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

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Native America and AZ State Prisons: Remembering young warriors.

American Indians make up 4.6% of Arizona's residents, according to 2010 census figures. 5.0% of Arizona's prison population is Native American. The highest concentrations of them are at Perryville women's prison in Goodyear (7.6% of women are native American). There the highest concentration of indigenous women is being kept in the Lumley maximum security Special Management Unit - they constitute 14.3% of prisoners under lock down in that unit. 
Indigenous men are most heavily concentrated in the supermax complex, ASPC-Eyman, in Florence (6.4% of that population is Native American). In SMUI, where many of the seriously mentally ill are confined and neglected, often in solitary cells, they make up 9.7% of those locked down. 

One has to wonder if we aren't just trying to break the resistant and deviant ones, which is part of the genocidal pattern.

The author of the article below is the uncle of Alfonso Farmer, who recently committed suicide in prison as well. Our condolences to him and all of Alfonso's loved ones...

-------------from Indian Country Today----------

A Needless Death: The Tony Lester Story

As a Lakota, I was taught to respect life and death. Living on the reservation, death is all too common. From young to old, we have all felt the pain of losing loved ones before their time. Death on our reservations in one way or another touches each and every one of us, even if we live elsewhere. The death of a young Indian man also tells me, we mustn’t forget Tribal members who are out of sight out of mind in shockingly high proportions in the criminal justice system and that their deaths touches us, too.

When I was contacted in reference to a young Indian man, Antony “Tony” Lester, 26 years of age, who lost his life by suicide while in prison in Arizona, it brought back memories of my 23-year-old nephew, Alfonzo Lee Farmer, who also lost his life by suicide in an Arizona prison and whose funeral I attended just last month.

According to the 2010 Census, there are 5.2 million Native American Indians, and we make up 0.9 percent of the total population. In many states, we are incarcerated in great disproportion to our population numbers. In my state, South Dakota, we make up we are 8.8 percent of the population and yet we make up 23 percent and 35 percent respectively of all inmates and 50% of female prisoners are Native American Indians. In Wyoming, we are 2.4 percent of the population and we make up 7 percent of prisoners. In Montana, we are 6.3 percent of the population and we are 18.8 percent of men and 29.6 percent of women in prison. According to the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, Native children make up 50 percent of youngsters in the federal prison system.

Let’s place these percentages in prospective and make one of these numbers a real person. Antony “Tony” Lester was an only child. His father was an enrolled member of the Salt River/Pima Reservation who did not have contact with him and his mother. His mother Eleanor is a Sioux/Assiniboine from Fort Peck Indian Reservation in Montana. Tony’s mother devoted her life to Tony, raising him as a single mom and always providing the best. He graduated from Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic School in Scottsdale, Arizona, and then later attended Brophy College Preparatory in Phoenix.

Tony was diagnosed with schizophrenia when he was in high school, struggled with his condition, and was a self-harming as a teenager. He told his family that the voices were “getting worse.” Tony was loved and cared for by his family throughout his illness and it was this illness that gave the state of Arizona a reason to send him to prison.

Tony Lester never had any prior convictions and yet he never stood a chance. In 2010, he was sentenced to 12 years in state prison on assault charges stemming from a suicide attempt during a psychotic episode the previous year. Two of his very close friends who tried to stop him from cutting his throat got hurt while grabbing the knife.

Tony was mentally ill and the state of Arizona knew this. Instead of being admitted to a psychiatric hospital, Tony was put in jail. Nine months of medication restored him to sufficient competency to be deemed fit for trial. He was found guilty by a jury. During this time, it was discovered that Tony was struggling with seven voices telling him to kill himself or he would not go to heaven and that his family would be harmed. Worse yet, says his family, the voices were not just talking to him but to each other, and he felt he could no longer control them.

The judge and court-appointed psychiatrist advised that Tony should be housed in a facility where he would receive the necessary mental health treatment. Yet this was ignored, and he was sent to the Arizona State Prison in Tucson.

Tony was placed with the general prison population; he went off his medication and was sent to a unit for behavioral problems. He was on and off suicide watch. The family recalls vividly that at 11:45 pm on July 11, 2010, they received a phone call informing them that Tony had been taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. A few hours later, at 3:15 am, they received a call saying Tony had died from injuries he had sustained. They learned he had cut his wrists, jugular vein and groin with a razor he was mistakenly provided in a prisoner hygiene pack.

The Lester family battled the state of Arizona for almost two years to gain access to footage filmed by one of the guards, Umberto Hernandez, on the day Tony died. The video shows that the guards did not at any time provide medical assistance. The video is very graphic and watching it, my prayers go out to Tony’s family. A year-long inquiry by Wendy Halloran, investigative reporter with KPNX (Channel 12 Watchdog News), in Phoenix, uncovered much shocking information surrounding the passing of this young man. Click here for the story.

Tony’s aunt, Patti Jones, along with his family throughout Indian country, are now his voice. His family is asking for your help in exposing the inhumanities Tony suffered. They ask you to view Ms. Halloran’s investigative report and post comments to and to Brian Williams at You may also contact Ms. Jones at

This story is far from over, looking at the statistics listed above many more Native prisoners must have met this fate as well. The statistics show extreme disproportionality from the beginning of the contact with the justice system, more apprehensions, more arrests, more adjudication’s, more convictions, harsher sentencing, deficiencies in legal advice. Getting involved in helping the Lester family is the first step in learning what we need to do in order to help all of our people.

I leave you with a comment placed on by a person who self-identified anonymously as one of the jurors: “We could see that he was ill, and we thought that he would get probation and get the help he needed.”

Oliver J. Semans is an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.

AZ privatizing prison health care to destroy state pensions.

I already posted on this yesterday morning, but I just came across Bob Ortega's piece in the AZ Republic, which is worth sharing as well. Note how the legislature ordered this move regardless of whether or not it saves money (or kills prisoners) - they just want to screw state workers out of their retirement plans. That's classic John Kavanaugh for you. Feel free to write him at the AZ House and tell him what a swell guy he is. He's still the chair of the House Appropriations Committee; looking at the state of our state, that should tell you a lot. He also runs a criminal justice program at a community college - no wonder he wanted to gut spending on universities. God forbid anyone here should get too smart - he needs us to stay poor and stupid so we can keep filling and staffing the prisons he wants to privatize.

