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

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

ASPC-Florence deaths in custody: Miguel Sanchez, 28, suicide.

There was another suicide this week in maximum security at the AZ DOC: this young prisoner, here, Miguel Sanchez, who was facing the rest of his life in prison for beating another young man to death while robbing him. Condolences to his family, as well as the family of his victim, for whom today will bring up difficult emotions as well.

I don't know if Miguel was assaulted or being threatened by other prisoners (gangs run ASPC-Florence), or simply couldn't live with the harm he had done another human being. Perhaps he just couldn't see a future worth living for, given the conditions in AZ prisons. Rape is routinely joked about by officers, while some of the most vulnerable, even mentally disabled men are being repeatedly pushed into harm's way on GP yards where they've been told by gangs they won't be welcome because they're gay, were witnesses to a crime, snitched on a co-defendant, just sat down with members of the wrong race at chow, or refused to do the gang's dirty work for them because they don't abide by their racialized politics or they just don't want to hurt anyone anymore. 

Given Miguel's conviction and sentence,  I'm sure the New Mexican Mafia (or whomever was leading his race in his pod) had a laundry list for him to do for them to prove his worth to them and his racial loyalty. If he said no and the DOC wouldn't put him into PC, he may have just figured he was better off dead. His only other option would be to do someone else harm to stay alive and be valued by the gang, and some men just won't compromise themselve that way, even though we think they have no values to begin with.

Some folks would say "good riddance" to this young man's suicide. I don't know - maybe he was another sociopath in whom there was no hope of cultivating compassion or social responsibility...they are the minority in prison, though - the real disturbed ones are "successful" CEO's destroying our planet and other people's lives quite freely. But I know a lot of lifers who have put their time to good use helping others inside, caring for the sick and dying, taking vulnerable prisoners under their protective wings to keep them from harm, and so on...and something about Miguel's confession of his crime suggests he felt remorse - not just fear of execution. 

Not every life behind bars is a waste, or has to be. We all choose every day what kind of person to be in whatever hell we dwell in. Some of us turn out to be better people, with time, not worse ones. So a life sentence doesn't have to mean a long slow tortuous death in prison, if you can give your life to helping others, who might come out of those places as whole human beings if they meet some compassion inside.

In any case, I hope Miguel's family finds a good lawyer who will investigate his death - don't leave it to the state to do so, and take what they tell you with some skepticism. A prisoner by the name of Pete Calleros was murdered by his own gang at ASPC-Tucson a few years back. It was made to look like a suicide, which the DOC discovered soon after cleaning it up but never told his family, nor did they seek prosecution even though they identified the most likely killers. The DOC can't be counted on to tell the truth.

Fortunately, Pete's mom didn't believe he would commit suicide, and had a second autopsy done which proved it. So whatever you do, please get an attorney and demand all his DOC records - as well as records from the hospital that last saw him, if they got him to one. Get tape recordings of CIU interviews, too. Then do your own investigation. Be sure your lawyers get his confidential 805 (protective custody) file, if he has one, as well as his medical/psych records. The 805 file would show if he was being threatened and was denied protection before he did himself in, all too common an occurence at ASPC-Florence.

And feel free to contact me as well, if you need some support getting through this. I hear from all sorts of survivors of prison violence these days, and can help you connect with other families similarly struggling.

Finally, if anyone else out there knows what happened to this young man, please let me know. my name is Peggy Plews. I'm at or 480-580-6807.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Introducing the "Jailhouse Lawyer's Auxiliary Guild-AZ"

 my first blog post for this new blog:

 "Jailhouse Lawyer's Auxiliary Guild-AZ"

 Celebrate the Art of Resistance!
(some of this stuff is amazing...)
drawing by an anonymous prisoner of time
 ASPC-Phoenix/Flamenco Mental Health Ward
 (AUGUST 2013)
My name is Peggy Plews; I'm an artist and writer who became concerned with overincarceration in our country a few years back and began to blog about it to stimulate more community dialogue. About the same time, I became especially alarmed with the high rates of abuse and neglect in Arizona prisons, and in July 2009 I established Arizona Prison Watch, a blog focusing on navigating, surviving, and transforming the criminal justice system in our state. 

For a long time the only real information I could post about AZ prisons was what was already coming to light in mainstream media, or what I uncovered myself by investigating state records. In time, however, I began to receive distress letters from AZ Department of Corrections prisoners, calls from their distraught family members, and even anonymous emails from  DOC employees reporting that racialized politics rule the men's General Population yards and gangs are perpetrating high levels of violence against vulnerable prisoners while extorting their family members. I also heard very troubling accounts of gross medical and psychiatric neglect. On top of that, I was hearing from the women who had lost their children, siblings, and lovers to prison suicide, homicide, or devestating neglect.

Virtually all of those prisoners contacting me lacked the economic resources to consult, much less retain, an attorney, though I've developed a list of those I know of locally who have taken on the DOC and encourage people to seek qualified legal help when they can. I've pressured the formal institutions that seem to have responsiblity for assuring the protection of human and civil rights in custody.  I've also done what I can to engage mainstream media and legislators in efforts to investigate conditions in the state prison system, where the homicide and suicide rates doubled almost immediately once Charles Ryan became DOC director (January 2009, with the elevation of Jan Brewer to the Governor's office)

The ACLU of Arizona and others have since filed a class action suit (PARSONS v RYAN) on behalf of prisoners agaisnt the state over the dismal health care behind bars, as well as the damaging abuse of maximum security/solitary confinement to manage the symptoms of mental illness among prisoners - people who are thus being relentlessly tortured, not treated, for their psychiatric disabilities. Amnesty International investigated the use of solitary confinement and Supermax in Arizona and produced a scathing report

Furthermore, staff at the Tucson office of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC-Tucson) have long been tenacious in their efforts to put an end to mass use of isolation cells, to stop the new Supermax (along with the ACLU-AZ), and to oppose prison privatization. See their blog, Cell-Out Arizona, hereDavid's Hope has taken a leadership role in organizing the Arizona Justice Alliance with human rights advocates across the state to address the major failings of our criminal justice system - at least in the area of making systemic reforms. 

Most recently, the House Minority Leader, Chad Campbell, has called for DOC Director Charles Ryan's resignation. Unfortunately, so far, Jan stands by her man. As far as she's concerned, all is well at the AZ DOC.

All of that and more is important, but at the end of the day the prisoners writing to me still didn't have anyone to help them with their crisis right then, so I began to figure out what I'd do if I was a prisoner or had a loved one inside myself. For the past year now I've been mailing self-help packets to prisoners dealing with complaints about their health care, assaults on their bodies, or repeated threats to their safety - I've responded to at least 500 requests for that kind of information already. I also work with families on involving their legislators in their struggles with the AZ DOC to assure that their loved ones make it home someday safe, coaching them both on the self-help material I give them, as well as on how to navigate the political scene.  

In some cases prisoners have filed their own civil lawsuits against the state and its agents, and I've provided then with what materials I can in support of such efforts, while trying to refrain from giving anything resembling "legal advice." I do everything I can to connect survivors with attorneys for wrongful deaths, too. It's a fine line, perhaps, but a necessary one for somebody to walk in order to arm people with the material they need to really fight for their own rights effectively, instead of waiting for the ACLU or DOJ to ride in to resuce them...which is not going to happen the way we all want it to. Those kinds of interventions take years to produce solutions to problems that some prisoners may be able to negotiate or litigate effectively themselves. 

Prisoner civil rights suits - even a whole mess of them - won't alone produce systemic change, of course. The correspondence I have with prisoners and contact with their families in the course of helping them has been vital in getting info about prison conditions out to legislators, other agencies, and the media, however - which is leverage for change, and at the very least informs the whole dialogue on crime and punishment with the thoughts and experiences of those most directly affected. I need to be kept posted as to what critical issues prisoners are struggling with most so that can continue to amplify those voices. But I can't sustain the cost of printing and mailing all this literature, nor do I have the time to meet the growing demand for it. 

I also want to focus my energies more on alternatives to incarceration in our society now, not in making our jails and prisons better places to live or die in. Those places are built with the intention of isolating and punishing - that means tormenting - large numbers of people in the most efficient way possible, while leaving as few marks on their bodies as we can, which I think is sadistic and disturbing. When a woman embezzles from her employer, for example, how is exiling her to a bleak existence for 10years - when she could otherwise be raising her family and making amends to her community - any less brutal than cutting off her hands and letting it be at that? If marginalizing, isolating and torturing someone for years is considered a civilized response to ecomonic or drug crimes, I want nothing to do with it. From all I've learned from prisoners, though - and my observations of this voting public - cruelty seems to be the rule in Arizona.

For those reasons and more, I've decided to try to make what I've been doing for prisoners and their families more accessible for others to do as well. In the links on the sidebar here are a number of the resources I send to prisoners, depending on what their issue is. None of it should be contrabanded by DOC, though there are occasionally over-enthusiastic mailroom staff who enforce outdated policies. Please contact me at 480-580-6807 or if any of this material is deemed "contraband" - or if you have other problems getting it delivered to prisoners, as well.

I've covered a  number of issues that folks coming here will have questions about in my other blogs, Arizona Prison Watch and Survivors of Prison Violence-AZ.  I've placed links to in the sidebar here to some of the more relevant blog posts, as well, but those blogs may be worth perusing if you have concerns about Arizona's prison conditions, deaths in custody, and the rest of the mess we have in the CJ system here. I plan to continue to maintain those sites, as well as to remain a resource to families and prisoners, if needed. 

I just ask that people make this place their first stop for resource material and print and mail in what they can to reduce the workload on me. If you all need help crafting arguments for the DOC or questions you can't otherwise find answers to, let me know. If you want to hit DOC's Central Office with me to protest on occasion, too, friend me on facebook to stay tuned for word of direct actions. Again, my name is Peggy Plews, and you can reach me as noted above.

This Jailhouse Lawyer's Auxiliary Guild, then, will be made up of all of us who - in  autonomous acts of disruption and resistance - take advantage of the resources here to help prisoners fight back against neglect and abuse. It takes so little from us to do this, and yet helps prisoners and their families so much. 

If you want to donate postage stamps, Staples cards (for ink), or cash for the cause, the PO Box is to the right. Please know that we aren't an organization with a bank account or tax exempt status - as I said, I'm just a civilian here. That means this comes out of my pocket, with some support from folks in my small community, so anything you want to send this way helps. I believe in the priciple of mutual aid, though, so there's no charge to access these resources or my time, so call on me if needed. I'm pretty easy to find.

Truth in Sentencing: high rates of violence against LGBTQ prisoners. What's new?

The good folks at Prison Legal News pointed me to this article that came out a few years ago in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, petrinent to many of the issues I'm fighting with the AZ DOC about right now. How can they deny that one's sexual preference and gender identity don't put a prisoner at exceptionally high risk in the general population? It's either ignorant or an outright lie in the face of extensive research - and litigation - proving the opposite. I'm inclined to think AZ DOC classification and other administrative staff are fully informed of the truth about violence to queer prisoners, and are knowingly placing them in harm's way over and over again...Jan Brewer shoud really be ashamed of herself for letting this all go on so long. 

