The Public Image of Corrections in Arizona – an illusory perception
The field of Arizona corrections is not improving. The process for change remains slow and difficult, primarily because of the cultural extrapolations and perceptions that control the mindset of the use of prisons and the necessary funding simply available to expand private prisons rather than the public sector. This directly impacts correctional administrators’ ability to recruit quality employees, provide essential intensive training, encourage continuous professional development learning efforts, and, ultimately, foster professionalism.
The recent Kingman riots bring up an important question how the public perceive the image of our prison systems. A hybrid of state and private prisons, this network is interlinked so they function similar but by all standards applied, not the same. They may share policies and procedures but they differ culturally and ethically. More vitally, they differ on oversight and performance accountability factors.
There is no transparency in prison management. The facts may scare you but in all realisms, the private prisons are in better order than the public facilities and that trend is likely not to be reversed any time soon as the majority of the legislative funding has favored the private sector, neglecting the public prisons. Neglect of our state prisons has led to low morale, high misconduct and poor public safety.
One can only imagine if Kingman is such a model prison, what lurks inside the state prisons so quietly seething with tension, hatred and transgressions. Led by a former Abu Ghraib administrator of the infamous, Abu Ghraib Iraqi prison, there are innuendoes of excessive use of force and other abuses coming from the inmates who were moved from this prison to others throughout the state. Everybody remembers the scandal at the military’s Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
One could never imagine that such practices occur here within our own state but the reality is due to shoddy prison management styles, there are cases of gross abuse and excessive force happening quite frequently. To be fair and balanced, there are good administrators at work continuously to meet the tough and complex human-driven demands, sadly, making their individual efforts often go unnoticed or misunderstood.
Much of the public has a negative view of corrections and that is mainly based on the perception given to the public by the media. Accordingly, the practice of corrections has been publically mischaracterized and misrepresented, however, recent dismay over horrors exposed, only adds to the cabalistic mistakes. Public perceptions about who is a criminal come, in part, from television or newspapers. But the media fail to fully explore the operations of prison and frequently paint a picture that closely mirrors stereotypical views.
In my own experience as a prison consultant, I found the media to be ignorant about prison conditions, cultural awareness, accomplishments and failures. In fact, the media, in general, is oblivious to the truth as it stands although they boldly print and repeat stories often based on hearsay or non-scientific sources creating rumors and gossip along the way.
Even state leaders, legislators and elected officials are unmindful to what state prisons do and how they operate. Whenever critics like myself write them about serious and public safety concerns, they treat the information like they do spam and delete it from their files. They would rather not read the information and become aware than play the ignorant game and allow the conditions to exists and fester under their watch.
The governor, in particular is the most aware of all elected officials but rarely does a daily briefing to stay in touch what happens inside prisons. If it were one of his or her daily briefings, I suspect the culture and happenings would be much different than they really exist today. This leaves the burden to manage prisons to bureaucrats and prison administrators who are really not in touch at all with the general operational issues and only deal with crisis management or headline news topics to serve the governor’s desires to conduct damage control.
In Arizona, prisons are labeled as extravagant wasteland of unimportant significance. The public, and some elected officials view such places a garbage bins of our own society as well as a habitation for human warehouses or more commonly called human dumping grounds. These places behind the razor wire are considered storage bins of lost souls and insignificant human cesspools with an emphasis of being another avenue to provide our society a school of criminals housed there only to become career criminals.
Prisons are not at all frequently subject to public scrutiny. An occasional media distortion in the coverage of crime, prisons, prison administration, custody, and prisoners is not common. As a result, correctional officers have become the victims of the stereotype of correctional officers as corrupt, unprofessional, abusive, and inhumane. Overwhelmingly, many correctional staff members are highly qualified, properly trained professionals.
However, incidents of mistreatment are not rare. When they do occur, corrective action is typically deliberately slow and a blame game is engaged to remove any culpability of the administrations. Prisons, like most other public institutions, are not perfect, and significant change and improvement have been tried several times over the last 15 years. The anomaly is that Arizona has failed to jump on this trend of change and has decided that the status quo is acceptable.
Arizona has failed miserable in the area of change. Their prison system has deteriorated to the lowest proficiency levels in history, the highest staff, and the worst trained officers in the southwest. This has led to more confinement lawsuits and courtroom challenges to vital prisoner health services that need to be greatly improved.
Arizona has failed to accept any national standards which have been promulgated based on best practices. Public prisons insists on the development of policies and procedures based on failures and lessons learned concepts. Some private prisons have become accredited, but the state prisons fall short or being close to accreditation standards. From a statistical view, the number staff assaults have increased, the rate of homicides and suicides have become greater than before—in fact, the likelihood of dying in a prison is substantially higher than the likelihood of dying outside a prison.