For Kini Seawright, and all the other women who bury a loved one due to police or prison violence...

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Sun setting on Chuck Ryan at AZ DOC Legislative Review

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Above is the recording of public speakers;

*** Here is the link from the full report and committee meeting ***

I made it to the early part of this meeting yesterday, which was a joint session of the Senate Committee on Public Safety and the House Judiciary Committee. The purpose of the meeting was to receive the Auditor General's Sunset Review of the Arizona Department of Corrections - a process which poses the question as to whether the institution is serving the public and rehabilitating offenders as it is intended to, or whether it is an ineffective waste and should be abolished.

"Established by Laws 1978, Chapter 210, Arizona’s sunset review process requires the Legislature to periodically review the purpose and functions of state agencies to determine whether continuation, revision, consolidation or termination is warranted. Sunset reviews are based on audits conducted by either the Office of the Auditor General (OAG) or a Committee of Reference (COR). Following the audit, a public hearing is held by the COR to discuss the audit and receive testimony from agency officials and the public."

I didn't expect the department to be abolished, of course, but felt it was important to be there anyway. Unfortunately, I learned of this last minute so did a poor job getting folks out for the public hearing section. I was able to log in some of my written comments, for the record, but had to leave before the floor was open to the rest of us to speak. Several folks remained long enough to raise the matter of medical neglect, at least, according to this Cronkite news report below. I don't know if anyone mentioned the high suicide and assault rates, or the fact that the ACLU National Prison Project is about to file a class action lawsuit seeking an injunction to immediately improve the level of medical and mental health care in AZ prisons. It was the matter of security at the private prisons that dominated, though, due to the Kingman escape last summer.

Listening to ADC Director Chuck Ryan give his spiel about how great a job they're doing and how noble his employees are made me more angry with the legislature for failing to do oversight than with him - I expect to hear that kind of propaganda from him. Had I been able to speak, I would have recited the names and stories of the prisoners who died unnecessarily in his custody...perhaps I'll have to save that for another time. I certainly didn't expect that anything I or others might say would result in the abolition of the AZ Department of Corrections.

July 2011 Artwalk: Phoenix, AZ

What was covered by the AG's report, at least, were recommendations for alternatives to adding more prison beds, support for a sentencing commission to review prison alternatives and sentencing reform, and a reassertion of the expectation that a complete cost-analysis is done on the pros and cons of contracting with private prisons before the state proceeds to do more (which the Quakers are having to sue to get compliance on).

But those are just recommendations - I believe it is up to the discretion of the ADC director as to how to proceed, and I haven't seen either of these committees show much leadership in making performance demands of Director Ryan - who not only runs his own ship, but steps in the way of efforts made by our good Rep. Cecil Ash to assemble a sentencing review commission by promoting propaganda designed to frighten ignorant politicians and the public into favoring mass incarceration. If Chuck Ryan and his cronies on the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission threw their support behind Rep. Ash's sentencing commission bill (HB 2664) last session, it would have easily passed the house and senate and been signed into law. Instead the judiciary committee wouldn't even bother to hear it.

As things stand at present, it's entirely up to the ADC Director to study and implement report recommendations for alternatives to incarceration, such as early release for low-risk prisoners, community-based programs for drug and alcohol offenders, build more capacity to have prisoners on home-arrest, and so on. Ryan, unfortunately, has consistently articulated and demonstrated his contempt for prisoners and their families through his policy changes, and that his philosophy for corrections is simply punishment by incarcerating as many people as possible for as long as possible, during which time they have scant opportunities to participate in substance abuse treatment, vocational rehabilitation, mental health, or educational programs (many were abruptly dismantled when he took over).

Anticipating continuing criticisms about deaths in his custody this time, Director Ryan did proudly announce that in the course of two months the department has trained over 8,000 employees in suicide prevention...but that just leaves me wondering how good such mass training in such a short a period of time can possibly be. They train them all in first aid every year, but corrections officers have repeatedly failed to use those skills to prevent the loss of life - as in Tony Lester's and Dana Seawright's cases, when guards just stood passively around watching those young men choke on blood as they were dying. The closest they seem to come to touching a suicide or homicide victim is practicing their CPR on prisoners who are already dead or very near death.

