Category: News & Updates

Ducey’s 911 “Good Samaritan” Proposal is a Responsible Solution to the Ongoing Opioid Crisis

AFSC-AZ is proud to partner with behavioral health providers, public health organizations, county governments, and others to promote public health solutions to address addiction without criminalization. Read the statement below to find out more about the 911 Good Samaritan law and the lives it can save.

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Hundreds of people die from drug overdoses each day (64,000 deaths in 2016). Overdoses have now surpassed motor vehicle fatalities as the leading cause of injury-related death in the United States. In Arizona, the spike in overdoses has reached such devastating heights that Governor Ducey declared it in June a statewide health emergency.

In many respects, Arizona is leading the way in fighting this disturbing trend. Thanks to a law passed by the state legislature last year, first responders, community organizations, and family members now have access to opioid antagonists such as Narcan and Naloxone to stop an overdose in its tracks. However, not everyone has these life-saving tools on hand when they or someone they know is experiencing an overdose. They must call for help – many do not.

Reporting an Overdose in Progress Should Not be a Crime

If treated in time, overdose deaths are preventable. Most overdose-related deaths occur just a few hours after the victim has taken the drug. Their chance of survival is completely dependent upon how quickly they can receive medical assistance. The most commonly cited reason for not calling for help is fear of arrest or punishment by law enforcement.

While tragic, these fears are not without warrant. A witness calling for emergency medical help for an overdose could face years in prison if they are found in possession of drugs or drug paraphernalia. What’s more, without changes to the law, volunteer medical professionals and witnesses who aid an overdose victim face possible prosecution for doing so.

Good Samaritan Laws Save Lives

Governor Ducey’s Opioid Action Plan, released earlier this month, includes a recommendation that the Legislature enact a Good Samaritan law to prevent prosecution for those calling for help during an overdose. To date, 40 states have some form of Good Samaritan laws on their books. Designed to save lives, these measures provide general immunity from arrest or prosecution for certain possession offenses when calling 911 for assistance with an overdose. In each case, these laws have proven to save 9 to 11 percent of victims from an overdose. In Arizona, this would have amounted to nearly 100 lives saved in 2017 alone. As a network of organizations focused on bringing responsible justice solutions to Arizona, we support the Governor’s recommendation for a Good Samaritan law and urge the Legislature for a quick and swift passage of the bill in the upcoming legislative session.

Addiction Haven, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Arizona, American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) Arizona Chapter, Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice (AACJ), Arizona Council of Human Service Providers (AzCHSP), Arizona Medical Association (ArMA), Arizona Opioid Treatment Coalition (AOTC), Arizona Osteopathic Medical Association (AOMA), Arizona Public Health Association (AzPHA), Aunt Rita’s Foundation, CODAC, Community Medical Services, Copper Basin Coalition, Gila County Department of Health, HOPE, Mohave County, Intensive Treatment Systems, Kingman Area Meth Coalition, Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP), Mohave County Department of Public Health, Mohave Substance Abuse Treatment & Education Prevention Partnership (MSTEPP), Sonoran Prevention Works

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Download this 9-1-1 Good Samaritan Press Release here.

AFSC Arizona and FAMM Partnership

For many years AFSC-Arizona has been working to reform sentencing and prison laws in Arizona. Now, we are excited to announce that we are partnering with the national group, Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM).

FAMM is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization located in Washington, DC that has advocated for sentencing reform in state legislatures across the country and in Congress for more than 25 years. FAMM has worked with lawmakers to reform or end mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent and low-level crimes in a number of states, including Iowa, Florida, Michigan, and New Jersey.

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Photo Credit: Kat Grigg via Flickr

To do this work, FAMM tells the stories of people who are incarcerated and their families to help legislators understand how mandatory minimum sentences are unjust and hurt families and communities. Your stories can help us and FAMM convince Arizona legislators to change mandatory minimum sentencing laws.

The process is simple. FAMM first asks for information about a person’s crime and sentence, then researches the person’s criminal history and sentencing. If the person’s sentence is particularly unjust and their story is particularly sympathetic, FAMM works with the incarcerated individual and family to write their story, which is then shared on FAMM’s website, with lawmakers, and, if requested, with reporters and the media.

FAMM is looking for the stories of people in prison in Arizona who:

  1. Have been convicted of nonviolent drug crimes, and
  2. Have no record of arrests or convictions for violent crimes, and
  3. Are serving a mandatory minimum sentence in an Arizona prison.

