The 'Friends of Marcia Powell' are autonomous groups and individuals engaging in prisoner outreach, informal advocacy, and organized protest and direct actions in a sustained campaign to: promote prisoner rights and welfare in America; engage the Arizona public in a creative and thoughtful critique of our system of "justice;” deconstruct the prison industrial complex; and dismantle this racist, classist patriarchy...

SUPPORT your local Prison Abolitionist!

To all my AZ friends/family: Thanks so much for your and likes and hope and encouraging words these past 4 1/2 years. You helped me survive some of the loneliest days and hardest nights I've endured yet by keeping our connections alive across 2000 miles.

My 55th birthday is June 13, 2019, and I plan to celebrate it in PHX (details to be announced). I'm leaving Michigan (god willing) by May 25 - and should land in an undisclosed location in the Deep Southwest soon after.

Here's my PAYPAL link for anyone who wants to shoot me $10 bucks or throw a big impromptu anarchist talent show and pass a hat or something to help me make it home. Once I land I'll be back to work on my art again, and will send a homemade gift to everyone I can...

PAYPAL.ME/ARIZONAPRISONWATCH

And don't forget to pick up PJ Starr's 2016 documentary film about the life ad death of Marcia Joanne Powell:

NO HUMAN INVOLVED

SHARING IS CARING,

so please share with all our friends!!

THANK YOU and MUCH to all, near and far.

Love,

Peggy Plews May 18, 2019

Retiring "Free Marcia Powell"

As of December 2, 2010 (with occasional exceptions) I'm retiring this blog to direct more of my time and energy into prisoner rights and my other blogs; I just can't do anyone justice when spread so thin. I'll keep the site open so folks can search the archives and use the links, but won't be updating it with new posts. If you're looking for the latest, try Arizona Prison Watch. Most of the pieces posted here were cross-posted to one or both of those sites already.

Thanks for visiting. Peace out - Peg.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Abolish the Arizona Revised Statutes.

Just for the record, here are the shortcuts to the Arizona Revised Statutes - it's a pretty interesting read; troubling, though. I think I have a few years yet of research to catch up with some of the folks here who have been around awhile.

This is the architecture of crime and punishment, and thus, this is what needs to be taken apart. Can't do that until we've read it. Once we all know what we're dealing with (read the sentencing committee stuff, too), we can put our heads together and figure out how to dismantle the beast piece by bloody piece.
The Privileged Few in this state are pretty brutal to The People, and have been maneuvering everything to their advantage since European settlers and their descendants first arrived and began raping the land and her daughters. In so many ways, the odds are overwhelmingly against the Resistance here - always have been.

And yet, despite centuries of enslavement, genocidal policies, and other mechanisms of mass oppression (such as incarceration), informed, articulate communities of resistance have continued to emerge, engage, and endure - always pressing on our collective conscience, our sense of duty to fulfill our promise to promote "liberty and justice for all". What would Arizona's rule-book look like if the indigenous (Indian and Latino alike) had written it? Or if more radical women of color were in the legislature, kicking Russ Pearce's a$* for all his racist BS? What kind of rules would we have if we didn't have a State at all - just communities and collectives?


Okay; just dreaming. That's necessary once in awhile - it does us all some good to reach for more than what usually we're willing to just settle for. Otherwise, nothing changes.

Read on:

--------------------------from Justia.com----------------------

Justia> Law> Arizona Law> Arizona Code

Friends of Marilyn Buck update: June 2010.

Here's an update on Marilyn Buck's battle with cancer, from The Friends of Marilyn Buck via the Rag Blog. Her report on her health care experience is heartening, and her friends seem to have a good grip on how best to help. Here's the bottom line (literally) from the Rag Blog about how to donate even if you missed the benefit.

"To make a contribution to Marilyn Buck’s support, please send your check or money order to YES, Inc; PO Box 13549, Austin, TX 78711, with a note that it is for this purpose. Contributions are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by applicable tax law."

Blessings to Marilyn, and thanks to the folks at the Rag Blog.

- Peg


-------from the Rag Blog-----------

(visit link for full story on the benefit held for Marilyn in June)


See Warrior-Poet Marilyn Buck: No Wall Too Tall by Mariann G. Wizard / The Rag Blog / May 19, 2010 (great article!)


And listen to Thorne Dreyer's interview with Robert King and Mariann Wizard on Rag Radio / June 22, 2010

The Rag Blog's Mariann Wizard (left) with Marilyn Buck at Dublin FCI in 1996.
Marilyn Buck's bout with cancer

[The following update on Marilyn Buck's condition comes to us from Friends of Marilyn Buck.]

Marilyn has received her last chemo treatment at the hospital and is now back at the prison, receiving palliative care. She has undergone as much chemo as her body can tolerate. She feels that her medical care has been similar to what she would be getting in the free world, and that her doctors have been both competent and respectful of her. She is also receiving support from her sister-prisoners who are able to visit with her.

She's been having very good visits with her family, and continues to feel the love and support of so many people who are meditating with her, sending her cards and generally keeping her in their thoughts.

Every effort is being made by her attorney to secure an early release. Marilyn asks that people not initiate their own letter-writing or phone campaigns for her release, as these are likely to be counterproductive. Should the situation change and such a campaign be deemed helpful, we'll let everyone know right away.

In spite of the serious situation she faces, Marilyn's spirits remain incredibly strong and her energy is focused on coming home to be with the people who love her.



Fischer v Lynch: AZ House Committee on Sentencing

Hell, I'm posting this whole thing. People need to read it - especially Fischer and Lynch's testimonies. Then we need to respond...

--------------

ARIZONA HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

Forty-ninth Legislature – Second Regular Session

HOUSE STUDY COMMITTEE ON SENTENCING

Minutes of Meeting

Friday, May 14, 2010

House Hearing Room 5 -- 10:00 a.m.

Chairman Ash called the meeting to order at 10:05 a.m. and attendance was noted by the secretary.

Members Present

Representative Goodale Representative Ash, Chairman

Representative Hendrix

Members Absent

Representative Konopnicki (excused) Representative Tovar (excused)

Representative Sinema (excused)

Opening Remarks

Chairman Ash remarked that the state’s financial situation has compelled legislators to re-evaluate state government and this seems like a good opportunity to review the state’s sentencing structure. There have been 30 years for evaluation since the Sentencing Code was reenacted in 1978; there have been some good results, but some things need to be looked at in light of technological advances and other methods of incarceration, sentencing and rehabilitation.

Mrs. Goodale welcomed everyone and said she is excited about the opportunity to look at new research and what has been working in other states. She served as a probation officer in
Mohave County for 33 years where she interacted with many people in the criminal justice system from the judiciary to the prisons. She believes it will be possible to develop a better product that will serve everyone while preserving public safety, which is first and foremost, and fiscally watching taxpayer dollars.

Mr. Hendrix stated that he appreciates Chairman Ash taking a lead on this issue and he looks forward to being involved.