Anyway, welcome to AZ, Wexford - we aren't putting up with any more BS from prison health care providers, so you'd better do right by our people right the first time around, or we'll run you out of this state.


Arizona prisons' health care to be run by Pa. company

Arizona's Department of Corrections awarded a $349 million, three-year contract Tuesday to privatize health care for prison inmates that will cost the state $5 million a year more than it spent in 2011.

The contract to privatize prison health care -- originally pushed by Rep. John Kavanagh as a way to save the state money -- was awarded to privately held Wexford Health Sources Inc. of Pittsburgh.

Wexford, which has previously lost contracts for poor service and was implicated in a 2008 payoff scandal in Illinois, bid $116.3million a year, $1.1million less than the second-place bid by Corizon Inc. of Brentwood, Tenn.

The contract, which is renewable for two additional years, was approved by Corrections Director Charles Ryan and reviewed by the Governor's Office before it was issued. Arizona spent $111.3 million last fiscal year on correctional health-care services for nearly 34,000 inmates in 10 state prisons.

Over the past three years, health-care spending by the Corrections Department has dropped nearly $30 million, in part because of a declining prison population and reduced staff levels.

After a prior effort to privatize prison health care failed last year, Kavanagh, Republican chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, removed language from a bill that had required bidders to meet or better the Corrections Department's costs.

Despite the Wexford bid exceeding state costs to provide care, Kavanagh insists that, "in the long run, reducing pension costs" by eliminating hundreds of state employees through privatization saves the state money.

Lawmakers adopted legislation two years ago and revised it last year, requiring Corrections to privatize the health-care system regardless of whether it saves money.

However, Caroline Isaacs, director of the American Friends Service Committee's Tucson office, a prison-watchdog group, said, "This has never been about saving money; the real reason is that legislators are ideologically wedded to privatization and damn the evidence."

A Corrections spokesman would not comment on what will happen to about 600 state employees who work for the department's health-care division, but workers said they've been told that they will be interviewed for possible employment by Wexford.

Wexford spokeswoman Wendelyn Pekich declined to comment on whether Wexford will hire any Corrections employees. The Corrections spokesman said Wexford is expected to complete the transition to running health-care services by June 30.

Wexford, which provides health care under contract to 91,000 inmates in 100 jails and prisons in 10 states, was tied to a payoff scandal in Illinois. That state's director of corrections, Donald Snyder, served two years in federal prison after admitting he accepted a $30,000 bribe from a Wexford lobbyist to steer business to the company.

No Wexford officials were charged in the case. Wexford declined to comment on the bribery scandal.
The company also has had past problems meeting its contractual obligations. Clark County, Wash., declined to renew a contract with Wexford in 2009 at its county jail and juvenile-detention center after complaints that Wexford wasn't dispensing medications to inmates in a timely fashion, leading to psychological and behavioral problems with inmates on psychotropic drugs.

New Mexico terminated a statewide contract with Wexford in 2007 after an audit by that state's legislative finance committee found shortages of physicians, dentists and other prison medical staff and noted that the company had failed to issue timely reports on the deaths of 14 inmates the previous year.

Arizona hopes privatizing its prison health-care services will improve a system that has been criticized as inadequate.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Prison Law Office, a California-based prisoner's legal-advocacy group, filed suit in federal court last month charging that Arizona's Department of Corrections has denied adequate medical and mental-health care to inmates for weeks and months, even for life-threatening conditions.

The lawsuit says that understaffing, delays in providing medication and other problems have been persistent and systemic across all state prisons. The department has not responded in court to the suit and has declined to comment on it.

Dan Pochoda, the ACLU's Arizona director, said the Wexford contract won't affect the lawsuit or improvements in care that legal advocates for prisoners are demanding.

"The obligations on the state are the same," he said. "The Constitution is equally applicable whether the medical-care providers are direct employees of the state or contracted out to a private company."

The Department of Corrections said it will not release the contract document until Monday. Procurement officer Karen Ingram didn't give any reason for the delay.

However, if the contract provides the same terms as those spelled out under the request for proposals, Wexford will be audited quarterly and can be fined if it fails to meet performance standards spelled out in the contract, such as:

Completing a physical exam and mental-health assessment of all prisoners within two days of their arrival at prisons.

Triaging all inmates' health-care requests within 24 hours.

Completing referrals to a physician within seven days.

Maintaining adequate medical records.

Updating treatment plans and providing face-to-face assessments with psychiatric nurses at least every 30 days for seriously mentally ill inmates.

Having psychiatrists assess seriously mentally ill inmates on psychotropic medications at least every three months.

Developing re-entry plans for mentally ill inmates at least 30 days before they're discharged.

Such standards, if they are met, would be an improvement to the timeliness with which inmates receive medical and mental-health care, according to allegations in the ACLU-Prison Law Office suit.

There have been few national studies of the effect of privatizing correctional health care.

Kelly Bedard, an economist at the University of California-Santa Barbara who co-authored a 2007 study looking at privatization outcomes in 32 states, said that because private providers always have an incentive to save money and cut costs, the quality of care is highly dependent on how well a contract is written and on whether the state engages in meaningful, tough oversight.

Such oversight isn't common.

Bedard's study found that inmate deaths rise 2 percent for every 20 percent increase in privatization.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

AZ DOC: Nobly, heroically, protecting us from the dying...

I find this kind of thing particularly disturbing because the AZ DOC blames the tripling of the assault rate and the doubling of the homicide and suicide rates on staff shortages. No one watched Dana Seawright's back - or Shannon Palmer's, or Duron Cunningham's, or Tony Lester's, or Susan Lopez', or Marcia Powell's - when they were alive in their care, but the state always has plenty guards and chains at the bedsides of the helpless and dying...

Immigrant Mother Asks Arizona to Let Her Son Die in Peace

Published April 03, 2012  | EFE

An immigrant mother is asking Arizona authorities to let her son die in peace since he is in the terminal phase of brain cancer and is kept cuffed to his hospital bed with two guards beside him.

"My son is dying, he cannot move and yet they're still keeping him handcuffed," Martha Elena Palomares, originally from the Mexican state of Sonora, told Efe on Tuesday.

Her son, Juan M. Corrales Palomares, 20, is hospitalized at Tucson's University Medical Center.