The thing is that I hate trying to make prison "more safe" - it's never safe for anyone, not even in protective custody. Exile and isolation only does violence to the mind and soul. What we need to do is abolish the prison industrial complex altogether, not just make the living hell we condemn people to more palatable for the rest  of us...

here's good blog post that talks about that, from a friend in prison:

On prison abolition and the appeasement of slaves: strategies for resistance (Friday, August 9, 2013).

and here are some useful links re: surviving AZ Prisons:

AZ Prison Rape: Survivor Resources (Friday, March 18, 2011)

AZ DOC: Resisting prison violence (REVISED)(Monday, February 18, 2013)

AZ DOC's Protective Custody fight: tend to both body and soul. (Friday, April 12, 2013)

Corizon's deliberate indifference: fighting back.( Thursday, May 30, 2013)

For more information, here are the Sylvia Rivera Law Project

from TGI Justice and California prisoners...

Sentenced to rape
LGBT inmates face unusually high risk of sexual assault in prison
San Francisco Bay Guardian

December 24, 2008

It's been 60 years since the United Nations General Assembly issued the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, affirming the inherent dignity and inalienable rights of all people. Yet prisoners are often denied the most basic protections of the law. Rape is still a brutal reality in prison, a problem that disproportionately affects LGBT inmates.

In 2003, Congress unanimously passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), creating federal mandates to fight sexual assault in prisons. But its implementation has been slow. This year, the Bureau of Justice Statistics conducted the first national survey of violence in the corrections system. It found sexual orientation to be the single greatest determinant for sexual abuse in prisons — 18.5 percent of homosexual inmates reported sexual assault, compared to 2.7 percent of heterosexual prisoners. Though PREA aims to reduce these figures, prisoners and their advocates have been waiting on its official guidelines, which are set for release in 2009.

In an attempt to address California's challenges in protecting LGBT inmates, California Sen. Gloria Romero held an informational meeting Dec. 11 in San Francisco, bringing together former LGBT prisoners, advocates, experts, and representatives from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).

"Nobody has it easy in prisons, and LGBT persons in particular experience unique kinds of harassment, discrimination, and violence when incarcerated," said Masen Davis, executive director of the Transgender Law Center.

Inherent flaws in our social institutions result in a disproportionate number of LGBT prisoners. Discrimination in employment, housing, and healthcare often force members of the LGBT community, particularly transgender individuals, to turn to the street economy to support themselves. A survey by the Transgender Law Center found that fewer than half of transgender adults held a full-time job, and one in five have experienced homelessness since becoming transgender (see "Transjobless," 3/15/06). These factors greatly increase the instance of criminal activity in the LGBT community. The Center for Health Justice reports that more than two-thirds of male-to-female transgender San Franciscans have been incarcerated; in six other major urban areas, one in four gay men had been incarcerated.

Once LGBT individuals enter the California prison system, says Linda McFarlane, deputy executive director of Just Detention International, they are 15 times more likely to experience sexual assault than the general population. In addition, she said, prison staff more often fail to protect these inmates than others, and are more likely to believe that assaults are consensual.

"There seems to be a belief among some corrections officers that rape is unavoidable in prison," McFarlane said. "It's been asked more than once in training sessions that if transgender inmates are at such risk, why are they still allowed to be transgender within the prison environment?"

Alex Lee, a co-director of the Transgender, Gender Variant, and Intersex Justice Project, read a statement from Bella Christina Borrell, a 56-year-old transgender inmate: "Female transgender prisoners are the ultimate target for sexual assault and rape. In this hyper-masculine world, inmates who project feminine characteristics attract unwanted attention and exploitation by others seeking to build up their masculinity by dominating and controlling women."

Of course, there are policies in place that should protect inmates from each other. PREA stipulates that sexual assault during incarceration can constitute a violation of the Eighth Amendment to the US Constitution, and mandates that facilities employ a zero-tolerance policy toward abuse. However, like many things in life, the theory and practice have little in common.

"We've heard multiple times about officers openly expressing a belief that gay and transgender inmates cannot be raped, that they deserve to be raped due to their mere presence in the environment, or that if they are raped it's simply not a concern," McFarlane said.

Joe Sullivan of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said policy dictates that gay or transgender status alone does not warrant specific housing arrangements. He said the department prefers to integrate inmates in a setting that most closely resembles what they will be returning to after being paroled.

When they arrive in prison, inmates are evaluated using a system called Compass, which is a set of guidelines to determine each person's specific needs. During this time, inmates are able to state whether they feel they need special arrangements.

"It's a framework that is followed by the staff at institutions," Sullivan said. "Some of the things I heard today suggest that how the framework is interpreted is one of the issues we'll have to go look into and do some further training on."

It has been suggested that the previously used designations Category B and SOR (sexual orientation), which include guidelines for "effeminately homosexual" men, might aid CDCR in their classification process. However, as Sullivan stated, the prison system's evaluation procedure largely ignores these special circumstances.

"The classification process is gender-neutral," Sullivan said. "We try to address the individual's specific needs, as opposed to having a policy for a group or a class of people. We really don't distinguish between transgender and non-transgender inmates."

While this policy is certainly egalitarian, it ignores the extreme vulnerability of LGBT inmates, something many prisoners don't realize until after they've been victimized. Then, all too often, they are placed in isolation cells usually reserved as punitive measures.

"If they have been a victim of a sexual assault, they can be and will be single-celled, at least for the period of time that we go through investigating the allegations," Sullivan said. "We try to do it in an expedient manner, so that the victim is not the one sitting in administrative segregation."

The panelists all agreed that eliminating sexual violence against the LGBT community requires some of our most precious resources: time, energy, and money. In the past, the general rule has been to increase spending for prisons while simultaneously reducing funds for social programs like housing, employment, and health care, which all have a lot do to with the amount of crime in the first place.

Advocates recommend that an effective classification system must be implemented. First, corrections officials have to acknowledge that factors like an inmate's sexual orientation or transgender status put them at an exceptionally high risk for violence. Second, steps must be taken to reduce the instances of harassment, abuse, and sexual assault suffered by inmates. Female transgender inmates must be issued sports bras and should be allowed to shower separately from the general population to curb humiliation and predation. If an assault occurs, victims should not be placed in punitive custody, the complaint must remain confidential, and assailants cannot be allowed the opportunity to retaliate. Finally, corrections officers should have to participate in an extensive training program to help them deal with these factors.

Bambi Salcedo, a transgender ex-convict who now works with transgender youth at Children's Hospital Los Angeles put it simply: "We have to realize that homosexual and transgender inmates must be treated with dignity in the correctional system."

This article originally appeared in the December 24, 2008 online issue of the San Francisco Bay Guardian; it is reprinted at Prison Legal News with permission of the author.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Deliberate indifference to violence against queers in prison.

Excellent article exposes the brutality of prison life for many gay and trans prisoners, while humanizing the remarkable spirit of survivors of prison violence. We're having a very hard time here in Arizona getting these prisoners protection, too.

Here's a page of resources for prison rape survivors in Arizona, if you or someone you know  needs support.

Prison Legal News is the single best subscription deal for prisoners - $30 a year keeps them informed about their rights.

Prison Legal News
P.O. Box 1151
Lake Worth, FL 33460

------from Prison Legal News---------

Prison Sexual Abuse Survivor Speaks Out
by Alan Prendergast

(article was originally published at Denver Westword News on February 3, 2011)

In January 2010, Scott Howard, a 39-year-old federal prisoner, made his way briskly into a hearing room in the Robert F. Kennedy Justice Building in Washington, D.C. He was neatly dressed in blazer, slacks and tie, and quite nervous about what he was about to do. He was determined to not think about it too much, to just get it over with – like so much else that he’d been through over the past few years.

The room was teeming with Department of Justice attorneys, law enforcement agents and corrections officials. Not exactly Howard’s kind of crowd; he’d tried to tell his story to such people before, only to be labeled a liar and a whiner. But the participants also included members of Congress, medical professionals, prison activists, counselors and sexual-assault survivors.

They’d all come to take part in a “listening session” on the wishfully titled Prison Rape Elimination Act. Passed in 2003, PREA created a national commission to study the causes and costs of sexual assault behind bars and to come up with federal policies to attack the problem. Seven years and several blown deadlines later, backers are still waiting for United States Attorney General Eric Holder to adopt new standards incorporating the commission’s findings.

Howard had been invited to join the discussion because of his experiences behind bars – in particular, the three nightmarish years he’d spent in Colorado state prisons, doing time for fraud. It would be the first time he’d ever discussed his ordeal publicly.

When his name was called he went to the microphone, trying to keep his hands steady as he studied the pages in front of him. “Thank you for allowing me to participate,” he began.

He explained that, although living in a halfway house, he was still in the custody of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons: “Before I was taken into BOP custody, however, I served time in the Colorado Department of Corrections, and it was there that I was repeatedly raped, assaulted and extorted by members of a large, notorious gang.”

The gang was the 211 Crew, a white supremacist group found in many Colorado prisons. 211 leaders pressured him for money and demanded that he help them in an ambitious $300,000 fraud scheme; their threats soon turned into physical attacks, then sexual assaults. He was forced to perform oral sex on gang members and anally raped.

“I spent well over a year trying to get protection by writing to officials,” he said. “My efforts to report were mostly fruitless – and often put me at greater risk. Because I am openly gay, officials blamed me for the attacks. They said as a homosexual I should expect to be targeted by one gang or another.”

Howard didn’t tell the whole squalid story. He didn’t mention the evidence of staff involvement with the gang that made his efforts to seek protection even dicier. He didn’t go into how, once he finally started “naming names,” as prison investigators demanded, they accused him of crying rape to cover up his own criminal activities. He barely referred to his last day as a Colorado prisoner, when, he says, he was put in a cell with one of the gang leaders and sexually assaulted again. Despite being a bare summary, the statement was still graphic – and powerful. At times his voice choked up, but Howard kept reading.

When it was over, he sat in the gallery and listened to other testimony by experts and survivors. Then the DOJ officials began asking questions, and some of the questions were directed at Howard. He was astonished. They’d actually paid attention. They’d even taken notes.

“That was very important,” he says now. “Having people listening to me and asking questions – it made me feel like I was being taken seriously at last.”

A lot of people are taking Howard seriously these days. Since his talk in Washington a year ago, he’s emerged as a highly visible “survivor speaker” for Just Detention International, a nonprofit active in the campaign to stop sexual abuse in prison, and a caustic critic of Colorado’s DOC and its treatment of rape victims. Last summer he settled a civil rights lawsuit against several DOC officials for $165,000.

The settlement came as Howard’s attorneys were seeking a hearing to investigate how and why the Colorado Attorney General’s Office had failed for years to produce a critical document in the case – a 2005 entry in Howard’s prisoner file that corroborated his claims of seeking help and being ignored. The document, which only surfaced after a private law firm got involved in the defense of a second Howard lawsuit, also casts doubt on the veracity of several sworn affidavits filed by case managers and supervisors claiming that Howard never told them that he was being threatened and extorted.

Winning his case was a major victory for Howard. Finding the proof that he wasn’t lying was even greater vindication, though. Behind bars, all kinds of crimes are committed in secret, and prisoners soon learn to keep quiet about them. Exposing the most heinous violations can be almost impossible when staff attitudes about rape and homosexuality are as convoluted as those of the predators – and Howard says that’s what made the Colorado prison system particularly dangerous for him.

