Mesa’s Vote in Favor of Jail Privatization is a Vote Against Local Control of Public Safety

The American Friends Service Committee of Arizona, a leading watchdog and opponent of for-profit incarceration in Arizona and nationwide, has condemned the decision of the Mesa City Council last night to enter into a contract with CoreCivic, formerly Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).

“We would like to thank Mayor and Council for their openness to hearing the deep concerns of their residents and those of surrounding communities. But we are dismayed that Mesa’s elected leaders chose to vote against the clear wishes of the majority of their constituents,” said Emily Verdugo, Program Coordinator with AFSC.

The standing-room only crowd expressed audible frustration and anger when Mayor Giles characterized the movement to privatize as “jail reform”: Mesa’s answer to the years of a substandard Maricopa County jail system under Joe Arpaio.

Caroline Isaacs, AFSC Program Director, summed up the problem with this analogy: “If a group of employees complained about low wages or unsafe working conditions and the company sent their jobs overseas, you certainly wouldn’t call that ‘workplace reform,’ she said.

The two Councilmembers who voted against the proposal—Vice Mayor David Luna and Councilmember Jeremy Whittaker—both pointed out that the City of Mesa had not done enough to explore solutions with the current Maricopa County Board of Supervisors or Maricopa county Sheriff Paul Penzone. They, and many members of the public, noted that the decision to privatize had been suddenly fast-tracked, leaving little time for a critical assessment of alternatives.

AFSC’s Verdugo warns that the City’s decision to privatize their jail operations will open the door to further privatization of public safety in Maricopa County. “When Mesa pulls its money out of Maricopa County jail, it will undoubtedly pass that cost onto other Maricopa County cities that also contract with MCSO. This will either push cities to follow Mesa and privatize their jail operations, or push MCSO to have to privatize. Either option is irresponsible for the taxpayers of Maricopa County from a fiscal perspective, but also undermines local control of a critical public safety responsibility of government.”

The American Friends Service Committee calls upon the Mayor to hold off on signing the contract with CoreCivic and instead convene stakeholder groups to explore alternative approaches that would address the complaints of the City while maintaining local control of this critical government function.

 

Stop the Privatization of Mesa’s city jail!

The City of Mesa is currently negotiating with CoreCivic, formerly Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), for a contract to privatize the city jail.

This is a dangerous experiment as it would be the first jail in Arizona to be run by a private, for-profit corporation. CoreCivic/CCA also has come under fire nationally for a long track record of mismanagement, prisoner abuse, price gouging, and other issues.

Help AFSC Arizona fight against privatization and the commodification of people! Click here to contact Mesa Mayor John Giles today and ask him to rescind the request for proposal and end negotiations with CoreCivic.
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The Mesa Police Department has pushed for the private jail because they say that the Maricopa County Sheriff is charging them too much to send prisoners to county jails. However, many common-sense reforms do much more to reduce the number of people held in jail and control costs, as evidenced by programs in Maricopa, Pima, and Coconino Counties.


Before the contract with CoreCivic or any other proposal moves forward, there needs to be a genuine and honest conversation about costs and services with Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone and the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors. 

May 31st, 2017 – Blurring the Boundaries: Trauma and Healing Justice

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AFSC is excited to host Blurring the Boundaries: Trauma and Healing Justice on May 31st, 2017 from 10:00am to 4:00pm at the YWCA of Southern Arizona, 525 N. Bonita Avenue, Tucson AZ, 85745.

This conference will offer a critical examination of how the criminal justice system responds to, reinforces, and creates trauma for crime survivors, people accused of crime, and their families, as well as for the community at large.

Experts in the fields including formerly incarcerated and convicted people, academics, direct service professionals and policy makers will provide a framework on addressing trauma in the criminal justice realm, and discuss how we can shift away from punishment and move to a more healing and sustainable approach to create a safer
community for everyone.

Community leader and President/Founder of JustLeadershipUSA,Martin Glenn E. Martin, will be the keynote speaker for the event. Martin has been working to amplify the voices of formerly incarcerated and convicted people for over 15 years, and will provide necessary context about the role of trauma in the criminal justice system.

Dr. Monica Casper, University of Arizona sociologist professor and editor of Critical Trauma Studies: Understanding Violence, Conflict and Memory in Everyday Life, will open the conference by providing an analysis on trauma and its relation to the criminal justice system. Panelists Dr. Patricia Kelly, MPH, APRN, Manny Mejias, Luis Perales, M.S., and Stacy Scheff, Esq. will discuss the creation and effects of trauma of the criminal justice system in various areas, from schools to public health, solitary confinement to reentry.

AFSC Arizona invites people from all areas of experiences and professions to join in this necessary discussion and help in promoting agency practices and state policies that build a safer and less harmful system for all people.

