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

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Voice for AZ Crime Victims is not Steve Twist...

 Some of the  68 names of the AZ DOC's victims of violence, neglect and abuse over the past 3 1/2 years, 
from the roof of Phoenix's Firehouse Gallery during the opening of "Patriotic Descent".
(June 9, 2012)

The letter and video link below came to me as a response to the editorial in the Arizona Republic today by Mr. Steve Twist, titled: "Ariz. prisons are humane, secure despite criticism". As implied, the letter is a defense of the state-as-perpetrator, not an argument that human life and rights should be vigorously protected.

Mr. Twist is a founder of the conservative Goldwater Institute, and the former assistant attorney general who authored the AZ Victims Bill of Rights, a constitutional amendment passed in the early 90's which explicitly excluded anyone "in custody for an offense" (as well as their survivors, if the crimes perpetrated against them result in death) from the legal definition of victim - and thus from all resource the state allocates to help victims cope with the devastating consequences of assault, rape, murder and other such serious crimes.

The letter was composed for the occasion by a real-life survivor of the state's cruelty and neglect; she lost her brother to it. Michelle gave me her blessings to post it widely - this is one of the voices we can trust. Please pass it on.

---------------from Michelle Lependorf------------------- 

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The recent articles written by Mr. Ortega in The Arizona Republic were primarily aimed at highlighting the deficiencies in health care provided to Arizona’s most seriously ill prisoners, those having severe mental and medical conditions.  It was fact-based, investigative reporting and not a media campaign or ACLU conspiracy aimed at generating sympathy and support for reduced prison terms or less restrictive environments within Arizona’s prisons.
The focus of the articles written by Mr. Ortega was not to question the housing protocol within the Arizona Department of Corrections.  Rather, it was to highlight the deliberate indifference shown to inmates who suffer from serious medical conditions wherever housed within Arizona’s prisons.  These inmates have been systematically, persistently and consistently denied or delayed meaningful and effectual medical care, the result being that far too many are dying, many of whom have not been incarcerated for violent, predatory crimes and who have not been perpetrators of inmate on inmate violence.
If officials within the Arizona Department of Corrections are, as is claimed by Mr. Twist, aware that “a significant percentage of those who live in Arizona prisons are in poor health when they enter prison,” don’t these same individuals have a heightened duty to ensure that an adequate health care system is in place to address the needs of these individuals?  This includes, at a minimum, ensuring that properly trained staff are in place and available to deliver the sophisticated health care required by such a high-risk prison population.  

Despite Mr. Twist’s assumptions to the contrary, there is a vast low-income segment of society that exists outside of the prison environs.  In that segment of society, there are a statistically larger number of individuals suffering from poor health conditions, as compared to more affluent segments of society.  This is primarily due to a lack of resources, high unemployment, low education levels, poor diet and nutrition, lack of health insurance and, perhaps, to some degree, genetic predispositions from the continuity of poor health conditions inherited by each successive generation.  That does not mean, however, that such individuals do not deserve adequate and effective medical care.  Should we deny or delay medical care for such individuals because they are born into and continually exist within a segment of society that renders them more susceptible to healthcare challenges?  Why can we not expect the same level of care for prisoners who enter Arizona’s prison systems with existing chronic conditions?  It may be true that many prisoners are entering into Arizona’s prisons “suffering from a litany of conditions.”  However, that does not mean that such individuals should not expect to receive or are undeserving of quality medical care – care that is delivered when it is needed and when it can make the greatest difference in the life of an inmate.  In fact, perhaps addressing the needs of such individuals would go a long way to improving conditions in the medically underserved communities from which these individuals come, as Mr. Twist claims. 
Given the threat it poses to public health in general, the failed healthcare system in Arizona’s prisons can no longer be denied, ignored or tolerated on the premise that prisoners, by virtue of their past misdeeds, are not deserving of adequate healthcare.  Although many in society believe that prisoners are not entitled to the same standard of medical care as individuals who have never been convicted of a crime, this view fails to take into consideration the high cost to society of substandard medical care provided to prisoners.  Inmates with serious illnesses or contagious diseases, who do not receive proper medical treatment while incarcerated, will eventually return to their communities.  When they do, they will likely be more unhealthy, unable to work and, more importantly, ineligible for health insurance.  This, in turn, will surely place a greater strain on the state’s already scarce resources.  So denying very ill prisoners adequate medical care is simply akin to being penny-wise and pound-foolish. 
What Bob Ortega’s articles make clear is that we have a failed health care delivery system in place within Arizona’s prisons.  It is a substandard, inhumane system that is responsible for the needless suffering and deaths of thousands of inmates.  For anyone who believes otherwise, the next time you or someone in your family becomes ill, by all means, opt for an exam with one of the paramedical professionals in Arizona’s Department of Corrections.  Mr. Twist, with his twisted notions, should be the first one to do so! 

For those of you who need further proof of just how inhumane healthcare is in Arizona’s prisons, you can get a first hand glimpse by clicking on the following link:
Michelle Lependorf is a NJ lawyer and the sister of Ferdinand Dix, a former AZDOC inmate who died while incarcerated in Arizona from undiagnosed, untreated metastatic small cell lung cancer.