“In Colorado, corrections officers labeled openly gay people as troublemakers,” he says. “You can’t believe them, they get in relationships and then claim rape – and so on. The message goes out to the inmate population that these are people to victimize because they already have a bad reputation among staff, and nobody’s going to believe them.”

• • •

Almost from the moment he hit the yard at the Fremont Correctional Facility in late 2004, Scott Howard knew he was in trouble. The medium-security prison was run differently from anything he’d seen before. And too many people he didn’t know already knew who he was and what he’d done.

Fremont wasn’t Howard’s first rodeo. He arrived there in the middle of a ten-year tour of state and federal prisons, the result of a fraud spree in Colorado, Wisconsin, Tennessee and elsewhere. His criminal history also involved jail stays in Florida and Texas, where he reportedly tried to post as bond collateral the car he was accused of stealing.

Howard grew up in a small town in Tennessee, where his sexual orientation was a poor fit with the prevailing Baptist culture. He left home, acquired a taste for gambling and the high life, and was busted in Florida in 1991, at age 21, after he stole a friend’s credit card and used it to hire a limo. He soon graduated to computer hacking and more sophisticated forms of identity theft.

In the late 1990s, Howard discovered major security flaws in the payroll systems of large corporations, which often relied on outside agencies to issue paychecks to temporary staff. He used a Trojan program to steal data from corporate websites, then submitted payroll requests to staffing agencies, either in his own name or someone else’s. It was a surprisingly simple and lucrative scam, as long as he moved quickly to the next pigeon before the fraud could be detected.

“It was a traveling crime,” Howard says. “It took me to thirty cities in a year. I was in my twenties, and it was fun back then. It was also very stupid and very high-risk.”

The scam unraveled in Wisconsin in 1999. A woman at a temp agency noted that Howard’s zip code didn’t match the address he submitted with a check request. When he came to pick up his money, he was arrested. A check for $40,000, issued by the Hershey Corporation, was found in his pocket.

Sentenced to eight years, Howard soon came up with an even more audacious plan to collect cash while behind bars. He filed a bogus tax return, claiming a $17,155 refund – and the Internal Revenue Service actually paid it. The next year he asked for $1.2 million, complete with forged letters on charity letterheads acknowledging enormous contributions.

This time the IRS took a closer look. Howard soon had federal time piled on top of his state sentence. But first he had another stint in Colorado, stemming from a payroll fraud in Denver that had been uncovered after his Wisconsin arrest. That’s what brought him to the yard at Fremont – and a sense of impending doom.

As a gay man who’d already spent substantial time behind bars, Howard thought he knew how to keep out of trouble. He’d seen plenty of intimidation and gang-related fights at other lockups, but nothing like the atmosphere at Fremont. Prisoners sporting black eyes in the lunch line were a common sight. Members of the 211 Crew commanded their own set of tables in the dining hall, known as the Four Corners, and charged weaker white prisoners tribute for the privilege of living in one of “their” units.

The 211s were particularly vocal about their hatred of homosexuals and sex offenders. Howard observed several openly gay and transsexual prisoners at Fremont. They were not in a good place. “All of these people were paying rent and being beaten,” he says. “If you were smaller, or suspected of being gay, or a pretty-boy type – anything of that sort got back to them.”

Gangs are a fact of life in prison. But Howard had never seen one that operated so openly, with so little official interference. “You had good officers and even overzealous officers, but most of them were older and very nonchalant about what was going on,” he says. “They told me, ‘This is prison. This is not a playground. If you don’t like it, you shouldn’t have come here.’”

Officially, the 211 Crew is far from a pervasive presence in Colorado’s prisons, with roughly 300 “confirmed” members in a population of more than 20,000. Howard insists the actual numbers are much higher, and the gang clearly had a particular interest in him. Within a few days, three members approached him, beaming friendship, and asked about “all that cash” he’d scammed from big companies and the government. They seemed extremely well-informed about his attempt at a big tax refund, which had made headlines. Despite Howard’s denials that he’d been any kind of financial genius, he was soon fielding daily questions about tax fraud.

The conversations quickly got less genial. Howard made little attempt to disguise who he was in prison – in one court filing, his attorneys describe him as “obviously gay” – and the gang members soon had their suspicions confirmed. They frequently intercepted other prisoners’ mail, on the lookout for money order receipts or other helpful intel, and one of the items they came across was a gay magazine a friend had sent Howard.

John Anderson, a veteran 211 shot-caller known on the yard as Ghost, informed Howard that homosexuals had to pay rent. That meant buying canteen items for 211 members and sending money orders to addresses Ghost provided. “In the beginning, it was twenty dollars here or there,” Howard says. “Then it got more intense.”

In Howard’s second month at Fremont, Ghost demanded that he send out a $500 money order. Howard demurred; where was he going to get that kind of money? Ghost punched him in the stomach and the face and told him he had two weeks.

A few days later, Ghost was back in his face, demanding twenty bucks in canteen items to pay a debt the shot-caller owed to a rival gang member. Howard insisted he had no money.
“Find it,” Ghost snapped.

The next day, when Howard failed to make the required purchases, Ghost told him they were going to go see Allen Hernandez, alias “LBow,” the man Ghost owed. Once they were in LBow’s cell, Ghost informed him that Howard was going to settle the debt with a blow job. While Ghost stood lookout, Hernandez forced Howard to his knees and told him to open his “faggot mouth.”

Howard asked to be let go. Hernandez laughed. “You gotta beg me for it, bitch.”

The assault lasted a few minutes, Howard says. LBow ejaculated, pulled up his boxers and sweatpants, and told Howard to “get your bitch ass out of my cell.”

On the way back to his own unit, Ghost hissed at Howard, “Don’t you say a fucking word to anyone, or I’ll fuck you up.”

Howard went to his cell. He showered. He cried. He felt sick and deathly afraid.

He couldn’t escape the 211 Crew, but for the next few days they were oddly friendly to him. They approached him on the yard and at meals. Ghost introduced him to other 211 “brothers,” who asked him more questions about his tax scam.

Just weeks earlier, prosecutors in Denver had issued indictments against 24 members of the gang, on charges ranging from a 2001 prison murder to drug-related street crimes.

One of those named in the indictment was the group’s leader, Benjamin Davis, who’d launched the gang at the Arkansas Valley prison in the early 1990s after a racial beating. (The name “211” supposedly refers to the robbery section of the California penal code).

Davis was now stuck in the state supermax and facing more time, so the Fremont contingent was working on a plan to raise cash and get him “a fucking great attorney,” Howard learned. They wanted to file bogus tax returns, using the personal data of various sex offenders, minorities and other lowlife prisoners that couldn’t be traced back to them.

Howard told them he didn’t think it would work. A fucking great attorney would cost a lot more money than the $17,000 he’d collected in Wisconsin. The gang members listened soberly, nodded and walked away.

But Ghost didn’t care for Howard’s tone. He told him so a few days later, pulling him aside after breakfast to let him know he’d been disrespectful to his brothers. He demanded that Howard settle another debt with canteen items, this time for fifty dollars. Howard said he didn’t have it.

No problem, Ghost told him. Howard would settle the debt the same way he had with LBow. Frantic, Howard said he didn’t feel well. Ghost pulled a shank out of his pocket and made it clear that it was Howard’s choice whether it ended up in his ribs or not.

“You’re going to suck that dude’s dick to pay this off for me,” he said quietly, “and for being a smartass to my brother.”

Howard went to the cell of a prisoner named Griego and did as he was told.

In mid-February 2005, Howard made up an excuse to see his case manager, Jerry Morris. Terrified of being labeled a snitch and what Ghost might do to him, he didn’t say anything to Morris about the assaults.

“Outside this guy’s office are twenty or thirty inmates waiting to see him,” Howard recalls. “There’s no way to close the door, so everybody can hear what you’re saying.”

Morris would later insist that Howard didn’t advise him of any threats or problems that day. Howard claims that he asked for protection from 211 without going into any specifics, but Morris told him that “homosexuals usually have problems with one gang or another.” Howard could do his best to “get along,” or he could be a “whiner” and end up confined indefinitely in administrative segregation.

Howard didn’t know what to do. He was afraid to tell even his parents, since phone calls were monitored. He decided to notify one friend on the outside about the extortion and urge her to write a letter to the warden, asking that he be moved to another prison. A few days later he was summoned to a meeting with another case manager, Dave Mason, who asked about the letter and if he was being threatened by 211.

Howard broke down and admitted it. He began to talk about the assaults, he says, when Mason interrupted him. “That’s all I want to know,” the case manager said, and made a phone call to a supervisor to relay the information.

Four days later, Howard was abruptly transferred. He went from Fremont to the Sterling Correctional Facility, a sprawling complex housing 2,500 prisoners. Although technically a high-security prison, surrounded by an electrified “kill” fence, Sterling has a range of security levels for offenders classified from minimum to “close.”

Howard had no problems at Sterling the first two months he was there. He was placed in a highly monitored unit, with limited movement and cameras and emergency call buttons in the cells. But when he was moved to a lower-security wing in late April, he discovered that he’d gone from one 211 stronghold to another.

Official DOC reports indicate that there were fewer than 25 members of the 211 Crew at Sterling at the time, all of them housed in either high-security units or administrative segregation. Howard says the actual figure was closer to a hundred, an assertion supported by internal documents and even some staff testimony. Many of them could be found in Sterling’s less secure areas, readily identifiable by their shaved heads and copious tattoos of swastikas, shamrocks and even “211” and “CREW.”

The group was running large football and baseball pools, collecting as bets the tokens prisoners used to buy sodas. They had allies in the computer lab, including the notorious Simon Sue, who at seventeen had masterminded a triple homicide in the tiny settlement of Guffey. Although not a gang member himself, the diminutive Sue helped the gang produce authentic-looking property sheets, Howard says, to explain away the extra radios, clothing and other extorted goods in their cells.

Howard was recognized the first day he hit the yard. Two 211 members approached him. One, who’d been at Fremont, greeted him with a wolfish smile.

“Ghost has friends here,” he said.

• • •

Based on surveys of prisoners in jails and state and federal prisons, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that at least 88,500 adults endured some form of sexual abuse while incarcerated in the American corrections system last year. The surveys provide just snapshots of the prisoner population on a given day. A recently-released Department of Justice report places the total number of incidents in 2008 at 200,000.

The number of reported sexual assaults in prison is, of course, lower than the survey totals. Much, much lower. Extrapolating from the BJS figures, Colorado’s prison system would be expected to have between 600 and 800 sex abuse victims a year. Yet in a Prison Rape Elimination Act cost impact study, the DOC claims only twelve confirmed incidents of sexual assault in 2008 and five in 2009. That works out to about 25 to 50 reports a year, since fewer than 20 percent of allegations of sexual violence are ever substantiated by investigators.

Corrections officials protest that meeting the PREA standards could cost hundreds of millions of dollars; but reformers say that lack of aggressive enforcement in prison assault cases costs society in other ways, from the spread of sexually communicable diseases to lawsuits. According to a DOJ report, a 1 percent reduction in the annual rate of prison sexual abuse could lead to a “monetary benefit” to society of between $157 million and $239 million.

Rape and coercion have long been regarded as an inevitable part of prison life, particularly among the most targeted populations – prisoners who are young and slight of stature, effeminate or gay, the mentally ill and first-timers. Yet the national commission established by PREA found that a number of fixable problems, from poor staff training and inadequate screening of vulnerable prisoners to overcrowding and an almost complete lack of prosecution of perpetrators, could and should be addressed to reduce the rate of assault.

