and launched video visitation about six weeks ago. The jails have seen an increase in visitation, in addition to providing an opportunity for out-of-state inmates who were arrested for motor-vehicle violations on Interstate 40 to see family members from their home states and countries, Apache County sheriff’s Cmdr. Michael Cirivello said.

The system has allowed the jail to expand visiting hours from one day per week, with a maximum of 30 minutes, to five days a week with inmates receiving as many visits as their friends and relatives are willing to pay for, he said.

Apache County, which stretches 200 miles, also has inmates whose relatives find it cheaper to pay the $20 fee for a 20-minute video conversation than to drive to the facility in St. Johns, Cirivello said.

“I had one guy in here who got a visit from Okinawa (Japan),” he said. “And the people that get visited a lot, they’re getting visits every day now, sometimes a couple times a day.”

Three of the six Maricopa County jail facilities have used video systems for several years that allow visitors to meet with inmates through kiosks set up in the jail lobby and mobile units that detention officers move around to inmates’ cells. The other three jails still offer face-to-face visits, but the visiting hours were reduced systemwide in an attempt to be fair, sheriff’s Deputy Chief Mike Olson said.

Once the new system is installed, visitors will have to register through Securus Technologies’ website and wait for sheriff’s investigators to conduct a background check to ensure the visitors are not felons.

After the visitor is approved, he or she can schedule a visit with an inmate 24 hours in advance and engage in the virtual visitation from any computer with a camera.

The virtual visitation system will present some hurdles for detention officers intent on keeping felons from visiting inmates, which is possible if a non-felon registers for a visit and a felon sits down in his place, but sheriff’s officials said visitors would be barred if they were discovered attempting to game the system.

A Securus representative said he hoped the prospects of easy virtual visitation would dissuade criminals from engaging in any illicit activity.

“We believe $12.95 and their visitation rights to visit in the future are on the line, and they’re not going to game the system,” said Darrin Hays, a Securus account manager. “We believe they’re going to say, ‘There’s value in this, and we just want to get our visits.’ ”

But the advent of virtual visitation also means the Sheriff’s Office will likely have to abandon its long-standing and highly promoted policy that prohibits undocumented immigrants from visiting inmates in Maricopa County jails.

As the system is accessible from anywhere in the world, Hays said, the visitor’s residency status in the United States or any other country should become irrelevant.

“What this really does is promote the relationship with the community,” Hays said. “If I’m here illegally, I don’t think I want to step into the jail, and famously, Arpaio’s jail. So, what can I do? I can actually get online, and I can at least apply. If I’m denied, I’m denied. They can’t find me, I’m on an Internet connection.

“You don’t know where they’re visiting from, so you really can’t say they’re here illegally.”

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Corizon HealthScare: Another death row suicide.

Most Arizonans probably think "good riddance" whenever a death row prisoner commits suicide. I've seen such remarks on comments following articles posting about young drug offenders hanging themselves in jail or prison, too, however, suggesting a particular public callousness towards all prisoners of the state, as well as their survivors. What I've seen in the wake of these suicides, though, has been the grief of the survivors, who dont deserve the community's abuse or ridicule when searching news articles for answers, and I know that in cases where a killer dies, it brings up all sorts of feelings for the survivors of victims as well. Condolences to all of you whose grief is triggered by this news.

That said, this is to announce that another condemned prisoner has beaten the state to the punch and taken his own life: that's three from death row in less than nine months. Gregory Dickens, 48, was preceeded by Dale Hausner in June and Milo Stanley in May of 2013. 

The deaths of these condemned men is part of a streak of suicides and suspicious, premature deaths that have happened since Corizon took over the contract to provide medical and psychiatric services for AZ DOC prisoners in March 2013. To make a sweet profit at less than the state would have provided such services for, they're cutting corners wherever they can - apparently mostly for prisoners they think the public doesn't care about anyway, like these guys held in AZ DOC's supermax prison complex, ASPC-Eyman, which includes death row.  Say what you will about the evils some of them may have perpetrated, but we are condoning torture through gross medical neglect.

Like medical care, psychiatric "treatment" under corizon has been streamlined to maximize efficiency and company profit. This May 2013 letter from advocate Donna Hamm to DOC Director Charles Ryan illustrates the kind of "care" prisoners at the Supermax are getting from Corizon. Keep in mind that many of these men were imprisoned in the first place or sent off to Supermax because of poorly treated psychiatric conditions - and that most male suicides are occurring in these maximum custody and solitary confinement cells. 

Ms. Hamm was soon put on notice about other troubling practices and policies put in place by Corizon for evaluating and treating serious mental illness, as indicated in this October email to the DOC director. Mr. Ryan's responses to her letter are embedded in the email in bold letters.

Note that Mr. Ryan asserts all these men received "private consulations with the provider". That's not what the men say, though, as evidenced by this email from a mother a month ago:

"He did try to get mental health when during his time in the minimum unit but he was never called in. When he was in medium security unit he was finally called in for evaluation, he was woken up at 2am, handcuffed, and taken to Central unit. At that time, as no-one was telling him what was going on, and he thought, he was gong to get moved there and he could get executed. The visit was a "telemedical" visit and he had to speak with someone over the TV. Obviously, he did not like the fact he had to speak in front of other inmates about his issues. The frequency of his anxiety attacks increased significantly immediately after and he declined further care...."  

Given that at least ten prisoners now (perhaps more, as many young recent deaths have been noted by DOC as due to "unknown causes") have killed themselves in less than a year with Corizon HealthScare, it seems as if its' time for the DOC to seriously re-evaluate that contract. 

AZ legislators who ordered DOC to privatize the health care for prisoners should be less worried about assuring corporate profits to Corizon and more concerned with public health consequqneces of mass incarceration and poor prison health care. Keep in mind that 95% of these prisoners will someday return to the community - over 40% of whom are infected with Hepatitis C now, due to rampant heroin addiction in the prisons and an obscene lack of substance abuse treatment services (only 4% of state prisoners are able to access help for their addictions in a given year).  

Prisoner health IS public health.

From: Middle Ground Prison Reform
Sent: Friday, October 11, 2013 10:30 AM

Subject: Unprofessional Treatment of Mentally Ill Prisoners

 Mr. Ryan:

On or about October 3, 2013, about 20 men at the Meadows Unit (medium custody) were placed into shackles, chains and cuffs and transported to the Browning Unit (maximum custody) where they were placed in a holding cell, awaiting a video-conference with a psychologist.  Apparently, this is the imminently "professional" manner in which Corizon, with the cooperation of DOC security staff,  is conducting psychological evaluations for dispensing mental health medications.  During the entire time the men were inside the locked holding cell awaiting their turn for the videoconference, the shackles, chains and cuffs were not removed.  This exercise took approximately five (5) hours.  I do not have information about whether the men were fed during the five (5) hours, but I suspect they were not.  If they were, how does one eat  or drink when one's hands are attached to a belly chain?
It should not be surprising to you that these men were extremely upset with this procedure.  The failure to remove the shackles, chains and cuffs for medium custody inmates who were locked in a cell in a maximum custody cellblock is no doubt based upon pure institutional convenience -- another way of putting it would be to say that the guards were too lazy to go through the "effort" to remove security devices that would later be reapplied.  The security implements were not removed from the prisoners until they returned to the Meadows Unit.