Still grossly lacking from the AZ legislature is a commitment to provide meaningful, ongoing oversight of the Department of Corrections. They seem to be in denial of (or ignorant of) the impending class action suit against them, and of the real shortcomings of leadership that have resulted in arguably thew most horrendous prison conditions in Arizona in the past three decades. They are oblivious or indifferent, it appears, that by failing to keep on top of matters in their own house, they have forced prisoners, their families and advocates to seek help from outside entities - from the ACLU and Amnesty International to the media to the FBI - to investigate their poor conditions and high rates of violence and suicide.

If the state legislature had been conducting oversight all along, lives like Tony Lester's and Dana Seawright's may have been saved despite the incompetence of this administration. Unfortunately, nothing that comes out of this hearing yesterday is likely to stop the prisoner body count from continuing to grow. The rising tide of violence under Chuck Ryan's administration will similarly take a greater toll on ADC employees, who voices are also silenced here. At least two ADC employees have already taken their lives on prison grounds under his administration - one at Perryville, soon after the death of Marcia Powell, and one at Yuma this summer. God knows how many more have died more quietly that way, or have been seriously injured from assaults already as well.

The following are the legislators on the respective committees that heard the auditors' Sunset Review; though not all were present yesterday, all are nevertheless responsible. These are the legislators we should be addressing further concerns about the prisons to, and holding accountable for the consequences of failing to form a sub-committee which would take testimony from prisoners, families and advocates, recommend and empower the department to make reforms, and provide closer legislative oversight of the ADC. Instead of orchestrating meaningful prison reform from within, the state has now set up a situation where changes will have to be ordered by the federal court system - sadly, that is only likely to make a difference after more prisoners and staff lose their lives...

House of Representatives Standing Committee


Cecil P. Ash

Tom Chabin

Eddie Farnsworth

Doris Goodale

Albert Hale
Jack W. Harper
David Burnell Smith
Anna Tovar
Ted Vogt

Public Safety and Human Services

Senate Standing Committee

Nancy Barto
Rich Crandall
Linda Gray
Leah Landrum Taylor
Linda Lopez
Rick Murphy

Monday, November 21, 2011

AZ Department of Corrections' Auditor General Sunset Review

Some of the women prisoners who have died from suicide and/or gross neglect
under the current administration, since January 2009.

Memorial at appx. 1017 N. 1st Street, Phoenix AZ
(November 18, 2011)

On Tuesday, November 22, in Senate Hearing Room 1 there will be a hearing on the Sunset Review conducted by the
Arizona Auditor General on the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC). This is the third in a three part series of reports on the ADC. The links to the reports are below:

Department of Corrections—Sunset Factors (September 2011, Report No. 11-08)

Department of Corrections—Oversight of Security Operations (September 2011, Report No. 11-07)

Department of Corrections—Prison Population Growth (September 2010, Report No. 10-08)

The most recent report covering sunset factors addresses whether or not the ADC is meeting the needs of the public or should be dissolved. Of course, the department is not about to be dissolved. The report contains some fascinating information about how different departments are staffed and what mandates the ADC is expected to follow on everything from assuring fair pricing schedules for prisoners purchasing from prison stores/concessions to the recommendation that the ADC assures that the privatization of services yields a cost-benefit to the state without compromising on public safety, as noted here on page 21:

"Going forward, potential privatization areas should be carefully evaluated to ensure the benefits of contracting outweigh the costs. Information from the other states auditors interviewed point to the importance of evaluating the costeffectiveness of privatizing a service or function versus performing the service or function in house. For example, a North Carolina official indicated that the state no longer contracts for prison maintenance or private prison beds largely because it cost more to contract for these services than for its corrections department to perform them. Security issues were also a factor in eliminating North Carolina’s contract for private prison beds. Similarly, the September 2010 Office of the Auditor General report on prison population growth recommended that the Legislature consider directing the Department to further study and analyze the costs for the State to build and operate prisons compared to contracting with private prisons to determine which option would be more cost-effective while still ensuring public safety (see Report No 10-08)."