Corrales, a U.S. citizen, was serving a five-year sentence for possession of drugs and a firearm in Safford state prison when he began to experience severe headaches.

Palomares said she received letters in which her son complained of bad headaches, but she was still surprised when he called her last week from UMC to say he had undergone surgery on Feb. 29.

"He called me to tell me with his own mouth that he didn't know what was happening, that his head hurt him a lot. It was a nurse who told me that they had found some tumors and that it could be cancer," the mother said.

The doctors told her that her son, who is now unconscious, had terminal brain cancer, and they recommended that she disconnect him from life support when the time came, something that she refuses to do.

"What mortifies me is to see that they still have one of his legs cuffed to the bed and two guards are always with him. They don't allow more than one (visitor) in the room and they ask for identification to enter," she said.

"In the situation my son is in, I don't think he can escape, or that I can take him anywhere," she added.
Upon being contacted by Efe, spokesmen with the Arizona Department of Corrections explained that agency policy is to use handcuffs as a way to guarantee the safety of their personnel and of the prisoners.

Palomares also questioned the medical care her son received while he was in prison.

"I don't know what happened with him, someone told me that he had fallen inside there," she said.

Last month the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona filed a lawsuit against the state corrections department arguing that prisoners are not receiving the medical and mental care they need.

The documents presented to the court by the ACLU indicate that sick prisoners who asked for medical attention were told things such as "be patient" and "it's all in your head," or urged to pray for a cure.

"We're asking for several things, among them an order prohibiting the Department of Corrections, for example, from putting people with mental problems in isolated cells," Alessandra Soler, the executive director of the ACLU in Arizona, told Efe on Tuesday.

NBC 12's Halloran investigates: Solitary in Arizona.

From KPNX, Channel 12 - Wendy Halloran kicks the AZ Department of Corrections' butt over the scathing Amnesty International report on solitary in AZ prisons that I blogged on earlier. Pay particular attention to the story of Mark Tucker...

Solitary hell in Arizona: cruel, inhumane, and illegal.


Thanks to our friends at Amnesty International for flying out last summer - Chuck Ryan wouldn't let them in to see the prisoners, but he couldn't keep them away from the rest of us... 
and thanks again to Bob Ortega, who refuses to let up shining the light in the darkness of our state prisons.

Amnesty International accuses Arizona of abuse in prisons

Arizona's state prisons overuse solitary confinement in cruel, inhumane and illegal ways, particularly for mentally ill prisoners and juveniles as young as 14, the human-rights group Amnesty International charges in a report to be released today.

According to the report, which is to be delivered to the governor and state lawmakers, Arizona prisons use solitary confinement as a punishment more than most other states or the federal government.

document Report | document ACLU lawsuit | Suit: Inmates denied adequate care

The group found that some inmates are held in isolation for months and sometimes years, and it called on the state to use the practice only as a last resort and only for a short duration.

In addition, it asked that the practice not be used against children or people who are mentally ill or have behavioral disabilities. The group also called on state officials to improve conditions for prisoners in solitary confinement and to act to reduce the high number of suicides in Arizona's prisons.

Arizona Department of Corrections officials said they had not read the report Monday and were unable to comment.

According to the DOC, 3,130 inmates, or 8 percent of the state prison population, were being held in the highest-security, maximum-custody units as of Friday, and most were confined alone.

Although maximum-security inmates include those who are violent and may represent a threat to other inmates or staff, Amnesty noted that Arizona's own figures show that 35 percent of inmates in maximum security were committed for non-violent crimes.

Amnesty International's report cited sources who said prisoners are regularly assigned to maximum security for relatively minor rule violations or disruptive behavior, often because they have mental-health or behavioral problems.

The report noted cases of Arizona inmates who have been in solitary confinement continuously for 15 years. Amnesty said that various international human-rights treaties and experts, including the United Nations' Special Rapporteur on Torture, have called on states to limit the use of solitary confinement to exceptional circumstances, for short periods and to prohibit solitary confinement of children 17 and younger.

Amnesty's report found that 14 children 14 to 17 years old had been held in maximum custody at the Rincon unit in the Tucson state prison, under conditions similar to those of adults: 22 to 24 hours a day in their cells, limited exercise alone in a small cage and with no recreational activities.

Because children and adolescents are not fully developed physically and emotionally, they are less equipped to tolerate the effects of isolation, according to studies cited in the report.

Some charges in the Amnesty report echo those raised in a federal lawsuit filed by the Americal Civil Liberties Union and the Prison Law Office last month, alleging that Arizona's Department of Corrections doesn't provide adequate mental-health and medical care.

The state has not responded to that suit, and the Corrections spokesman said the department wouldn't respond to any parts of the Amnesty report that related to that litigation.

Last July, Corrections officials declined to meet with Amnesty representatives from London who were visiting Arizona, nor allow them to visit the Eyman state prison, which houses about 1,950 maximum-security inmates.

A spokesman said Corrections Director Charles Ryan had other commitments. In a letter to Amnesty, Ryan cited security concerns in declining their visit request. On that same tour, Texas and California correctional officials met with Amnesty's representatives, and California permitted them to visit maximum-custody units.
About 1 percent of federal inmates are held in conditions similar to Arizona's, according to data from the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

The U.S. holds more prisoners in solitary confinement than any other country in the world, Amnesty said.
With more than 8 percent of Arizona's inmate population in maximum security and a large portion of those inmates in solitary, the state's rate puts it at the high end among U.S. states, most of which hold from 1 to 3 percent of their inmates in some form of solitary confinement.

Most Arizona maximum-security inmates are isolated in "special management units," windowless cells that, contrary to the U.N. Standard Minimum Rules for Treatment of Prisoners, have no direct access to sunlight or fresh air, and have lighting that is dimmed at night but left on 24 hours a day, the Amnesty report said.

Inmates in SMU units are not allowed to work. They typically receive two daily meals in their cells, have no contact with other inmates and are allowed out of their cell no more than three times a week for two hours for exercise and showers, in many cases in a windowless room with nothing except tall walls and a mesh over the roof.

Amnesty cited allegations that the cells are no longer steam-cleaned between inmates, so that food, urine and feces are stuck on the walls and food slots.

Both Amnesty International and inmates contacted by The Arizona Republic expressed concern that the conditions in solitary may contribute to Arizona's high prison suicide rate, which was double the national average last fiscal year. Seven of the 10 most recent suicides in state prisons were by inmates being held in solitary in maximum-security cells, according to Corrections death reports.