Several of the affected inmates have stated to me  that they do not wish to continue on their psych meds if they are forced to go through this psychologically stressful and tortuous exercise in the future in order to be given an impersonal "interview" of very brief duration with someone who is dispensing medications via videoconferencing.

In addition to the reprehensible decision to leave these men in shackles, cuffs and chains, it is particularly important to take note of the fact that these men were transported for the purpose of having their psychotropic medications evaluated, approved or modified/renewed.  Because of the externally-caused psychological stress, it seems quite problematic for any psychiatric professional to be able to make an accurate determination of the patient's affect, response to current course of psychotropic treatment, and potential need for modification of medication or dosage when the patient is presenting under such externally negative conditions. 

It is noteworthy that if these men were so stressed by the procedure that was devised and utilized by the ADOC that they subsequently elect to withdraw from psychiatric treatment rather than be subjected to such an unprofessional and distressing course of action, then the entire "scheme" of psychiatric treatment for these men must be called into serious question.  The Department of Corrections cannot utilize a method that, in fact, directly interferes with the very diagnostic procedure that they are claiming to provide.  This is akin to giving 20 inmates a ride on a super high  roller-coaster and then lining them up to test to see if they need blood pressure medication.

Please answer the follow questions:

1.      Why are medium custody inmates transported to a maximum custody facility in the first place?  This would appear to be a violation of your own Classification Policy which prohibits mixing custody levels.

Browning Unit is the designated facility for tele-med in the Eyman Complex. Custody levels are not mixed during the process. However, it would be allowed by policy to occur since it is lower custody to higher.

2.   You only have two maximum custody facilities, but you have a host of lesser custody units at Florence.  Why not have videoconferencing facilities at each classification level so that custody levels do not have to be mixed?   IF YOU AND CORIZON ARE SAVING SO MUCH MONEY BY VIDEOCONFERENCING RATHER THAN BY PROVIDING PERSONAL CONTACT WITH A PSYCHOLOGIST, PSYCHIATRIST OR DOCTOR, THEN WHY ISN'T SOME OF THAT SAVINGS APPLIED TO INSTALLATION OF VIDEO CONFERENCING IN EACH UNIT?  Or at least at each administrative building in each unit?
The practice of tele-med has been in place in ADC for a number of years, long before privatization of health services. It is the practice to place the equipment in the highest custody unit at the complex as policy does not allow to transport to a lower custody unit. It does not preclude transport to a higher custody unit.  Your suggestion will be given due consideration.

3.Prior to chaining and transporting these men for five (5) hours and holding them in a locked cell for so long, were their medications (for other conditions) checked?  Were  diabetics or men with other conditions negatively affected by such conditions imposed for five (5) hours?

The total time of transport reported was 3 hours, not 5. Upon learning that the inmates were left in restraints during this time, the Deputy Warden issued a directive, prospectively, that the restraints will be removed once the inmate is secured in the holding area. All the inmates received their medications prior to the transport and those that had KOP’s were allowed to take theirs as well. The inmates were fed prior to the transport and did not miss any meals.

4.  If it is an inconvenience to apply and remove shackles, cuffs and chains for individual inmates, then why not eliminate all need for shackles, cuffs and chains by installing one more videoconferencing site in the unit -- or at least at a commensurate custody level unit --  where inmates will be cared for via video-conferencing?
Responded to this issue above in #2.

5.   Were each of the 20 men given a private consultation with the doctor, or were they given group consultations while chained, without privacy? 

All inmates that participated in this tele-med visit were provided with a private consultation with the provider.

Please respond in a timely manner.  I would like to insure that this procedure is not taking place at any unit in any prison for Arizona's prisoners.

This has been addressed appropriately throughout ADC.

Donna Leone Hamm, Judge (Ret.)
Director, Middle Ground Prison Reform


Prosecuting Innocence: Phoenix Arson Squad can't be trusted.

 Those of you who think everyone in Sheriff Joe's jail or AZ state prisons "belongs there" and "deserves what they get", pay attention: the state is hardly always right. You could even be next. Below, emmy-winning investigative reporter Wendy Halloran and the Channel 12 News team pursued the truth of Barbara Sloan's and Carl Caples' prosecutions to the end, and the FBI is now stepping in to investigate civil rights violations by the Phoenix Fire Investigations' Unit under Captain Sam Richardson.

Here's a link to Barbara Sloan's story and petition  at

Despite 12News' prior coverage of Barbara Sloan's case, Chief Bob Khan is apparently oblivious to the shoddy, arguably criminal work of the Fire Investigations' Unit. That guy needs to go. So does Jack Ballantine.

Thank you, Wendy Halloran, for your commitment to helping citizens seek true justice from this corrupt system.

---------------from Gannett's KPNX 12News-------- 

12 News |  
Tue Jan 28, 2014 3:24 PM
The FBI is investigating allegations that members of the Phoenix Fire Department violated the civil rights of two people who were arrested and charged with arson despite no evidence connecting them to the burnings of their homes.

The cases against Barbara Sloan and Carl Caples were dropped by the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office.

Sloan said she spent $300,000 to defend herself; Caples spent 16 months in jail awaiting trial.

In April, Sloan and Caples filed complaints against the Fire Department with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Phoenix.

Phoenix Fire Chief Bob Khan sent a memo, dated April 15, to City Manager David Cavazos announcing that he had formed a Fire Investigation Review Committee.

Document: Creation of review committee 

The panel will review the methods, data and performance used to calculate the department’s arson-case clearance rate — the percentage of fires determined to be arson that result in arrests.

The department in May 2012 said that it had one of the highest arson clearance rates in the country, at 57 percent.

Khan will head the committee, which will include retired Superior Court Chief Justice Jim Keppel, Mesa Assistant Police Chief Heston Silbert and six others.

The Fire Department’s internal investigation follows a 12 News investigation that aired in February profiling the Sloan case.

Sloan’s home, near Roma Avenue and Camelback Road, burned down May 13, 2009. Two Phoenix arson investigators, Capt.Sam Richardson and Capt. Fred Andes, concluded that Sloan had committed arson after she wasn’t able to sell the home.