Blurring Boundaries Poster

Registration information:

Tickets are available at Eventbrite. Space is limited, so register today!

Early Bird Registration: $15.00  (prior to April 22nd)

General Registration:   $25.00

Scholarships are available. Please contact Rebecca, rfealk@afsc.org for more information. 

AFSC Celebrates 100 Years of Speaking Truth to Power

AFSC Arizona is marking its Centennial with a celebration at La Cocina Restaurant in the historic Presidio district of downtown Tucson! Tuesday, March 28th from 5:00pm to 10:00pm, at 201 N. Court Ave, Tucson AZ 85701! The event is free and open to the public. La Cocina is hosting the event as part of their “Tuesdays for Tucson” series, and will donate 10% of all sales from the evening to AFSC.

Live music, poetry readings, and a silent auction will be the main events of the evening. Our goal is to raise funds for the program’s ongoing work of advocating against mass incarceration and immigration detention, working to improve prison conditions, and reducing the number of people incarcerated in Arizona.

The event will feature:

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Billy Sedlmayr with Chicha Dust. Justice on Tap, 2014

  • Live music performance by Billy Sedlmayr, Tucson desert rock icon.
  • Live inside/outside poetry readings and storytelling from the North Star Collective, an activist group that includes people who have been charged, convicted and branded with an arrest and/or conviction history.
  • Silent auction featuring items donated from local artists and businesses, including the Rialto Theater, Antigone Books, and Arizona breweries, as well as a signed copy of Orange is the New Black, by Piper Kerman—the book that inspired the Netflix series.

2017 marks the 100th Anniversary of the American Friends Service Committee. Founded in 1917 by pacifist Quakers as an alternative to military service during World War I, the Service Committee has grown to an international organization with programs in 15 countries around the world and 37 offices in the US.

fundraiser-posterAFSC has always made it a priority to build sustainable programs that focus on the
individual needs of the community where each office is based. Here in Arizona, we have focused on the movement to end mass incarceration since opening in 1981. As we move through 2017, the need for this work has intensified—with national rhetoric going backwards to the fear mongering “lock ‘em up” mentality that caused the extreme increase in prison populations and instigated irreparable harm to individuals and families. Most recent, the Department of Justice called to increase the use of private prisons despite the pattern of inhumane and unsafe conditions for-profit prisons produce.

Now more than ever, AFSC Arizona must continue our work in reducing the prison population, challenging for-profit incarceration, and improving conditions for incarcerated people.  Please join us in celebrating social justice and charting a path forward to continue speaking truth to power for another 100 years.

For more information, please visit the Facebook event page.

PRESS ADVISORY: Trump Administration Reversal on Private Prisons Signals Prioritization of Special Interests Over Public Safety

Contacts:

Caroline Isaacs – 520.256.4146 (cell), cisaacs@afsc.org

Emily Verdugo – 520. 251.1274 (cell), everdugo@afsc.org

Trump Administration Reversal on Private Prisons Signals Prioritization of Special Interests Over Public Safety

Sessions hints at return to mass incarceration

Tucson, AZ— Yesterday, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that it will reverse course on an Obama Administration directive to phase out the use of private prisons in the federal prison system. The announcement directs the Bureau of Prisons to return to its previous policy and to continue using for-profit private prisons.

The original directive was based on a thorough assessment by the DOJ’s Office of Inspector General that found that for-profit prisons contracted by the BOP were less safe and efficient than publicly-operated facilities. For example, the report showed that private prisons contracted by the BOP had higher rates of assaults, both on prisoners and staff, that private prisons improperly put prisoners into solitary confinement, and that private prison contracts did not save significant amounts of money.

This reasoned policy was undone with a four-sentence memo from Attorney General Jeff Sessions, which addressed none of the substantial safety, cost, or efficiency issues raised by the assessment.

“The memorandum changed long-standing policy and practice, and impaired the bureau’s ability to meet the future needs of the federal correctional system,” Sessions stated.

This reference to the “future needs of the federal correctional system” is a clear admission that the Trump Administration intends to return to the failed and costly approach of mass incarceration, despite a broad, bipartisan movement on the state and federal levels to reform sentencing policies and practices.

This is a particularly chilling signal to immigrant communities across the country, in the wake of several Executive Orders calling for increased criminalization and mass deportation of immigrants in the US. The vast majority of privately-operated federal facilities are those incarcerating immigrants, through contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the US Marshalls, and the Bureau of Prisons.

It is no coincidence that this policy shift will greatly benefit a key special interest group that has donated heavily to President Trump. Private prison watchdog group Grassroots Leadership reported, “a pro-Trump Super PAC received a $125,000 donation from private prison corporation GEO Group, and private prison stocks soared following November’s election. GEO has also hired former aides to Attorney General Jeff Sessions as lobbyists…Executives at Corrections Corporation of America (recently rebranded as CoreCivic) told shareholders on a call earlier this month that executive orders taken by the Trump administration would “significantly increase” detention capacity on the border.”