Howard’s journey through Colorado’s prisons points to another problem the commission report scarcely mentions: the utter indifference of many staffers. Howard met with several case managers and supervisors at Sterling and filed grievances over his placement there.

The officials have divergent stories about what happened in those meetings and how explicit Howard was about his plight. But their tendency to downplay his complaints and insist that he “name names” helps to explain why the system’s number of reported assaults is so low.

The day the 211 member recognized him on the yard, Howard went to case manager David Backer to seek a transfer to another unit. According to Backer’s own paperwork, Howard told him “he had a high profile case and that the 211 gang attempted to extort money from him in the past.... He claimed he did not feel in danger or threatened by anyone at the time of our interview.

“He was also informed if he did have problems he would be asked to go on tape as to who was threatening him.... He stated he would never do this and would pay them off first. He then left my office.”

Howard says Backer ignored his claims of being extorted and prostituted at Fremont; the case manager told him he should have “kept a low profile.” Howard filed a grievance, which led to another meeting with Backer and two supervisors, Joseph Halligan and John Clarkson. Accounts of what transpired at that meeting vary greatly; in a later deposition, Halligan conceded several times that Howard said he felt “threatened,” then reversed himself and insisted that Howard did not express any concern about threats at that time.

In a written response denying the grievance, Clarkson acknowledged that Backer had been mistaken about requiring a taped statement. But Howard would have to identify who was bothering him before any action could be taken.

“We do have to have names,” Clarkson wrote. “We cannot keep you away from all 211 members. We do not place inmates in administrative segregation to protect them from other inmates, so that is not an option, either.”

But naming names, Howard insisted, would only expose him to more trouble. As the impasse continued and Howard filed more appeals, he was once again hit up by gang members for canteen items and pressured to raise money for the 211 leader’s legal fund through tax scams. As a kind of test run, he filed a bogus income tax return under his own name and received a refund check for a few thousand dollars. The money went to 211 members and outside affiliates.

In August 2005 Howard finally was moved to another unit at Sterling – but not for his own safety. The official reason was that his security classification had changed, based on his convictions in other states. But Backer also told him he’d “filed way too many grievances,” Howard says.

“He is a very needy inmate and is a strain on a case manager after awhile,” Clarkson wrote in one log entry.

Howard admits that he was, in fact, trying to overload his handlers with grievances in order to get transferred. “If you file enough, they want to get rid of you,” he says.

But the plan backfired. In his new unit, Howard was shaken down by a 211 shot-caller named Simon Shimbel, who informed him he would once again be paying rent: $25 a week.

Respectful at first, Shimbel’s attitude toward Howard soon turned ugly. He showed him a letter he’d received from Ghost, essentially giving the Sterling chapter the okay to do what it liked with Howard. “Make him cover debts with his ass,” Ghost wrote.

According to Howard, Shimbel took the directive to heart. He dragged Howard into the unit bathroom’s back stall, punched him in the stomach and ordered him to sit on the toilet with his feet up, so no one could see him from outside. He then forced him to perform oral sex until Shimbel ejaculated.

Howard told no one. After going several rounds with administrators over naming names, he didn’t expect any help from staff. He’d signed extradition papers that would take him out of Sterling for at least a few weeks to deal with court matters in Tennessee, and he was hoping to just hang on until the orders arrived. That 211 shot-callers could simultaneously proclaim their hatred of “fags” while engaging in sexual acts with said fags no longer baffled him. Logic was not the gang’s strong point. Intimidation was.

A week or so after the bathroom blow job, Howard says, Shimbel and another 211 member escorted him to a cell after the 10 p.m. head count, supposedly so that he could help a “homie” write a letter and get a discount on his rent. Howard had a pretty good idea what was about to happen but didn’t see any way out.

The homie turned out to be Phuong Dang, a member of a Vietnamese gang. Dang began by demanding oral sex, Howard says. After a few minutes he stopped, pulled up his pants, and stepped out of the cell for a moment, asking the 211 lookouts for lotion. He found some, returned, and ordered Howard to bend over a desk and spread his legs. He sodomized him for several minutes, then withdrew.

“Not bad pussy,” he said, and left the cell.

Told by Shimbel to get cleaned up, Howard retreated to the bathroom. He sat on a toilet and wept.

His orders for Tennessee arrived three days later. The respite gave him two months to try to figure out what to do. But the gang was busy in his absence, too. When he returned to Sterling, several 211 members surrounded him and showed him a single piece of paper. They figured it would persuade him to get busy raising the big cash needed for the defense fund.

There were two notable things about the document, an intake form from Howard’s own file. It had to have come from a staff computer, which meant the Crew had a DOC employee working with them, either for pay or unwittingly. And it contained the names and address of Howard’s parents, listed as emergency contacts. Someone was waiting on the outside, one of the group explained, to see if Howard was going to do what was expected of him.

Howard understood. “My family had never done anything to anybody,” he says. “To know they could reach out and touch my parents – that was a big move on their part.”

Over the next few weeks Howard collected personal data the group had stolen or extorted from sex offenders and other patsies. He even got the names and vitals of death row prisoners in Tennessee. He filled out fraudulent W-2 forms until he had a vast array of them, enough to raise $275,000 in tax refunds, to be funneled to a phony tax-preparation company that Howard had created, and ultimately to the 211 Crew. The packet was sitting on his desk, ready to be mailed to an outside confederate, but Howard kept stalling for more time.

On January 3, 2006, two officers conducted a surprise search of Howard’s cell. They found the bundle of tax return forms, listing 35 prisoners – some of them not even in Colorado. Howard says he didn’t tip off the staff himself, but he wishes the raid had been more discreet.

“They sent the gang coordinators,” he says. “The minute the 211 guys saw that, they pushed me in a corner and asked, ‘Who the fuck have you been talking to?’”

Howard, who has a history of heart trouble, suffered a panic attack that night – the first in a series of convulsive, paralyzing episodes that made him feel like “a mouse in a corner.”

Exhibiting high blood pressure and tachycardia, he was taken to the hospital for observation and remained there for several days.

During that time, Howard decided to name names and try to get out of Sterling. He met with IRS agents, staff brass and an investigator from the DOC Inspector General’s office.

He told them the tax scam was supposed to raise money to hire Harvey Steinberg, the prominent Denver criminal attorney, to defend Benjamin Davis. He told them about the extortion. And eventually he told them about the sexual assaults, naming Shimbel and Dang and Hernandez and Griego.

The last bit of information spilled out first in a conversation with a female IRS agent, who asked him what was “really” going on. “I started crying,” he recalls. “I told her, ‘I’ve been raped. I’ve been beaten. You people have no clue what’s going on here.’”

Larry Graham, the investigator from the Inspector General’s office, was highly skeptical of Howard’s claims. He thought it was suspicious that Howard made detailed sexual assault allegations only after the incriminating tax-fraud materials were found in his cell.

Graham first learned of the claims from a draft of the lawsuit Howard soon filed, acting as his own attorney, in a desperate effort to get a judge to order his removal from Sterling.

There was no DNA evidence, no contemporaneous outcry, nothing but “ice-cold” accusations that the accused prisoners could easily deny, if anyone bothered to ask them.

In Graham’s view, Howard was a smart con artist trying to game the system. Or, as he put it in one e-mail to another DOC official, “Mr. Howard is an admitted homosexual whose other talent is tax fraud ... he made an unprovable report of past sexual assaults by 211’s here [at Sterling] and at Fremont. I’m still working on that, but doubt if it will go far.”

In another e-mail, Graham all but dismissed Howard’s story as a ploy for leniency: “Mr. Howard seems to think he can just say the mean old 211 guys made him do it and walk away.”

Yet Howard did have proof of gang involvement in the tax scheme and other businesses.

He helped investigators locate a computer disk that contained evidence of falsified property sheets, payments to the gang by other prisoners and other incriminating data. He turned over an intake sheet on another prisoner that could only have come from a staff computer. But his allegations of staff involvement were deemed “bogus” just the same.

“Even after naming all the names, they just sent me back to my cell,” Howard says now. “I told a captain these people were going to kill me if I didn’t come up with $300,000 by March. Her response was, ‘Let’s see what happens in March.’”

Reluctantly, it seems, administrators made note of Howard’s “custody issues,” listing a couple dozen prisoners he should not be housed with, and shipped him off to the Arkansas Valley Correctional Facility. He stayed there for several months, filing a blizzard of grievances and complaining about sightings of gang members who might retaliate against him. One grievance challenged DOC’s unwritten rule of making cell assignments by race; Howard figured he would be better off with a Hispanic or African-American cellie than a white one who might be in touch with the 211 Crew.

But word of his snitching at Sterling eventually drifted into Arkansas Valley, and Howard was transferred again. This time he was sent to one of the most violent prisons in the state.

“I was sent to Limon, God knows why,” he says. “It was already all over the compound that 211 was going to kill me.”

In a corridor at Limon, Howard locked eyes with Allen Hernandez, alias LBow – one of the names on the list of prisoners from Fremont and Sterling who weren’t supposed to be in contact with him. Howard fell to the floor and vomited. He lasted two weeks at Limon before he was shipped out again.

He was at Buena Vista only a few days when a 211 member from Sterling who’d been directly involved in the threats against Howard was moved into the same unit. That night he was subjected to a torrent of screams and taunts from neighboring cells. “They were calling me a snitch and a whore and a fag,” he says. “They were making arrangements to sell me to the black dudes on the tier. The officer station is right there. They could hear it, but they didn’t react at all.”

The experience triggered another panic attack, a trip to the emergency room – and another grievance. “A mistake was made in moving the offender you mention to BCVF after you were already here,” a supervisor responded. “This I can verify was a very unusual situation and should not have happened.”

But unusual situations continued to dog Howard, right up to his last day as a guest of the State of Colorado. On September 18, 2007, while waiting to be picked up by federal marshals and start serving his federal sentence for tax fraud, Howard was escorted past several vacant cells at the Denver Reception and Diagnostic Center to a holding cell containing one other prisoner: Simon Shimbel.

“I can’t go in there,” Howard said, stopping dead at the door. “He’s a custody issue.”

The female sergeant escorting Howard ignored him and beckoned to the control center to open the door. Howard begged her to check the computer, which would show that he could not be housed with Shimbel.

The sergeant refused and told him to get in the cell. “You ain’t on parole yet, you know,” she said. Disobeying her order could delay his release from DOC indefinitely.

He went in. The door slammed behind him. Shimbel immediately got in his face. “I got ad-segged for that,” he said, referring to the stretch in solitary that Howard’s statements to investigators had cost him.

Howard curled up on top of the toilet, keeping his eyes down, while Shimbel berated him for being a snitch. Shimbel knocked him on the floor.

“The only reason I don’t choke you the fuck out is I’m leaving,” he seethed.

Shimbel checked the window to make sure no one was watching. Then he unzipped his pants. “Do what you do,” he said.

Howard says Shimbel struck him on the back of the head until he started performing oral sex. After a couple of minutes he knocked Howard to the floor again and ejaculated into the toilet. “Can’t give you any of this,” he muttered. “You’ll go to the pigs.”

Howard jumped up and hit the cell’s emergency button. When a voice came on the intercom asking him what the trouble was, he shouted that he needed his dress-out clothes. The door opened. The marshals were already coming down the corridor.