The County Attorney’s Office dropped the charges on Oct. 15, 2010, after Richardson admitted he had Sloan arrested solely because she was the homeowner and that he had no evidence tying her to the fire.
Richardson’s and Andes’ colleagues and two independent arson experts determined the fire started in Sloan’s car, which was parked in the garage. No accelerant was found.

Richardson also was the lead investigator in the Caples case.

The home Caples was renting near 19th Avenue and Union Hills Drive burned May 7, 2009.

Richardson concluded that Caples poured gasoline on three areas in the back of the home. A separate investigation by Caples’ defense expert concluded that the fire started in the attic and was caused by a short in the electrical system.

On Sept. 27, 2010, the day Caples’ trial was to begin, the County Attorney’s Office dropped the charges.
The FBI has no timetable for its investigation.

Khan said the executive review committee will present its findings and recommendations by the end of the summer.

The members of the Fire Investigation Review Committee are:

Committee members

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Nader calling solitary what it is: Torture.


 America's Invisible and Costly Human Rights Crisis

Ralph Nader
Posted: 01/21/2014 2:28 pm

When the news broke years ago that U.S. forces were using torture on prisoners at Guantanamo Bay detention camp, many politicians and the public expressed appropriate horror. There was shock and disappointment that our country would resort to such inhumane, abusive actions against our fellow human beings, most of whom then were innocent victims of bounty hunters in Afghanistan.

With this frame of reverence in mind, it is unfortunate that many Americans do not contemplate -- or are simply unaware of -- blatant torture occurring in prisons every day right here in the United States. This form of physical and psychological violence is called many things: "isolation", "administrative segregation", "control units", "secure housing" and by its most well-known designation, solitary confinement. This practice of imprisonment is widely used across our nation with disturbingly little oversight and restriction. The full extent of the use of solitary confinement is truly alarming -- it is most certainly a human rights abuse and a blight on our national character.

Imagine yourself being locked in a small windowless room for days, weeks, or years... perhaps even for the majority of your life. You receive food and water through a small slot and have little-to-no human contact -- you might go days or weeks without speaking to another person. You are allowed out for perhaps an hour a day for some exercise. This is the living reality for tens of thousands of Americans in our prison system. Self-mutilation and suicide attempts among those in solitary confinement are far too common. Not surprisingly, studies have shown that the majority of prison suicides are inmates who were being held in solitary.

Many more studies have shown that solitary confinement has a severe psychologically damaging effect on human beings. For prisoners already suffering from mental illness, it exacerbates their problems. Senator John McCain wrote of his experience in solitary confinement as a P.O.W. in Vietnam: "It crushes your spirit and weakens your resistance more effectively than any other form of mistreatment."

Many might dismiss and even justify punishment by solitary confinement by convincing themselves that those subjected to it are "bad people." But this is a gross misunderstanding of its common use in our prisons. Many prisoners held in solitary are mentally ill, mentally handicapped, or illiterate. Some are placed in solitary purportedly for their "safety" to protect them from themselves or from other prisoners.

Some put in solitary are children as young as 14 or 15. What type of prison infraction would result in a 15 year old being locked up in solitary? -- "15 days for not making the bed; 15 days for not keeping the cell door open; 20 or 25 days for being in someone else's cell" are some, according to a report on the issue by Human Rights Watch.

Journalist James Ridgeway calls the use of solitary confinement "a second sentence." The first sentence is, of course, being sent to prison. The second sentence is totally decided by the warden and guards without appealable criteria. As such, the act of disobeying instructions or vaguely interpreted prison rules or the whim of the warden can warrant a lengthy stay in solitary. The lack of accountability in this area is notorious and critical. For many prisoners, a stay in solitary is a death sentence.

Ridgeway, along with Jean Cassella, founded Solitary Watch ( in 2009. Their goal is to bring attention to what really goes on in America's prisons, which are subjected to so little public exposure of their daily operations.

The United States is the world leader in locking people up. There are currently about 2.3 million imprisoned people in the United States. About 25 percent of them are there for nonviolent drug offenses, victims of the insatiable "prison-industrial complex" which costs taxpayers billions of dollars every year. Of these millions of inmates, it is estimated that as many as 80,000 are being held in solitary confinement according to Solitary Watch. Prisons are not required to provide data on how and when they use this highly questionable method of incarceration. Over 40 prisons are considered "supermax" facilities where the majority of cells are solitary units. These prisons alone account for about 30,000 people.

For-profit corporate-owned prisons like solitary confinement because it extends a prisoners' sentence. It is also far more expensive to keep prisoners in solitary confinement -- one study estimates that the average cost of housing an inmate in a supermax prison is $75,000, as opposed to $25,000 per cell in a regular state prison. This cost is passed along to taxpayers.

Imagine how things might change if more ordinary Americans had access to inspect the prisons their tax dollars pay for. A precedent for this exists. In Great Britain, "Independent Monitoring Boards" offer a unique civic perspective on regulating what happens inside prison walls. Ordinary citizens are able to volunteer to be these independent monitors. Volunteers are allowed unannounced access to prison facilities anytime, day or night. The volunteers are free to tour the prison, speak with the inmates, sample the food, and inspect the clothing and the state of medical care.

(Read Solitary Watch's article on British Prisons here.)

Such an idea of citizen responsibility might seem highly unusual to most Americans to whom prisons are largely out of sight and out of mind. The first step in addressing this crisis of abuse is raising awareness.
Reporters are rarely given full access to prisons so they can report on what is going on inside. Let the press in! The best source of information about the state of our prisons is the prisoners themselves -- but press access to them is restricted and the Department of Justice is not listening to their appeals. With this barrier in place, prisons are virtually shut off from any accountability or independent oversight. Wardens and guards are the only ones making decisions about the treatment of many prisoners.

And where are the judges? All judges -- federal, state, and local should have firsthand knowledge of the conditions in prisons so that they can make better informed decisions when sentencing those who come before them.

Here's a bold suggestion that might move the needle. All nine members of the United States Supreme Court should spend 48 hours in solitary confinement. Imagine how quickly the treatment of our incarcerated population would change if those at forefront of our judicial system had a small taste of what it is like to be locked in a tiny cell, alone, with no human contact for such an amount of time. Just 48 hours! There is precedent for some state judges actually spending time in prison years ago.

Some prisoners, such as Herman Wallace, have spent the majority of their lives suffering under these conditions. Wallace spent 41 years in solitary confinement while maintaining his innocence. The warden of the Louisiana prison where he was held ascribed his "Black Pantherism" as the reason. Wallace was released in October of last year and died three days later at the age of 71. These acts of astonishing cruelty should not happen in a country governed by the rule of law.

