Hawaii AG report blasts "humonetarianism" and dependence on private prisons

This document could go a long way towards changing the Hawai’i prison system; I’m impressed that it was released by the state Attorney General. That, in turn, could have ripples elsewhere – certainly in Eloy, AZ, where Corrections Corporation of America incarcerates nearly 2000 Hawai’ians.  Eloy has real problems – as does CCA.18 Hawai’ian prisoners are suing employees at Saguaro prison there for torture, and one is suing for sexual assault (the guard who perpetrated it was actually prosecuted).  

All either Eloy or CCA seem to be concerned with is the money they can make in Arizona, of course, not reducing crime or victimization in Hawai’i or human rights abuses in their own community. If Hawai’ian legislators don’t get on the ball with sentencing and prison reform, they should be called out as either incompetent or corrupt – no one can afford for any of them to be indifferent to the prison crisis anymore.


Read the report this links to, then find your state legislators here.


Call or write to them here:


Senate Clerk’s Office

State Capitol, Room 10
415 South Beretania Street
Honolulu, HI 96813
(808)586-6720 phone
(808)586-6719 fax
sclerk@capitol.hawaii.gov


House Clerk’s Office
State Capitol, Room 27
415 South Beretania Street
Honolulu, HI 96813
(808)586-6400 phone
(808)586-6401 fax
hclerk@capitol.hawaii.gov

The key term is “evidence-based practice”. Good luck. I hope you manage to wage a successful boycott of Eloy and CCA by the time this battle is over. Israel outlawed private prisons because the profit motive is in direct opposition to human rights concerns – maybe Hawai’i will abandon them as well, for all the right reasons.



—from Hawaii.gov—


Here’s the Executive Summary:

This study examined the records of the 660 persons who were released on parole in the State of Hawaii between July 1, 2005 and June 30, 2006 (Fiscal Year 2006). It addresses two main questions: What are the demographic and criminal history profiles of parolees who have been incarcerated in Hawaii and in private prisons out of state? And, how do the recidivism rates of these two groups compare? Using records obtained from the Hawaii Paroling Authority, the Department of Public Safety, and the Department of the Attorney General, parolees were tracked for three to four years after their release from prison.

The study found that:

– 54 percent of Hawaii’s prisoners are incarcerated in private prisons on the mainland — the highest percentage among all U.S. states.

– As of the end of 2009, it cost approximately $118 per day to incarcerate an inmate in Hawaii, and at least $62 per day to incarcerate him or her in a private prison on the mainland. Note, however, that unlike the in-state per day cost, the private prison cost estimate is not all-inclusive.

– 75 percent of Fiscal Year 2006 parolees never served time in a private prison on the mainland, while 25 percent did serve time there.

– Of the one-quarter of parolees who have been imprisoned on the mainland, 70 percent served half or more of their time there.

– The average time served on the mainland was 3.5 years.

The analysis of the parolees’ demographic and criminal history profiles found that:

– Parolees averaged 56 total prior arrests and 24 convictions per parolee, including an average of 20 prior felony arrests and 8 felony convictions.

– Parolees in the mainland cohort had somewhat more felony arrests and felony convictions per person than did parolees in the Hawaii cohort.

– Parolees in the mainland cohort had been convicted of fewer property and drug crimes, and more violent and “other” offenses, than had the parolees in the Hawaii cohort.

– The average maximum sentence for parolees who had been incarcerated on the mainland was longer: 10.9 years, versus 8.5 years for the Hawaii cohort.

– The average time served by the mainland cohort was longer: 6.2 years, versus 3.2 years for the Hawaii cohort.

– The mainland cohort included substantially more males than did the Hawaii cohort: 20 male parolees for every female parolee in the mainland group, versus 4 male parolees for every female parolee in the Hawaii group.

– As compared to their male counterparts, female parolees in both cohorts were more likely to be property and drug crime offenders.