Testimony on Sentencing

Representative Jerry Madden, Texas House of Representatives; Vice-Chairman, House Corrections Committee; Member, House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee, via teleconference, stated that Texas has been held up as the leading example of what is now called justice reinvestment. He said he had no experience in the criminal justice system until 2005 when he was appointed Chairman of the Corrections Committee by the Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives who gave him the directive not to build new prisons because they cost too much. When the Texas Legislature entered the 2007 Session he was informed that the prison population would increase by 17,000 by 2012. It costs about $42 per day to house each prisoner and Texas had over 150,000 prisoners.

Representative Madden related that he worked with a Senator who is knowledgeable about the prisons to make sure the system is cost-effective and things are done the right way. The probation system was reviewed to determine how it is working. Most prisoners were not directly sentenced, but violated probation, and 13,000 were technical violations, so to lower those numbers, it was necessary to determine how to break the cycle of recidivism. The best and cheapest place to do that is when people are young so they never get into the system; the second place is in the school system; the third place is probation; the fourth place is in the prisons by providing the right programs; and the last place is when prisoners are on parole and back in the community.

He said in reviewing who is in prison, it was determined that many have drug or mental health problems, many are school dropouts or low performers and many have a combination of those issues. The three types of prisoners are the really bad individuals that if let out of prison return immediately for which it is a waste to spend money on, those who will never return to prison for which the only item he would consider spending money on is education so they become better taxpayers and the majority that he calls swingers who may or may not return depending on what programs and treatment are provided and their drug habits or alcoholic problems. The swingers are the prisoners that were concentrated on in Texas, and a critical item in doing that is good risk assessment.

Representative Madden noted that in Texas money was added for treatment of probationers with mental health problems and support was provided to the Nurse-Family Partnership at a cost of
$8 million to break the cycle at a young age. To break the cycle in schools, some things in school districts were changed such as no longer allowing violations of the code of conduct to be a misdemeanor, reviewing gang and bullying activities, along with intervention and support for juvenile probation. Much time and effort was spent to make sure there were enough probation workers with proper caseloads, as well as intermediate sanction facilities, substance abuse facilities and specialty courts were expanded to give judges more options.

He said that in prison the therapeutic treatment program for drug addicted individuals was expanded and a program was put in place for alcoholics.

Representative Madden stated that for parole additional substance abuse treatment beds and intermediate sanction facilities were provided. The parole rate was reviewed and the
Parole Board was asked to review the guidelines for release of the lowest-risk prisoners; Texas had about a 26 percent parole rate that was raised 3 to 4 percent without impacting public safety, which is the number one priority. He added that there are wonderful think tanks that can develop ideas.

Representative Madden advised of the successes achieved in Texas:

  • The projected cost of between $1.5 billion to $2 billion to build prisons and $40 million to run each prison per year was not incurred, but about $240 million was used for the additional programs.
  • To date, the prison population has been reduced by about 2,500 prisoners.
  • It is difficult to measure success for recidivism because there is a three-year measurement period, but some intermediate tracking can be done. The parole revocation rate dropped by 29 percent the first year and another 3 percent in the second year, and there were fewer people in the juvenile and adult probation systems.
  • Crime rates and violent crime rates are down.
  • The state is having trouble filling the additional 3,200 specialty beds for drug abusers because the specialty courts were increased and are keeping people out of the facilities and within the community, which means crime victims are being paid, more child support is being paid and the taxpayer burden is lessened.
  • The revised forecast indicates there is no need to build new prison beds, at least in the next three to five years.

He suggested for the short term that Arizona concentrate on probation, which is where a quicker savings can be realized, dealing with and working on progressive sanctions, looking at specialized courts to help keep people in local areas, and parole rates to see if low-risk prisoners can be paroled without endangering public safety.

In response to questions, he indicated that money will have to be invested in all of those areas, except possibly parole. Additional funding was not provided for ankle bracelets in Texas and only a few minor changes were made to the definition of any crime. In reviewing ankle bracelets, he found that some money can be saved with certain people; ankle bracelets are a definite incentive for many not to go out drinking, for example. He said sentencing reform was not addressed in Texas.

Chairman Ash asked if Texas provided for early release of some prisoners.
Representative Madden replied that there was not an early release program specifically, but people were eligible for parole review and the Parole Board was asked to look at the parole rates. A risk analysis was already set up by the Legislature as a guideline for parole, which was not changed, but by putting programs in place, providing intermediate sanction facilities and additional caseload funding, parole departments can watch parolees better within the community. Some people will probably not endanger public safety while on parole, which otherwise might have been put aside for another year or two.

Dana Hlavac, Deputy County Manager, Mohave County Criminal Justice Services, addressed the Committee about his perception of issues involving the sentencing laws of Arizona and made
13 specific recommendations (Attachment 1).

Dr. Daryl R. Fischer, Author “Prisoners in Arizona, A Profile of the Inmate Population [March 2010], related that he is the former Research Manager for the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC). The report he authored was commissioned by the Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys’ Advisory Council (APAAC) and provides the most in-depth statistical profile of the Arizona prison population ever attempted. As of September 30, 2009, ADC housed 40,514 inmates, including 40,431 sentenced for crimes committed in Arizona. The purpose of the study was to help in the debate concerning alternatives to incarceration and early release of state prisoners as a budget-cutting measure. Since non-violent first offenders are usually the first group to be considered for some type of early release, the thrust of the study was to determine how many inmates fell into this category. It was also possible to develop a broad array of statistics detailing the present and past criminal activities of Arizona prisoners.

Dr. Fischer reviewed statistics from the report and noted that the fact that 94 percent of inmates are violent or repeat offenders runs counter to perceptions of some outside observers who stated publicly that as much as half of the prison population consists of non-violent first offenders, the kind normally targeted for some type of early release. He said the criminal justice system is working fairly well. There are not a large number of non-violent first offenders in custody and those that are in prison are there for definite reasons.

He stated that the conclusion of the analysis is that the state appears to be getting its money’s worth for the current $1 billion annual investment in the prison system. A previous study conducted while he was with ADC showed that recidivism rates were reduced by 25 percent for inmates who actively participated in rehabilitation programs prior to release. The greatest reductions in recidivism were recorded by inmates who served 10 years or more. Inmates need to be prepared to successfully return to the community, and when adequately funded, ADC does a good job of making sure that happens.

Dr. Fischer conveyed that as far as the overall picture of crime, the incarceration rate in ADC increased by 18.3 percent since 1995; the crime rate dropped by 42 percent since 1995 and reached the lowest level on record since 1966. Violent crimes are at the lowest level since 1971, which he believes is mostly due to implementation of Truth-in-Sentencing in 1994 and the dedicated efforts of police, prosecutors, prison officials, etc., to keep dangerous felons behind bars. Prison population growth in Arizona appears to have leveled off, and according to the Phoenix Police Department, violent property and drug crime in the city dropped by 24 percent over the last two years, which bodes well as far as future prison population growth. He added that the entire report is available at www.apaac.state.az.us.

When asked if crime rates have dropped nationally, Dr. Fischer responded affirmatively and said it correlates with the fact that many states adopted some form of Truth-in-Sentencing, which he believes serves as a deterrent to crime to some extent. There is no proof that incarceration reduces crime, but while an active criminal is locked up, that person is not committing crimes.