Too many people overlook the plight of prisoners, deeming them criminals and not concerning themselves with the plights of people they feel have no place or say in our society. There is little recognition of wrongful convictions and the role of rehabilitation that has worked in other western countries with far less recidivist rates then in the U.S. This mindset is a major obstacle in drawing attention to the inhumane treatment inmates often receive in our justice system.

The legendary investigator Jim Ridgeway says of the Solitary Watch project: "We're not trying to let criminals out. We're just trying to let people know what is going on."

For those who want to do something now, consider donating to Solitary Watch's campaign "Lifeline to Solitary." This lean and efficient campaign means to establish contact with prisoners held in long-term solitary. This connection serves two purposes -- it allows Solitary Watch to correspond with prisoners and report on their conditions. Secondly, it provides those in isolation a key connection to the outside world and a reminder that they do matter. Visit the Lifeline to Solitary fundraising page here.

Prisons are a grim and unpleasant part of our system of justice. That said, we can do much, much better about how to humanely treat people who are serving their time often under grotesquely long sentences for non-violent crimes.

Overcrowded? Don't build new prisons: Send low-risk elders home.

Vikki Law is the author of several publications, including Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women." and "Don't leave your friends behind: Concrete ways to support families in social justice movements and communities." She also compiles art and literature from women in prison for a zine, "Tenacious". Here she examines some of the different strategies being used to address the large number of elderly people behind bars in America. I wish AZ legislators would take a lesson from this. AZ DOC director Chuck Ryan himself has a lot of discretion right now to release certain low-risk prisoners and suport sentencing reform - his preference is to build more prisons, instead.

And no, neither the governor nor the legislature has shown they have any intention of implementing an early release bill or modifying the Truth in Sentencing law this year, sorry to say. Vote in a new batch next year and we might have better luck.


Sunday, 19 January 2014 00:00  
By Victoria Law
Truthout | News Analysis

Imagine your grandparents and great-grandparents in shackles or dying behind bars. By 2030, the prison population age 55 and over is predicted to be 4,400 percent more than what it was in 1981. Some state and federal prison systems look at alternatives.
The recent release of 74-year-old Lynne Stewart has made headlines. Stewart, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005, was granted compassionate release December 31, 2013, after a protracted struggle by Stewart and supporters across the country. Stewart, whose cancer has spread to her lungs, lymph system and bones, will spend her remaining months with her family in Brooklyn.

But what about the aging and infirm people incarcerated nationwide who lack Stewart's fame and support? The United States has some 125,000 prisoners age 55 and older, quadruple the number in 1995. Various human rights groups, including the ACLU, Human Rights Watch and the Vera Institute of Justice have issued warnings about the increased numbers of aging, elderly and incapacitated behind bars. In response to these increases, several states, such as Kansas, Mississippi and Tennessee, are in the process of building hospice and geriatric units within their prison systems.

But what other solutions are there?

"If the Risk is Low, Let Them Go"

In New York, advocates - including formerly incarcerated people - have launched the Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP) campaign. More than 9,200 people (nearly 17 percent) imprisoned in New York are 50 or older. While the state's prison population dropped this past decade - from 71,466 in 2000 to 56,315 in 2011 - the number of people 50 and older has increased by 64 percent. Lead organizer Mujahid Farid knows the obstacles facing people seeking parole. Farid was arrested in 1978 and sentenced to 15 years to life for an attempted murder. By the time he was eligible for parole in 1993, he had earned four college degrees as well as certificates for numerous other programs. None of these accomplishments mattered. He was denied parole based on his 1978 conviction. Farid appeared before the parole board ten times over the next 18 years before he was granted parole in 2011.

"I realized it wasn't personal," he told Truthout. "They're not looking at your personal development. They're simply looking at your conviction." After his release, Farid met with advocates, including other formerly incarcerated people, to discuss how to overcome the hurdle within the parole system. Out of these discussions came RAPP.  Under the slogan "If the risk is low, let them go," RAPP mobilizes to change the routine in which parole and compassionate release are denied to those who have spent decades in New York's state prisons.

Laura Whitehorn spent 14 years in the federal prison system. "I've had friends who have died in prison," she told Truthout. "It's heartbreaking." Because the federal Bureau of Prisons is under no obligation to house prisoners close to their communities, family members often are unable to see dying loved ones incarcerated across the country. Those able to make the journey have limited visiting - and always with an armed guard in the room. "Kids need to be pat-searched to visit their parents and grandparents," Whitehorn remembered.
Farid and Whitehorn note that, in New York state, releasing many aging prisoners does not require new legislation. A 2011 executive law directed the parole board to begin using risk-assessment tools when making decisions, but the Division of Parole did not post new regulations complying with the law until December 18, 2013. "The risk of committing a new crime is about 5 percent for older people, compared with an overall recidivism rate of nearly 40 percent," Farid stated. "If the parole board followed the law, many of the men and women would safely be released, saving millions of dollars a year in unnecessary medical and custodial costs."

One of RAPP's first initiatives has been a public education campaign. "A lot of activities going on with parole are so outrageous, but [parole board members] get away with it because the public doesn't know," Farid said. RAPP volunteers have visited churches and community boards. The response has been positive. The Queens Federation of Churches has agreed to support RAPP's campaign. Churchgoers have attended RAPP's monthly meetings and invited RAPP volunteers to theirs. Whitehorn approached her local community board, which has a committee on aging. "I thought they'd say, 'Oh, no! Not another thing to take on!' But they jumped at it," she recalled. Another time, she spoke about RAPP at a panel on the Affordable Care Act at a geriatric home. People flocked to her table to sign RAPP's petition to the parole board. Whitehorn distinctly remembers one woman with a cane, who told her, "I don't like the idea of people like me being in prison."

The California Elderly and Elderly-Lifer Alternative Custody Program

In California, Jane Dorotik has been pushing for an elderly alternative custody program. Inside its prison system, prisoners age 55 or older increased by more than 500 percent between 1990 and 2009. According to Human Rights Watch, that number is projected to increase to 15 percent of California's prison population by 2019.

In 2012, having seen the effects of keeping aging people in prison, Dorotik, who has been incarcerated since 2001, drafted a proposal for an elderly and elderly-lifer alternative custody program. Dorotik notes that lifers (those serving life sentences) now represent one-fifth of the state's prison. She also notes that many, particularly those in the women's prison population, have been sentenced for a single action committed many years ago and that lifers have an 18 percent chance of being granted parole.

Unlike RAPP, Dorotik is not pushing for parole. Instead, she is advocating that people 55 or older be released under supervision, including ankle monitoring. They remain under the custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) and can be returned to prison at any time. Dorotik proposes a pilot program at the California Institute for Women, where she is housed, for those age 55 and older. In addition to age, women must:
- Have been incarcerated for at least seven years or 50 percent of their sentence (whichever is greater).
- Have no previous history of felony convictions.
- Have had no serious disciplinary actions against them in the last five years.
- And have secured placement in the community.
Dorotik notes that nearly 140 people at CIW are over 55. Each costs $138,000 per year to keep behind bars. The vast majority of these "Golden Girls" meet the above criteria.

