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

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Toersbijns: Plausible deniability, neglect, and abuse at the AZ DOC

What follows is a former Az Department of Corrections' Deputy Warden's response to:

(read that first, folks)

---stolen from Carl Toersbijns' blog. Read it daily to keep up on the ADC---

Open Letter to Arizona Prison Director Charles L. Ryan

By Carl ToersBijns

May 13, 2011

In writing an open letter addressing the abuses of inmates by employees working for the Arizona Department of Corrections, you, as the prison director omitted much information during your recent attempt to illustrate compliance with guidelines and responsibilities already in policies and procedures and still not being followed. You are obviously failing as you are trying to reinforce your position on this matter but appear to be falling on the deaf ears of your own wardens. An obvious attempt to cover your own administrative weaknesses and shifting the blame of these abuses to others, you are continuing a strategy of plausible deniability and credibility within your own agency and expectations of subordinates.

According to Wikipedia, "plausible deniability" refers to the denial of blame in loose and informal chains of command where upper rungs quarantine the blame to the lower rungs, and the lower rungs are often inaccessible, meaning confirming responsibility for the action is nearly impossible These positions of "power" and "authority" must stay "clean" and be in a position to denounce any unethical approaches or innuendoes that impacts their own sovereignty and domain. Such is the case where you point the finger at someone else and act like you condemn their actions but in all reality, you endorsed it through several means provided in a chain of command that is intact by careful grooming and selection of those individuals hand-picked for such tasks. In other words, you must "walk the talk" to be a solid role model and it appears your rogue wardens are doing their own walking and talking behind close doors contrary to your expectations of program delivery and soundness of operational issues. Because they work for you, I, along with many others, blame you for failure to supervise issues.

In your most recent open letter paragraph titled Abuse of Inmates and dated May 9, 2011, I find it curious that it states that '"Abuses of inmates by anyone in the Arizona Department of Corrections is never acceptable or justified." You opportunely avoid the subject of unusually high prison deaths that are listed either as natural, suicide or homicides yet they are the highest ever. You also avoid mentioning the private prison contractors who do not report any statistics on such events and are not obligated via contract or any other means to collect such data for statistical purposes available to the ADOC and the public. I am sure that if there was a level of transparency here, your words would be more trustful regarding their operational status and efficiency to the taxpayers. You go on by writing "It is the responsibility of all employees to ensure that the inmate population is managed and controlled in a manner that is both professional and requires the minimal force necessary to maintain control. You wrap this deniability approach by stating that "It is not acceptable or reassuring that a supervisor's or manager's response was they "did not know" what was going on in their unit when you stated the very same comment when the Kingman prison escape security report was released and identified so many security deficiencies right under your direct command.

More generally, "plausible deniability / credibility" can also apply to any act that leaves little or no evidence of wrongdoing or abuse. In a prison setting, this could range from physical and psychological abuses through misguided management practices, tacit approval for excessive force. You also deliberately omit other known inmate abuses in this letter as you cite a case out of ASPC- Florence and another out of ASPC-Lewis to strengthen your position on the "good job" closing.

It is true that many of the agencies employees are doing good or great work and that is important to be recognized. However, although strong and driven to excel, they are getting their most of their work done through multi-tasking and forming shortcuts to be in compliance. This achievement is not without hindrance from you administrators and their lack of support to do a good job. Your circle of influence that surrounds your decision making mechanism is flawed as many have their own agendas and not in step with your policies or expectations. You can deny this all you want but recent security audits revealed that even after your "stricter" controls and oversight of the Kingman prison, two of your own state prisons reflected the same problems found in Kingman nine months after your directive to correct these "flaws." This falls on the wardens and deputy wardens for not following your orders to make prisons safer for the public.

Clearly an attempt to circumvent the horrific events such as "preventable suicides" in ASPC Tucson and ASPC Eyman and less than acceptable medical conduct that contributes to "natural deaths" within the prison, I am appalled that you continue this crusade to blame everybody else but yourself for the agency's shortcomings. Plausible deniability is a legal concept. It refers to lack of evidence proving an allegation. In civil cases, the standard of proof is "preponderance of the evidence" whereas in a criminal matter, the standard is "beyond a reasonable doubt."

It is highly likely because of so many incidents of staff mistakes [misconduct] and poor decision making by command staff , the agency will continue to pay out court settlements to inmates who have been subject to these acts considered "abused" and sue for the agency's mistakes and misconduct. Your letter only incited more fear and more intimidation into the workplace. You have shown by selective enforcement methods and through careful dissection of the facts you do not care if your wardens don't follow your words to provide proper custodial care and operational soundness. Your sanctions imposed to these administrators are mild compared to line staff and illustrates a desire to protect them as they protect you. In fact, I suspect you are facing several lawsuits at the moment that will embarrass you and your administration when it gets aired on the media evening news in due time.

Disclaimer: this article does not reflect the opinions of the web site Thunder Rolls Inc. where this link is located.

Link to open letter from Charles Ryan to ADC Employees dated May 9, 2011:

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Surviving Susan Lopez: Mother's Day Grief.

One of the hardest, yet most profoundly meaningful, aspects of the work I do is to bear witness to the suffering of others and help them amplify their voices in any number of ways, in hopes that the rest of us are moved enough by them to change the trajectory we're on.

This is the grief of the parents of Susan Lopez, going into this past family-oriented weekend. Soon it will be their first Father's Day without her, each of her kid's birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the anniversaries of her birth, and of her death...

"When Jesus was a prisoner"
Matthew ch 25: v 35

Christmas, 2010
Phoenix, AZ

Rick Lopez and the Flores families have a difficult, deeply painful road ahead yet - all of the survivors of prison violence and neglect do. May we never again need to hear the grief of a mother who has buried her child in order to bring about a fundamental change in how we view and treat each other here, whatever our respective status or class...