Chairman Ash noted that only 5.8 percent of the ADC prison population are non-violent first offenders, but just 2.8 percent of those might be considered for early release. Dr. Fischer responded affirmatively, noting that there may be a question of why that lowest group is even in prison. He mentioned that although a high percentage of the prison population consists of repeat offenders who have high recidivism rates, that is not the case for all inmates. Many older inmates have lower recidivism rates, which does include repeat offenders. The older inmate population could be targeted for early release, but unfortunately, many are convicted of more serious offenses such as murder and child molestation. He recommended consideration of alternatives for people with sentences of one year and under, many of which are convicted of less serious crimes and have no history of violence. Many have priors, but if those are not too serious, it may be appropriate to divert those prisoners to the counties to ease fiscal pressures on the state.

When asked about Representative Madden’s description of the three types of inmates,
Dr. Fischer replied that he developed a risk assessment instrument for ADC that sorts offenders into high, medium and low-risk groups. Low-risk inmates will succeed no matter what is done for them; high-risk inmates have recidivism rates that seem to be relatively insensitive to much intervention; and the medium-risk (swing) group can go either way, which is where he believes the majority of resources in the prison system should be diverted to try to rehabilitate.

Robert Hirsch, Pima County Public Defender, reviewed a handout relating to the way drug and alcohol offenders are handled in Arizona (Attachment 2). He questioned if it is the right thing to do and if money should be spent to incarcerate people for small quantities of drugs since most are addicts who cannot help themselves. He submitted that it is best not to worry about priors, but to worry about treatment to get people off drugs and alcohol and out of the prisons. He endorsed New York’s Drug Treatment Alternative to Prison (DTAP) program and offered the following strategies for efficient crime control:

· Develop sentencing guidelines in non-violent offenses that enable judges to make treatment and community confinement decisions based on evidence-based practices.

· Implement cost-effective and workable programs for drug and alcohol offenders in lieu of prison.

He added that Pima County needs money allocated for community treatment to take care of these people and make some changes.

Derek Rapier, Greenlee County Attorney; Chairman, Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys’ Advisory Council (APAAC), advised that APAAC commissioned the study by Dr. Fischer because of the financial problems of the state and the fact that the criminal justice system is not budget protected by referendum or otherwise; it has been protected throughout the years by a notion that the first duty of government is to keep the public safe. Additionally, there has long been a notion that prisons are filled with first-time non-violent, mostly drug user offenders, which is not accurate.

He said the drug problem in Greenlee County usually involves methamphetamine and/or marijuana, which has been attacked in a multidisciplinary fashion by providing more counseling in jails and long-term treatment, but there has to be some “teeth” in that if recovery is not taken seriously, there will be consequences because people do not accept things such as property crimes and murders. He said he would love to have a panoply of options available, but he is not willing to suggest that because the mental health system or substance abuse treatment are funded, sentencing should be changed and these people should be released.

Mr. Rapier contended that the statistics in Dr. Fischer’s study show that the right people are in prison, i.e., repeat and violent offenders (94 percent). He opined that there is great danger in making changes in Arizona without the investment in alternative systems that
Representative Madden talked about, which the state has not been willing to fund. He indicated that anecdotal situations provide a snapshot and not a true picture of the overall problem, which is one of the values of Dr. Fischer’s study. The prosecuting community does not suggest that simply throwing people in prison is the one factor in reducing the crime rate, but it is not something that can be ignored. There have been reductions in crime rates, not only in Arizona, but across the country, particularly in states where mandatory sentencing has taken place. Truth-in-Sentencing has resulted in a finite system where people who are sentenced to ten years know they will serve eight-and-a-half years. There was also a reduction in overall sentence prison exposure that some may argue was not enough or in certain crime areas was not sufficient, but an attempt was made to address that, and there is honesty in the system now that was not present before.

Mr. Rapier submitted that if a policy is pursued not to incarcerate child pornography defendants, children in Arizona will be at increased risk; it is disingenuous to say there is no link between child pornography and child sex crimes. He cannot explain or quantify that link, but he is confident in saying that reducing that crime will result in increased risk to children.

Chairman Ash mentioned a newspaper article about a man who was sentenced to 14 years in his wife’s slaying, yet someone with no prior criminal history who looked at 11 pornographic pictures was sentenced to 100 years. Mr. Rapier opined that judges should be given more discretion to handle those types of cases concurrently or consecutively. He added that he is not opposed to looking at alternative solutions, but pointed out that someone who is released from prison and on the street likely poses some risk.

Jeremy Mussman, Deputy Director, Maricopa County Public Defender’s Office, expressed concern that the report by Dr. Fischer is being portrayed as a roadblock to any changes in the criminal justice system. He noted that during an interview, Dr. Fischer said “I did this report for the prosecutors, but if I was doing it on my own, I would take a more balanced approach,” and Dr. Fischer repeatedly explained that the report does not address risk to the community.

Mr. Mussman opined that the report creates categories that are quantified based upon macro information that is not tied to specific individuals who are in custody, and at times the information is based on anecdotal information that is not part of the charge for which the defendant was actually convicted. It does not address the specific risk analysis of each individual, and Dr. Fischer specifically referenced that he has a risk analysis tool that ascertains whether or not individual defendants are a high risk to the community.

He continued that APAAC provided him with the database to Dr. Fischer’s report where he found information showing that anyone who has a G (general risk) or V (violent risk) rating of 3 or lower is low-risk. Based upon that data, there are 6,641 individuals currently in custody that are at the lowest end of the risk scale (Attachment 3). At $56 per day that calculates to a savings of $375,000 per day and over $136 million per year for that group alone. By looking at anyone who is G3 or V3, the calculation is upwards of $500,000 per year. He submitted that this data needs to be cross-referenced to figure out the following:

· How much money can be saved immediately by early release and which individuals can be released.

· What inmates do in ADC to have such a low-risk factor.

· What can be done to encourage inmates to take advantage of rehabilitation programs.

· How these people ended up in ADC in the first place, especially G1 and V1 individuals who are low-risk and self-correcting, but after exposure to the ADC environment may leave prison and be a danger to the community.

Mr. Mussman asked that a small stakeholder group be created to analyze this data and develop recommendations.

Senator John Huppenthal, related that he chaired the Judiciary Committee for two years and read research to use best practices to guide policies. As he encountered groups that are intent on reducing the prison population, it struck him that it is a noble objective, but it needs to be a secondary objective. In New York State, the objective was to reduce crime, and a reduced prison population was a byproduct. He suggested an experiment in Arizona with accountability measures at the local level as was done in New York City by Chief William Bratton, which resulted in a huge reduction in crime and the prison population. Another element would be to increase the circulation rate of the prison population with guidance from researchers. Also, Texas has more differentiation in prison populations, i.e., special prisons for extremely low-risk inmates, to reduce the cost of operating prisons, which should be a key piece.

