(Disclaimer - this is not about the practice or the implementation of the death penalty - it’s about the administrative responsibilities that adjoin such an activity when scheduled and taking the appropriate steps to ensure public and staff safety)
Whether or not the public decides the legal and moral issue of the death sentence in Arizona is to be determined in time and public pressure to pursue dialogue and examinations of the practice. The fact is Arizona is putting the public at risk when they exercise their legal and statutory right to execute in the way the execution is carried out while keeping with statute, case law and professional practices.
It is the last part of this effort to plan and prepare for an execution that puts people at risk.
Specifically the way the execution is carried out is detrimental to the safety of corrections employees who are directly exposed to such dangers when things go wrong during executions.There appears to be a lack of concern within the agency to prepare for the execution process when it comes to what is commonly referred to as cruel and unusual punishment based on the fact of how the execution was handled and perceived by the prison population that sits idly by under a temporary lockdown while the execution takes place.
Policy is clear that the execution should be “handled in a manner that minimizes its impact on the safety, security and operational integrity of the prison and the community in which it occurs.” What this means to those working the shift during an execution are the concerns there are sufficient staff and resources in place and available to provide an adequate response to unlawful civil disobedience inside the prisons as the threat exists inside the penitentiary as well as the outside grounds where the protestors may gather.
As a former prison official with the Arizona Department of Corrections, I have been assigned the task of maintaining a “population assessment” role and responsible for the coordination of monitoring and evaluating inmate activity at ASPC Eyman and ASPC Florence under the guidance of one of the regional directors assigned to the execution event.
The truth be told, the only purpose of such an assignment is to continuously monitor and assess the inmate population for any activity related to the execution or its impact on the prison’s operation. The dangerous reality is the “imminent danger” conditions that exist before, during and after the execution that is not addressed by additional staff available to handle such an event if it was to disrupt statewide or within the prison complex where the execution takes place.
The reality known by inmates on “lockdown” status are the facts that lockdown in dormitory settings are impossible other than locking the run gates and lockdowns usually only require a temporary halt of movement. In fact, only two out of ten complexes are locked down for the event.Elsewhere in the state, we have a business as usual in work assignments and other routine institutional operations are normal and carried out even while the execution is ongoing as well as before or after such an event.
The real concern of a botched execution is the impact it has on the inmate population after the facts are released and publicized. There are no contingency plans to handle a negative reaction to such impacts as an execution brings many levels of emotion into the population as well as anger, fear, frustration and other disruptive feelings that can often be taken out on corrections employees doing their jobs.
It is true there are partial elements of the Special Operations Team (TSU) present and serving in execution team activities such as traffic control, crowd control, restraints, escort services and other designated functions per the policy but there are hardly any assigned internally during the execution activity thus they would have to leave their assigned posts and respond to the facility reported to be in distress.
In addition, if the event lasts longer than one hour, there have to be contingency plans to feed and provide essential services such as medical treatment etc. to facilitate the mandatory services required by standards of care.
This brings me to the final analysis that during execution especially a botched execution that last well over two hours after the event is a possibility of prison population disruptions [anywhere in the state] and that we have insufficient staff on site to handle it at the moment of flashpoint when the news reports such results via the television stations all have access to in prisons.
It is the DOC’s presumption the general population doesn’t care about what happens during an execution and are anxious to resume normal movement and return back to the normal scheme of things in their environment. It is the DOC’s decision to implement monitor and assess systems throughout the state and have their special operations teams (TSU) ready for such happenings.
Today there is a brash attitude and a cavalier created culture within the prison administration that such civil disobedience within the prisons will never take place and therefore not warrant extra staff on hand to handle such an emergency. It is feared that this arrogance carries over in the quality of these assigned monitoring and assessment modes assigned elsewhere and the risks will be misjudged impacting public safety, staff safety and inmate safety.
Regardless of self-creating this “imminent danger” risk factor, it is business as usual and staff are expected to handle whatever problems arise with those resources available until additional responders arrive at the facilities to take control and contain the situation. Should the Arizona Department of Correction take executions a little bit more serious and protect the public and staff accordingly?