Thank you, Sammy and Gina, for sharing this with us. Our condolences to the entire family.

-----------------left with broken hearts #2------------

A few years ago, my husband and I, together with Susan and her husband Rick, built a beautiful horse corral. I bought a mare, and someone gave us this big black gelding. Susan loved him. One day I went outside our 2 1/2 acre home, and I saw Susan on top of Moose, Rick leading the horse with a rope. I couldn`t believe what I saw, Susan riding Moose! She looked like a giant, but she was so happy, it seemed like nothing in the world mattered. Rick looked nervous, and would tell her "come on get down, get down!"

She loved horses like her mom. She loved cats, they were her life. She hated when anyone messed with them. She loved to look at the stars, and loved Jesus with all her heart. Our hobby was taking care of the horses; me and Susan would feed them and bathe them. I will always miss that...

From my horse corrals, about 4 miles from my back yard, you can see a hill with two giant water tanks. My daughter is buried on the other side of that hill. I am torn apart in my heart, its so hard to go feed the horses. Everytime I do, I see that hill, and I think of her. I break down crying; I'm torn apart. I then go to my front yard to sit on my deck. I look to the right and again I see the hill. I drive to town and I see the hill. It hurts, we loved her so much.

If you, the people working in Perryville prison, have any children then you know the love a parent has for their children, if you truly love them. I know me and my husband do; we loved Susan. And if you, the people working at Perryville prison, would have just listened to the cry of a wonderful woman, she may have touched your heart. And you might have change your ways, and done your job right. My daughter Susan would probably still be alive, that's what she was about. A beautiful woman full of love and kindness.

Again, whoever is responsible for the wrongful death of our daughter: God knows the truth. and may he find it in his heart to forgive you.

sammy & gina flores

(dad, mom)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Common Ground: Hugging Bill Montgomery.

I attended a meeting of the Arizona Mental Health and Criminal Justice Coalition yesterday, where both State Rep. Cecil Ash and Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery participated in our expanding community discussion about the criminalization of the seriously mentally ill. Cecil was true to form - and everyone already knows how much I love that man.

I was ready for a fight with Bill Montgomery, if needed, but was pleasantly surprised. The following letter characterizes his role in the conversation well...


The Prison Abolitionist
PO Box 20494 / Phoenix, AZ 85036

May 10, 2011

Bill Montgomery
Maricopa County Attorney
301 W. Jefferson St.
Phoenix, AZ 85003

Dear Bill,

I’ve lapsed into the familiar now, largely because I wanted to leave a hug and my gratitude behind for you at the AZMH & CJ System Coalition meeting yesterday, and it still feels to weird to do that for the man in the Maricopa County Attorney’s office. I’m so glad to see that you’re here to help, not hurt, those among us disabled by serious mental illness who face a greater likelihood of criminalization and incarceration than community treatment or hospitalization in Arizona. The class war will wage on, so to speak, and I still anticipate to lodge plenty of opposition to your policies on other fronts, but consider yourself hugged by a left-wing radical (I could face repercussions for that, you know…).

The discussion you facilitated today about how our community responds to mental health crises among the most vulnerable citizens at potentially volatile moments in their lives was a vital contribution to this dialogue. Your strong stance that many of the SMI in the system should have been diverted before being criminalized - and your willingness to play what role you can in seeing that happens more often - was greatly appreciated. I’ve seen too many county attorneys over the years wipe their hands of the problem, locating not only the solutions but the leadership to find them elsewhere, even though the bodies were piling up at their own doorsteps.

You are a far more thoughtful and open-minded man that I gave you credit for. This is not an easy conversation to have, and the crowd you faced had not only law enforcement in it, but recovering individuals and family members of the criminalized among them as well - ready for a fight, if you came poised for one. You identified and navigated many of the complexities of the matter quite skillfully, though, posing the important questions we need to be asking ourselves and each other without shying away from your own opinion on the matter - which you managed to assert based on sound argument, rather than just the authority of your office. You also cultivated an atmosphere where more critical discussion could occur - encouraging some give and take, rather than dominating the room. You were gracious abut allowing dissent without conceding the positions you maintain, as well. I wasn’t expecting to see that.

But you did more than just manage the room. You accepted the responsibility you have to provide some measure of leadership regarding institutional reforms, while coaxing from the community some thoughts on the direction we want to go in. I especially appreciated that you confronted our institutional and societal failures - both within and beyond the criminal justice system - without generating defensiveness, obscuring the hurdles citizens with psychiatric and cognitive disabilities face, or minimizing the devastating consequences of criminalization. You seem far more concerned with positive outcomes for SMI suspects/ offenders - and victims, I might add - than with protecting your office from expending the effort necessary to wrestle with the nuances presented to you by our community’s failure to assure access to meaningful psychiatric treatment options and basic health care for all.

For all that I am grateful, as a person recovering with mood and addictive disorders myself (I could fairly easily end up in an AZ prison), as the sister of a formerly-homeless, dually-diagnosed Deadhead with a rap sheet, and as a citizen wishing to see less victimization and criminalization of members of my community. I left the meeting today with a sense of cautious optimism about the rest of your term in office - I’m looking forward to continuing this public dialogue, and working with you on reducing the criminalization and traumatization of persons with serious mental illness who would not be in the CJ system but for their psychiatric symptoms.

Finally, I just wanted to say that it was a show of courage to call on an audience member who you knew full well may have an argument in store for you - especially one dressed up like an outlaw. For all you knew I even had theater planned…neither was necessary, though. Thank you again for your time and willingness to engage thoughtfully on these issues of late.

Until next time,