In Arizona, CoreCivic (formerly CCA) operates six different facilities. Only one of them holds a contract with the State of Arizona. The rest import their prisoners through a variety of contracts with both states and the Federal Government. Three of their detention centers contract with agencies under the Department of Homeland Security—including two that hold Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees, and two that contract with the US Marshalls.

One of these facilities—the Eloy Detention Center—has had the highest number of deaths of detainees of any ICE facility in the nation.

“This decision clearly demonstrates that the current administration is more committed to producing profits for private prison corporations than to being good stewards of federal dollars or keeping our communities safe,” stated Caroline Isaacs, Director of the American Friends Service Committee Arizona office. “It is a violation of the trust we place in our public institutions and an abuse of the tremendous power our government has to deny individuals of their basic liberties.”

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Additional Resources:

Indefensible: A Decade of Mass Incarceration of Migrants Prosecuted for Crossing the Border

Private Prisons: The Public’s Problem (2012)

White Paper on Prison Privatization in Arizona

 

 

This week at the Arizona legislature…

senatefloor3-1024x683As so often with this process, there’s good news and bad news.

THE GOOD NEWS:

We have so far succeeded in moving two bills through their first set of committees.

SB1071/HB2290: Directs occupational licensing boards to give provisional licenses (90 days-1 year) to people with criminal convictions. Identical versions of this bill were introduced in the House and the Senate. HB2290 passed through Military and Public Safety and Rules Committees. SB1071 passed through Senate Judiciary and is awaiting a hearing in Rules.

SB1069: This bill was originally intended to expunge criminal records. Unfortunately, it was met with strong opposition and the complicated nature of the existing processes for sealing records made it impossible for us to address these concerns within the time frame for having bills heard. Fortunately, we were able to replace it with two different and complementary amendments:

  • A “strike-all” amendment that simply says that if someone goes through the “set aside” process and has their conviction set aside, they do not have to check “the box” on an application that asks if they have been convicted of a felony.
  • Senator Martin Quezada offered a second amendment that is a full ‘Ban The Box’ amendment, barring any state agencies from asking about a criminal history until they have been offered the job. And even then, they can only ask about convictions within the last 5 years that have a direct relationship to the job.

We are pleased to say that both of these amendments passed through Senate Judiciary on Thursday! Next, the bills will “cross-over” to the other house and get assigned to committees there. We will keep you posted on what committees will hear them and when the hearings will take place.

hr2-1000x500NOW THE BAD NEWS:

SB1068: The bill was designed to amend Truth in Sentencing to allow some prisoners to earn earlier release. There was a very similar bill that was also introduced in the Senate, and we worked with the sponsor and authors of the bill to blend the two together. The final version would have allowed people convicted of Class 5 & 6 felonies to earn release credits of one day for every two days served, with the exception of those designated as dangerous offenders or sex offenders.

Despite our attempts to negotiate a “workable” solution, the County Attorneys came out in force against ANY changes to Truth in Sentencing. Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery’s office has confirmed that the will not support any sentencing reform in this area.

We are assessing our options at this point.

SB1067: This bill required the Department of Corrections to use a system of “graduated sanctions” to respond to technical violations of the terms of post-incarceration community supervision. Currently, revocations for technical violations (not new crimes) represent 18% of new admissions to prison in Arizona. The bill is based on the evidence-based practice referred to as “Swift, Certain & Fair.” It directs probation/parole officers to respond to technical violations with right-sized accountability measures, like requiring people who have positive drug tests to participate in more treatment programs or get tested more often. One serious sanction, short of revoking the person back to prison to do the remainder of their sentence, is a short-term jail stay (no more than 5 days at a time). This allows for a serious and immediate consequence for significant or repeated violations, but with some accommodations to ensure the individual does not lose their job or their family. The bill language instructs the supervising officer to make sure that any jail sanction is scheduled around the person’s work schedule.

Donna Hamm of Middle Ground Prison Reform contacted the members of the committee last week and instructed them to vote against this bill and SB1068. We spoke to her and requested that she send us her suggested changes to the bill. We incorporated several of her suggestions, including inserting a “due process” provision for the Board of Executive Clemency to approve jail sanctions. She led us to believe that this was approved by the Board of Executive Clemency. We also spoke with the Department of Corrections and attempted to address their complaints. We had an amendment ready for the hearing on Thursday that we felt was an appropriate compromise. Unfortunately, Ms. Hamm continued to oppose the bill, and also brought members of the Board of Executive Clemency to the hearing in opposition. As a result, the Sponsor of the bill decided not to allow it to be heard that day.

See the attached article from Gary Grado at the Arizona Capitol Times for more information about what happened at the hearing.