But it's not just the financial cost that concerns Dorotik. She's seen the human cost of keeping the aging people imprisoned. In 2006, Dorotik wrote an open letter to state legislators urging them to expand the use of compassionate release. "Compassionate release is an available alternative to dying alone and isolated behind prison walls," she wrote, "but it is almost never granted by the CDCR bureaucracy." She pointed to the (then-recent) death of 63-year-old Annie Castiglione, who had been sentenced to Life without the Possibility of Parole. "She was a model prisoner and spent her years behind bars helping others. She died the other evening alone and overlooked in the prison's skilled nursing facility. ...

"Take a moment now and remind yourself how it must feel to die alone," Dorotik urged. "In fact, take only slightly more than a moment - take 93 seconds of silence. That is one second for every day Annie waited hoping compassionate release might be granted."

More recently, Dorotik has described other women languishing behind bars in their 70s and 80s. Seventy-one-year-old Doris, for example, recently spent 61 days in administrative segregation (a punitive form of solitary confinement) after an officer found an additional two to three rolls of toilet paper in her cell. "As Doris got up to placate the yelling [correctional officer], she may have touched the CO's arm. After all," Dorotik reflected, "balance at age 71 is sometimes a problem. All the women in the hallway verified there was no 'assault,' and the CO continued to search for excess toilet paper for another ten cells and half an hour before alleging the assault." When he did, Doris was sent to segregation. An assault charge was placed on her record.

That assault charge now eliminates any chance that Doris may have had when appearing before the parole board, increasing the chance that Doris may die behind bars. Dorotik also recounted the story of Helen, another Golden Girl whom the parole board refused to release. Sentenced to life for transporting money for her son, Helen spent the last years of her life with failing kidneys. "She was taken out twice a week for dialysis treatment, hands and feet shackled, a guard on each side of her." When Helen, at age 85, appeared before the parole board, the board deemed her a risk to public safety because she "didn't have firm enough employment plans." The following year, at age 86, Helen died alone and unnoticed in prison.

Unlike RAPP's efforts, Dorotik's Alternative Custody Program will require new legislation. She has reached out to and been working with advocacy groups such as Californians United for a Responsible Budget, JusticeNow and Legal Services for Prisoners with Children to push her proposal. Advocates from these groups have met with California legislators, including Senator Carol Liu, who drafted California's first Alternative Custody Program.

How Connecticut Is Addressing Its Aging Prison Population

Currently and formerly incarcerated people and prisoner rights advocates are not the only ones pushing for releasing elderly people in prison. As of January 6, 2014, Connecticut's Department of Correction (DOC), which is responsible for its local jails and state prisons, held 387 people ages 60 and over. "Many have cognitive impairments," described Dr. Kathleen Maurer, DOC's director of health services, at the Health Behind Bars conference in October 2013. Some require round-the-clock care.

Instead of building assisted-living or nursing homes within its prison system, Connecticut lawmakers passed legislation in 2012 allowing the DOC commissioner the discretion to release the severely incapacitated for "palliative and end-of-life" care. Faced with the challenge of where to place people whose lengthy sentences had eroded family ties, the state's Department of Corrections (DOC) and Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS) partnered to contract with a privately run home specifically for their populations. The result was 60 West - a 90-bed nursing home in Rocky Hill, a city south of Hartford.

Although 60West accepts patients only from DOC and DHMAS, Maurer is quick to point out that 60West is not a prison. "It's not run by DOC," she emphasized during her presentation at the October 2013 Health Behind Bars conference. "A parole officer supervises the people [released from] DOC, but there are no correctional officers. It's run exactly like any other nursing home in the state."

To qualify for release into 60West, an incarcerated person must meet one of these criteria:
- Be at the end of his or her sentence with no other option for housing or care.
- Have a prognosis of six months or less.
- Have served half of his/her sentence and have a terminal or incapacitating illness.
Each person also must pass several assessments, including a medical evaluation and a criminogenic risk assessment, including a review of the need for a nursing-home level of care with the expectation of requiring long-term placement; a review of historical factors requiring placement at 60West; and the ability to be safely managed in a nursing home. The DOC commissioner makes the final decision on release. "Once they leave the facility, they're not prisoners. They're residents of the nursing home," Maurer said.

In addition to allowing people to live their last months or years outside of prison, 60West has enabled the state to transfer the cost of care from DOC to Medicaid. "Eighty to 90 percent of our incarcerated population would be Medicaid-eligible," Maurer stated. However, because jails and prisons are required to provide medical care, incarcerated people are not eligible for Medicaid coverage unless they undergo treatment in an outside medical facility for 24 hours or longer.

Beginning in April 2010, Connecticut extended Medicaid benefits under the Medicaid for Low-Income Adults (LIA) program. "Eligibility for LIA was 56% of the federal poverty level and there was no asset test," Mary Mason, the DMHAS public relations manager, explained in an email to Truthout. "Since April 2010, many individuals being discharged from prison were able to access expedited LIA eligibility. This allowed Connecticut to receive 50% reimbursement for services that had previously been 100% state funded."

Given that the patients at 60West are no longer incarcerated, Connecticut is able to apply Medicaid funding to their care. "The level of care being provided by DOC in infirmaries can be more appropriately and less expensively provided in a nursing home setting," Mason pointed out. Since its opening in spring 2013, 30 people have been released from Connecticut's prison system to live their last days at 60West. There are currently ten patients who had been DOC prisoners at 60West. Despite concerns of Rocky Hill locals, Maurer added, there have been no incidents.

"By 2030, the prison population aged 55 and over is predicted to be 4,400 percent more than what it was in 1981," Laura Whitehorn pointed out. "Everyone should picture their grandparents and great-grandparents. Now imagine them in shackles. Imagine them handcuffed to their walkers. Imagine them dying behind bars."

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

No one is disposable: Spade, Gossett on Prison Abolition in practice.

chalk art by Margie Diddams
Photography by Margaret Jean Plews
Phoenix City Hall (02/26/2103)


No One is Disposable: Everyday Practices of Prison Abolition

Reina Gossett and Dean Spade

Feb 7, 2014 | 4:00PM 
Online at 
Co-Sponsors: Sylvia Rivera Law Project

Event Informaton

In a series of four short online videos produced by BCRW, activists Reina Gossett and Dean Spade discuss prison abolition as a political framework, exploring why this is a top issue for those committed to supporting trans and gender-nonconforming people. These videos look at how to build societies where the process of creating justice is as important as the end—communities where no one is exiled. Watch the videos here. Captions are available on YouTube.