Howard and Shimbel were transported to the marshals’ office in the same car. He didn’t get a chance to report the alleged assault until Shimbel was gone – bound for Australia, to serve time for a prison escape there. Shifted temporarily to the Jefferson County jail, Howard spoke to several officers and medical personnel before someone took a report.

A jail sergeant called corrections officers at DOC to check Howard’s account of being sexually assaulted while in their custody.

“The guy’s a drama queen,” he was told. “Don’t worry about it.”

• • •

Howard’s lawsuit was thrown out by U.S. District Judge Edward Nottingham, then reinstated by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, which concluded that there was evidence that prison officials at Sterling knew Howard “faced an ongoing risk from a prison gang with a substantial presence” and failed to take reasonable steps to protect him.

After that ruling came down, Howard managed to get the civil rights law firm of Killmer, Lane & Newman, whose client list ranges from Ward Churchill and Richard Heene to several death row prisoners, to represent him. The case soon became a costly, heels-dug-in wrangle over who had bigger credibility problems: convicted fraud Scott Howard or see-no-evil, cover-your-ass corrections officials.

It was the state’s position that Howard had never told case managers at Fremont and Sterling about ongoing gang threats, extortion or sexual assaults – not until after he was caught red-handed with the tax data in 2006. His transfer from Fremont to Sterling had not been for security reasons, but because he was accepted into a “life learning program” at Sterling. His complaints about his placement at Sterling were not because of 211 threats, but because he wanted to get back to his “paramour” in another unit.

The official version took some bizarre turns. One officer maintained that 211 members at Sterling had such an aversion to homosexuality that one of their members was stabbed over a forbidden tryst; thus it was unlikely that gang members would sexually assault Howard or pimp him out to other gangs. Case manager Backer maintained that complaining about custody issues – for example, saying that gang members are trying to kill you – is somehow different from snitching. Backer had “never seen an inmate get retaliated against” for seeking protection, so why didn’t Howard speak up?

Case manager Halligan insisted that extortion was no big deal, either. “In my experience, threats of extortion and extortion itself rarely leads to violence in DOC,” he stated in one affidavit. “Nearly all such activity is resolved by the inmates themselves.”

After months of discovery and depositions, Howard’s lawyers found numerous holes in the official story, but nothing that proved Howard’s version. “That was a weakness in our case,” attorney David Lane says. “We had no corroboration of any kind that he’d ever made a report. But then lo and behold, there was a memo from his case manager that the attorney general’s office never gave to us. And it was the smoking-gun document of the entire case.”

Howard had filed a second lawsuit after his encounter with Shimbel on his last day in the DOC. A private law firm defended that case, and it produced many of the same documents the Colorado Attorney General’s Office had handed over in the original case – with one glaring exception. A transfer form signed by Fremont case manager Dave Mason had surfaced in the second wave. The form states that one of the reasons Howard was being moved from Fremont to Sterling was because “other offenders” were pressuring him for money. Handwritten and circled on the form is a number: 211.

Weeks before that document was found, Mason had filed an affidavit in the case denying that Howard had ever told him about any threats or extortion. Other officers filed similar affidavits, insisting that nothing in Howard’s file or their discussions with him pointed to a gang problem. Yet the form backed up Howard’s account of his meeting with Mason and the reasons for his subsequent move to Sterling.

Howard remembers seeing the form for the first time last spring and realizing he was on the brink of vindication. “That was the healing point for me,” he says now, “to find this document that shows I wasn’t lying.”

Lane was more furious than elated. In thirty years of practicing law, he insists, he’s never seen a more serious violation of discovery rules. “In the entire world of documents, there was only one that we did not get – and it was the one that blew their case out of the water,” he says. “I believe the attorney general’s office intentionally hid this document. But no one’s been held accountable for this.”

In a court filing, the AG’s office maintained that the omission was “inadvertent,” the result of a copying glitch by a paralegal, who omitted several other less relevant pages when copying Howard’s DOC file. “If Mr. Lane believes there was an ethical violation, he has an obligation to file a grievance,” says AG spokesman Mike Saccone. “If he’s still carping about this and hasn’t done that, I think that speaks volumes.”

Lane did push for an evidentiary hearing in the matter, but within a few weeks the parties quietly settled the case for $165,000. “I was disappointed in the amount,” Lane says, “but Scott wanted to move on with his life.”

Moving on has been difficult for Howard. While the lawsuit was under way, he was inundated with materials reminding him of the details of his assaults. He still suffers from post-traumatic stress. He has bad reactions to encounters with white guys with shaved heads, and for a time avoided contact with white people whenever he could.

“Some days are good, some days are bad,” he says. “Part of my healing process was to forgive people. Am I mad at staff? Do I think they could have prevented it? Absolutely. There were times when I was so upset, I didn’t know if I could go on with it. But I either had to let them get away with it or continue the fight.”

DOC officials didn’t respond to requests for comment on the Howard settlement or any policy changes it may have inspired. In 2007, 211 Crew founder Benjamin Davis, despite his insistence that he’d distanced himself from the gang, was convicted by a Denver jury on charges of racketeering, assault and conspiracy and had an additional 96 years tacked onto his sentence. But the 211 Crew and other gangs continue to be active in Colorado prisons – even if many of their activities are, as the man says, “resolved by the inmates themselves.”

Howard now works as a production manager for a company in the Midwest. He’s been invited to speak at an upcoming gathering of the American Correctional Association as well as a national convention of sexual assault response teams. After years of being afraid to speak out, his name and photo and battles are showing up in Just Detention International fundraising appeals and on the New York Review of Books blog.

“This has turned into my fight,” he says. “I know a person at Fremont who’s going through the same thing right now and is being ignored. I really didn’t seek this, but I can be a voice for those who aren’t being heard.”

From behind the walls: Ryan/Brewer reign marked by abuse, violence, waste.


This is a really comprehensive article by a current AZ DOC prisoner, which was originally published in this month's Prison Legal News - subscribe every prisoner you know to that resource for only $30/year (PO Box 1151, Lake Worth, FLA 33460)

Joe Watson once worked for the Phoenix New Times, where Stephen Lemons has also featured this article in his blog this week. He gives Joe a pretty hard time about unrelated stuff, though.

I'm making Joe's piece even longer by inserting  some of my own art, as well a narratives of prisoner deaths  and work from a  community mural  the Survivors of Prison Violence did  at the Phoenix Art Museum last year for Prisoners' Justice Day (AUG 10  has been designated as a day to remember those who have died in the custody of the state). The art and stories were not part of PLN's version of this article.

Joe - this is not only well-written, but it took a hell of a lot of courage. Be strong and be well, my friend. Let us know how things go for you...

--------------------- from PRISON LEGAL NEWS-----------

PLN / AUGUST  2013

by Joe Watson

By the time Jan Brewer replaced Janet Napolitano as Arizona’s governor in 2009, it had been 22 years since the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) built the first prison in the United States designed exclusively for permanent lockdown – a prison that became the prototype for supermax facilities across the country.

Even before Brewer assumed the governorship and brought Charles L. Ryan out of retirement to run the ADC, Arizona’s prisons were known to be ruthless and inhumane. Few other prison systems can claim the dubious distinction of leaving a mentally ill prisoner in an outdoor cage for hours in scorching summer heat until she literally baked to death. [See: PLN, Feb. 2010, p.32].

Yet by playing politics, contracting with for-profit prison healthcare companies and kowtowing to private prison firms, Governor Brewer and ADC Director Ryan have taken a prison system already infamous for its draconian conditions and unfettered incompetence and made it deadlier and even more vindictive and profit-driven than ever before.

The ADC, with a $1.1 billion budget in 2012, will soon open a new maximum-security facility with 500 solitary confinement cells at a prison complex in Buckeye, at a cost of $50 million. In doing so, state officials ignored warnings by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Amnesty International, American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) and other human rights groups about the lasting, negative effects of long-term isolation.

On June 11, 2013, Prison Legal News sent copies of PLN’s October 2012 cover story on solitary confinement to members of the Arizona legislative Joint Committee on Capital Review, noting that “budget expenditures are a zero-sum game and money spent on prison beds is money not spent on health care, education, affordable housing, infrastructure and other services for the state’s citizens.” PLN observed that solitary confinement has an adverse impact both in terms of fiscal costs and higher recidivism rates for prisoners released after being held in solitary.

“These conditions are gratuitously cruel,” David Fathi, director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project, said of the ADC’s Secure Management Units (SMUs), where prisoners are held in solitary confinement. “There [is] no penological nor security justification for those kinds of conditions.”

But ADC Director Ryan testified before the Joint Committee on Capital Review that “there are no solitary confinement cells in Arizona prisons,” apparently based on his own peculiar notion of what constitutes solitary confinement. The Committee duly approved the 500-bed maximum-security facility, which is scheduled to open in October 2014.

“Director Ryan saying that ADC’s maximum-security units aren’t solitary confinement is like the CIA claiming waterboarding is not torture,” observed Caroline Isaacs, program director for the AFSC’s office in Tucson. “Whatever you want to call them, the conditions in these facilities are harmful to people’s physical and mental health.”

Since Governor Brewer took office, the suicide rate in Arizona’s prison system has increased while drug overdoses, homicides and untreated medical conditions are responsible for other prisoner deaths. The ADC reported that 81 prisoners died in 2012 while 36 deaths occurred in the first half of 2013; most of the deaths were described as being due to “apparent natural causes” or “unknown causes.”
Nelson Douglas Johnson III strangled himself
in an isolation cell at the AZ DOC
(AKA while in "solitary confinement").
His sister remembers him here
at the Maricopa County Courthouse
on the Day of the Dead Prisoner (November 1, 2012)
Even after being sued by the ACLU for failing to provide adequate medical treatment to the state’s more than 40,000 prisoners, the ADC has continued to contract prisoner healthcare to a for-profit company with a reputation for neglect and incompetence.

And to punctuate Arizona’s merciless criminal justice system under Governor Brewer’s leadership, she has granted only a handful of commutations and has not issued a single pardon – a dismal record that is unlikely to change during the remainder of her tenure.

With Brewer as governor and Ryan as director of Arizona’s prison system, conditions for the state’s prisoners have steadily deteriorated – though private prison companies have profited handsomely.

Outside AZ Department of Corrections' Central Office
(Phoenix, July 2013)

Calls to Privatize More Prisons

To replace Dora Schriro – the state's prison chief under former Governor Napolitano before they both left for positions with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security – Brewer appointed Charles Ryan, who had retired as the ADC’s director in 2003. Since his return, Ryan has parroted Brewer’s calls for expanding prison privatization in Arizona.

At the time of his reappointment, five of the state’s 15 prison complexes were already operated by private companies: two by Utah-based Management & Training Corporation (MTC), including a medium-security facility in Kingman, and three by Florida-based GEO Group, the nation’s second-largest for-profit prison firm. Collectively those complexes house over 6,000 prisoners, or 15% of the state’s prison population.

Around the same time, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the American Legislative Exchange Council were collaborating with then-state Senator Russell Pearce to draft a xenophobic anti-immigration bill, SB1070, which was introduced in the state legislature in December 2009 and enacted into law the following year. [See: PLN, Nov. 2010, p.1].

SB1070 was expected to increase the number of people arrested due to immigration-related violations; this would potentially benefit CCA, which operates immigration detention facilities in Arizona.

