AFSC Ask Guv to Establish Prison Oversight Committee, Investigation

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Yesterday, House Minority Leader Chad Campbell called for the immediate resignation of Arizona Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan. Today, the American Friends Service Committee has asked Gov. Jan Brewer to create an oversight committee over the ADOC.

The Phoenix Democrat has been a vocal advocate for prison reform and private prison issues alongside AFSC. His call for Ryan's resignation follows a recent Buckeye prison inmate death.

“Director Ryan has exhibited a pattern of mismanagement and a lack of leadership resulting in an unsafe corrections system in our state,” Campbell said in a press release. “Under his direction, our corrections system has wasted tax dollars, jeopardized people’s lives and damaged the state’s credibility.”

Campbell said he's seen reports that Arizona's prison suicide rate was 60 percent higher than the national average between the years of 2010 and 2012.

“In addition to this, the attempt to cover up what happened to an inmate allowed to bleed to death in front of prison guards is a gruesome consequence of Ryan’s negligence," Campbell said, adding that he believes Ryan has failed to properly supervise private prison contracts, such as a private facility in Kingman, where three inmates escaped in 2010 and committed murder and armed robbery. “Following this incident, Ryan admitted that the DOC didn’t properly monitor this facility. This is a community safety issue."

Campbell also said that private prisons cost more than state-run prisons and the DOC has failed to hold the private prison companies accountable for the terms of their contracts with the state. He complained that the state awards contracts in a manner that is not transparent and seems indicative of cronyism. An example of this occurred earlier this year, when the DOC terminated a contract with Wexford Health Sources, a private company that provided healthcare for inmates statewide.

“The (DOC) contracted with a company that has a controversial record of service. In fact, one of Wexford’s employees exposed more than 100 people to hepatitis C in a prison in Buckeye,” Campbell said. “The DOC terminates that contract and replaces Wexford with Corizon, another company surrounded by controversy that also happens to have ties to people who are close to the governor. This situation reeks of patronage.”

And Campbell used the taxpayer argument—specifically, that for-profit, private prisons are misusing taxpayer money.

According to Campbell, last year, Republicans repealed a state law in the budget requiring a comparison of state and private prisons every two years to ensure that private prisons were providing the same quality of services as state prisons at a lower cost. DOC Per Capita Cost Reports compiled over five years consistently show that the state is losing money on private prisons, and security audits show serious safety flaws in all of Arizona’s for-profit prisons, including malfunctioning cameras and alarm systems.

In a letter to Brewer, the AFSC asked the governor that the oversight committee they are asking for be meaningful and independent.

“Such an oversight committee would allow for better institutional transparency and substantial responses to grievances of inadequate medical and mental health care within the ADC facilities,” says AFSC Program Director Caroline Isaacs.

Here is the AFSC letter to Brewer:

AFSCRyanOversight7-24-13.pdf

AFSC also asked that Brewer investigate the charges against Ryan and determine whether he is fit to serve.

Isaacs points out that while it is important to hold ADC Directors accountable for the gross failings of their tenure, “putting a new Director into an old and failed system won’t change the outcome.” She added, “Ryan’s failures reveal a total lack of public oversight over our prisons.”

The oversight committee that AFSC Arizona proposes in the letter to Brewer must have the ability to hold the ADC accountable in a meaningful way, and must include individuals outside of the framework of political influence.

In the letter, AFSC cites overuse of solitary confinement in maximum-security units, a reliance on private for-profit prison companies, and lack of adequate medical and mental health care as prime examples of the need for such oversight. It reads, “[T]he numerous issues raised in Rep. Campbell’s letter are extremely serious, costing taxpayers millions of dollars and undermining public safety as well as the safety and health of prisoners and corrections staff.”

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