– There were no statistically significant differences in ethnicity between the two parole cohorts. Most notably, Native Hawaiians comprised 40 percent of each cohort.

The analysis of recidivism found that:

– Parolees in the mainland cohort received significantly lower scores on the Level of Service Inventory-Revised (LSI-R). Hence, mainlanders had fewer needs for service and a lower average risk of recidivism than did parolees in the Hawaii cohort.

– In the aggregate, the LSI-R scores predicted recidivism fairly well.

– A little more than half of parolees in both cohorts failed on parole within three years.

– The average time to recidivism in both cohorts was about 15 months.

– The recidivism rate for the mainland cohort (53 percent) was slightly lower than the recidivism rate for the Hawaii cohort (56 percent), but this difference is not statistically significant.

– There was more recidivism among the mainland cohort for parolees in the higher-risk LSI-R categories.

– There was more recidivism among the mainland cohort for violating conditions of parole.

– Nearly half of all rearrests were for violating the conditions of parole.

– In both cohorts, older people recidivated less than did younger people. Age is a powerful ally of efforts to stop criminal offending.

– There were few significant differences between the two cohorts in acts of misconduct committed while in prison.

– Parolees in the mainland cohort were more likely to violate parole conditions than were parolees in the Hawaii group.

– Furlough programs were related to significantly lower rates of recidivism among mainland parolees, but not among parolees who were imprisoned only in Hawaii.

Recommendations from this study:

– Since there is no empirical justification for the policy argument that private prisons reduce recidivism better than public prisons, the State of Hawaii should decide whether to continue, discontinue, expand, or contract its reliance on private prisons based on other criteria. While cost is one criterion, it is not the only one that is important to consider.

– It is ill-advised to rely on a framework for thinking about corrections (herein termed humonetarianism) that stresses short-term financial savings at the expense of programs aimed at improving the prospects for offenders’ rehabilitation and the satisfaction of their basic needs and rights. Long-term savings are often found in forward-thinking policies and programs.

– The State of Hawaii needs to calculate more inclusive and accurate estimates of the cost of incarceration in-state and in private prisons on the mainland.

– Much more research needs to be done in order to adequately describe the contours and consequences of Hawaii’s correctional policy. One high priority is a study that explores who gets sent to prison (and where). The present study examined only persons who were released on parole.

– The State of Hawaii should conduct more research about its correctional policies and outcomes, especially given a policy world that is increasingly evidence-based.

– The Department of Public Safety and the Hawaii Paroling Authority need an integrated records management system. At present, inmates’ records are often incomplete, scattered, and difficult to locate.

Sayre CCA worst since prison opened.


Inmates but no employees injured in Sayre prison riot

BY RON JACKSON, TIFFANY GIBSON and MATT PATTERSON

Published: October 12, 2011

Beckham County Sheriff Scott Jay said Tuesday’s riot at the North Fork Correctional Facility is the worst he has heard about since the private prison opened in 1999.

When he arrived at the scene, Jay said. “We saw mass fighting all over the yard.”

Sixteen inmates were taken to area hospitals to be treated for injuries, according to a statement released about 8 p.m. by the operator of the private prison, Corrections Corp. of America. One had been returned to the prison by evening. The statement also said that 30 inmates were treated at the facility.

No staff injuries were reported, the statement said.

Prison spokeswoman Michelle Deherrera said the riot broke out about 11:45 a.m. at the medium-security facility that houses inmates from California.

Officers contained riot

Jay said he saw weapons in use by the brawling inmates, but he couldn’t identify what they were. Knowing prison culture, Jay said, he would speculate they were homemade weapons.

Smaller incidents have happened at the prison, Jay said, but he was only aware of one other time when local law officers were called in to help.

Officers from the Beckham County Sheriff’s Department, and the Sayre and Elk City Police Department, as well as the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, helped contain the riot.

Ambulance crews from nearby towns such as Elk City and Erick provided medical care.

At 5 p.m., after as many as a dozen patients had been taken to the hospital, seven ambulances remained lined up outside the gates.