Within Brewer’s first year in office, she and Ryan called for privatization of the state’s entire prison system. The legislature obliged but CCA, GEO Group and other for-profit prison companies shied away from wholesale privatization. [See: PLN, Sept. 2010, p.42]. Therefore, in January 2010, shortly after Senator Pearce introduced SB1070, Ryan proposed a more modest addition of 5,000 new private prison beds to be opened within three years. To justify the estimated $585 million cost, the ADC used a combination of deceptive data and the anticipated impact of SB1070 to project a need for an additional 8,500 prison beds by 2017.

Not only were the projections wrong, the department never bothered to compare the costs and quality of services of privately-operated prison complexes with those run by the ADC, in violation of state law. According to the Arizona Republic, “Arizona statutes require [the ADC] to carry out a biannual performance study for every contract. The study analyzes costs, the security and safety of each prison, how inmates are managed and controlled, inmate discipline, programs, health and food services, staff training, administration and other factors and then compares these factors to other facilities.”

The ADC had not conducted a private prison performance study since a state statute requiring such studies was enacted in 1987. Undeterred, prison officials proceeded with a request for proposals for 5,000 new private prison beds.

Connecting the dots with AFSC-Tucson
Evo DeConcini Courthouse, Tucson (July 2013)

Deadly Private Prison Escape

Governor Brewer and ADC Director Ryan’s efforts to expand prison privatization in Arizona went mostly unchallenged until July 30, 2010, when prisoners John Charles McCluskey, Daniel Renwick and Tracy Province – with the help of McCluskey’s cousin, Casslyn Mae Welch – escaped from a medium-security prison in Kingman operated by MTC. Over the following three weeks the escapees kidnapped a pair of truck drivers, had a shootout with police and evaded authorities during a multistate manhunt throughout the western U.S.

While on the run, McCluskey murdered two retirees, Gary and Linda Haas, in the back of their camper off an old ranch road in New Mexico. He and Welch then doused the bodies with an accelerant and torched the camper.

Five days after the escape, a team of state investigators fanned out across the Kingman prison complex to determine how it happened. They discovered that MTC staff had ignored a malfunctioning alarm – which had been going off hundreds of times a day for over two years – that sounded when the escapees cut through a fence.

The ADC also discovered eight burned-out perimeter lights, more broken security equipment and, according to the Republic, “a lax, high-turnover culture in which MTC’s green, undertrained staff and rookie supervisors ignored alarms, left long gaps between patrols of the perimeter, left doors leading out of some buildings open and unwatched, didn’t alert the state or local police until hours after the escape, and failed in all manner of basic security practices.”

A report issued by state prison officials cited those and other problems at the MTC-run facility. [See: PLN, March 2011, p.24]. The ADC’s on-site monitor at Kingman, who was later fired, admitted that he had failed to address security problems and had never even read the state’s contract with MTC.

McCluskey, Province and Welch were ultimately captured and charged with the Haas’ murders (Renwick was arrested after he split from the group a few days after the escape). Province pleaded guilty and received five life sentences, Welch pleaded guilty and awaits sentencing, Renwick was sentenced to 60 years and capital murder charges against McCluskey remain pending.

Following the escape and nationwide manhunt, Ryan and the ADC did damage control and made cosmetic changes to prison security statewide. Ryan temporarily suspended all prisoner transfers to Kingman and moved 238 supposedly high-risk prisoners out of the facility, and the complex’s population dropped to 80% of capacity.

This presumably would result in financial losses for MTC but the company threatened to sue, citing its contract that guaranteed a minimum 97% bed occupancy, and state officials ended up paying over $3 million to MTC for empty prison beds. The company continues to operate the Kingman facility.

“It’s disgusting but not surprising,” said Caroline Isaacs. “Arizona is strapped for cash, and we don’t have the political will or the legal muscle to go up against a corporation like that, so they can operate with something close to impunity.” She added, “We’re so desperate because of prison overcrowding. These companies have got the state over a barrel. When things go wrong, is [ADC Director] Ryan really going to cancel the contract? Probably not, and they know that.”

In 2011, once the escape had faded from the headlines, Brewer and Ryan reintroduced their plan to privatize an additional 5,000 prison beds – even though the ADC’s daily prisoner count had fallen in the previous year due to fewer felony arrests in Maricopa County (the state’s population center) and fewer probation violations statewide, among other factors.

ADC officials downplayed their blatantly exaggerated earlier prison population estimates and instead projected 3,800 more prisoners entering the state’s prison system by June 2015, though they failed to provide hard data to support those projections. The plan to privatize more prison beds was met with bipartisan, if not broad, criticism.

“The fact we’re moving forward with this outdated plan is mind-boggling to me,” said Democratic state Rep. Chad Campbell, Arizona’s House minority leader. “I don’t think there’s a need for it,” agreed state Rep. Cecil Ash, a Republican who had unsuccessfully pushed for sentencing reforms in the previous legislative session.

Regardless, Brewer and Ryan pressed ahead and four private prison companies responded to the ADC’s request for proposals.

In the summer of 2011, ADC officials and representatives from CCA, GEO Group, MTC and LaSalle Corrections – the companies bidding on the 5,000-bed contract – went on a tour around the state, holding town hall-style meetings in communities from Winslow to Eloy to Coolidge. At each meeting the companies deflected criticism about escapes and costs, focusing instead on the promise of jobs and trotting out business leaders and loyal employees.

“I work with wonderful people,” said Linda Gibson, an antique shop owner who is also employed by CCA, during a public meeting in Eloy, where CCA operates a facility that houses prisoners from other states. “We have a lot of single mothers who work at CCA, making good money, who have homes they wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for CCA.”

Some communities, however, rejected the private prison dog-and-pony show, with GEO Group’s proposal to build a facility in the City of Goodyear, outside Phoenix, running into a “buzz saw” of opposition according to the Arizona Republic. Mayor Thomas Schoaf of nearby Litchfield Park called the proposal “a slap in the face to our residents” and “a threat to the public welfare of our communities.”

Prisoners Driven to Suicide

Meanwhile, an April 2012 report from Amnesty International, titled “Cruel Isolation,” examined Arizona’s draconian Special Management Units at the Arizona State Prison Complex (ASPC) in Eyman and other maximum-security ADC facilities. Citing prisoner advocates, current and former prison staff and the ADC’s own written policies, the report found that the ADC, which houses over 2,900 prisoners in maximum-security facilities, was “in violation of international law.”

Amnesty concluded that “the cumulative effects of the conditions [in SMUs], particularly when imposed for a prolonged or indefinite period, constitutes cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.” Even those prisoners considered especially dangerous, Amnesty argued, should be treated “with humanity and respect for the inherent dignity of the human person,” pursuant to international standards related to the treatment of prisoners.

“Amnesty International recognizes that it may sometimes be necessary to segregate prisoners for disciplinary or security purposes. However, all measures must be consistent with international standards for humane treatment,” Amnesty stated. “Article 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the USA has ratified, provides that ‘all persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person,’ a standard which the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee, the treaty monitoring body, has stressed is a ‘fundamental and universally applicable rule.’”

Alfonso Farmer, 23
ASPC-Eyman (January 22, 2012)

But according to Amnesty’s report, the ADC’s Special Management Units – intended for prisoners who pose the greatest physical threat to prison employees and the public – are too often filled with mentally ill, nonviolent and vulnerable offenders.

Most prisoners held in SMUs have little to no human interaction. With just one or two hours out of their windowless cells each day, they must choose to either bathe themselves or spend their limited out-of-cell time in a small cage with 20-foot walls and a sliver of sky, which the ADC contends is sufficient “outdoor recreation.” SMU prisoners cannot participate in work, rehabilitative or educational programs. If they protest their living conditions, guards ignore them or sometimes deliberately deny them food.


It is little surprise then, but no less tragic, that Arizona’s prison suicide rate, according to a U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics report released in December 2012, is higher than the national average. Meanwhile, Amnesty found that at least 14 of 43 suicides recorded in Arizona prisons between October 2005 and April 2011 – almost 33% – occurred in SMUs, even though those units housed less than 9% of the state’s total prison population.

“High rates of suicide in solitary units is a widespread problem; that’s why many states no longer house mentally ill inmates in solitary,” said Craig Haney, a psychologist at the University of California-Santa Cruz. “The severity of the conditions in those units ... most mentally healthy people who go in are adversely affected. People can become so despairing, so desperate that they take their own lives.”

According to the ADC’s critics, prisoner suicides are likely underreported. And of those that state prison officials publicly disclose, they do not specify whether a suicide occurred in an SMU or other solitary confinement unit.

A major deficiency in the SMUs is a lack of treatment for seriously mentally ill prisoners. Amnesty International found that “one prisoner diagnosed with [serious mental illness] spent two years in SMU without once seeing a psychiatrist despite his repeated requests and referrals by staff.” Another prisoner had completed a seven-day mental health treatment program, Amnesty reported, “after which he was returned to isolation in SMU where he hanged himself the following day.”


Approximately 10,000 state prisoners require ongoing mental health services, according to the ADC, including prisoners in SMUs and general population units.

As part of an investigative series into the state’s prison system, the Arizona Republic found there were 470 attempts of self-harm or suicide by ADC prisoners statewide over an 11-month period ending in May 2012.

In one earlier incident, Anthony Lester, 26, a mentally ill prisoner who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, bled to death in his two-man cell at ASPC-Tucson in July 2010 after slashing his neck, wrist and groin with a razor blade. Prison staff stood by and watched him die without providing medical assistance. One of the guards, Orlando Pope, said he didn’t help because he had never been trained on how to apply pressure to a wound.

“When Tony was on his meds, he was our Tony,” said Lester’s aunt, Patti Jones. “If he’d had access to care, he would have lived.” Lester had been on suicide watch, but was removed two days before he killed himself. A guard had mistakenly given him shaving razors.

Just before the ADC provided suicide prevention training to 8,806 prison employees in March 2012, Lester’s family filed a wrongful death claim against the state, seeking $3 million. Pope and four other guards received unpaid suspensions for failing to properly respond while Lester was bleeding to death.

More recent suicides in Arizona state prisons – three in one month – include the May 10, 2013 suicide of death row prisoner Milo Stanley, 50, who hung himself; Paul Henderson, 22, who died from “an apparent suicide” on May 1, 2013; and prisoner Joaquin Tamayo, 41, serving a five-year sentence, who killed himself on April 22, 2013. All three deaths occurred at ASPC-Eyman. On February 12, 2013, ADC prisoner Christina Black, 52, serving a life sentence for murder, committed suicide at the Perryville prison complex in Goodyear.

Other Deaths Due to Violence, “Gratuitous Cruelty”

Suicides, whether in SMUs or other units, aren’t the only cause of unnecessary deaths in Arizona’s prison system. Other prisoners have overdosed on drugs, been killed by fellow prisoners or died because they received inadequate medical care.

“Arizona’s prison system has two death rows,” the Arizona Republic proclaimed in its investigative series. “One is made up of the 126 inmates officially sentenced to death ... [and] the other death row, the unofficial one, reaches into every prison in Arizona’s sprawling correctional system. No judge or jury condemned anyone in this group to death. They die as victims of prison violence, neglect and mistreatment.”