Presently, the ADC is being sued (see statement from the ASPC-Tucson on this matter) to assure it completes an investigation and report demonstrating that the proposals to privatize 5,000 new prison beds would in fact save the state money before awarding those contracts - though they have delayed the decision to award private prison contracts until at least December 22, 2011.

Prior ADC studies comparing the cost of state-run vs privately run prisons show that private prisons actually cost more to operate - and that's not even considering the cost of the security lapses that allowed three prisoners to escape from ASP-Kingman in August 2010. The cost of that private prison failure included an extensive, nationwide manhunt and the lives of an elderly couple. Unbelievably, despite the escape, Arizona was expected to pay MTC, the prison operator, for it's empty beds in the aftermath.

Also of interest in the report is the re-assertion of the mission of the AZ Department of Corrections:

"The Department’s statutory purpose is to serve as the correctional program for the State and to provide staff and administration relating to the institutionalization, rehabilitation, and community supervision functions of all adult offenders. Consistent with its statutory purpose, the Department’s mission is “to serve and protect the people of Arizona by securely incarcerating convicted felons, by providing structured programming designed to support inmate accountability and successful community reintegration, and by providing effective supervision for those offenders conditionally released from prison.”"

The Department has five goals in carrying out this mission:

•" To maintain effective custody and control over inmates in an environment that is safe, secure, and humane.
• To require inmate participation in self-improvement programming opportunities and services, including work, education, substance abuse treatment, sex offender treatment, and spiritual access designed to prepare inmates to be responsible citizens upon release.
• To provide cost-effective constitutionally mandated correctional healthcare.
• To maintain effective community supervision of offenders, facilitate their successful transition from prison to the community, and return offenders when necessary to prison to protect the public.
• To provide leadership direction, resource management, and support for department employees to enable the Department to serve and protect the people of the State of Arizona and to provide comprehensive victim services and victim–focused restorative justice programs that hold offenders accountable."

I do not see that the Auditor General has evaluated how "safe" or "humane" the environment is in which prisoners are kept, or how well the department's medical care meets constitutional guidelines. In fact, the suicide rate under the current administration has doubled, and assaults and homicides have skyrocketed - suggesting that the most fortified and well-funded law enforcement agency in this state can't keep their own prisoners safe. The ACLU National Prison Project and the Prison Law Office have been investigating the ADC and are also poised to sue the state over serious deficiencies in the ADC's medical and mental health care, which fails to meet constitutional standards of care.

Furthermore, when Ryan took over, many of the prisoner's rehabilitative programs were eliminated - including one that trained prisoners to be suicide prevention aides. A number of those that were eliminated were prisoner-run and low-cost. Nothing suggests that the ADC's remaining programs and policies are currently modeled to be consistent with evidence-based practice in the field of corrections - which would yield far better outcomes in re: both staff and prisoner safety, the culture of the prisons, and actual rehabilitation and recidivism rates.

Rather, major decisions appear to be made based on the director's personal biases (which are hostile to prisoners, their families, and prisoner-run programs as evidenced by new fees for medical care and visitation approval, gouging of families for phone calls, resistance to early-release programs or sentencing reform, and elimination of effective and empowering rehabilitative programming). Director Ryan justifies his actions by perpetuating propaganda and public myths such as
privatization saves money, that early release would compromise public safety because the vast majority of AZ prisoners are repeat and violent offenders (even though over 15,000 prisoners are so "safe" that they're rated as minimum security), that the ADC provides meaningful rehabilitation programs, and that lower crime rates depend on maintaining high incarceration rates (which they do not).

The AZ Auditor General's office appears to give the ADC a passing grade, nonetheless, and - not surprisingly - doesn't call for the department's dissolution. In light of the horrendous lack of medical and psychiatric care for prisoners, and in the wake of highly preventable suicides, grisly homicides, and escalating overall violence under his watch, however, there remains a huge call in the community for Director Chuck Ryan to be removed from his post or step down... and those particular calls are coming from people who have worked for him.

