For decades in Arizona, the response to drug use and addiction has been criminalization—steadily increasing penalties or adding charges for a range of addiction-related behaviors. Characterizing drug addiction as a moral failure and deliberate choice to break the law, Arizona sends people to prison for years for small amounts of drugs. In fact. 21.8% of people in Arizona prisons are in for drug crimes. Even more alarming is that 77% of people are assessed by the Arizona Department of Corrections as having a significant substance abuse history, meaning drug use likely contributed to their criminal activities.
In spite of the skyrocketing costs of incarceration, and legitimate concerns about public safety, Arizona currently does not collect aggregate data on how the state’s criminal sentencing laws are applied. Each county maintains its own records, collects different sets of data, and some jurisdictions have electronic systems while others are still using paper files. Thus, our lawmakers and the taxpayers footing the bill have no idea how many people were sentenced under a given law, for how long, or what the outcomes were.
To fill this gap, AFSC Arizona, in collaboration with the Public Welfare Foundation, has conducted a ground-breaking study of actual drug sentencing in Arizona. For the first time, court-level data was gathered on drug arrests, prosecutions, and sentencing practices in Arizona. The findings are shocking:
- Currently, any amount of drugs, even residue,
can result in a charge of “possession.”
- Statewide, drug arrests comprised 11.73% of all arrests in 2015.
- Drug cases represent the overwhelming majority of charges filed in Maricopa County, with 45.32% of the charges filed for drug possession.
- There are significant racial disparities in drug sentencing and incarceration in Arizona. Black people are sentenced to 25% longer sentences for drug crimes.
- Arizona is spending a staggering $588,655 per day to incarcerate people whose most serious charge is a drug offense.
- Less than 3% of the state prisoners identified as having “significant substance abuse histories” are receiving drug treatment at any given time.
Read the full report here, to understand the need to reform drug laws in Arizona and adopt a Justice Reinvestment Approach to address the disease of addiction with effective methods for treatment.
I met Reframing Justice Program Coordinator Dr. Grace Gámez to talk about volunteering for AFSC Arizona the week before the May 2017 conference on Blurring the Boundaries: Trauma and Healing Justice that she and her colleagues organized. I was drawn to the focus on challenging a legally sanctioned system that inflicts and perpetuates harm, rather than preventing or mitigating it as the state of Arizona claims. Attending the conference and writing about what I observed sounded like an excellent way to learn more.
AFSC Arizona Director Caroline Isaacs opened the event by informing the audience that the next few hours would be about considering new ways of thinking, asking different questions, and uncovering the missing truth.
Connecting Through Stories
Relating personal stories—from a range of directly impacted perspectives—was the method of choice at the conference to communicate the intimate relationship between trauma and people
who have been through the criminal punishment system either as the cause or sufferer of harm. I don’t think any other approach could as effectively convey the inherent need for human connection, empathy, and respect in the context of justice.
Keynote speaker Glenn Martin demonstrated this by describing his violent introduction to prison at 16 years old. Nearly 30 years later he founded JustLeadershipUSA, an organization focused on criminal justice reform, and within a few months attracted enough national acclaim for his organizing efforts to earn an invitation to speak at the White House. But he still wore the “scarlet letter” of humiliation and punishment: Glenn was labeled a security threat and detained by White House staff before he could get to the room where he was scheduled to talk about the long-term damaging effects of correctional policies.
Along with the deep irony, I was struck by how Glenn’s experience breathed life into many of the concepts used in political debates dealing with law enforcement, corrections, and public safety. Glenn’s story reflects the bitter reality of perpetual punishment and even more disturbing cycle of trauma that blurs the socially constructed boundaries between people who have experienced harm and people who have caused harm.
Besides the real-life accounts of trauma, many of the conference speakers rooted their commentaries in scientific research to support the argument that trauma is a consistent outcome of state-imposed correctional control. Keynote speaker Dr. Monica Casper, an associate dean in the University of Arizona College of Social and Behavioral Sciences and critical trauma studies expert, provided multidisciplinary insight into the issue. She started with a look at how the original meaning of the word trauma signified a wound (physical, emotional, or both) that “takes up residence in the body” through visceral memory, causing primal reactions when triggered. The expanded definition of trauma helped me recognize the need to radically shift common assumptions about responsibility. In this new framework, who or what is accountable for trauma outcomes moves to a more credible shared position between the system, society, and people processed, categorized, and disposed of as “offenders.”
