Category: News & Updates

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!

AFSC Applauds US Department of Justice Decision to Reform Halfway Houses and Hold For-Profit Contractors Accountable

Tucson, AZ— Today, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a memo that acknowledges the need to “reform federal halfway houses.” Since the 1960’s, halfway houses (now called Residential Re-entry Centers- RRCs) have been used to facilitate a formerly incarcerated person’s transition back into the community. The decision affects approximately 103 different contracts for 181 facilities nationwide. All of these are fully privatized through a mix of contracts with for-profit companies and non-profit organizations.

The memo reiterates the stance in its previous memorandum on ending the use of private prisons, stating flatly that “the Department has serious reservations about outsourcing the Bureau’s core correctional and rehabilitative services to private companies”

In an effort to “reform the private market for RRC’s” the memo outlines a set of requirements including establishing uniform standards for all RRC providers; collecting quarterly data on performance metrics; and expanding oversight and monitoring on contracts. The most surprising aspect of these new requirements is the fact that they were not already in use, as they are some of the most basic measures of “good government” oversight.

But the memo also takes a few steps toward substantive reform. The Department pledges to develop a plan to limit the requirement that residents pay a “subsistence fee” of 25% of their gross pay while living in an RRC. These fees have proven to be a tremendous financial burden on many people returning from prison. The memo also recognizes the need to ensure that inmates receive their government-issued ID before their release from prison. This critical step will streamline the processes of obtaining work and housing for these individuals.

Part of the directive states that in order to establish uniform standards for all facilities, the Department will attempt to procure a single nationwide contract. This would be a significant step toward ensuring consistency in services. It also represents an extremely lucrative contract for any for-profit operator.

The American Friends Service Committee welcomes this positive step towards accountability and responsible government contracting. We have been investigating for-profit prison companies in Arizona and working to end private prison contracts, whether for prison facilities or community corrections, for decades.

As part of this work, AFSC and a network of national partners, including Grassroots Leadership and the Southern Center for Human Rights, have called attention to a new trend they have termed the Treatment Industrial Complex. This refers to the efforts of for-profit prison companies like GEO Group and CCA (now CoreCivic) to rebrand themselves as humane providers of treatment and rehabilitation services. In particular, the newly re-named CoreCivic has been moving aggressively to obtain contracts for residential reentry.

While AFSC lauds the move toward consistency, accountability, and performance measures, we remain concerned as the US government expands the use of surveillance, such as electronic monitoring. The memo makes several references to the expanded use of “home arrest” as a less-restrictive option than housing in RRCs. Yet, there is no mention of whether this will require electronic monitoring or other services that are currently being provided by for-profit prison companies like GEO Group.

“We have a serious concern that the proliferation of this surveillance technology, via smart phones or ankle bracelet monitors, is being used less as an alternative to incarceration and more as an alternative form of incarceration.,” notes AFSC program coordinator Emily Verdugo. “We are extremely wary of policies that claim to offer “alternatives” while instead widening the net of people under the control of the criminal justice system.”
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*Resources:
Private Prisons: The Public’s Problem, 2011
https://www.afsc.org/sites/afsc.civicactions.net/files/documents/AFSC_Arizona_Prison_Report.pdf

White Paper on Prison Privatization in Arizona: https://morrisoninstitute.asu.edu/sites/default/files/content/products/AFSC.pdf

The Treatment Industrial Complex: http://www.afsc.org/resource/treatment-industrial-complex-how-profit-prison-corporations-are-undermining-efforts-treat-a

Palestinian Journalist will visit Tucson

Palestinian journalist and author Mohammed Omer has been documenting the realities faced by people and communities in Gaza for over a decade. This month, Omer will be on a speaking tour of several cities in the United States. We invite you to meet and hear from Omer here in Tucson.

Please Join us for these events:

Nov. 14, 6 p.m.: Tucson, Arizona
Revolutionary Grounds, 606 N 4th Ave., Tucson, Arizona 85705
Book Reading
Organized by AFSC

Nov. 15, 7-9 p.m.: Tucson, Arizona
Global Justice Center, 225 E 26th St, Tucson, Arizona 85713
Public Event co-sponsored by the Southern Arizona BDS Network, Students for Justice in Palestine – University of Arizona, Jewish Voice for Peace Tucson

It’s been more than 10 years since Israel imposed a military blockade on Gaza. In that time, “Gaza has endured three Israeli military assaults from land, sea, and air that have left thousands of Palestinians dead, many more badly injured and maimed, and much of the [Gaza] strip’s infrastructure and fragile economy in ruins,” writes Omer.