He added that he worked with the Pew Foundation on legislation to implement an incentive system for people on probation whereby the length of probation is reduced using a specific formula if an individual is drug-free and meets community service and restitution requirements. The results appear to be very good so far; an all-time record of successful completion of probation was reached and revocation rates to prison decreased by 12 percent. He said perhaps this type of incentive can also be used with prison populations.

Mona Lynch, Associate Professor, Criminology, Law and Society, University of California Irvine; Author “Sunbelt Justice: Arizona and the Transformation of American Punishment[Stanford University Press 2009], reviewed Arizona’s history in relation to the prison population and sentencing reform from the late 1970s to 2010 when Arizona is now faced with an unprecedented budget shortfall and immense pressure to make fixes to the criminal justice system. She made the following statements about Dr. Fischer’s report:

· It does not speak to creating an efficient and effective criminal justice policy; it is as if prison or nothing is the underlying assumption. There is no discussion of other interventions that may be more cost-effective and more effective in general.

· There is a theory that incarceration works when much research suggests that is wrong, particularly for drug offenders. It does not consider the unintended negative consequences of imprisonment for the people in prison, as well as families and communities.

· It states that the prison population increase has contributed to crime decline, but crime has gone down everywhere, which many people believe is an aging factor, i.e., the crime-prone group is smaller now than in the 1980s.

· There are inferences about causality with no data to measure causality.

· The suggestion that longer sentences are more rehabilitative is problematic because an older population is leaving prison that is now in their less crime-prone years. Similarly, offenses that may result in long sentences typically have low recidivism rates; they may be very serious but do not tend to be high repeat types of crimes.

· It does not consider alternative explanations for recidivism, including the failure of incarceration relative to other potential interventions.

Ms. Lynch endorsed the idea of creating a bipartisan stakeholder group to categorize populations to be let out as a short-term response, but opined that some long-term solutions are also necessary, which means more money directed toward programming in prisons rather than simply warehousing. Graduated release is considered an important way to get people back into communities through re-entry facilities, etc., and those types of low-cost releases can be done if sentences are shortened. The difficulty will be determining the parameters of populations to be left in prison and those that can be better served in other types of facilities.

She said New York, Kansas, New Jersey and Michigan all used a combination of sentence reform, alternatives to prison programs, early release programs, graduated release programs, investment in specialized courts and specialized treatment programs, etc. A report by
Judith Greene tells how four states greatly reduced the prison population. Ms. Lynch made the following suggestions:

  • Decide which offenders need to be in state custody as opposed to alternative local sanctions, calculate the optimal size to work with for long-term planning, make sure offenses that might be better addressed at the local level are legally eligible for local sanctions and consider whether the marginal cost of some lengthy sentences outweighs the marginal gains financially and on public safety grounds.
  • Build upon successes such as the incentive program mentioned by Senator Huppenthal.
  • Incentivize counties to manage offenders locally, develop effective crime prevention and/or early intervention programs and discourage sending an inordinate number of offenders to the state for incarceration.
  • For offenders in prison, adequately fund custodial and after-care interventions that have been demonstrated to reduce recidivism.
  • Consider using “carrots” and “sticks” to encourage local collaboration in these kinds of efforts.

Chairman Ash pointed out that Ms. Lynch is from California and paid her own way to testify.

David Gallagher, Executive Director, Arizona Addiction Treatment Programs, Incorporated, stated that he represents an out-patient clinic for licensed behavioral health, substance abuse and Driving Under the Influence (DUI) diversion and out-patient treatment. The company contracts with the Administrative Office of the Courts and most referrals are from Maricopa County Probation. He talked about the prevalence of alcohol and drug abuse among young people and adults. He said some progress and changes have been made in Juvenile Court, at least in Maricopa County, through a program that Senator Thayer Verschoor came up with that was implemented in October 2009. Also, people from the Adolescent Substance Abuse Program are developing good ideas about diversion, prevention and educating probation officers and parents.

Public Testimony

Sandra Guziejka, representing self, Gilbert, testified that she has a son in ADC who is a non-violent offender and questioned why he cannot be released on electronic monitoring, especially since she and her husband are willing to be responsible for him on house arrest until his sentence is completed. When Chairman Ash noted that Truth-in-Sentencing requires inmates to complete 85 percent of their sentence, Mrs. Guziejka responded that her son has done that.

Chairman Ash stated that her son should be eligible for release on community supervision and noted that posting of a bond is used in many areas of the economy to ensure performance, which he believes some families would be willing to do. Mrs. Guziejka clarified that her son has a disability and is not able to produce urine samples in front of anyone, so he was allowed to do dry cell testing. All of a sudden, he was not allowed to do that, so he filed a lawsuit for violation of his civil rights. He never tested positive for anything and he is asking for alternative methods of testing, but he is losing some good time because of it and his contact visits have been reduced.

Chairman Ash noted that he cannot get into specific issues, but as a policy measure, it is necessary to explore the options for releasing people early who are not a threat, particularly if the inmate has family or community support. He added that he will look into the situation.

Raymond Beckmann, representing self, Chandler, said he has an incarcerated stepson who is serving a five-year plea bargain sentence for merely possessing child pornography on his tainted computer. In 2001, over 10 different people and minors had access to his open passwords and unsupervised computer in his apartment. Parental controls and blocks did not exist at that time, and only today is sexting by preteens and cyberbullying being defined, which were definite behaviors that were perpetrated on his son’s computer. False accusations, ignorance, poor lawyers and prosecutorial misconduct are reasons for this miscarriage of justice. His son will be labeled a lifetime sex offender and will be severely restricted by those rules as long as he lives on the outside, which are almost impossible for any human being to comply with, and if he violates those rules, he will be resentenced for the same prison time he originally served.

He asked the Members to eliminate the Adam Walsh Act and not adopt a new version, submitting that it has been proven not to work and it does not protect children in Arizona. He indicated that there is a need to reform Arizona’s unjust existing sex offender and child pornography laws, which are overly broad and flawed. He raised the following points:

  • Why has the required time to serve been changed from 65 to 85 percent?
  • There is no consideration in the laws for early release for sex offenders, especially the non-contact, non-dangerous, non-violent, no possession of child pornography types.
  • It is against the U.S. Constitution and it should be against state law to create and punish a class of people for the rest of their lives.
  • Why is computer not included in the classification of A.R.S. Section 13-3553 since sexual exploitation of a minor is not clearly defined; it is a computer crime and should be properly identified as such.
  • Grouping all sex crimes together is too much.
  • There is great disparity of punishment for child pornography possession countrywide. California classifies child pornography as a misdemeanor and New Mexico does not even apply possession of child pornography. All other states apply minimal sentence times.

Mr. Beckmann concluded by stating that he and his wife cannot believe their son is now a convict, suffering in prison, surviving amongst real criminals because he owned a computer that was tainted with several illegal images that he was charged with merely possessing. He is not a criminal, child pornographer, pedophile, predator or a sex offender, yet Arizona brands him for the rest of his life. Prosecutors are out for convictions and not necessarily the truth. Defense attorneys are greedy and his son was forced to enter a plea of five years because the mental and financial resources of the family were depleted. He asked for early release of those who are not a threat to society to give them a chance to live again.