In a less direct but just as substantive sense, I realized that shared responsibility—for both harm and safety—includes communities. It’s why Glenn Martin recommended we “lift up” and “listen to” formerly incarcerated people and survivors, and acknowledge they are one and the same. It also explains why Dr. Casper turned to community when she concluded her talk with ways to heal from trauma. For a model of what that might look like, she asked the audience to consider the implications of elephants raising their young in intergenerational groups. When a community member is hurt, it sends an audible distress signal and the others immediately respond like concerned caretakers. While humans obviously have the capacity for this kind of functional empathy, most of us in Western culture seem to need some training.
Enter the four-member panel of local experts working on the battlefields of trauma. They each represented theory in action. After introducing themselves and what their work involves, they responded to questions from Dr. Gámez about how trauma “shows up” in their respective fields and what they see as solutions.
- Stacy Scheff, a local attorney who practices civil rights law for incarcerated people, admitted thinking prisoners were “bad” before she was hired to ensure inmates in solitary confinement were provided basic needs like access to fresh air and sun. She then became so adept at legal arguments showing state responsibility for harm that she was fired by a democratic politician worried about his public image.
- Luis Perales, director of Changemaker High School, connected with the effects of trauma he saw in his brother’s struggle with law enforcement and the education system. As a transformative educator, he uses the “currency of hope” to make schools places of trust and support.
- Dr. Patricia Kelly, who teaches health classes in women’s prisons, confirmed the higher rates of chronic physical and mental illness in prison are tied to daily production of stress hormones. She recommended “resilience building” through positive feedback as crisis treatment.
- Manny Mejias, a reentry coordinator for Pima Prevention Partnership and founder of Choices, a nonprofit organization for system-involved people and their families, clarified the kind of stress response he lived with for 20 years in prison. “It wasn’t fight or flight…[but instead] “fight or die.” He uses what he learned from being in the punishment system in his roles working with released individuals.
I appreciated how the range of expertise and related perspectives in the panel echoed the complexity of trauma and demonstrated a variety of ways to effectively address it as a community. The panel structure was essentially an illustration of the kind of collaboration necessary to solve the problem we had gathered here to address. Luis described it as including everyone who is impacted at the table. And then engaging in uncomfortable conversations.
The roundtable discussion, as the last part of the conference, gave the audience an opportunity to participate in the uncomfortable conversation leading to solutions.
The smaller, more informal group setting was more manageable to think about how I would answer questions like What is missing from the response of the justice system to harm and trauma? And, What is needed for a community to be sustainable and healthy? Another bonus was learning how my tablemates interpreted the conference presentations and applied that, based on their own experiences, to the roundtable.
The practice felt like a precarious first step. But it was progress, and the printed questionnaire, time limit, and concluding check-in helped keep us on track. I got the impression we were now prepared to keep going.
Completing the Healing Process
For me the top takeaway of the conference was Glenn Martin’s “Lead with us, not for us.” It resonates not only because of the inherent authenticity and expertise of leaders with direct experience, but also the actuality of healing from trauma by holding criminally punished people as valuable, capable, contributing members of society. Glenn’s emphasis on “bringing people from the margins to the center” reiterated this message, and the conference itself served as an illustration. It’s a message that needs to be repeated in many different ways.
This post was written by AFSC-AZ volunteer, Dora Rollins. Dora was previously the Publications Editor for Washington State University at Pullman. She holds a Masters degree in Communications from Washington State University, and a Bachelors degree in English and Business from Walla Walla University.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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, firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
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:
- 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.
AFSC 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.
Caroline Isaacs – 520.256.4146 (cell), email@example.com
Emily Verdugo – 520. 251.1274 (cell), firstname.lastname@example.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.”