Locked Down: Prison reform advocates propose legislation for citizen advisory board

Locked Down: Prison reform advocates propose legislation for citizen advisory board
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - A group has proposed legislation to create a new body of public oversight that would help reshape and reform Arizona prisons.

The American Friends Service Committee-Arizona (AFSC-AZ) has launched the ReFraming Justice Project, an ongoing multimedia storytelling and public education initiative led by incarcerated, formerly incarcerated, convicted people and their loved ones. They hope by telling their stories, they will shift the narrative around what justice requires. Two volunteers with this project worked with AFSC-AZ to craft Truth in Corrections: Restoring Public Trust in the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC), a framework for a Citizens’ Advisory Board that would also be required to include at least one formerly incarcerated person, as well as gubernatorial, legislative and judicial designees.

Volunteers John Fabricius and Travis Hiland said this board is crucial in order to provide external oversight and accountability of ADC.

In 2014, the ADC settled a statewide class action lawsuit brought forth by prisoners who accused the department of inadequate healthcare.

As part of the settlement, the department is required to meet certain healthcare standards for inmates.

In July 2018, a federal judge held the ADC in contempt-of-court for failing to meet some of those standards, and issued a fine of $1.4 million.

The ADC is appealing that ruling. Oral arguments are scheduled for Sept. 24.

As the ADC fights this fine, the plaintiffs are now asking the judge to issue a similar ruling and fine, accusing the ADC and its leadership of continued failure to meet those same standards.

“A citizens advisory and oversight board vested with a clear mandate and substantive, autonomous authority to create objective, fact-based reports and monitor ADC is crucial as our state writes the next chapter of our corrections department,” Fabricius said. “Now is the time to implement changes that make ADC more transparent, accountable, and safer for the public, incarcerated people, and for staff.”

AFSC-AZ said copies of the proposal have been delivered to Gov. Doug Ducey’s staff, who is busy looking for a replacement for ADC director Charles Ryan.

Ryan announced in August that he will retire Sept. 13.

News of his retirement came following the release of an independent investigation into the ADC.

Ducey called for the investigation after a bootlegged video taken from the Lewis Prison in Buckeye surfaced in April.

It shows inmates who were able to get out of their cells in December 2018, attacking outnumbered correctional officers.

A 52-page final report was completed in August by retired Arizona Supreme Court chief justices Ruth McGregor and Rebecca Berch. They found issues with the locks, and problems with staffing contributed to security flaws at facilities.

As prison reform advocates push for this propsed legislative action to establish the creation of an ADC Citizens’ Advisory Board, Hiland and Fabricius suggest that Ducey assembles an ad hoc citizens’ advisory and oversight board in the interim.

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