While many states, including California, New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, Ohio, Mississippi and Wisconsin, bar placing seriously mentally ill inmates in solitary because the social isolation and sensory deprivation can lead to further psychological deterioration, Arizona does not.

Amnesty cited reports that serious mental illnesses often go undiagnosed in Arizona prisons because of a lack of mental-health staff and inadequate screening and monitoring.

Amnesty reported that mental-health staff don't have weekly rounds, visiting maximum-security inmates only when there's a crisis, and consulting with them at their cell door.

It noted the ACLU lawsuit, which alleges that prisoners in solitary wait an average of six to eight months to see a psychologist, with some waiting more than a year. One prisoner diagnosed with serious mental illness spent two years in solitary without seeing a psychiatrist despite repeated requests and referrals by staff, according to the suit.

Amnesty noted 43 suicides listed by Corrections from October 2005 to April 2011 and said that of the 37 cases in which it was able to collect information, 22 -- or 60 percent -- took place in maximum-custody solitary units. There have been at least eight more suicides since April 2011 and 16 other deaths that the department described only as "under investigation."

In letters to The Republic, inmates have raised concerns similar to those in the Amnesty report. "While on suicide watch here at SMU-1, the lights stay on all night and make it impossible to sleep -- all day, all night," wrote Dustin Brislan, an inmate with a serious mental illness in solitary confinement at Eyman.

"Lack of contact, of seeing the outside, seeing any bit of sunlight, smelling fresh air, all of that has increased my mental illness. I'm only allowed recreation every other day, where I'm put in a windowless cell off area."

The Eyman prison is the only one in Arizona not accredited by the National Commission on Correctional Health Care, which requires that prisoners being held in solitary confinement have at least weekly contact with mental-health staff.

By contrast, North Dakota's prison system hasn't had a suicide in 12 years, and none in maximum security since the early 1990s, according to that state's director of corrections and rehabilitation, Leann Bertsch.

"People with mental illness do very poorly in isolation," she said, "so we work with them intensively because we don't want them staying in isolation for long."

That means constant supervision, daily visits with behavioral counselors, and other interventions by trained staff as part of a comprehensive suicide-prevention policy.

The Amnesty report also questioned why Arizona's Corrections Department requires all prisoners sentenced to life to spend at least their first two years in solitary confinement, regardless of whether they pose a threat to other inmates or guards.

"There appears to be no valid reason," the report said. American Bar Association standards call for prisoners to be kept in solitary more than a year only if the prisoner poses a "continuing, serious threat."

Many states have reduced solitary confinement in recent years, often under court order, only to find that their costs drop and prisoners behave better when they aren't in solitary.

Mississippi cut the use of solitary by 80 percent in 2007, and Maine by 60 percent last year.

Amnesty International said Arizona should:

• Reduce the number of prisoners in isolation to only those who are a serious and continuing threat.

• Improve overall conditions, provide more out-of-cell time, better exercise facilities, meaningful education and rehabilitation programs.

• Introduce measures to allow some group interactions and association to benefit inmates' mental health and provide incentives for better behavior.

• Remove all serious mentally ill prisoners from solitary and prohibit them from being placed in solitary.

• Improve mental-health monitoring; take steps to reduce suicide, including more humane conditions in suicide watch cells; and prohibit solitary confinement of prisoners under 18.

AZ DOC contracts health care out to substandard provider

Wexford Health Sources has a rich history of undercutting prisoner health care and fighting off huge lawsuits. The state of New Mexico even terminated their corrections contract for their poor service delivery several years ago, and after they were hired by Mississippi to care for their prisoners, the prisoner death rate began to skyrocket. Here's their rap sheet, maintained by the Private Corrections Working Group. Their database is composed of news clippings and organized chronologically by state.
In light of the shoddy job the AZ Department of Corrections has done on prisoner health care, it should come as no surprise that they would pick Wexford to carry on their tradition of's what happened to the prisoners in Mississippi once they took over:
----from the Clarion Ledger-----

November 23, 2008 Clarion Ledger
Mississippi's inmate mortality rate was second in the nation in 2006, the most recent year for which national data are available. And according to a review of state-level reports, Mississippi's mortality rate rose in 2007. It's a situation that is raising legal concerns with lawmakers and moral questions with prison-reform advocates.

 Mississippi Department of Corrections officials say the high rate of in-custody deaths is the result of a number of factors: aging prisoners, drug and alcohol abuse prior to incarceration and the generally unhealthy lifestyles of Mississippians. 

But Patti Barber, executive director of the prison-reform group Mississippi CURE, said the state does a poor job of looking after the chronic health needs of inmates. "We are getting tons of letters from inmates, for instance, who have been diagnosed with diabetes. They are not getting their (blood) sugar checked daily, as they are supposed to," she said. "Things just plain aren't getting done." 

That is what the Mississippi Legislature's Joint Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review found last December when it released a report on inmate health care. The PEER report found inmates did not receive timely medical treatment from MDOC's medical contractor, Pittsburgh-based Wexford Health Sources, and that Wexford did not meet medical care standards set forth under its contract with the state. In addition, the PEER committee found Wexford did not adhere to its own standards in following up on inmates with chronic health problems. Wexford, which took over inmate care in 2006, referred all questions to MDOC....


If there's anyone out there from Wexford who has a different take on your company's ability to treat our prisoners right, please feel free to contact me - I'll seriously consider publishing your opinion on this matter. We'd like to know if you folks have finally gotten it right.

Monday, April 2, 2012

AZ DOC: Prisoner protective custody battles

The article below was published by the Phoenix New Times in 1998. Perhaps it's time for another massive lawsuit. I've had enough of the guys I correspond with turned down for PS - and assaulted repeatedly as a result - that I'd gladly team up with a good attorney out there to help them all file a civil rights suit together. 

Many of them aren't even gangbangers or snitches - some are just stupid, scared kids who got into debt to the Mexican Mafia for drugs or by gambling, and refused to clear it up by extorting from their families or assaulting a guard or another prisoner. They became targets themselves for refusing to obey the gang. I frankly, think that deserves protection. So does becoming a target for being gay. Or developmentally disabled. Or mentally ill. Or an anti-racist. Or very young.