Between 2010 and mid-2012, 37 Arizona prisoners died on Arizona’s “other death row” – more than five times the number of condemned prisoners executed during the same time period, the Republic reported. The ADC conducts its own investigations into prisoners’ deaths rather than an outside agency, and typically releases scanty information.

According to Carl ToersBijns, a retired former ADC deputy warden who worked at ASPC-Eyman, the lack of full disclosure with respect to prisoners’ deaths is intentional.

“The cleanup starts the moment the incident is reported: eliminating flag words, eliminating individuals who may be relevant to the situation, cut back the witness list,” ToersBijns said. “By the time it’s finalized, the incident report is so clean and sterile you won’t know what happened because it’s already been filtered. The direction is given ... was it deliberate, accidental, suicide, homicide? They try to fix and create a summary for that report that they can defend.


“A lot of drug overdoses are [reported as] suicides,” ToersBijns continued. “A lot of ‘natural deaths’ are people who have been suffering medical conditions but finally just expired. It’s not reflected on those reports and never will be reflected in the news reports. Only the ones who were there know what happened.”

But the Republic did manage to identify some of the causes of the 37 deaths, by filing public records requests. At least seven prisoners died after overdosing on heroin, for example.

“Nobody ever told me he could die in prison of illegal drugs,” stated Cynthia Krakoff, whose 36-year-old son, Carlo, died from a heroin overdose at a Tucson prison on July 31, 2011. “If they can’t clean up the prisons, they need to find a different way to treat the drug addicts.”

Unfortunately, substance abuse treatment programs in Arizona prisons are lacking. While around 75% of ADC prisoners report having drug and/or alcohol problems, only 1 in 13 of those prisoners received substance abuse treatment in fiscal year 2011.


Other deaths were due to homicides. Seven prisoners were killed by fellow prisoners between 2010 and mid-2012, including Eduardo Martinez, who was beaten to death by gang members at ASPC-Yuma in December 2011. He had been serving time for writing bad checks. Christian Frost, 38, was killed at ASPC-Tucson on February 22, 2013, while ASPC-Lewis prisoner John Jones, 63, was murdered on June 17, 2013. An investigation into Jones’ death by the ADC’s Criminal Investigation Unit is reportedly pending.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, based on data from 2001-2010, Arizona has a prison homicide rate 25% higher than the national average.
With respect to deaths due to substandard medical care, on March 6, 2012 the ACLU – joined by the Berkeley, California-based Prison Law Office, the Arizona Center for Disability Law, and the law firms of Perkins Coie LLP and Jones Day – filed suit against the ADC for unconstitutionally denying prisoners adequate medical and mental health treatment. [See: PLN, Sept. 2012, p.34].

The federal lawsuit, which seeks declaratory and injunctive relief and calls for the state to improve prison healthcare and address conditions in SMUs, alleges that Arizona prisoners have suffered “serious, preventable injuries, disfigurements and death.”

The complaint cites a prisoner who was ignored for two years until he died due to liver cancer. A pregnant prisoner was told by prison staff that her medical symptoms were “all in your head”; she was then left alone in her cell, where she miscarried. One prisoner was punished for administering CPR to another prisoner suffering a heart attack while guards stood by and refused to summon medical assistance.

“In recent years,” the lawsuit claims, “Defendants ignored repeated warnings of the inadequacies of the healthcare system and of the dangerous conditions in their isolation units that they received from inmate grievances, reports from outside groups, and complaints from prison personnel, including their own staff.”

The lawsuit also describes a prisoner who was denied treatment for a cancerous growth on his penis over a two-year period. His penis was eventually amputated, but not before the cancer had spread to his stomach. Another prisoner had most of his lip and mouth removed after waiting seven months for medical care.

“In two decades of prison litigation, this is one of the most broken systems I’ve seen,” said ACLU National Prison Project director David Fathi. “The indifference to the needs of desperately ill people is shocking. And the gratuitous cruelty we see in Arizona’s SMUs is unlike anything we’ve ever seen in other states’ supermax prisons.”

On March 5, 2013, the district court granted the plaintiffs’ motion for class certification in the lawsuit. The court certified a class consisting of “All prisoners who are now, or will in the future be, subjected to the medical, mental health, and dental care policies and practices of the ADC,” and a subclass of “All prisoners who are now, or will in the future be, subjected by the ADC to isolation, defined as confinement in a cell for 22 hours or more each day” or confinement in specified maximum-security units, including SMUs.

The case remains pending. See: Parsons v. Ryan, U.S.D.C. (D. Ariz.), Case No. 2:12-cv-00601-PHX-NVW.

(Prisoners: request a copy from the ACLU-AZ at PO BOX 17148, Phoenix, AZ 85001)

Privatizing the Healthcare Problem

Given the ADC's known deficiencies in providing adequate medical and mental health care to prisoners, and having been criticized by human rights groups, targeted by the news media and hit with a class-action lawsuit, one would expect the ADC to make efforts to at least modestly improve its dysfunctional medical system.

Instead, in April 2012, state prison officials awarded Wexford Health Sources – a for-profit company with a history of incompetence and medical neglect – a three-year, $349 million contract to provide healthcare to Arizona prisoners. The Wexford contract went into effect in June 2012. [See: PLN, May 2012, p.36].

“Bury Hep C, Not People”
Wexford's PHX HQ (Summer 2012)

Less than four months later the company had made quite a first impression. On August 27, 2012, a vocational nurse employed by Wexford exposed more than 100 prisoners at ASPC-Lewis to hepatitis C by contaminating the prison’s insulin supply.

Nurse Nwadiuto Jane Nwaohia, who was already under investigation by Arizona’s Board of Nursing for undisclosed reasons, administered a routine dose of insulin to a diabetic prisoner who had hepatitis C, then inserted the same needle into another vial to draw more insulin for the same prisoner. The vial was placed among other vials of insulin in a medication refrigerator and used later that day to dispense insulin to 103 diabetic prisoners.

Medical staff quickly discovered the contamination and destroyed all the vials of insulin, and Nwaohia, according to a Wexford statement, was suspended for violating “basic infection-control protocols while administering medication that day.”

However, Wexford didn’t notify the state or Maricopa County officials until eight days after the incident.

“It’s extremely disturbing that something like this could happen. It calls for a thorough investigation to determine all of the surrounding causes of the mistake or the negligence,” said Don Specter, director of the Prison Law Office.

Wexford tried to deflect responsibility for the insulin contamination by blaming a local staffing agency for assigning Nwaohia to the prison complex. But Ken Kopczynski, executive director of the Private Corrections Working Group, which opposes prison privatization, criticized state officials who contracted prisoner healthcare to Wexford and then failed to maintain proper oversight.

“This is a problem with privatization,” Kopczynski noted. “[The ADC is] just accepting who Wexford will hire.”

State prison officials threatened to fine Wexford a paltry $10,000 after the hepatitis C contamination incident, which followed other disturbing incidents.

A prisoner at ASPC-Florence attempted to commit suicide on August 23, 2012 after not receiving his psychotropic medication for an entire month. According to the ADC, Wexford’s failure to provide the medication to the prisoner, who was found hanging from a sheet in his cell, was a “significant, non-compliance issue.”

Ten days earlier, ADC mental health contract monitor Ben Shaw had issued a memo that described significant shortages among Wexford’s mental health staff.

“Wexford’s current level of psychiatry staffing is grossly insufficient to meet [its] contractual requirement,” he wrote. “Further, this staffing level is so limited that patient safety and orderly operation of ADOC facilities may be significantly compromised.... Wexford currently has 14.85 psychiatry FTE’s [full time employees] allocated to address the clinical needs of 8,891 patients who are prescribed psychotropic medications. Wexford now employs a total of 5.95 FTE psychiatry providers (approximately 33% of their allocation) [with] 8.9 FTE’s vacant (leaving a vacancy rate of 66%).”

Also in August 2012, a Wexford nurse at the women’s prison in Perryville administered medication to a prisoner by having her “lick the powdered medication from her own hand” rather than putting the meds in a cup of water, in violation of policy. Further, a number of prisoners at the facility, the state learned, “may not have been receiving their medications as prescribed due to expired prescription[s] and inappropriate renewals or refills.”

On September 21, 2012 the ADC issued a “Written Cure Notification” to Wexford that detailed a litany of contract violations – including inadequate staffing levels, a decrease in routine institutional care, incorrect or incomplete medication prescriptions and refill procedures, inconsistent medical records documentation, lack of responsiveness to incident urgency and reporting requirements, and an unresponsive approach to prisoners’ grievances.

ADC officials ordered Wexford to fix the staffing problems, properly distribute and document medication for prisoners and communicate more effectively when problems arise. ADC Director Ryan later said in a written statement that Wexford was being afforded a chance to “improve communications and ensure [that] the healthcare needs of the inmates incarcerated by the State of Arizona are being met.”

Wexford, on the other hand, shifted blame back to the state. In a letter to Ryan the company stated the ADC “must recognize that the system that was in place” before Wexford’s contract began was “extremely weak.”

“This is more proof that privatization is not saving us money, not providing better services and is not any more efficient,” said Caroline Isaacs with the AFSC. “While the state clearly had its problems, just inserting another layer to the bureaucracy is no way to address the problems, and it complicates the matter.”

Doris Marie Provine, a justice studies professor at Arizona State University, noted that “When the state locks someone up, it assumes responsibility to provide safe and humane conditions of confinement. No amount of outsourcing will change that.”

The ADC apparently thought otherwise; after terminating its contract with Wexford in January 2013 due to “both parties encountering unforeseeable challenges,” state prison officials instead contracted with Corizon, another for-profit prison healthcare company with a history of abuses and neglect. Corizon began providing medical care to prisoners on March 4, 2013.

“Merely replacing one for-profit prison contractor with another will only prolong the crisis in Arizona’s prisons,” said Dan Pochoda, legal director of the ACLU of Arizona. “There is no reason to think that anything will change under Corizon, Inc.”

Shutting the Safety Valve of Justice

Unfortunately, Arizona prisoners with life-threatening medical conditions who apply for commutations of their sentences are largely out of luck, as Governor Brewer apparently doesn’t like making clemency decisions. Or perhaps she simply doesn’t like justifying them.

In April 2012, Brewer replaced three of the five members of Arizona’s Board of Executive Clemency – board chairman Duane Belcher; Marilyn Wilkens, who was appointed in 2010; and Ellen Stenson, appointed by former Governor Napolitano in 2007.

According to Belcher, Governor Brewer was displeased by the board’s 2009 majority recommendation to grant clemency to convicted murderer William Macumber, who had raised a strong claim of innocence. Wilkens also indicated that Brewer was dissatisfied with the way she had voted in a clemency case.

“It was expressed clearly that there was dissatisfaction with my vote on a particular issue, and that I had not voted the way they wished that I would have voted,” she said. According to one source, that case was most likely the clemency board’s January 26, 2012 unanimous recommendation to reduce 74-year-old Robert Flibotte’s 90-year sentence for possession of child porn to five years plus lifetime supervision.

Governor Brewer overruled both clemency recommendations.

The clemency board’s new members include Brian Livingston, a retired police officer and executive director of the Arizona Police Association; Melvin Thomas, a former Arizona warden who was employed by private prison firm GEO Group after working for the ADC for 21 years; and new board chairman Jesse Hernandez.