Jay said at least 11 ground ambulance runs were made from the prison.

Midwest City Police Chief Brandon Clabes said at least two injured prisoners were taken by medical helicopter to Midwest Regional Medical Center. Midwest City police were asked to provide security until prison employees arrived, Clabes said.

Inmates also were airlifted to OU Medical Center, a spokesman said, but he referred further questions to corrections authorities.

“Right now, we don’t know if this was racially motivated, or they had a beef with the facility or what,” Jay said.

Deherrera did not release any information about a possible reason for the riot.

Sayre police escorted ambulances to the Sayre hospital, and Elk City police provided security for ambulances that took injured inmates to the hospital in Elk City, Sayre Police Chief Eddie Holland said.

“We’ll be here as long as it takes,” Holland said about 4 p.m. “Right now, the whole place is a crime scene.”

Relatives concerned

Relatives of prison employees, gathered at the county barn about two miles away shortly after the riot broke out, spent the afternoon pacing and waiting for their cellphones to ring.

A Beckham County dispatcher said local law officers and ambulance crews were called about 11:50 a.m. to assist in the riot at 1605 E Main St.

Bill Barrett, spokesman for Great Plains Regional Medical Center in Elk City, said multiple patients were taken to that hospital.

Deherrera said public safety was never threatened. She did not say how long it took the staff to contain the riot.

Dale Denwalt, a reporter for the Daily Elk Citian, said a sheriff’s deputy provided details about the riot to the waiting relatives.

A source inside the prison said 530 people are employed there but did not release numbers on how many were at work when the riot broke out.

Louis Thompson, 20, of Elk City, said his mother, Cherie, is a correctional officer with CCA.

He said he heard about the riot from his sister and was pacing across the street from the prison throughout the afternoon, worrying about his mother’s safety.

“She said they had a couple of small riots, but nothing very big,” Thompson said.

“She said she could feel something was about to happen, and it did. I just hope she’s all right.”

Deherrera said the prison was being placed on complete lockdown, with all inmates confined to their cells and movement restricted until further notice.

“When I arrived a little bit after 12:30, the situation from outside the facility seemed calm,” Denwalt said. “There were some inmates who were in the courtyard sitting against the wall, and the guards were obviously watching them.”

According to the Oklahoma Corrections Department, North Fork can house up to 2,500 male inmates.

Exile to the Desert: 3 more years of CCA’s abuse.

Shame on the state of Hawaii for continuing this contract after all the abuses (including torture and the sexual assault of a prisoner by a guard) that have occurred in Saguaro Correctional Center in the prison town of Eloy under CCA’s watch. The people of the Islands should oppose this vociferously…your prisoners are just in for more abuse at the hands of Arizonans – especially your Indigenous. In fact, following this news article is a link to a decent piece by a friend of mine, Frank Smith from Private Corrections Institute, who’s an expert on the private prison industry. He did some extensive research into the experience of Native Americans in private prisons – it’s worth reading.

——————————-

State Signs New Three-Year Arizona Prison Deal

Hawaii Reporter

June 23, 2011

BY JIM DOOLEY – The state has signed a new, three-year contract with Corrections Corporation of America to house up to 1,900 prison inmates at private prisons in Arizona.

The price carries a one per cent increase over the curent contract with CCA, which expires at the end of the month. The Department of Public Safety will pay CCA $63.85 per inmate per day. The old rate was $63.22.

CCA is believed to have submitted the sole bid for the contract.

The new deal, which carries two possible one-year contract extensions, was signed as Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s administration is making plans to end the longstanding policy of imprisoning Hawaii inmates in out-of-state facilities.

Public Safety officials are drawing up a plan for the return of out-of-state prisoners, but its completion is sometime in the future and will depend on construction of new correctional facilities here and development of new community-based programs for men and women now locked behind bars.

The Hawaii State Auditor said in a report issued late last year the total cost of the private prison program more than tripled since 2001, from just under $20 million to more than $60 million.