Violence in the prisons has spiraled out of control under ADC Director Chuck Ryan. Even the homicide rate has doubled. Everyone is in more danger on his watch  - including the guards. Considering that he was mentored by Terry Stewart, though, perhaps this should have come as no surprise. Jan Brewer probably knew exactly what she'd be getting in Ryan.

AZ State Capitol - Wes Bolin Plaza
Crime Victims' Memorial
March 9, 2012

One big question remains: are the gangs running the yards and killing guys like Dana Seawright and Eddie Martinez because Director Ryan is in control and just lets them do as they please, or do they actually control him and his people, instead? 

It can't be both ways.

In any case, I don't think our state prisons should be giving evil thugs target practice - it just keeps them trained to be predators until they're turned loose again on us. They're supposed be getting better in prison at being decent citizens, not better at being violent criminals. Allowing the most vulnerable prisoners to be repeatedly victimized by the most violent is really unacceptable, and seems to meet the "deliberate indifference to human  life" threshold. 

Anyone out there with a loved one trying to get protective segregation status who agrees with me and wants to organize with other family members to change this system, please contact me at or 480-580-6807. And tell your guys inside not to give up hope...

AZ State Capitol 
March 9, 2012


Custody Battle

Hundreds of inmates in state prisons need special protection from gang paybacks. When officials tried to mix them in with the general-prison population, they filed suit--and won.

By Chris Farnsworth  
Thursday, Apr 2 1998

You'd think the one place a person would be safe would be locked inside a prison cell. You'd be wrong.
In 1996, a team of lawyers brought a class-action suit against the Arizona Department of Corrections on behalf of 274 inmates in protective segregation. DOC wanted to move those inmates into the general population, where the prisoners said they'd be assaulted, threatened and possibly killed.

At a trial in Phoenix--kept secret because of the threat of reprisal against the prisoners--the lawyers argued that the inmates' lives were at risk from the literally thousands of gang members inside the state-prison system. And more potential gang members entered every day; some 3,200 to 4,000 gangbangers were coming into the prison system every year. Four inmates who'd left protective custody had ended up dead, killed by other inmates. DOC couldn't keep the inmates safe, the lawyers contended.

A federal judge agreed, saying DOC was deliberately indifferent to the threat to prisoners' lives. DOC Director Terry Stewart called the judge's decision "the most egregious intrusion into prison administration" in Arizona's history--and promised a fight to the bitter end.

But despite his strong words, Stewart ended up conceding defeat--or, at least, calling it a draw. Last month, after an emotional three-day hearing before an appeals court, DOC and the lawyers agreed to create a new policy over the next two years aimed at keeping the inmates safe. During that time, no prisoner will be transferred against his will.

Recently unsealed documents from the lawsuit provide a look into the management of Arizona's prisons, and offer some disturbing sights: a powerful gang population, an administration unaware of the cracks in its systems and the violence that threatens lives as a result.

Now, if the state wants to keep the federal courts from running its prisons from the outside, DOC has two years to prove the gangs aren't running things from the inside.

In spring of 1995, then-corrections director Sam Lewis decided it was time to do something about the inmates in protective custody.

At the time, the Arizona Department of Corrections was at the head of a national movement of "prison reform"--namely, getting the federal courts the hell out of prison management. DOC fought against court-mandated guidelines--even all the way to the Supreme Court--and it won.

Arizona was in the vanguard against "frivolous inmate lawsuits"--inmates arguing in court that their rights were violated by the inability to wear women's clothing, watch cable TV, receive skin magazines and otherwise waste the taxpayers' money. The clashes were often fierce--former governor J. Fife Symington III called for one federal judge's impeachment, and that judge repeatedly held Sam Lewis in contempt of court.
Lewis retired in 1995, but his successor, Terry Stewart, carried on the struggle with the same level of intensity. And, by that time, Arizona started winning.

In April 1996, the Prison Litigation Reform Act was quietly signed into law by President Bill Clinton, tagged onto an appropriations bill. The act has proven integral to efforts to shut down prison lawsuits by imposing substantial limits on the federal courts' authority over prisons and jails, and on inmates' ability to file suit. The PLRA makes it that much harder for prisoners to get an action--frivolous or otherwise--into court.

DOC also began winning those cases that did get into court. In 1996, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed with the state in a pivotal case. In Casey v. Lewis, a case where a judge had ruled that the state's prisoners had broad rights to access law libraries, the nation's highest court came down soundly on the side of DOC, which had argued it could run its prisons, law libraries and all, without being micromanaged by the federal courts.

It was a major victory for DOC. And when confronted with the problem of inmates in protective segregation, there was no reason for DOC to believe that the same "do-it-our-way" approach wouldn't work.

DOC spokesman Mike Arra says, "We've made it a point to fight our battles."

As Larry Hammond, the attorney who took the protective-segregation case for the inmates, put it, "All the major prison cases in Arizona ended up with the judge's orders overturned. They [DOC] were 10 and 0 heading into this one. Terry Stewart kept winning. He didn't have a sense this case was different."

Protective-segregation inmates--or PS inmates, for short--are the prisoners within the prison. They are in danger in regular, general-population facilities for a variety of reasons. They include child molesters and others whose crimes make them targets of hatred from other inmates. Former law enforcement personnel and known snitches are placed in PS, because both groups face the possibility of revenge. And almost half of the PS inmates in Arizona, according to court records, are those who have crossed the prison gangs.

Some face contracts on their lives.

In 1995, there were 463 PS inmates in the Arizona prison system. About half were confined at Florence's maximum-security facility. According to court records, DOC decided to use the cellblock for other purposes. DOC officials also believed that there were too many inmates in protective custody.

At the time, PS inmates were "rubber-stamped" during their regular classification reviews. Even though their status was evaluated about every six months, PS inmates were allowed to stay in protective custody whether or not they still needed protection.

Lewis wanted to change that. On June 6, 1995, he established a special review committee and ordered a complete reevaluation of all PS inmates to get the number down to 200.

In keeping with DOC's get-tough policies, the new standards were much stricter. An inmate had to prove that there was a "verified, potential attacker" out there in the system in order to remain in PS.

The review committee didn't think the nature of the inmate's crime was a factor in deciding if protection was necessary--child molesters couldn't stay in just because they were child molesters, for example. Nor did the committee consider the stigma attached to being in protective segregation. If the other inmates knew you'd been in PS, and thought you might be a molester or a snitch, that was your own problem.

