By AFSC-AZ Staff |
Tomorrow, Arizona’s Joint Legislative Budget Committee (JLBC) will consider a request from the head of the state’s Department of Corrections (ADC) to re-open the Papago Unit – a converted motel in Douglas that once served as a prison – to accommodate a projected increase in Arizona’s population of incarcerated women. American Friends Service Committee-Arizona (AFSC-AZ) opposes this expansion.
According to a 2018 report by FWD.us, the number of incarcerated women in Arizona’s prisons has more than doubled since 2000, growing from just under 2,000 women to nearly 4,300 women today. The bulk of this increase is the result of over-charging and prosecuting women and Arizona’s excessive sentencing laws, which mandate prison time for low-level drug and property crimes. “The number of women sentenced directly to prison [in Arizona] for nonviolent drug and property crimes …” FWD.us reported, “has grown by [over] 250 percent since 2000.”
‘This crisis is not one of inadequate prison space; it’s the crisis of a system that chooses punishment over healing…’
Newly appointed ADC Director David Shinn’s request is utterly tone-deaf coming on the heels of high-profile scandals involving broken door locks, chronic understaffing of state prisons, and water shortages at the Douglas prison complex. The Papago Unit was closed in July 2017, shortly after two additional units at the Douglas complex were also closed.
Shuttering prisons and releasing incarcerated people are the real solutions to this crisis. Several months of meetings of a state legislative ad hoc committee on earned release credits, chaired by Rep. Walt Blackman (R-Snowflake), have set the stage for reform and are certain to dominate the next session at the state Capitol.
“Instead of working to make state prisons safer for incarcerated people and prison staff alike by advocating for a reduced prison population, Director Shinn wants to send hundreds of low-risk women to a shuttered facility that may not be safe or healthy for them,” said Caroline Isaacs, program director for AFSC-AZ. “We should not create further separation from women and their loved ones. We should not risk further hardship to Arizona’s families. The solution here is obvious: Stop incarcerating so many people, especially women.”
AFSC-AZ urges the JLBC to deny Director Shinn’s request to open 340 minimum-security beds at the Papago Unit of the state prison complex in Douglas and, instead, support legislative and other efforts to safely reduce Arizona’s prison population.
This crisis is not one of inadequate prison space; it’s the crisis of a system that chooses punishment over healing, rehabilitation, or other interventions that actually make us safer.