Anyone wishing to echo a demand for Ryan's resignation or to submit complaints about the way our billion dollars are being spent by the AZ Department of Corrections should contact Governor Brewer's office here or by snail mail here:

The Honorable Janice K. Brewer, Arizona Governor / Executive Tower / 1700 West Washington Street / Phoenix, AZ 85007

Please cc all copies of correspondence on the matter to myself , Peggy Plews (, or to AZ Republic reporter Bob Ortega by email at: He can also be reached via snail mail at:

The Arizona Republic Newsroom/ 200 E. Van Buren St. / Mail Code NM19/ Phoenix, AZ 85004.


Citizens may order full printed copies of the 2011 Auditor General's Reports on the Department of Corrections from:

Report Orders
Arizona Auditor General
2910 N. 44th Street, Ste. 410
Phoenix, AZ 85018

Please include your complete return address as well as the report name and number you are requesting.

You may also fax this information to 602-553-0051.

All reports are also available from the Arizona Department of Library, Archives and Public Records.

If you need help, please call 602-553-0333 or e-mail the Webmaster.

Friday, November 18, 2011

ASPC-LEWIS Deaths in Custody: Anthony Braun, 29.


Anthony Braun reportedly died of a drug overdose, having mixed something like spice with heroin. I don't know why so many young men are dying of heroin overdoses under this administration. Our condolences go out to Tony's loved ones, of which there were many. Go visit this young man's memorial tribute page: there is always more to a person than just their criminal record - that's the only part the state wants us to see.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Watching Tony die: The Halloran Investigation and feedback.

Resistance Alley, Phoenix
June 4, 2011

Most of my readers have no doubt by now seen the Channel 12 investigation of Tony Lester's suicide. For those who haven't, the links to the first installment and the follow-up are here:

Arizona inmate suicide: Did correction officers fail to administer aid?

Tony Lester's suicide triggers 12 News investigation to find out who's accountable:

Below is a post from the AZCentral/Channel 12 website by retired Az Department of Corrections Deputy Warden, Carl Toersbijns. Carl has been a staunch advocate for the rights of mentally ill prisoners, and has an insider's perspective on the treatment they receive (and the lack thereof, as in Tony's case)...

Anthony Lester Suicide, Preventable Death - Channel 12 investigation video

Carl Toersbijns Blogs

Watching the Channel 12 video on this suicide, it reminded me of the many suicides we have endured in the several years while employed as a prison employee. I know that we can’t save every life nor do we feel compelled to go above and beyond reasonable measures that are both legal and morally acceptable. There are no answers for everything that happens under the heavens but for sure there is a reason for everything that does.
There are many questions still unanswered but there were no administrators disciplined for the death of inmate Anthony Lester, a mentally ill person, incarcerated and sentenced to die at his own hands. Diagnosed with a severe mental illness, his judgment and sentence report contained a recommendation by a judge to be admitted for psychiatric care while in prison. In addition, his medical and mental health files were covered with his treatment needs and were ignored by the Arizona Department of Corrections as he was admitted, classified and sent to a non-mental health unit in Tucson, Arizona.

Several months after his incarceration, Anthony Lester was put on a mental health watch for suicide risks and self-harm statements made to staff and mental health providers. His watch didn’t last long and he was released back to general population but instead of going to the yard, he was placed in isolation via a stay in a detention cell. His needs of the “voices” he was hearing was not addressed nor was he on any medication that was part of his treatment. Soon after, Lester, with the help of a cellmate, took a razor erroneously given to him by an officer and removed the blade. He then cut his body in many places and finally, he wrote the words “voices” in his own blood before he cut his jugular vein and died.

The investigation was personally handled by the director of the agency as he hurriedly appointed an investigator via telephone and gave specific instructions on his expectations and time frames to conduct this investigation. This would be revealed by the audio tapes of this case. I also know this because I have been involved in many of these deaths where the phone (sometimes the red phone) rings and it is one of the chiefs in Phoenix barking orders how to handle it. As a former deputy warden, I have been taught two things by mentors and not so mentor like people. Control the environment – first you control the internal environment (your own house and make sure the bed is made and the carpet is swept clean for company and looks) make sure the post action report is intact and not filled with red flags or inflammatory works that seek clarification or needless curiously – second control the external environment and make it quick neat and easy to understand when delivered to the press, the governor or those in the legislature curious enough to ask. This control means that the time frame of the incident must be controlled and seamless.