The committee also didn't regard gang threats as a reason to stay in PS, unless the inmate could name a specific gang member who might hurt him. And the committee could opt to transfer that inmate out of PS and to a facility away from that gang member.

After the 1995 review, only 92 inmates made the cut to stay in protective segregation. Ninety-seven inmates left protective custody voluntarily. The other 274 were to be forced back on the yards, including 164 who were in PS for gang-related issues.

The lawsuits came in a flurry after that. More than 170 of the inmates being tossed out of PS filed actions against DOC, arguing that they were in real danger if they were forced back into the general-prison population.

That's when the case landed on the desk of Larry Hammond.

Hammond is best remembered for a case many people would like to forget: the John Knapp appeal. Knapp was convicted and sentenced to death for setting a fire which killed his two baby daughters in 1973.

Hammond, after years of effort, proved Knapp was wrongly convicted and saved his life. (The story is recounted in full in the book Triple Jeopardy by Roger Parloff.) In his office at the downtown firm of Osborn Maledon, Hammond points to a photo of himself and Knapp on the courthouse steps, almost 14 years after Knapp's conviction. "That's the happiest day of my life," Hammond says. "That's the first day he [Knapp] left the courthouse without shackles on."

The dog pile of inmate lawsuits over DOC's new policy on protective custody had drawn the attention of both the Justice Department and U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Barry Silverman. They both asked Hammond to represent the inmates in a class-action suit to settle the issue.

Hammond was leery at first, especially about taking another, possibly expensive, pro bono suit to his partners. "You always have to do a little marketing when you bring these things up before the [pro bono] committee," he says. "Every case is a small case; it won't take longer than the blink of an eyelash, and, of course, it never turns out that way."

But a federal judge and the Justice Department had asked; duty had called. And Hammond honestly thought the case would end fairly quickly.

"If you had told me this case would last as long as it did, that it would go to trial with 56 witnesses, including 36 inmates testifying, over 19 days, I never would have believed you," he says.

Hammond first enlisted Debbie Hill, another attorney at Osborn Maledon, to take on the case with him. In December 1995, U.S. District Court Judge Charles Hardy appointed Hammond, Hill and four other lawyers--Andrew Gordon, Don Peters, Alice Bendheim and Sam Whitten--to represent the inmates.

Andrew Gordon had already worked on one prison case--Hook v. Lewis, which was one of the cases where the former DOC director was held in contempt. Like Hammond, he was a little wary.

"It's hard work," he says of prison lawsuits. "You're representing a segment of society no one likes, it's politically hostile, the pay is rare if not nonexistent. But aside from that, it's great."

By way of contrast, Hill, a partner with Hammond at the firm and his co-counsel on many cases, jumped at the chance to work on the lawsuit. Pro bono work is one of the reasons Hill works at Osborn Maledon, she says.

Hill sometimes worked on the case until 4 a.m., answering the letters of inmates and talking to their families. One of the other lawyers, Don Peters, even worried she was taking on too much, trying to save the world.
Hill admits she got much more emotionally involved than many lawyers would. But given what she was learning, she says, "I don't see how you could do this case and be detached."

Peters, who mostly does commercial litigation, took the case because Hammond, an old friend, asked him. He admits that prisoners' rights aren't usually his first concern.

"Some guy who commits serial rapes is not going to be at the top of my list of people to help," he says. But the more he worked on the lawsuit, the more he realized that no one else was going to help people who were in real danger.

"Of course, these people have to be locked up, but there's a responsibility that goes along with that . . . prisons are doomed to be barbaric without court intervention because there's no one there to stand up for these prisoners," Peters says.

"In my first prison case, I never actually went to the prison," he says. "I thought it didn't make a difference, but it did. Unless you've been in there, you just don't know."

Peters began to understand that, "In this case, people would die if I fouled up."

It started with the letters.

The inmates, once they heard that they had lawyers, started writing to tell what was going on behind the walls, and what they faced if they were forced out of protective segregation.

At one point, the attorneys were getting as many as five letters a day. They assigned Sarah Molinsky, then a paralegal with Osborn Maledon, the task of reading and filing each letter. She soon had almost 250 separate files.

At first, she recalls, it was "almost voyeuristic--kind of like looking at a car accident." The inmates described a completely different and deeply violent world.

Protective segregation, Molinsky learned, was hardly a lush life. Inmates couldn't get the same educational and treatment programs as general-population prisoners, or, often, regular visits with family.

They also had to suffer the wrath of the general-population inmates simply for being PS inmates. Their food, which was prepared by general-population inmates, often had feces, metal or glass in it. They were taunted as they walked through the prison on their way to meals or the library.

Prisoners know where the PS inmates stand in the food chain. "The new inmate on a cellblock is referred to as a fish," Hammond says. "All fishes are at risk from predators. But they call a PS inmate who's back on the yard a 'fish trailing blood.'"

Molinsky also learned that not all of the PS inmates were rapists or child molesters. "There's a lot of them in there for reasons that reflect well on them," she says. "One inmate stopped another from killing a guard at Madison [Street Jail in Phoenix]. Now that guy's a snitch, and his life is in danger."

DOC is not only supposed to protect the inmates' lives, but also their identities, to avoid reprisals against them if they are moved out of protective custody, and to keep their families safe.

But the department had a tough time even doing that, court records show. "Turnout lists," which showed inmates' locations and movements, were posted where they were read by all inmates and could reveal exactly who was in protective segregation.

"These guys are incredibly sophisticated when it comes to the day-to-day details of their lives," Gordon says. "Sure, these guys are rapists and murderers. They're also smart, and DOC had done nothing to hide [the PS inmates'] identities."

In one instance, DOC had even used inmates in protective custody in a video which was supposed to be shown to prisoners entering the state prison system, according to court records.

"The attitude was, prisoners like protective custody," Hammond says. "People think it's some kind of country-club existence, these guys are just living it up. Nothing could be further from the truth. The inmates hate it. That's why some of these guys waive out. They start thinking, 'Maybe I could make it.'"

But if life inside protective segregation is unpleasant, life outside it is deadly.

The main reason: prison gangs.

When the case went to trial before Judge Hardy in late 1996, the attorneys set out to prove that DOC couldn't keep inmates safe in general population because DOC couldn't control the gangs.