We will be holding a “stakeholder meeting” this Thursday to attempt to resolve issues with this bill. We are hopeful that a compromise will be reached to allow us to move forward with a graduated sanctions policy to reduce the number of people revoked back to the Department of Corrections for technical violations of community supervision.

Next week, we will know what committees the bills will be assigned to, and we will keep you up to date on our progress. Thank you for your support!

URGENT ACTION: Tell members of Senate Judiciary to VOTE YES on SB1068

Arizona is long overdue in implementing safe and cost-effective sentencing reform. One bill which has the potential to have huge budget savings as well as positive impacts on public safety is SB1068, which would give people incarcerated for non-violent offenses the opportunity to earn more credits toward early release, and allow them to complete their community supervision more quickly.

The bill:

  • Retains the current earned release credit of one day for every six days served (85%) for people convicted of violent offenses
  • Allows those incarcerated for non-violent crimes to earn release credit of two days for every six served (65%), including time spent in county jails
  • Reduces the required term of community supervision after release from prison for people convicted of non-violent offenses to three days for every seven days.

You can read the full text of the bill here.

This bill will face strong opposition from prosecutors. We need your voice!

Take Action!  Tell the members of Senate Judiciary to VOTE YES ON SB1068!

The bill’s first committee is Senate Judiciary, and the Chair is Sen Judy Burges (R), District 22.  The hearing will be this Thursday, 2/9/17 at 9:00am.

Sen. Burges is also the SPONSOR OF ALL FOUR OF AFSC’s Bills this year—Be sure to THANK HER for her leadership!

Sen. Judy Burges, Chair: jburges@azleg.gov; (602) 926-5861

Please call, email, or fax the members of the Committee and tell them to support SB1068. If you are a constituent of any of the other members be sure to mention that.

Sen. Nancy Barto, Vice-Chair: nbarto@azleg.gov; (602) 926-5766

Sen. Lupe Contreras, Minority Whip: ncontreras@azleg.gov; (602) 926-5284

Sen. Andrea D’Alessandroadalessandro@azleg.gov; (602) 926-5342

Sen. Frank Pratt: fpratt@azleg.gov; (602) 926-5761

Sen. Martin Quezada: mquezada@azleg.gov; (602) 926-5911

Sen. Bob Worsley; bworsley@azleg.gov; (602) 926-5760

Toll-free phone number to reach any state representative or senator:  1-800-352-8404.  Press #3 for the Senate and #4 for the House. Then just ask the operator to connect you to the office of the person you want to talk to.

Tell Them VOTE YES on SB1068 Because:

  • This bill will help reduce our bloated prison population. Arizona has the highest incarceration rate of western states—the 6th highest incarceration rate in the country.
  • This bill will reduce recidivism. Research shows there is no evidence to support the theory that harsher sentences reduce crime. Crime rates have increased and decreased both before and after introduction of Truth-in-Sentencing in Arizona. States that have shorter sentences have seen greater decreases in crime.
  • This bill will save taxpayer dollars. Due to our outdated sentencing practices, Arizona ranks 4th highest among all 50 states in the percentage of general funds spent on prisons.
  • This bill will bring us more in step with accepted national practices. Arizona is one of only three states that still requires people to serve 85% of their sentence.

**If you can blind copy or cc us, we will have a better idea how effective this initiative is.  If you receive responses, even boiler-plate ones, please forward those to us, if possible.

BACKGROUND:

Currently, regardless of whether the offense is violent or nonviolent, no one can get released earlier than 85% of their sentence, even if they are a model prisoner. This policy is one of the main drivers of Arizona’s high incarceration rate.

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This bill would offer a highly motivating incentive for inmates convicted of a nonviolent offense to stay out of trouble and participate in rehabilitative programs.

The bill does not apply to prisoners convicted of violent felonies as defined in Sec. 13-706. It would not “throw open the doors” and let everyone out of prison. It will simply allow incarcerated people who pose a low risk to the community to earn their freedom more quickly.

The Arizona Auditor General estimates that such a change could result in significant cost savings for taxpayers.  According to the Arizona Department of Corrections the average cost per prisoner for minimal incarceration is $20,000 a year, while community supervision costs less than $3,000 per year.

A similar effort in 2008 in Mississippi—hardly a liberal, soft-on-crime state—resulted in an estimated $200 million savings in corrections costs (though Mississippi adopted a more aggressive change than is proposed here)

Arizona is way behind the curve on this issue.  Over half of US states have taken action in recent years to reduce their prison populations.  And many of these states saw greater reductions in crime rates than Arizona.

Arizona has some of the harshest sentencing laws in the nation, our incarceration rate is the 6th highest, and we are spending over $1 Billion on prisons every year.  Arizona spends 60% more on prisons than higher education!  Why should Corrections grow while education, healthcare, and social services get slashed?