Hernandez had worked on some of Arizona’s more recent high-profile conservative political campaigns, including leading a Republican Latino group’s support for anti-immigrant legislation SB1070. Hernandez was also chairman of a group that tried to help state Senator Russell Pearce win his recall election in November 2011.

The replacement of the clemency board members didn’t go smoothly, however. An attorney for death row prisoner Samuel Lopez challenged Brewer’s appointment of the new board members in court, claiming the committee that had conducted interviews and made recommendations did not comply with the Open Meetings Law and other state statutes, and that the new members had not received required training before they began conducting hearings. Lopez’s attorney refused to participate in an initial clemency hearing, saying the board wasn’t authorized to act on clemency petitions. Lopez was executed on June 27, 2012.

Brewer’s three new clemency board members, as gatekeepers to the clemency process, will help determine whether prisoners’ commutation and pardon petitions are sent to her office for consideration.

“It’s clear to me now that they are trying in any way they can to manipulate the outcome of clemency hearings,” said Belcher. “If the cases don’t go before the governor, she doesn’t have to say yes or no.”

Not that prisoners seeking clemency have much of a chance anyway.

Between January 2009 and June 2013, Governor Brewer granted just 28 commutations due to prisoners’ life-threatening medical conditions and 6 for non-medical reasons. Her poor record on granting clemency petitions mirrors that of prior Arizona governors, but she is the first governor in at least 35 years to not issue a single pardon, denying all of the board’s pardon recommendations. She has never commuted a death sentence.

One noteworthy exception to Brewer’s stingy clemency policy was her decision to commute the life without parole sentence of ADC prisoner Betty Smithey in August 2012, resulting in Smithey’s immediate release after serving 49 years. [See: PLN, Dec. 2012, p.50].

In a state where the prison population has increased eight-fold over the past 30 years; where budget cuts have created a two-year backlog for the clemency board; and where more than 90% of Arizona’s 76,000 felony criminal cases each year are settled by plea bargains driven by harsh mandatory minimums, the clemency process is considered the criminal justice system’s safety valve.

Yet Brewer continues to deny most clemency applications, even those that apparently have merit. One particularly egregious case involved William Macumber, who was convicted of a double homicide in 1975 and sentenced to life.

Former state judge and public defender Thomas O’Toole told the clemency board in 2009 that another man, Ernest Valenzuela, had confessed the killings to him in 1967, but due to attorney-client privilege he didn’t disclose the confession until after his client died in a prison fight. “There is no doubt in my mind that Ernesto Valenzuela committed those crimes,” O’Toole said. However, the judge over Macumber’s criminal case refused to allow O’Toole to testify about his client’s confession, and the Arizona Supreme Court agreed that the trial court could assert attorney-client privilege on behalf of Valenzuela even though he was deceased.

In 2009, based on O’Toole’s testimony and other evidence in the case – including evidence suggesting that Macumber had been framed by his ex-wife, who worked at the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office – the clemency board recommended that his sentence be commuted.

The board, then chaired by Duane Belcher, found not only that Macumber had served an excessive amount of time in prison and was not a threat to society, but that his conviction was a miscarriage of justice, stating, “the evidence that now exists certainly casts serious doubt on Mr. Macumber’s conviction.”

Regardless, Governor Brewer denied the board’s recommendation without explanation.

“Sometimes the law has a disproportionate impact and may be too rigid. That’s what the pardon power is for,” said P.S. Ruckman, an Illinois political science professor who runs a blog about clemency and pardons. “Brewer has the power and discretion to have a larger sense of justice and to do something about it. That’s her duty.”

But with Brewer failing in that duty the Arizona courts stepped in, scheduling an evidentiary hearing after Macumber filed a petition for post-conviction relief. Prosecutors offered a plea deal rather than proceed with the hearing, and on November 7, 2012, Macumber, now 77 years old, pleaded no contest to second-degree murder and was released on time served – over Brewer’s public objection. He had spent 37 years in prison.

Private Prison Contract Awarded

The ADC's long-delayed performance study of the state’s private prisons was finally released in December 2011, and predictably found, in a self-serving manner, that the state’s private and publicly-operated prisons were comparable in both cost and quality of services. Yet according to the American Friends Service Committee, the ADC’s study included “very little methodological information or supporting data, suffers from inconsistent data collection procedures, and overlooks important measures of prison safety.”

The AFSC had filed a lawsuit challenging the state’s proposed 5,000-bed private prison contract on September 12, 2011, seeking an injunction prohibiting the ADC from awarding the contract, but the suit was dismissed due to lack of standing. The organization also filed an unsuccessful administrative challenge that served to delay the contracting process.

The ADC canceled its contract proposal for 5,000 new private prison beds in December 2011 and issued a revised proposal for 2,000 beds, which was later reduced to 1,000.

Never mind that Arizona’s prison population had declined over the previous year, which indicated that additional prison beds were not needed. Never mind that, according to the ADC’s own records, there were around 2,000 empty beds in the state’s prison system at the time the ADC was soliciting a contract for 1,000 more private prison beds.

And never mind that a September 2010 report by the Arizona State Auditor’s office, based on ADC data, noted that minimum- and medium-security private prisons in the state actually cost more to operate than government-run prisons, when comparable costs were taken into account. [See: PLN, July 2012, p.45].

In February 2012, the AFSC released a report titled “Private Prisons: The Public’s Problem,” which provided a quality assessment of privately-operated prisons in Arizona. The report found that the state did not need additional prison beds and was wasting money on prison privatization; that private prisons had “serious security flaws” and “serious staffing problems,” and did not measure recidivism rates; and that private prison companies were “buying influence” through lobbying and political campaign contributions, and were not accountable to Arizona taxpayers. Overall, the report revealed “widespread and persistent problems in private facilities around safety, lack of accountability, and cost.”

On August 31, 2012, the ADC announced that its 1,000-bed private prison contract, worth $21.5 million annually, had been awarded to Corrections Corporation of America. The contract, for an initial period of ten years with options for two 5-year renewals, includes a 90% bed occupancy guarantee.

In fairness, CCA had worked hard to win the contract. The company employed a cadre of lobbyists, including Paul Senseman, Governor Brewer’s one-time spokesman before leaving her administration in 2011, who worked for a lobbying firm hired by CCA, Policy Development Group. His wife, Kathryn Senseman, was also a CCA lobbyist. Additionally, CCA hired lobbying firm HighGround Public Affairs Consultants, a company founded by Chuck Coughlin, Brewer’s former campaign manager and policy advisor. [See: PLN, July 2012, p.45].

“If you place two of your lobbyists at the right and left hand of the governor of the state and she has final say and oversight of the Department of Corrections, I would say that’s a pretty smart business strategy,” said Caroline Isaacs.

According to the AFSC, CCA had also made at least $35,000 in campaign contributions to Arizona candidates during the 2010 election cycle and donated $10,000 to Brewer’s “Yes on 100” sales tax initiative. CCA’s other political connections included former Arizona U.S. Senator Dennis DeConcini, who serves on CCA’s board of directors; additionally, Governor Brewer had appointed former CCA employee and lobbyist Mark Brnovich as chairman of the state’s Commission on Privatization and Efficiency.

CCA will open the first 500 contract beds at its prison complex in Eloy by January 2014, and the remaining 500 beds should be on line a year later. All of the beds are for medium-security prisoners.

The contract also gives CCA an option to operate another 1,000 prison beds after 2015 provided that there is an increase in the state’s medium-security prison population, which – based on the ADC’s classification system – can be easily manipulated by arbitrarily increasing scores on prisoners’ security-risk assessments.

State Rep. Chad Campbell joined a group of Democrats, clergy members and civil rights organizations in asking Governor Brewer to rescind the state’s private prison contract. Of course she declined.

“The bottom line is we need to protect safety while protecting taxpayer dollars,” said Rep. Campbell, “and expansion of private prisons does neither.”

The AFSC was more blunt, concluding in its February 2012 report that either “our state leaders are so ideologically wedded to the idea of privatization that they are unable or unwilling to face reality,” or that “they are beholden to the for-profit prison industry and that this industry has such unmitigated power in Arizona that it has simply hijacked the democratic process.”


Governor Brewer and ADC Director Ryan’s negative influence on Arizona’s prison system will persist long after they depart from office unless criminal justice advocates, human rights groups and Arizona voters take action.

There have been some glimmers of hope, including an unprecedented recall campaign against former state Senator Russell Pearce, the author of SB1070, who was removed from office in November 2011. SB1070 was largely struck down by the federal courts after the U.S. Justice Department sued the state of Arizona, although the bill’s “show me your papers” provision, which allows law enforcement officers to question people about their citizenship status based on reasonable suspicion, was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court on June 25, 2012. See: Arizona v. United States, 132 S.Ct. 2492 (2012).

Also, in November 2012 the ADC released video of the events surrounding the 2010 suicide of Anthony Lester at ASPC-Tucson, resulting in public outrage. Prison officials had fought for two years against the release of the video, which showed multiple guards standing around for 23 minutes, doing nothing to help Lester as he bled to death. Channel 12 News KPNX had to file suit in state court to obtain the video footage; the court found the ADC had wrongly refused a reporter’s request for the video and ordered the ADC to pay $26,000 in attorney’s fees to the news station.

After seeing the video, state Rep. Chad Campbell called for Ryan’s resignation as ADC director. Predictably, that hasn’t happened.

The class-action lawsuit filed by the ACLU and Prison Law Office over inadequate medical treatment in Arizona’s prison system remains pending and hopefully will result in improved medical and mental health care, although the state still contracts with Corizon.

Neither Brewer nor Ryan is expected to be out of a job until at least January 2015, when Arizona’s next governor is inaugurated. At least until then, the state’s prison system will continue to suffer under their leadership.

More prisoners will needlessly die due to suicide, violence and medical neglect. The state’s prison system will expand its use of solitary confinement. Private prison companies will continue to profit at the expense of taxpayers. And prisoners’ clemency petitions will be largely ignored by the clemency board’s new members appointed by Governor Brewer.

All of this should matter to Arizonans.

“This matters,” according to a June 9, 2012 Arizona Republic editorial, “because tax dollars should buy secure prisons. It matters because inmates who survive a brutal system are unlikely to become good neighbors when they return to our communities. It matters because assuring the basic needs and safety of prisoners says a great deal more about us than it does about them.”

It matters, but apparently not to most Arizona lawmakers who presumably have the power to improve the state’s prison system.

Sources: Arizona Republic; “Cruel Isolation: Amnesty International’s Concerns About Conditions in Arizona Maximum Security Prison,” Amnesty International (April 2012); Center for Media and Democracy;; Rolling Stone;;;; Phoenix New Times; Huffington Post;;;;;;;;

Posted By Arizona Prison Watch to Arizona Prison Watch at 8/14/2013 09:21:00 PM

“SOS From Arizona's Other Death Row”
firehouse gallery, phoenix  
JULY 2012

(40-foot long community-chalked mural for dead prisoners, from the roof)

The AZ Governor and State Legislators can be reached at

Arizona State Capitol
1700 W. Washington St.
Phoenix, AZ 85007

Journalists Bob Ortega and Wendy Halloran (who received an Emmy for exposing the Tony Lester suicide) can be reached at

The AZ Republic /KPNX CH12
200 E. Van Buren St.
Phoenix, AZ 85006

Send copies of your letters to AZ Prison Watch for publication on the blog, too.  po box 20494 / phoenix, az 85036 /  480-580-6807