According to testimony from DOC officials, there are more than 3,000 inmates involved in gangs in Arizona's prisons. That would add up to about 10 to 14 percent of the state prison population.

There are at least 500 "patched"--fully initiated--gang members in the system, according to testimony from DOC officials. Also, there are 1,200 to 1,500 "probates"--probationary members of the gangs, inmates who are working to prove they're worthy of joining.

DOC officials say it's hard to know exactly how many other inmates have some relationship with a gang, including potentially hundreds of "wanna-bes"--inmates who want to be gang members and associate with the gangs, but haven't started probating.

But more are on the way. DOC estimates that about half of all the inmates entering Arizona's prisons from Maricopa and Pima counties enter with a street-gang affiliation. While not every one will join a prison gang, that adds up to about 3,200 to 4,000 more potential gangbangers entering the prisons every year.

DOC has identified five different gangs inside the prison system: the Aryan Brotherhood, the Old Mexican Mafia, the New Mexican Mafia, the Grandels and the Border Brothers. In the course of their research, the prisoners' attorneys heard about at least 13 different gangs, with groups like the New Mexican Mafia and the Aryan Brotherhood being the most powerful. (According to testimony from one DOC official, there have been 800 different street gangs identified by law enforcement in the state of Arizona.)

Gang members enforce their will with violence. They deal drugs, run protection rackets and even take contracts out to kill those who cross them, prison officials testified. Gang members have a sophisticated communications system which can quickly disseminate information throughout the prisons and to the outside.

In court records, DOC officials say there are gang members on every prison yard in the state.

Hill says bluntly, "The gangs really run the yards."

DOC spokesman Arra disagrees, but says the state is taking the gang problem very seriously.

"There's definitely an acknowledgment just by what we are doing that gangs cause problems," he says, "but do gangs run the yards? Absolutely not."

At least four inmates who have left protective segregation in recent years have been killed, according to court records. The murderer of one admitted he did so because he knew his victim was out of PS.

Maria (a pseudonym) has a long history with DOC. She has two family members in prison, including a son in protective segregation. She agreed to speak to New Times if her identity was protected. Her son became a plaintiff in the class-action suit; while he was still in the county jail, he was stabbed seven times in the back.
When Maria learned that DOC planned to transfer him into the general population--to turn him, in her view, back over to the gangs--she was devastated.

"I couldn't believe it," she says. "I said, 'Over my dead body are they going to do this.'"

DOC, Maria says, didn't care what the consequences of the new policy would be. "They think that just by having a change of classification, it's going to make a difference, but it's not. And until they take care of the predatory presence inside the prison, it's going to stay like that," she says. "And it's almost like they don't care. It's like, if one dies, that's one less they have to worry about."

The case went to trial before Judge Hardy in late 1996. The lawsuit was kept a strict secret. It was even filed under a fake name and phony case number. The plaintiffs' lawyers feared their clients would be harmed if their identities were discovered. Lawyers were instructed not to discuss the case.

(Few people on the outside knew about the lawsuit, but as it turned out, the Aryan Brotherhood got a complete list of the plaintiffs anyway--no one's really sure how--and distributed it to members throughout the prisons.)

All of the inmates who testified for the plaintiffs said that they'd been beaten, threatened or extorted--or all of the above--when they were in general population.

On December 2, 1996, Judge Hardy agreed that lives were at stake. After hearing the evidence, he found that DOC didn't care that the move to put PS inmates back in general population exposed them to "a substantial risk of harm." He prevented DOC from moving any of the PS inmates into maximum-security units because of the threat posed by gangs.

"The most violent and dangerous inmates are in those units," Hardy wrote. "They regard anyone who has been in protective segregation as a snitch who poses a threat to the continuance of their illegal activities. The risk is exacerbated if the inmate has been placed in protective segregation because of difficulties with a gang. . . . the gang is capable of having the former protective segregation inmate attacked, usually by a probate who wants to qualify for gang membership."

The ruling incensed Terry Stewart. Stewart had not attended a day of the trial before Judge Hardy. But in spite of that and the court seal on the case, he issued a press release two days before Christmas. In it, the director blasted yet another decision by yet another meddling, activist federal judge.

"It is the most egregious intrusion into prison administration that the courts have been involved with in Arizona," Stewart said. He also claimed--wrongly--that, "There was never any showing that harm would come to inmates if they were removed from protective segregation."

Stewart promised a battle to the end.

"Inmate classification is at the core of prison management. The only thing I see accomplished with this ruling is that a federal court has once again flagrantly interfered with my authority, and I have no choice but to appeal," he said.

The fight, which the lawyers thought would be over by now, had one more important round to go.

Last month, DOC's appeal came before U.S. District Court Judge Richard M. Bilby in Tucson. Bilby also unsealed the transcripts of the appeal at the request of the Arizona Daily Star.

Bilby, a plain-spoken judge, let the lawyers know he was a see-things-for-himself kind of guy. At one point in the transcripts, Bilby talks about visiting a prison and eating in the dining hall to test an inmate's claims that the food constituted cruel and unusual punishment.

"I went out and ate three meals and decided they were edible. Didn't have the meat loaf, I might add," Bilby said.

At the hearing, DOC argued it had changed its policies to meet Judge Hardy's ruling, that it was no longer deliberately indifferent.

And, in fact, the department under Stewart had made great strides in addressing the problem of gangs--or STGs, "Security Threat Groups" in DOC jargon--the court transcripts show.

Don Greenwald, the DOC's operations officer for security, conceded that DOC had not addressed the gang problems in the past. Under questioning by an assistant attorney general, Greenwald said that DOC had only identified 29 "validated" gang members when the case first went to trial in 1996.

"[W]as that a sufficient showing?" the AG asked.

"It was ridiculous," Greenwald said.

DOC, Greenwald testified, had begun an aggressive policy to identify and isolate gang members, as well as crack down on gang activity. More than 160 gang members had been identified and moved "out of the mainstream." And a new policy promised protection for those inmates who renounced the gangs.

Stewart testified that there was even a contract on his head by the gangs because of his efforts--which he took as a good sign.

"When the STG population is trying to impact the director . . . there is no question that it [the new policy] is having an impact on them and an adverse one," Stewart said.