Jeanne Thompson, representing self, Chandler, stated that she is the mother of an imprisoned sex offender and an activist. She stated that she is happy that Tonya Craft, who was facing 400 years in prison on 22 counts of child molestation, was acquitted on May 12, 2010, even though she is not claiming victory because of the scars left in the aftermath. In comparison, her son was advised not to go to trial because the risk was too great; if a computer expert proves child pornography images exist on someone’s computer, that person is sentenced to 10 years per image. Also, after indebting the family for $70,000, it was not possible to come up with another $20,000 to $50,000 to take the case to trial. Additionally, their son was suffering in
Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s inhumane jail and could not take any more abuse. The family endured five nightmare years fighting for her son and another five years while he has been in prison, yet their story will go on for the rest of their lives unless changes are made to the horrendous sex offender law. She asked the Members not to sign up for the Adam Walsh Act because adults, convicts and ex-convicts need to be protected and afforded constitutional rights.

Chairman Ash said this is an area of law that needs to be looked at that he has discussed with prosecutors and defense attorneys; there are many sad cases.

Tom Tilley, Free Courtney Bisbee Coalition, Scottsdale, said his daughter is in prison. Charges were pressed for 75 years and she was offered 44 days time served. He told her he would never admit to something he did not do and now he is paying the price for saying that because she had a chance to get out of prison. Also, she has to be registered as a sex offender, so there is something very wrong.

Camille Tilley, Free Courtney Bisbee Coalition, Scottsdale, stated that their daughter,
Courtney Bisbee, an honors graduate from the University of Southern Florida, came to Arizona with her husband, got a divorce and took a job at the Horizon High School in Paradise Valley. She has been in Perryville Prison for four-and-a-half years. She was arrested by a SWAT team at her home in Scottsdale in front of her four-year-old daughter because of a false allegation by a teenager. She said her daughter needs to be reunited with her daughter. She provided CDs, Freedom March for the Wrongfully Convicted [June 27, 2009] (Attachment 4) and Lawyers Anti-Andrew Thomas Protest [December 21, 2009] (Attachment 5).

Chairman Ash said there are serious problems; no system is perfect, but improvements need to be made.

Without objection, the meeting adjourned at 1:23 p.m.

_______________________________

Linda Taylor, Committee Secretary

May 27, 2010

(Original minutes, attachments and audio on file in the Chief Clerk’s Office; video archives available at http://www.azleg.gov)

HOUSE SELECT COMMITTEE ON SENTENCING

May 14, 2010


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Sound Strike: Artists Boycott Arizona.



Fortunately, AZ already has some pretty good home-grown musicians and bands, and Zach seems mindful that the Revolution not be cut off from our music and culture and sense of larger radical community...at least, that's what I read into it.

---------------------from Billboard Magazine--------------------

Zack de la Rocha Ups the Rage Against Arizona Immigration Law
David J. Prince, N.Y.
Billboard
June 28, 2010 2:30 EDT


Rage Against the Machine frontman Zack de la Rocha is stepping up his campaign to compel the state of Arizona to repeal its controversial immigration law. In addition to adding Ry Cooder, Nine Inch Nails, and comedian Chris Rock to the growing list of artists who are refusing to perform there as part of The Sound Strike boycott effort, de la Rocha tells Billboard.com that plans are in the works for a series of protest concerts in July.


"In the coming weeks we are going to be organizing a series of concerts that are respectful of the nature of the boycott in its attempts to isolate the Arizona government but not isolate the people, and especially the organizations that are fighting this on the ground," de la Rocha said in a telephone interview. "Many of us have begun to plan concerts that include bands that have signed on the Sound Strike, and make tickets available so that people within Arizona can come and see these concerts as they roll out. These are things that are being set into motion right now - a series of concerts or maybe even one giant concert in late July."

De la Rocha says that "there's a strong chance" Rage Against the Machine will play one or more of the concerts.

The law passed by the Arizona state legislature, SB1070, requires local authorities to determine a person's immigration status if he or she is suspected of being undocumented. The law is set to be enacted on July 29.

Maroon 5, Gogol Bordello, My Morning Jacket, Ben Harper and Pitbull are among the dozens of artists who today (June 28) announced their support for the Sound Strike effort and have pledged to boycott Arizona, refusing to perform in the state until the law is repealed. Steve Earle, Billy Bragg, Sweet Honey in the Rock, Anti-Flag, Throwing Muses, State Radio, Aztlan Underground and DJ Spooky also announced support for the effort in a posting on thesoundstrike.net today.

In addition to the dozens of artists announced today, the first in a series of video PSAs were released, featuring de la Rocha, Conor Oberst and Ozomatli. Additional PSAs will be posted to the site every Monday in the weeks leading up to the law's scheduled enactment.

The Sound Strike was launched in late May by de la Rocha to mobilize fellow musicians to participate in the boycott effort, to educate the musicians' fans about the law, and to gather signatures on a petition calling for its repeal. Cypress Hill, Juanes, Conor Oberst, Los Tigres del Norte, Rage Against the Machine, Cafe Tacvba, Kanye West, Calle 13 as well as Oscar winning filmmaker and activist Michael Moore were among the artists who signed on to the campaign at its launch.

"Its been a collaborative effort that started with a letter I sent out, which was passed on to all the guys in Rage Against the Machine, and to various friends I've made while playing in Mexico," de la Rocha said. It spread organically that way. And I've definitely been pooling through everyone I know to continue to push before this law is enacted in just over a month. We're still getting letter in and we have a lot more artists joining on that we'll be announcing in the next few weeks."

While many artists and musicians are supporting the boycott, some in the Arizona music community have questioned the approach, insisting that fans and promoters alike are being unjustly punished. In an open letter to the participating artists, Arizona-based concert promoter Charlie Levy of Stateside Presents urged them to reconsider. "By not performing in Arizona, artists are harming the very people and places that foster free speech and the open exchange of ideas that serve to counter the closed-mindedness recently displayed by the new law," he wrote. "The people who will feel the negative effects of the boycott the deepest are local concert venues, including non-profit art house theatres, independent promoters, motivated fans, and the hundreds of people employed in the local music business. If the boycott continues, it is all but guaranteed that some of these venues will be forced to close their doors."

But de la Rocha disagrees, and promises musicians will return to Arizona in force if their effort is successful.

"Governor Jan Brewer and the Arizona legislature have created an environment in Arizona where performing is no longer a neutral act," he said. "They have created an environment where they can convert the the normal commercial interaction between artists and their fans into the means to apply this racist law. The relationship between musicians and artists and fans can best be served by standing for human rights and when we prevent this law from coming into action and continue to fight it even if it is enacted, when its removed from the books we're going to have an unbelievable concert - it will be the celebration to end all celebrations."


---------------------------------------------

Anyway, check out the link to the rest of the list of artists boycotting this state. If you patronize them, tell them you support their boycott. If you have tickets to a show that hasn't canceled here in protest, please contact them and ask them to support the boycott - just to postpone the show for now, out of respect for our struggle.