On February 7th at 4PM EST we invite you to join us for an online discussion based on these videos. Reina and Dean will join BCRW in our first ever online event, co-sponsored by the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, to answer questions about prison abolition and its intersections with queer and trans movements. Register today and join us for this exciting experiment in creating online learning spaces that contribute to activist conversations.

Reina Gossett is an artist and activist who works as Membership Director of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project. Dean Spade is the founder of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, author of Normal Life: Administrative Violence, Critical Trans Politics and the Limits of the Law, and an associate professor at Seattle University School of Law. He is currently a fellow in the Engaging Tradition Project at Columbia Law School.

Reina Gossett + Dean Spade (Part 1): Prison Abolition + Prefiguring the World You Want to Live In from BCRW Videos on Vimeo.

Reina Gossett + Dean Spade (Part 2): Practicing Prison Abolition Everyday from BCRW Videos on Vimeo.

Reina Gossett + Dean Spade (Part 3): What About the Dangerous People? from BCRW Videos on Vimeo.

Reina Gossett + Dean Spade (Part 4): Gun Control + Producing Dangerousness from BCRW Videos on Vimeo.

Beth Richie on anti-violence, feminism, and prison abolition.

Excellent essay by Dr. Beth Richie, lifted from the Feminist Wire. Pay special attention to this passage below, thinking in terms of Project Rose, the collaboration between the ASU School of Social Work and the Phoenix Police to round up large numbers of sex workers twice a year and force them into a social service program, prosecuting them if they refuse, dont qualify, or fail (which accounts for 70% of those picked up during the Project Rose sweeps). They're trying to save trafficking victims, supposedly, but they just seem to be busting consenting adults trying to hook up on Backpage. Since Phoenix has minimum mandatory jail sentences for prostitution - and the 4th offense can land you in prison - arresting one's potential clients seems like a pretty severe social work intervention, especially  for people they intend to "rescue". This is part of what's happened to those folks at Project Rose-affiliated agencies, all of which refuse to take responsibility for helping the state perpetrate violence on the people they are supposed to be serving:

"The anti-violence movement buys into the carceral state by advancing “anti-violence” campaigns that rely on arrest, prosecution, and punishment as ways to solve the problem of gender violence. The focus of the problem is individual incidents of abuse rather than public policies that result in state violence against women and queer communities, which are ignored by feminist groups who invest in or accept resources that are tied to the growing punishment industry...

In particular, an analysis of gender oppression that did not include state violence excluded a large part of the abuses that Black and other women of color experienced because of their position as racialized bodies in a heteropatrichal society." 

Dr. Richie mentions INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence below - they're a great resource for organizing against state, community, and interpersonal violence. This is one of their posters:


 How Anti-violence Activism Taught Me to Become a Prison Abolitionist
Feminist WIre
Janaury 21, 2014
By Beth E. Richie

Sometimes we learn our most profound political lessons in the contours of our everyday activism.  This is certainly the case for me as I recount my journey as a Black feminist activist working to end gender violence for the past 20 years, during which the United States was engaged in building itself up as the world’s leading prison nation. My journey began in Harlem, the renowned community in New York City that was at the center of struggles for racial and economic justice.  The on-the-ground work at the time included organizing for material changes (safe and affordable housing, better schools, accessible health care, jobs that offered a future, political representation, neighborhood businesses that support the local economy, and the end to growing expansion of the prison industrial complex). The organizing work was sustained by rhetoric about the “liberation of our people” and the vision of what our community would look like if we could sustain grassroots activism in the service of broad-based social change.

As many Black and other feminists of color will remember, the promise of liberation within racial justice formations was critically hampered by the lack of an analysis of how gender oppression figured into the work.  Indeed, despite our demands that the analysis include: 1) how women experience injustice (like poverty or incarceration) in particular ways 2) that the particular oppression that women suffer (like sexual assault by individuals or state agencies) be included into the activist agenda and 3) that women’s leadership be recognized and supported as critical to political advancement, we were disappointed.

This disappointment was part of what propelled me to immerse myself in the anti-violence movement against rape, battering, sexual harassment, emotional abuse, and economic exploitation of women and the non-gender conforming. These activist organizations provided a temporary relief, and my commitment to feminist ideas was rejuvenated. But the respite provided by local and national anti-violence organizations was brief; very quickly I became aware of the political limitations that a gender-essentialized notion of violence held for a truly transformative agenda related to women of color. Indeed, substituting a gender analysis that did not include a very well articulated position regarding racial or class hierarchy was as much a roadblock as a racial justice project that does not include gender.  In particular, an analysis of gender oppression that did not include state violence excluded a large part of the abuses that Black and other women of color experienced because of their position as racialized bodies in a heteropatrichal society. A second major disappointment.

The ongoing work of trying to find the political crossroads that link racial and economic justice with an analysis of gender oppression became more difficult in the 1980s and 1990’s when the United States deepened its commitment to building itself up as a prison nation. The complications looked something like this.  First, both the public and private sector committed more and more resources to the prison industrial complex while at the same time elite leaders advanced an ideological campaign to frame public “risk” in racialized terms.  Second, neoliberal policy decisions lead to the divestment of economic resources from already disadvantaged communities who suffer deepening degrees of material and political liabilities that turned social problems into “crimes”. Third, political organizing strategies used by both anti-violence organizations and racial justice groups got coopted by a “not-for-profit/social service” mentality that served as a distraction from the root causes of structural inequality and the violence that results from it.  Groups organized to resist racialized oppression or class exploitation or gender violence or other monolithic formulations, treating them as separate issues. And they lost focus on how the state colludes to construct a hierarchy of oppression that cannot be agreed upon or changed.

On the ground today, it looks something like this. The anti-violence movement buys into the carceral state by advancing “anti-violence” campaigns that rely on arrest, prosecution, and punishment as ways to solve the problem of gender violence. The focus of the problem is individual incidents of abuse rather than public policies that result in state violence against women and queer communities, which are ignored by feminist groups who invest in or accept resources that are tied to the growing punishment industry. Those racial justice organizations that do resist state violence and the concomitant crises that result from mass incarceration see their work in mansculinist terms. Some even point to anti-violence activism as one of the culprits in the mass incarceration of poor men of color. Many fail to understand that the criminal legal system is not only racist, it relies on heteropatriarcal assumptions that narrate a kind of social order that is based on domination.

