An Open Letter - Dear Governor Ducey,
At the same time, you indicated you would not change direction in your quest to fund private prisons to help the state systems with its current overcapacity. I can accept that as an option but not as a final option.
Right now, today, you, Governor Ducey, have the key opportunity to reshape the future of the entire state prison system, affecting tens of thousands of prisoners and their families. You could in fact, change the number of people who die, get assaulted or released properly with a chance to not return to prison.
The first thing you should do is ask for the resignation of the current director. He is due for retirement and his successor could be the positive catalyst this state needs to move ahead with prison changes whether in policies, best practices or reforms. Depending on your own agenda, change is still the best option.
The decision to change our state prison system is significant and means a lot to the public, as well as families and friends of those incarcerated. It also means safer workplace practices for employees in both the private and public sector. Leadership with focus on core values is a must. Change is a must. Arizona has never met any national benchmarks when it comes to prison management. Now is the time to implement change, positive change.
Under Charles Ryan’s era, the prison leadership has eroded. The state is has a dismal record of performance and public safety. The state has imposed unduly harsh conditions on prisoners, failed to prevent sexual abuse, and refused to exercise good judgment in workplace safety for their employees.
Both in supermax and in other prisons, policies continue to expose far too many prisoners, including many who suffer from serious mental illness, to solitary confinement. Even if we deny solitary confinement, governor, we have too many inmates in maximum custody.
The state has also failed to mount a serious fight against sexual violence and abuse in its prisons. Not just against inmates but staff as well. The rape of a teacher and correctional officer, comes to mind. Arizona needs to implement better policies which include a comprehensive set of operational concerns in the areas of rules, training requirements and audit / public disclosure mandates to improve safety.
Arizona is no different from other states. It has many available tools and a good deal of discretion to better deal with its prison population, but it has used those opportunities far too sparingly. The state’s prison population is growing steadily, it is suffering from severe overcrowding and reasonable options are not being put on the table to ease suffering and unnecessary pain. Better programs result in keeping staff and prisoners safer and it reduces litigations by the inmate populations. I am not advocating the release of inmates; I am advocating better management of inmates and their preparation to return to society.
With congestion comes risks of violence, and less access to services such as jobs and programs. And as prison populations’ age, the costs of medical care go up. The list is endless.
We know Arizona can do better because many state correctional systems are making a variety of improvements in their approaches. Other state prison systems have reduced the population of those in isolation, created better inmate programming to suit the histories and challenges of those incarcerated and offered new work programs and improved mental health services like Arizona was on track to do and almost accomplished, prior to this director’s appointment in 2009.