Artists Boycotting SB 1070 (list)

¡YA BASTA! Tucson: Join the struggle against racism.

--------from Communities Uniting to Resist (Tucson)---------

¡YA BASTA!/ENOUGH!

Comunidades Uniéndose a La Resistencia
Communities Uniting To Resist

Coalicion de Derechos Humanos

No More Deaths

Tucson Samaritans

UA Students Against SB 1070

Tucson May 1st Coalition

International Action Center of Tucson

Tierra Y Libertad Organization - TYLO

We Reject Racism Campaign


For the next 4 Fridays, our Tucson community will mobilize from 4 PM to 7 PM in front of the State building in Tucson, Northwest Corner of Congress and Granada. (I think that's here:
Arizona Governors Office 400 West Congress Street, Tucson, AZ 85701-1363(520) 628-6580‎)

We will with the hundreds of actions across the country demanding a repeal or nullification of this dangerous and racist law. From youth to labor to faith and community-based organizations, our commitment to social, economic, and political justice commands us to act in defiance of this and any other law that violates basic human rights. We act on the principle that if a law is unjust, our duty is RESISTANCE!

Our actions come from our acknowledgment that we are all one community and that our foremost responsibility is to care for one another. SB1070 is totally contrary to our basic duty to act to protect each another, and so we MUST resist any enforcement of this law.

¡YA BASTA!/ENOUGH!

Comunidades Uniéndose a La Resistencia
Communities Uniting To Resist

more info kat@derechoshumanosaz.net

Coalicion de Derechos Humanos | P.O. Box 1286 | Tucson | AZ | 85702

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Davon Acklin's life and Adam Montoya's ghost.

For those who still think that prisoners get great medical care, think again. This is not an unusual story...sounds like Marcia Powell's.

If you wish you could have helped this guy - or Marcia Powell, for that matter - and want to know how to make a difference here: please take a minute and help someone still living. Free Davon Acklin. That will take you straight to the petition his mom has going supporting her request that he be pardoned by Governor Brewer so she can bring him home for medical care.

He's only
23, and he has hep C and needs a liver biopsy. He's not getting treatment at the ADC, either, so your time and good name for the cause would be appreciated.

------------------from Salon.com-----------------------

Ill. inmate died in agony while pleading for help

For days before he died in a federal prison, Adam Montoya pleaded with guards to be taken to a doctor, pressing a panic button in his cell over and over to summon help that never came.

An autopsy concluded that the 36-year-old inmate suffered from no fewer than three serious illnesses -- cancer, hepatitis and HIV. The cancer ultimately killed him, causing his spleen to burst. Montoya bled to death internally.

But the coroner and a pathologist were more stunned by another finding: The only medication in his system was a trace of over-the-counter pain reliever.

That means Montoya, imprisoned for a passing counterfeit checks, had been given nothing to ease the excruciating pain that no doubt wracked his body for days or weeks before death.

"He shouldn't have died in agony like that," Coroner Dennis Conover said. "He had been out there long enough that he should have at least died in the hospital."

The FBI recently completed an investigation into Montoya's death and gave its findings to the Justice Department, which is reviewing the case. If federal prosecutors conclude that Montoya's civil rights were violated, they could take action against the prison, its guards, or both. A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment, saying that the matter was still being investigated.

The coroner said guards should have been aware that something was seriously wrong with the inmate. And outside experts agree that the symptoms of cancer and hepatitis would have been hard to miss: dramatic weight loss, a swollen abdomen, yellow eyes.

During Montoya's final days, he "consistently made requests to the prison for medical attention, and they wouldn't give it to him," said his father, Juan Montoya, who described how his son repeatedly punched the panic button. Three inmates corroborated that account in interviews with The Associated Press.

The younger Montoya was taken to the prison clinic one day for "maybe five, 10 minutes," his father said. "And they gave him Tylenol, and that was it. He suffered a lot."

The federal prison in Pekin will not discuss Montoya's death. Prison spokesman Jay Henderson referred questions to the Bureau of Prisons, which denied an AP request for information on Montoya's medical condition, citing privacy laws.

It isn't clear whether the prison system, relatives or even Montoya himself knew the full extent of his illness. Montoya's father had no idea his son had cancer or hepatitis. Inmates who knew him said he told them he had cancer, but they knew nothing of his HIV.

According to its website, the Bureau of Prisons tries to screen the health of new inmates within 24 hours of their arrival. A closer examination within two weeks is required for prisoners with serious, long-term illnesses. But officials have not said whether Montoya was given any kind of exam or whether his medical records made it to Pekin.

Montoya pleaded guilty in May 2009 to counterfeiting commercial checks, credit cards and gift cards. Prosecutors will not say how much money was involved in the scheme, but Montoya was ordered to pay a little over $2,000 in restitution.

Montoya, who had a history of methamphetamine abuse, was released while awaiting sentencing and was ordered not to use drugs. At the time, he was living with his father and working for his father's process-serving business, which delivers legal documents. His father said he was paying Montoya's bills and paying him about $300 a week.

Then in mid-June, Adam Montoya was diagnosed with HIV.

"It hit him like a ton of bricks," his father said.

After the diagnosis, Montoya retreated back into methamphetamine. Following a urine test, he admitted using the drug three times in a month, and he was locked up.

Montoya began taking antiviral drugs, so his father still had hope and tried to give his son a sense of the same. "I thought, 'You'll get out. You'll get your probation, and you'll have years of life," the elder Montoya said.

In mid-October, Montoya was sentenced to two years and three months in prison. When he arrived at a federal prison transfer center in Oklahoma City, his medication was waiting for him. His father took that to mean that the prison system knew Montoya suffered from HIV.

Montoya arrived at the Pekin prison on Oct. 26. He lived just 18 more days. The inmates around him say he spent much of that time pleading for help from his cell.

Prison staff told Montoya he had the flu, according to Randy Rader, an inmate in the next cell who wrote letters to his mother about Montoya and discussed him in an e-mail interview with the AP.

"That man begged these people for nine days locked behind these doors," Rader wrote to his mother on Nov. 14. The letter was first obtained by The Pekin Daily Times, which wrote about Montoya's death earlier this year.

Rader has since been moved to a prison in California -- far from his family in Michigan. He suspects the move was retaliation for speaking out about Montoya.

The last time a staff member visited Montoya, about 10 p.m. on Nov. 12, he reported having trouble breathing and complained that he could no longer feel his fingers, Rader said in the e-mail interview. The staff member told Montoya that he would try to get help the next day.

Around 6:30 a.m., prison officials found Montoya's body in his cell.

The autopsy showed that Montoya's spleen was almost 10 times the normal weight because it had been engulfed by a cancerous tumor, which was on its way to doing the same with his liver.

The pathologist who examined Montoya's body said his eyes were also yellow -- an unmistakable sign of hepatitis. Dr. John Ralston is reluctant to speculate whether treatment could have saved Montoya's life by the time he reached Pekin. The doctor suspects he would have needed a liver transplant to have a chance.