At one point, it looked like DOC had put Bilby's mind at ease about the threat to PS inmates from gangs. "If you are assuring me now that a gang member who renounces the gang will either be put into protective segregation or will be sent out of the state, you have assuaged a lot of the problems that Judge Hardy was concerned about," Bilby told Stewart near the close of the first day of the hearing.

But under Hammond's cross-examination, Stewart was forced to admit that not much had really changed in a number of areas in DOC.

As a mark of his success, Stewart brought a list of 60 PS inmates who had been reviewed under the new classification policies implemented since Judge Hardy's trial. He told the court that 58 out of 60 were put in protective custody against their wishes. In fact, Hammond proved, exactly the opposite was true: All 60 of those people were slated to be removed from protection against their wishes. Further, all 60 had been recommended for removal before Judge Hardy's order two and a half years earlier. In short, nothing had changed--except the policy.

But the most powerful moment in the three-day hearing came when Hammond, while cross-examining Stewart, asked about the apparent gang slaying of inmate Steve Benitez. And it was a murder the plaintiffs almost never learned about.

While preparing for the hearing before Bilby, Debbie Hill went to the Santa Rita facility to interview an inmate who'd been assaulted a year earlier. When she arrived, she found the place locked down. An inmate had been killed, she discovered.

At first, DOC refused to tell the plaintiff's legal team anything about Benitez's death. Hill filed a motion to get information from DOC. What she learned became a turning point in the appeal.

"It was like something from the Heart of Darkness," Hammond says. "What happened to that man went to the center of every issue in the case."

Benitez was an informer who had helped prevent a gang war inside the system. The New Mexican Mafia put a contract out on his head for his betrayal, and he spent the rest of his sentence in PS. After he got out, Benitez violated parole by stealing beer.

In a presentencing report for that violation, a Maricopa County sheriff's deputy spoke on Benitez's behalf: "Let's not kill him for a 12-pack of beer. He gave us righteous information. Give him one opportunity, just one more time."

But Benitez blew that second chance by violating parole again, and was sent back into the system. Prison officials who knew his history ordered him to the facility in Globe, but through an error which has not yet been explained by DOC, Benitez was sent to the Santa Rita facility near Tucson on December 16. Benitez, according to DOC records, refused, but after he was "counseled" by a correctional officer, he ended up getting on the bus to Tucson.

On January 25, Benitez was killed in his cell, a handmade shank buried so deep between his ribs it was first thought he'd died of a heart attack.

Hammond drove his point home just as deeply when questioning Stewart. Benitez was sent to a yard where DOC officials knew "the New Mexican Mafia is alive and well," Hammond said.

"Can you possibly explain then how it is possible that a man who has a contract on his life from the New Mexican Mafia is being sent there?" Hammond demanded.

Stewart said he could not.

Since Benitez could not name a specific inmate who threatened him at Santa Rita, DOC's policy required he go there.

"So what does that tell us?" Hammond asked. "That inmate is just out of luck. . . . Director Stewart, why isn't every person in DOC up in arms over this thing?"

"Mr. Hammond, I can't explain that," Stewart said. "I can tell you I wish very, very deeply that this had not happened. . . . We moved expeditiously to try to correct the situation so that it will never happen again."

"No, sir," Hammond shot back. "What you did is you drafted another piece of paper."

The exchange clearly had an impact on Judge Bilby.

"You keep telling me, 'The reason this policy works, Judge, is because I have all these qualified people down here doing it.' Boy, if this is an example of it, you are being ill served," Bilby said.

Bilby then singled out Stewart's press release as creating an attitude "that just eviscerates your policy."

Bilby told Stewart, "I think the attitude of the average person is, 'Well if the director says this is a bunch of nonsense, to hell with it, and we will go ahead and do what we are doing. That is all attitude, sir."

"Sir, I don't think there is any evidence to link that to my attitude," Stewart protested. "My attitude is we need to fix it. My attitude is I never want that to happen again."

Bilby didn't buy it. "We can have every policy in the world and until you and the other people running that department make it clear that it's a new day, we are all spitting in the wind."

The court then went into recess.

Debbie Hill went up to Hammond, who was still standing in the courtroom after the emotional cross-examination.

"I think this judge gets it," Hammond told her.

"It was what we'd been saying to DOC all this time," Hill recalls. "It's just unfortunate it took someone's death to show that."

On the third day, four inmates told their stories about prison life. Stewart was in the courtroom the entire time.

Those accounts are still sealed to protect the inmates' identities, but Hammond says one of the most powerful witnesses for the plaintiffs was a predator, Hammond recalls, a former member of the Aryan Brotherhood.

"I can say over and over that the gangs run the prisons, and it doesn't mean anything," Hammond says. "But to hear a member of the Aryan Brotherhood talk matter-of-factly about how they run the yards with well-documented physical violence is absolutely chilling."

Stewart wouldn't talk about the case, but Hammond thinks that it made an impact on the director. "I hope it was cathartic, and a little terrifying," Hammond says. "It's a bit like Chinese water torture. It takes so many stories of beatings and being bent over foot lockers before you really understand this is about death, really internalize it."

And by the end of the day, Stewart changed his mind about the lawsuit. The attorney from the AG's Office announced that the director had decided to settle the litigation. DOC agreed that over the next two years, it would craft, with the plaintiffs, a policy which would keep protective-segregation inmates safe. And until that policy is hammered out, no one will be moved out of protective custody unless he agrees.

Bilby told the parties what he expected the policy to include, and then, with the sound of his gavel, the hearing was done.

The fight was suddenly over. And for the first time in a long time with DOC, there was no bitter end. There was, instead, cooperation.

DOC spokesman Arra calls it a tactical decision, not a change of heart.

He notes that all of DOC's victories have come at the appellate level, not in the district courts.
"We look at the playing field. And we perceive the playing field at the district-court level as being lopsided, not in our favor," Arra says. "We made the decision to give ourselves time to formulate a plan that will meet the court's scrutiny."

Arra maintains that even though PS can be improved, it was never unconstitutional. He is reluctant to even call the case "settled"--he instead refers to it as a "consent decree"--but the plaintiffs chalk it up as a victory.
Hammond sums it up by saying everyone had something to learn from this case. The lawyers and DOC had to find out that people on the inside were in real danger in order to change things on the outside.

"This wasn't a case about hot pots or Christmas packages," says Debbie Hill. "This was about people with families, about people's sons, and their safety and their lives."