If you or someone you know meets these criteria, please click here to fill out the form, and mail it to:
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FAMM, Attn: Arizona,
1100 H St. NW, Suite 1000
Washington, DC  20005

or attach it in an email to afscarizona@afsc.org.

Thank you for helping FAMM and AFSC-AZ tell your stories so that we can change lawmakers’ minds – and change Arizona laws!

Arizona further invests public retirement in Private Prisons

The American Friends Service Committee has long been opposed to Arizona’s deep financial involvement in the for-profit private prison industry. Fundamentally, that is because we believe that incarceration for profit is immoral. But we also know that these corporations are profoundly mismanaged, negligent, and do not deliver the cost savings they promise to taxpayers.

That is why we were deeply disturbed to learn that the Arizona State Retirement System (ASRS) just increased its shares in CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America), the largest for-profit prison company in the US.

During the second quarter, the ASRS “raised its position in shares of Corrections Corp. of America (NYSE:CXW) by 1.8% during the second quarter, according to its most recent filing with the SEC. The fund owned 49,800 shares of the real estate investment trust’s stock after buying an additional 900 shares during the period. Arizona State Retirement System’s holdings in Corrections Corp. of America were worth $1,373,000 at the end of the most recent quarter.”

The ASRS is the government-run retirement system whose membership includes employees of the State of Arizona, the three state universities, community college districts, school districts and charter schools, all 15 counties, most cities and towns, and a variety of special districts. A total of 205,162 members around the State.

In 2017, the State of Arizona spent approximately $168,617,100 of general fund dollars on private prison contracts. As of the latest Department of Corrections report, Arizona currently has 5 contracts that account for roughly 14% of the Department of Corrections’ $1 billion budget.

As the state’s corrections budget has grown, it has siphoned off general fund dollars from other critical agencies and programs. Ironically, some of those who have lost the most in state funding are the very same whose retirement is now invested in this predatory industry. For example, the Grand Canyon Institute reported that Arizona spends 60% more on prisons than on state colleges and universities. Yet, the retirement funds for those professors are now tied up in the corporation that arguably benefitted from the drastic reduction in state funding for higher education.

It is also worth noting that two former members of the Arizona Board of Regents were also serving on the Board of Directors of what was then Corrections Corporation of America (now CoreCivic). Former Arizona Senator Dennis DiConcini came under public pressure to resign from the Board from immigrant rights advocates and others (including AFSC) for his willingness to accept huge stock dividends from a corporation that was detaining thousands of immigrants in Arizona and elsewhere. He later resigned from the Board of CCA.

Another former ABOR member, Anne Mariucci, is currently listed as “Independent Director” at Corrections Corp. of America. She remains on the Board of Directors at Corrections Corp. of America, as well as Southwest Gas Corp., Arizona State University Foundation, Banner Health System, Inc., Fresh Start Women’s Foundation and The University of Arizona Health Network. Notably, she served previously as the Director of the Arizona State Retirement System.

CoreCivic is also the largest employer in Pinal County, where it operates a total of 6 facilities. In addition to contracts for incarceration of Arizona state prisoners and Mesa Jail detainees, the company also imports prisoners from California, Vermont, and Hawaii, as well as thousands of immigrant detainees from ICE and the US Marshals.

The corporation is moving aggressively into other areas of Arizona’s criminal justice system, including the recent privatization of the Mesa jail and the acquisition of New Beginnings Treatment Center, Inc, a residential reentry center in Tucson that holds a contract with the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

A closer look at the ASRS’s holdings reveals that it is also invested in the nation’s second largest for-profit prison corporation, GEO Group. In fact, as of August 2, 2017, ASRS had 52,450 shares in the company–more than its recent increased investment in CoreCivic. GEO Group also holds contracts with the Arizona Department of Corrections for Florence West and Phoenix West.

You can read the full list of the Arizona State Retirement System’s investments here.

AFSC has long advocated for divestment from private prisons as a strategy that both individuals and institutions can use to help end for-profit incarceration. The organization even has a website that allows people to scan their investments to find out if any of their holdings are involved in prison profiteering: http://investigate.afsc.org/

AFSC-AZ Releases Ground-Breaking Report on Drug Sentencing

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:

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  • 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.

Clearing the Clutter of Corrections

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.

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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.

Adjusted Perceptions

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.

Constructing Collaboration

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.IMG_1017

  • 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.

IMG_1188The 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.


Dora Rollins

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.

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.