That said, "You would think that he would have been feeling bad enough and complaining enough that somebody should have tried to get to the bottom of this," Ralston said.

The AP sought opinions about Montoya's condition from other doctors who did not examine him but were familiar with his diseases. They agreed he probably displayed obvious signs of distress.

Montoya would have had a swollen abdomen because of his spleen. At the same time, he probably was losing weight rapidly because the large tumor would have left little room in his belly for food, according to Dr. Krishna Rao, an assistant professor of oncology at Southern Illinois University Medical School in Springfield.

Someone in Montoya's condition should have been taking heavy doses of chemotherapy for his cancer or receiving stem cell transplants, if he were healthy enough, said Dr. James Egner, an oncologist with the Carle Foundation Hospital in Champaign.

If the cancer was too advanced, Montoya should have at least been treated for pain with powerful drugs, possibly in a hospice, Egner said.

The president of the American Civil Liberties Union's National Prison Project said it isn't uncommon for medical records not to arrive with a federal inmate.

"Sometimes it arrives late, and sometimes it doesn't happen at all," said David Fathi, who has spent 15 years studying prison conditions. "That's why it's so critical that the new facilities do a medical screening" of new inmates.

Fahti said Montoya's death "is really an egregious failure, of the kind that you wouldn't expect from even a small county jail, let alone the largest prison system in the United States."

After his son's death, Juan Montoya wrote to the prison complaining about its medical care. Warden Richard Rios wrote back to defend his institution.

"I must respectfully disagree with your characterization of the medical care Adam received and want to assure you that we carefully monitored you son's medical condition," wrote Rios, who was not hired for the job until months after the death. He did not elaborate, writing that privacy laws limited what he could say.

The elder Montoya is now waiting for his son's medical records, but he doubts they will offer many clues. The family has hired lawyers but has not decided whether to file a lawsuit.

Montoya thinks a lot now about the assurances he offered his son as he headed for prison.

"Your time will go by fast, and you'll get out, and we'll get you a job and be part of the family," Montoya recalls telling his son. "It never happened."

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Picketing Pei Wei: June 25, 2010.

Photos from the picket outside of Pei Wei's
(7th Avenue and McDowell, Phoenix)
June 25, 2010.

The guy in the lower right photo who looks like a cop is Detective Al Ramirez
of the Phoenix PD; look for him at protests.

Everyone else is my comrade: Wobblies, anarchists, and civil rights activists all...









Friday, June 25, 2010

SB 1070 Resistance: Solidarity with Pei Wei Workers.



Boycott Pei Wei & PF Chang's!

This in from the Phoenix IWW. This is an important piece of our larger struggle - please don't neglect it if you have the time. You can even just drive by and wave and honk (then go write a quick letter to the AZ Republic expressing your plan to boycott!). Just show these folks some kind of support tonight; we can make it fun - and beautiful. I'll bring the chalk (I'll probably be at a Phoenix location just because I know the "criminal damage" laws better there...).

- Peg


--------------
from Phoenix IWW------------

Friends, Companeros, y Companeras,

Just a reminder to come and show your support for the 12 Pei Wei workers who were unjustly fired for skipping a day of work to march for their survival in this country. These brave workers attended the historic May 29th Demonstration against SB 1070 and were immediately fired by PF Chang's management. Workers have a right to protest and we will stand with these workers.

Boycott Pei Wei & PF Chang's!

Sólo un recordatorio para venir y mostrar su apoyo a los 12 trabajadores de Pei Wei que fueron despedidos injustamente por saltarse un día de trabajo para marchar para su supervivencia en este país. Estos trabajadores valientes asistieron a la histórica 29 de mayo Manifestación en contra de la SB 1070 y fueron despedidos de inmediato por la gestión de PF Chang's. Los trabajadores tienen derecho a protestar y tenemos que respaldar a estos trabajadores.

Boicot Pei Wei y PF Chang's!

Today - Hoy

Friday June 25 6pm

Viernes 25 junio 6pm

Pickets at 4 locations! - Piquetes en 4 puntos!

Pei Wei Central Phoenix
Pei Wei Chandler
Pei Wei Tempe
Bring your water bottle, your friends & family, and your spirit!

Also - The police and PF Chang's are aware of the pickets so stay safe!


Traiga su botella de agua, sus amigos y familia, y tu espíritu!

También - La policía y PF Chang's son conscientes de los piquetes entonces mantenerse a salvo!


Solidaridad,
J. Pierce
Phoenix IWW

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Freeing Davon Acklin: How to Help

Here's the official campaign strategy, folks. It should take 10-20 minutes of your time, tops.

------------------reprinted from hopeworkscommunity------------------------

On Helping Davon Acklin

Many of you read the original post on Davon Acklin. If you would like to help him there are several things you can do.

  1. Let as many people know about his case if possible. If you are from Arizona or know people in Arizona in particular let them know.
  2. Contact the governor directly and ask that he be considered for compassionate release. There is no reason or nothing to be gained by him staying in prison. In your contact explain the facts as you know them. Her phone number is 1-(800) 253-0883. It will only take a couple of minutes. Also email the governors office. The website is http://azgovernor.gov/. Just follow directions on the site to make the email. And then and this is so important- do it again next week. And again the week after that. Persistence pays. It will only take a few minutes.
  3. Contact at least 5 other people about Davon. Tell them about the case. Tell them what you are doing to help and ask them to do the same thing. Ask each of them to also contact 5 other people and ask each of those 5 to do the same thing. If we do this and carry through soon the Governors office will be receiving thousands of contacts asking for Davon’s release. It makes a difference.
  4. If you live in Arizona write a letter to the editor of your paper about Davon. If you are outside the state write one to a paper in one of the major cities like Tuscon.
  5. The contact information on Davon is in the previous post (see below). Contact him directly and let him know you care. This might be the most important thing.
  6. There is a cause on Facebook called Free Davon Acklin (http://www.causes.com/causes/498647?). If you are on Facebook please join. Be part of a unified and committed effort to help Davon.

Please act now. What you do as an individual makes a difference.

TX to AZ: The Politics of Compassion.

Kudos to this reporter for caring about this story. We have some compassionate release hang-ups in Arizona that need some journalistic help, too...maybe there's even a student out there who would want to make it an investigative journalism or research project? Let us know. Time is running out for Davon and his fellow prisoners; even he suggests that there are men far more ill than him who need to be going home before they die. Terminal illness was not included in their sentencing; perhaps sentencing judges should be reviewing such things when people apply for compassionate release.

So, keep hounding the governor - we need to let these folks find decent treatment in order to survive their sentences, or release them so they can die at home. Let her know that more than just a few of us care about this - she doesn't strike me much as the "compassionate" type, after all this with SB 1070.

But if she's really into helping the people of Arizona, then this is one small way she can make a huge difference in the lives of folks who have otherwise been disposed of and forgotten by all but their families - if they even still have connections with them, then the suffering generated by denying medical releases to terminally or chronically, severely ill prisoners is exponentially magnified. Everyone, including the state and our communities, hurts from our inability to embrace our own humanity, and find within ourselves the qualities of Mercy and Grace.