So how do anti-violence activism and prison abolition politics get politically reconciled when the movements have been so set apart from one another?  Angela Davis, Ruthie Gilmore, Alicia Beira, Andrea Smith and other members of the INCITE national organizing committee articulate this more fully. We are learning collectively that the way out is not to simply keep pushing back against each of those policies, strategies, and movement organizations that have disappointed us, but rather to adopt a feminist political strategy that embraces the possibility of Prison Abolition. This is where we would bring together attention to state violence as an essential aspect of ending violence against women of color and non-gender conforming communities.  All people would be safer. It means investing in a new kind of community, especially within communities of color, where those who are most disadvantaged are in leadership of sustained, base-building activities for justice. Concerns about gender justice and sexuality liberation would necessarily be included. Strategies to address the harm caused by violence would be grounded in these stronger, more equitable communities. Safety would come from communities, and, therefore, prisons could eventually become obsolete. Here, in a feminist prison abolition project is where I find the best possibility of the kind of liberation that I have been working towards for so long.

Beth Richie photo 

Beth E. Richie is Director of the Institute for Research on Race and Public Policy and Professor of African American Studies and Criminology, Law and Justice at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  The emphasis of her scholarly and activist work has been on the ways that race/ethnicity and social position affect women’s experience of violence and incarceration, focusing on the experiences of African American battered women and sexual assault survivors.  Dr. Richie is the author ofArrested Justice: Black Women, Violence and America’s Prison Nation(NYU Press, 2012), which chronicles the evolution of the contemporary anti-violence movement during the time of mass incarceration in the United States,  and numerous articles concerning Black feminism and gender violence, race and criminal justice policy, and the social dynamics around issues of sexuality, prison abolition, and grassroots organizations in African American Communities. Her earlier book, Compelled to Crime: the Gender Entrapment of Black Battered Women, is taught in many college courses and cited in the popular press for its original arguments concerning race, gender, and crime.  Dr. Richie is a qualitative researcher who is also working on an ethnographic project documenting the conditions of confinement in women’s prisons.  Her work has been supported by grants from The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, The Ford Foundation, The National Institute for Justice, and The National Institute of Corrections.  Among others, she has been awarded the Audre Lorde Legacy Award from the Union Institute, The Advocacy Award from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and The Visionary Award from the Violence Intervention Project. Dr. Richie is a board member of The Woods Fund of Chicago, The Institute on Domestic Violence in the African Community, The Center for Fathers’ Families and Public Policy, and a founding member of INCITE!: Women of Color Against Violence.  In 2013 she was awarded an Honorary Degree from the City University of New York Law School.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

NAACP to AZ LEGS: AZ DOC budget is dumb on crime.

 Here is the AZ DOC's proposed 2014 Budget. Note how they shift money from rehabilitation areas to cover new prison expenses again, though 75% of all new prisoners come in due to drug and alcohol problems. Judges in this state foolishly keep sending addicts and alcoholics to prison thinking they'll get the "help" they need there. What a crock. Truth is, under Chuck Ryan only about 4% of all prisoners even get substance abuse treatment -  is it any wonder we have recidivism problems? AZ prisoners are lucky if they don't just develop a new heroin habit and get Hep C instead.

"State of the State, 2014"
Arizona Capitol Complex, Phoenix

Tuesday, January 21, 2014 the Senate Appropriations Committee  meets to discuss the AZ DOC budget. I plan to be there (assuming they let me in). Below is a letter sent them by the Maricopa County NAACP, addressing many of the same concerns I've previously shared here. Don't expect the good senators to listen, though - it takes courage of the kind I haven't seen in this state to challenge the DOC. A new supermax prison is definitely not what would do the people good right now, but building it must be serving someone in power, since no matter how bad an idea it is, nothing appears to be stopping it.

Please send your legislators a piec eof your mind now, while they're making these decisions. You can find yours here. Among our likely allies: Democrats Sen Anna Tovar (Senate Minority Leader); Rep. Chad Campbell  (House Minority Leader). The people with power over votes, though, are Republicans Sen Andy Biggs (Senate President) and Rep David Gowan (House Majority Leader). 

All legislators can be contacted here:
1700 W. Washington St
Phoenix, AZ 85007

toll free:


"ADC wants to divert money meant for rehabilitation to build more prisons which are known to cause more violence and in the long run, harm public safety, the exact opposite of the calculation this committee should be making..."

To:  Senate Appropriations Committee

Senators:  Cajero-Bedford, Crandall, Griffin, Melvin, Pancrazi, Tovar, Ward, Murphy, Shooter

From:  Maricopa County Branch NAACP, Oscar Tillman, President

Date:  21 January 2014

Re:  Review of the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) 2015 Budget Request

Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) is out of step with the rest of the nation and ignoring evidence-based practices.  Arizona is the top per capita spender on prisons in the country and has the fourth highest percent of its budget dedicated to corrections.[1]  

In twenty years, our population increased 100% but in the same twenty years, our prison population increased 1036%.  Neither population nor the crime rate justifies this mass incarceration.  Arizona’s recidivism rate is 46.7% while the national average is 40% (Sloan, 2011).  Incarceration and longer sentences are associated with higher rates of recidivism. [2] Thus ADOC is ineffective in its delivery of both inmate rehabilitation and protection of public safety.  To continue funding this folly would violate the legislatures duty to conserve the public fisc and to protect public safety.

The prison population is going down.  Since 2005, the number of states with declining prison population levels has grown steadily – from 9 in 2006 to 14 in 2007 to 19 in 2008 to 24 in 2009, to 26 in 2011.  Many of these states saw dramatic decreases in crime as they reduced their prison populations.

Arizona’s prison population has also gone down or remained virtually steady for at least three years.   The JLBC Monthly Highlights reported that in November, ADC had 899 fewer prisoners than the previous November.  A surplus of beds of 1,000 is predicted for 2015. Why then would you approve any additional beds?

The director’s statement that the population has gone up by 809 directly contradicts information he gave to our Legal Redress Chairperson at a meeting in his office on 13 December 2013.  At that meeting, he stated that in fiscal year 2013, 18,070 prisoners were incoming and 18,374 were out going leaving a decrease of 304.  Others in the meeting who can verify the information were Peggy Plews of Arizona Prisonwatch, Dawn Northrup, general counsel for ADC, Stacy Crabtree from classification administration and Keith Smith from Operations.

Nationwide, prisons are closing.  Over 29,000 prison beds have gone off line since 2011.  In Colorado, four prisons have closed.  Tax dollars of $22 million were switched from DOC to diversion and re-entry programs to decrease both future populations of prisoners and prevent recidivism. In 2011, thirteen states reported prison closures. Prison capacity declined by an estimated 15,500 beds.  [3] In 2012, six states closed twenty prisons or expected to. The potential reduction of prison population was over 14,100 beds.   The estimated savings was $337 million. Florida led the nation with ten closures and an estimated $65 million savings.