This is done by keeping the package tight and mum until all drafts received have been laundered and ready for inspection. This is the case in every major incident and prepared carefully to avoid any other sources under the Freedom Information Act discovery bases. Evidence is not tagged and often disregarded deemed not relevant. This also includes statements received that are in conflict with other data received. Everything is sanitized for public inspection.

The investigator was given a week to put the case together. Such cases usually take anywhere from two to three months and have a 53 day window for action but the director insisted on limiting this case to one week. Under pressure, the investigator did what he could under the circumstances. It was not a very thorough job but it revealed the staple of the case, unauthorized razor issued to the inmate that facilitated the death. It did not thoroughly glean enough facts of the culture, the practices and the decision making of the unit’s administration and custodial responsibilities. As a result, disciplinary action was limited to those present at the time of the suicide and for not performing first aid on the inmate as they took no action what so ever to preserve life and remained there in the cell until the paramedics arrived thus admitting they stood around for almost 23 minutes doing nothing.

Admittingly, the DOC admitted to it is a “preventable suicide” but did nothing to correct the problem and disciplined staffs by taking two weeks’ pay from their paycheck. They should have fired them and let the personnel board decide whether or not the act(s) were dischargable offenses. I believe it’s a Class 7. Regardless an appeal would have justified a better review than the first time around when they went head hunting and found those closest as the easiest to punish. The entire process was tainted with missed data, clues, evidence and interviews. Had an independent investigator done the job, it would have revealed a deeper cultural chasm than actually reported. That is why nobody in the top administration was admonished or punished. The DOC protects those who protect them. Politics as usual. Not just in the DOC but in many public service areas.

The director said they retrained all staff on the suicide prevention training course. I am sure they did on paper. Most staff wont engage in CPR -only the good ones do - others are told you better not start or you will be blamed for doing it wrong - otherwise they are left for medical to treat them with few exceptions as I have personally seen great correctional staff at the Eyman SMU’s do great things. In this case medical was never called nor did they arrive. They waited for the outside fire department paramedics to treat a bleeding person and did nothing else but stand around. It’s the culture that is toxic and harsh. - for those who families in prison, you should be concerned for their wellness - for those who don't you are paying for lawsuits and payouts that are not necessary but when negligence is so easily proven the cost is high.

They initiated training for 8,000 plus people on paper and will show they did the remedial training as expected by the outlines of the post o action report. But as the videos and interviews of this case reveals, these officers don’t even pay attention to the basic first aid classes and just sign in to get credit for the course. Ask any of them what they think of the training and they will laugh out loud and walk away to avoid answering you.

Wendy Halloran did a great job!! She knew the investigative process was tainted the moment the director got involved personally and directed courses of action that negated those the assigned investigator would have taken without being under duress of such administrative pressure. Meeting with the chief executive officer of the facility before any active case work is done, they develop a dialogue with them creating a compromising prejudice in the handling and direction of every investigation as the warden’s input is capricious and often tainted to reflect personal interests thus adhered to as law by these investigators. In some cases, investigators lie to others about the cases and the results of evidence. Thus this practice called “false dichotomy” that includes eliminating conflicting or contradictory information skews the reports and sends an altered message as a final result that has been deliberately botched to protect those politically sensitive in such cases. Basically, this results a finding of information versus meaning and is very confusing. The origins of such problems include unqualified or politically compromised investigators or their supervisors that cause false reports on their test results. This problem could be fixed by hiring qualified personnel, training them properly and providing adequate oversight and separating their authority and supervision from direct administration by executive personnel.

Is it fixed… not hardly under this administration but when the right person takes charge and makes human lives valuable again, it might be done right. Until then, status quo demands no changes.

Just keep paying the lawsuits, it's business as usual in the DOC.