Learn more about the crisis in Gaza and why the U.S. must demand an end to the blockade at one of Omer’s upcoming appearances. #gazaunlocked

 

Be afraid, be very afraid…

Happy Halloween! The Treatment Industrial Complex (TIC) has a sneaky costume this year.

The disguise itself looks like a humanitarian “alternative” to incarceration. Its goal is tricking taxpayers into believing it offers rehabilitation and second chances. But behind this mask of PR rebranding, the TIC is still out to feed off of every person who gets ensnared in the criminal justice system.

Just in time for the scariest of all holidays, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) announced it was rebranding as “CoreCivic,” providing “diversified government solutions.”

“Rebranding as CoreCivic is the culmination of a multi-year strategy to transform our business from largely corrections and detention services to a wider range of government solutions,” said Damon T. Hininger, the Company’s President and Chief Executive Officer. “The CoreCivic name speaks to our ability to solve the tough challenges facing government at all levels and to the deep sense of service that we feel every day to help people.”  

In other words, a private prison company which has helped to fuel the growth of mass incarceration now says it will provide “solutions” to the problem of high recidivism that it helped create. In fact, this same company plans to continue running prisons that do nothing to prepare people for release and then get contracts to try to help people re-enter society after they have neglected and abused them. Diabolical!

This Halloween we must stop the TIC. Say #No2TIC

Learn more at: www.StopTIC.org

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AFSC Seeking Organizations, Faith Groups to Sign Letter to Gov. Ducey to Study, End Private Prisons in AZ

As you may know, the federal government, including the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security, has recently taken steps to end its use of private prisons. It is critical that we take advantage of this moment to build momentum here in Arizona to follow suit.

So AFSC-AZ is circulating a SIGN ON LETTER to Governor Ducey, asking him to initiate an independent study of the performance of Arizona’s private prisons, and to cancel the contracts if they are found to be non-compliant. The full text of the letter is below.

We are asking for ORGANIZATIONS, churches, agencies and other groups to please sign on to this letter. Please forward on to any groups you think might be interested/willing to sign.

Given the short news cycle and the fact that the election is near, we are hoping groups can do whatever they can to expedite the sign-on process. We have set a deadline of Friday, September 16th for groups to sign on.

Please contact Caroline Isaacs at cisaacs@afsc.org to sign on or for more information. Or call 520.623.9141. Thank you!


Hon. Douglas Ducey, Governor of Arizona

1700 West Washington Street
Phoenix, AZ 85007

 

WHEREAS the United States Department of Justice has decided to phase out its use of private prison contracts after a two-year investigation concluded that the facilities are both less safe and less effective at providing correctional services than those run by the government; and

WHEREAS the US Department of Homeland Security has announced that it will evaluate whether the immigration detention operations conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement should move in the same direction; and

WHEREAS the State of Arizona does not currently have a statutory requirement to regularly monitor the cost, safety, performance and/or quality of the private prisons under contract leaving elected officials and the public with no way to ensure that these prisons are safe or effective; and

WHEREAS previous such studies showed that private prisons were not saving the state money and were not providing higher quality services; and

WHEREAS Governor Ducey was recently forced to cancel one contract with a private prison operator due to substantial non-compliance, contract violations, and mismanagement that put the health and safety of incarcerated people, prison staff, and the community at risk; and

WHEREAS this state is investing millions of taxpayer dollars in private prison contracts, at the expense of other critical programs and services;

We, the undersigned, call on Governor Doug Ducey to immediately undertake a systemic, independent, and transparent assessment of all of the Arizona Department of Corrections’ contracts with for-profit prison corporations.

This assessment should:

  1. Be conducted by an impartial, independent third party with expertise in these matters
  2. Incorporate the methodology and performance measures outlined by the United States Office of the Inspector General in its review of the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ contracts; those used in previous assessments in Arizona; as well as any recommended by the Joint Legislative Budget Committee of the Arizona State Legislature or the Office of the Auditor General
  3. Incorporate existing audits, monitoring reports, grievance and assault data, and other relevant materials from the Department of Corrections or other state agencies
  4. Include the costs and associated issues related to litigation and legal settlements
  5. Allow for the input and interview of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people and their families
  6. Allow for the input and participation of a diverse and representative group of stakeholders
  7. Be transparent and accountable to the public in every aspect, including making all materials, reports, and documents accessible to all
  8. Be completed in six months or less

Should this review demonstrate that one or more for-profit prison operators are not in compliance with the terms of their contracts with this state, or are not providing cost savings to the state, we respectfully request that you phase out these contracts.