And the effects of the ease with which we detach from the pain of our fellow beings trickle down to the next generation...it is not a kind thing to bestow on them, or much of a gift to leave the world: a callous heart.

And it's all politics. Challenge Brewer to have the courage to step up to this issue and do it right. Word is that too many people since Janet have been approved by the Board of Executive Clemency only to die while sitting on the Governor's desk. Is this governor any less a coward than Napolitano was? I hope so.

- Peg

----------------------

Few Texas Inmates Get Released on Medical Parole
by Emily Ramshaw
Texas Tribune
June 3, 2010

A gaunt old man, thick with whiskers and stricken with dementia, writhes under the covers of his bed. Down the hall, doctors monitor elderly diabetics with recently amputated limbs, medicate terminal cancer patients shuffling by with walkers and tether shivering dialysis patients to blood-cleaning machines.


Despite the pacing guards, the handcuffs and the bars on the windows, the geriatric and medical wing at the Estelle Unit in Huntsville looks more like a nursing home than a maximum-security prison.


Prison doctors routinely offer up the oldest and sickest of these inmates for medical parole, a way to get those who are too incapacitated to be a public threat and have just months to live out of medical beds that Texas’ quickly aging prison population needs. They’ve recommended parole for 4,000 such inmates within the last decade. But the state parole board, which makes the final decision on “medically recommended intensive supervision,” has only agreed in a quarter of these cases, leaving the others to die in prison — and on the state’s dime.


Texas’ “geriatric” inmates, classified as those 55 and older, make up just 7.3 percent of Texas’ 160,000-offender prison population. But they account for nearly a third of the system’s hospital costs and make three times as many visits to prison medical departments as younger inmates. Elderly inmates have average annual hospitalization costs of $4,700, compared to $765 for inmates under 55. In total, providing inmate medical care costs the state correctional health care system — already facing hundreds of employee layoffs amid a budget shortfall — nearly half a billion dollars a year.


Parole board members say they’re faced with the difficult task of determining whether an inmate is still dangerous and must err on the side of public safety. “You can be sick, have an illness or a disease, and still be a threat,” said board chair Rissie Owens. “Our decisions aren’t based on numbers, on quotas. And we feel like we’re making good decisions.”


But criminal justice and prison funding experts say leaving elderly, terminally ill inmates to waste away behind bars is often unnecessary and exorbitantly expensive. Those costs would be shared with the federal government if the offenders weren’t in state custody.


“These are totally incapacitated inmates, terminally ill inmates, inmates on respirators, who are not paroled at a huge expense to the state and hardship to the inmate’s family because of the nature of a crime they may have committed 20 or 30 years ago,” said Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, who chairs the state Senate’s Criminal Justice Committee. “I think it’s largely for political reasons.”


The cost of care


While the total prison population in Texas isn’t growing, it’s quickly aging. The ranks of geriatric inmates are rising by about 6 percent every year, frightening the budget writers who have to figure out how to pay for them. Health care costs are rising too: The average daily medical bill for Texas inmates grows about 4 percent every year — which is low, compared to some states.


The sickest inmates can each cost the state up to $1 million a year in health care costs. If these same inmates were living in nursing homes or hospice facilities, the federal government — through Medicaid — would pay two-thirds of the cost and save Texas taxpayers up to $50 million a year, according to state projections. If the offenders are eligible for Medicare, the feds would pick up the full tab. “We could be transitioning them to some other facility where state taxpayers wouldn’t have to bear the full health care cost,” said Marc Levin, the director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Center For Effective Justice Director, who suggested special nursing homes or hospice centers monitored by parole officers. “It’s a real opportunity to identify some savings without doing anything to endanger public safety.”


But despite the fact that the national one-year recidivism rate for older offenders is miniscule compared to that of younger offenders — 3.2 percent for inmates over 55, compared to 45 percent for inmates between 18 and 29 — an April report by the VERA Institute of Justice, a nonprofit criminal justice policy group, found that the 15 states that allow medical release rarely use it. What stands in the way? Political repercussions, complicated review processes and limited eligibility, the researchers found.


Getting Texas inmates released on medical parole is no easy task. To be eligible for it, an offender can’t be on death row or be serving life without parole, and must be either terminally ill (six months or less to live) or require intensive long-term care, said Dee Wilson, director of the Texas Correctional Office on Offenders with Medical or Mental Impairments. Sex offenders must effectively be in a vegetative state for consideration.


If inmates qualify, the office, in conjunction with the Correctional Managed Health Care Committee, recommends them for medical parole, then submits them to the seven-member Board of Pardons and Paroles for a decision. “It’s all about how long you have to live, and what your prognosis is,” Wilson said. “You can have a terminal illness but still be fully functioning.”


Dying behind bars


The parole board, in turn, relies on a pre-existing condition threshold of sorts. If an inmate with a particular illness commits a crime, Owens said, it’s unlikely he or she will get medical release for that same diagnosis. Some inmates with multiple amputated limbs may look incapacitated, Owens said, but managed to commit their crimes that way. Of the roughly 4,000 inmates prison health officials recommended for medical release in the last decade, the parole board turned down nearly 3,000.


In the last fiscal year alone, more than 440 Texas inmates died in prison. Thirty-one inmates who’d been recommended by medical staff for release died while awaiting the parole board to take up their case; another 26 died after the parole board rejected them for release. Twelve inmates were approved for medical parole but died before they could be sent home.


“There are documented cases where individuals had days or weeks left to live” and were rejected for medical parole, Whitmire said. “I saw no reason why they shouldn’t be paroled so the family could make plans for their funeral.”


Texas is not the only state struggling with skyrocketing prison health care costs and concerns around medical release. Between 1999 and 2007, the number of inmates 55 or older in state and federal prisons grew by more than 75 percent, to 76,000. To date, more than a dozen states have units set aside for elderly inmates; eight have dedicated hospice facilities. Estelle has an impressive medical facility, with a bustling emergency room, high-tech telemedicine equipment and a team of nephrologists that perform 1,800 dialysis treatments a month — sometimes on aggressive or unstable inmates.


“From a medical perspective, I’m comforted that [offenders are] getting a level of care they may not be getting on the street. On the other hand, we’re about to un-employ 363 people,” said Dr. Owen Murray, the chief physician for the University of Texas Medical Branch’s correctional managed care program, which oversees health care for the majority of Texas’ prisoners — and is facing layoffs this summer. “Are there other strategies to reduce our costs? And how do we prevent having to build more expensive units in the future?”


Charles Dill, a 71-year-old offender who started a 20-year sentence in 2000, has been hospitalized multiple times himself for costly heart problems, including getting stents for his carotid arteries. He’s befriended several elderly inmates in Estelle’s geriatric unit, only to watch them die on the ward.


“I’ve seen several of these guys drop over dead,” Dill said, gesturing across a prison dorm room of prosthetic limbs and wheelchairs, adult incontinence products and white-haired men in Coke-bottle glasses. “I guess they completed their sentence.”