ReFraming Justice Leaders Craft Proposal to Restore Public Trust in Arizona’s Department of Corrections

by AFSC-AZ Staff |

Two volunteer leaders of our ReFraming Justice project have released a detailed legislative proposal for the creation of a new body of public oversight that would help reshape and reform state prisons.

John Fabricius and Travis Hiland, both of whom are directly impacted by the punishment system, collaborated with AFSC-AZ staff to craft Truth in Corrections: Restoring Public Trust in the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC), a framework for an ADC Citizens’ Advisory Board that would be required to include at least one formerly incarcerated person, as well as gubernatorial, legislative and judicial designees.

The advisory board would “increase correctional and public safety, and restore public trust in ADC by creating a robust independent system of problem reporting, tracking, and disclosure.” The board would also “create public oversight of ADC budget appropriations and fiscal practices; create a process to inform the public and three branches of state government of serious issues inside state prisons that require urgent attention; and oversee the implementation of solutions and problem fixes.”

Hiland and Fabricius argue that a Citizens’ Advisory Board is imperative because of three major issues:

  1. An erosion of public confidence in ADC’s ability to keep incarcerated people and the general public safe;
  2. The lack of external oversight of ADC and an absence of accountability;
  3. And ADC’s rapid and massive expansion over the past 25 years, which has rendered it too large, too complex, and too expensive to operate effectively and safely under the autonomy of a sole director without public oversight.

In the last decade alone, under Director Chuck Ryan, who has announced he will retire from the department on Sept. 13, ADC has suffered a series of operational failures. Those failures have resulted in the deaths of incarcerated people and the general public, staff assaults, security-management failures, escapes, riots, class-action lawsuits, federal-court interventions and enormous fines, allegations of fiscal-resource irregularities, unsustainable staff attrition, and infrastructural deterioration.

Following the recent faulty lock debacle at Lewis prison complex near Buckeye, which resulted in a prisoner’s death, staff assaults, and damaged property, Governor Doug Ducey commissioned an independent report that detailed and confirmed widespread mismanagement and willful neglect within ADC.

Evidence shows that the Lewis complex’s faulty lock issue was decades in the making. Although it represents a systemic and catastrophic failure, at its core it represents just one incident at only one of the 10 Arizona prison complexes. Numerous other known problems remain unresolved throughout the system and unknown problems remain without a reliable process for discovery and remediation.

“A citizens advisory and oversight board vested with a clear mandate and substantive, autonomous authority to create objective, fact-based reports and monitor ADC is crucial as our state writes the next chapter of our corrections department,” Fabricius said. “Now is the time to implement changes that make ADC more transparent, accountable, and safer for the public, incarcerated people, and for staff.”

Until legislative action can establish the creation of an ADC Citizens’ Advisory Board, Hiland and Fabricius suggest that Gov. Ducey create an ad hoc citizens’ advisory and oversight board in the interim.

Fabricius and Hiland began collaborating with AFSC-AZ on the final draft of their proposal shortly after a town hall in Phoenix this summer (hosted by AFSC-AZ and LUCHA), at which hundreds of people came to share their own experiences and those of their loved ones inside Arizona’s prisons. Copies of the proposal have already been delivered to Gov. Ducey’s staff as he considers a pool of applicants to replace Ryan as ADC director.

To read Hiland and Fabricius’ full legislative proposal, click here.

3 replies »

  1. Thank all of you for working on this. It is imperative this committee is established. Arizona citizens want transparency and honesty. Taxpayers deserve to know where their $1.2 billion are being spent. The lack of programs, vocational training, and education given to our incarcerated citizens doesn’t make anything better. They will return to our neighborhoods one day. Would it be better if they were trained and had skills to survive or be released with nothing and return to prison because that’s all they know? ADC must have an independent oversight committee to ensure safe practices for ALL citizens! Those who are incarcerated, as well as those who aren’t!

    • Call and email the Governor and the legislators. (Hopefully we can do more) This is really good news for everyone who is impacted by this system.

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