In Texas there has been a 9% drop in the incarceration rate (closing one prison and maybe more); a 10% percent drop in the crime rate; and huge decreases in expenditures, with $241 million appropriated the first two years for treating mental illness and substance abuse, and for drug courts and other alternatives to incarceration, rather than appropriating $2 billion for more prison beds over the next five years.  [4]  From 2003 to 2009, Texas was so successful in reducing its prison population that it closed an entire state prison, thereby saving $50 million in the budget. Texas now has its lowest crime rate since 1973 with serious property, violent, and sex crimes declining by 13% since 2003.[5]  Why can’t we learn from Texas?

New York achieved a twenty percent reduction in imprisonment in ten years, with a reduction in the prison population of more than 14,000 people; New Jersey achieved a nineteen percent reduction in imprisonment in ten years; Kansas achieved a five percent reduction in imprisonment over six years; and Michigan achieved a twelve percent reduction in imprisonment in just three years. [6]  In all four states, crime rates declined.

Michigan closed three prisons and five prison camps, estimated to save $118 million; New Jersey closed a 1,000-bed prison in Camden, with an annual operational cost of $42 million; and New York closed three small minimum-security prisons and shuttered annexes at prisons that remain in operation, estimated to save $26.3 million in the 2010–2011 budget. [7]

 In 2008, Mississippi’s corrections budget was $348 million, triple the budget in 1994.  Mississippi passed legislation allowing “parole eligibility” for nonviolent prisoners who had served “25% of their sentences or one year, whichever is longer.”  Since then, Mississippi has reduced its budget by 5%, the state’s violent crime rate has reduced to levels not seen since the 1984, and the recidivism rate has decreased to 30%.

Since 1995, Arizona has had a 43% drop in violent crime but unlike other states, Arizona has had a 21% increase in incarceration. In the same time period, New York had a 53% drop in crime and a 30% drop in incarceration. The crime drop is not a result of incarceration, quite the opposite. [8] A recent report by Pew (States Cut Both Crime and Imprisonment, Christine Zuria, December 19,2013) found that over the past five years, the majority of states reduced both crime and imprisonment rates.  Arizona is one of only 15 states that is increasing its imprisonment rate by 4% though our crime rate has dropped by 21%.

A RAND study found that spending $1 million on drug treatment would reduce crime fifteen times more effectively than imprisonment.  Yet the proposals in the budget for drug treatment and community supervision are not funded.  They would do the most to reduce incarceration and save the state money. Likewise, the transition fund should not again be raided.  ADC wants to divert money meant for rehabilitation to build more prisons which are known to cause more violence and in the long run, harm public safety, the exact opposite of the calculation this committee should be making.  The legislature established a Transition Program in A.R.S. §31-381. The program is funded by inmates work (A.R.S. §31-254 (D)(3),(E)(3)) and cost savings (A.R.S. §31-285(C)) that are to be directed to services.  Using those monies for services to assist transition into communities and reduce the recidivism rate would both save the taxpayer money and improve public safety.

The funding for the 500 bed super max must be stopped immediately
.  ADC’s proposed model, Eyman prison, has already been declared unconstitutional (Madrid v. Gomez, 889 F. Supp 1146 (1995);  thus ADC is simply setting the groundwork for a costly lawsuit.  Other states are closing their supermax prisons or units because they are the most ineffective and costly of them all.  Yet Arizona has chosen exactly the opposite direction to the detriment of both our public safety and the public purse. In states that have reduced solitary confinement—Colorado, Maine, and Mississippi—violence has not increased. Since Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman released seventy-five percent of inmates from solitary in the id-2000s, violence has dropped 50 percent.  [9] Regardless of the monies already spent, to continue down this road of folly is worse.

The ADC proposals are not evidence based and not focused on the best interests of Arizona taxpayers or on public safety.  Crime and the number of prisoners keep declining; yet ADC keeps asking for more money.  Any sensible and fiscally conservative legislator cannot approve such tactics.  "You cannot build your way out of it. Very simply, you cannot build your way out of crime," said Louisiana Secretary of Corrections Jimmy LeBlanc, who supports reducing the incarceration rate and putting more resources into inmate rehabilitation.

In fact, a large percentage of those currently occupying Arizona’s beds should not be.  The class action lawsuit [10] against ADOC for its failure to deliver appropriate medical, psychological and dental care illustrates the inappropriate use of maximum security cells for the mentally ill.  Because of the “war on drugs” more than half of all prison and jail inmates—including 56 percent of state prisoners, 45 percent of federal prisoners, and 64 percent of local jail inmates—have mental health or drug problems (Glaze, et. al., 2006).   Treatment is a far better solution than expensive warehousing.

ADC could cut the population dramatically by releasing prisoners within 90 days of their release dates.
 The law already provides for that contingent but ADC refuses to use it effectively to reduce the number of prisoners and refuses to account for their failure to do so.  Another national trend has been to release the elderly prisoners who cost much more to warehouse.  If prisoners are over 50, an evaluation should determine if they are still dangerous.  If not, they should be released to community supervision, which is much less costly.

Another population in ADC’s maximum security is LGBT prisoners who have sought protection from physical and sexual abuse. Rather than stop the violence and punish the perpetrators, ADC inappropriately puts the victims into maximum security.
The taxpayers are spending enormous amounts of money to keep people in maximum security because ADC has lost control of the yard. The solution is not to lock up the victims and the mentally ill but to insist on an audit of the existing maximum security prison cells to see who is occupying them and why before committing taxpayer funds to any more beds.

For all the above reasons, lack of information, inappropriate use of existing maximum security beds, ineffective and inefficient policy decisions, violation of the duty to conserve tax payer monies, and harm to public safety, we ask that you give an unfavorable review to the ADC budget proposal.


                                                                        Oscar Tillman



[1] The national average us 7% but Arizona’s is 11%.

[2] What Works:  Effective Recidivism Reduction & Risk-Focused Prevention Programs (2008)

[3] (On The Chopping Block:  State Prison Closings 2012, Nicole Porter, The Sentencing Project, December 2012)

[4] Prison Break: Budget Crises Drive Reform, But Private Jails Press On, Posted Oct 1, 2012 3:50 AM CST, By Terry Carter

[5] Race and Social Justice as a Budget Filter: The Solution to Racial Bias in the State Legislature? Sahar Fathi* Gonzaga Law Review, Vol. 47:2, p. 532 2011/12

[6] Misplaced Priorities:  Overincarcerate, Under Educate, NAACP , Excessive spending on incarceration undermines educational opportunity and public safety in communities, 2011

[7] Id.

[8] What Works:  Effective Recidivism Reduction & Risk-Focused Prevention Programs (2008).

[9] I thought solitary confinement in Iran was bad until I went inside America’s prisons, May 4, 2013, Shane Bauer, Mother Jones

[10] Gamez v. Ryan No. CV-10-2070-PHX-JWS (MEA)