The per-day charges under the new contract would total some $44.3 million, although there are millions the state must pay in associated costs which the contract with CCA doesn’t cover.

The actual number of Hawaii inmates now held at CCA’s Saguaro Correctional Facility in Eloy, Arizona is now believed to have dropped under 1,800 as the state has stepped up efforts to bring certain categories of prisoners home.

Some 60 Hawaii inmates are also being held at CCA’s Red Rock Correctional Facility, next door to the Saguaro complex.

————————–Native Americans in Private Prisons——————

Native Americans in Private Prisons.

Arizona Prison Watch
Friday, December 3, 2010

The following is the intro to a piece written by my friend Frank Smith, an expert on private prisons with the Private Corrections Working Group (where I dig up all those rap sheets on prison profiteers). Here’s the testimony he gave to the Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons several years back – which makes some good points still relevant to the violence and abuse of prisoners at CCA’s Idaho Correctional Center, among other places.

Follow the link for the full text of the article, which I found posted to a great website on Lenape (Delaware Indian) culture and issues. The article was originally published as a chapter in the book “Capitalist Punishment: Prison Privatization and Human Rights” (Elizabeth Alexander, et al), a worthwhile text for any library on crime and punishment.

——————————-

Incarceration of Native Americans and Private Prisons
By Frank Smith

Introduction

There are currently slightly over two million inmates in local, state and federal jails and prisons. Of these, some 1.6 percent are Native Americans and Hawaiian Natives; in Federal institutions, Native Americans constitute 2 percent of the population, since the U.S. government is involved in criminal justice enforcement on reservations. Because approximately 6 percent of all U.S. inmates are held in private prisons, the total number of Native Americans in these for-profit prisons is comparatively rather small. For that reason, this article presents a picture of the conditions in which Native Americans are held given that limited experience.

Historical Perspective


In order to achieve an informed understanding of the current situation with regard to Native Americans in prison, it is necessary to place it within a larger historical and sociological context. While most residents of the US have the notion their country was founded on the principles of justice and freedom, closer examination reveals that perception is not accurate, particularly in the case of Native Americans.1

The more progressive of our founding fathers whom we remember so fondly as protectors of these ideals include Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson. Paine consistently referred to Indians as “savages”, and used them as a negative comparative stereotype. Jefferson considered his contemporary Indians to be hindrances to colonial progress. The US only granted Natives citizenship in 1924, five years after women and 59 years after Black males were allowed to vote.

African Americans have undoubtedly been pervasively discriminated against in US history–their dehumanization was even embodied in the Constitution. Schoolchildren learn of the more egregious Supreme Court-approved violations of the rights of Blacks such as the Dred Scott decision or Plessy v. Feurgeson,2 and that the Civil War was fought in part over slavery.

They may have read the Emancipation Proclamation and even the Thirteenth to Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution. The sordid history in America of slave owning, in the north and south, of lynching, of Jim Crow, is discussed in most schools. The role of such historic figures as Frederick Douglas or Sojourner Truth is widely recognized. Martin Luther King Jr., is certainly better known than many mediocre presidents. Selma, Alabama, and Little Rock, Arkansas are familiar mileposts, as is Brown v. Board of Education. Students may even understand the meaning of racial profiling, of the immensedisparity between sentencing for crack cocaine, more prevalent in inner-city neighborhoods, and powdered cocaine, more favored by wealthier uburbanites.

They may possibly be aware that a Black adolescent has perhaps a 50 times greater chance of being placed in an adult penal institution than a white youth who has been charged with exactly the same crime,3 and that perhaps one of three young Black men has been subjected to some criminal sanction, such as probation, parole, jail or prison.

Yet how many Americans, young or old, fully understand that this same disenfranchisement; this same disproportionate treatment by the criminal justice system, has affected Native Americans since the Articles of Confederation were signed? How many realize that broken treaties have been the order of the day for over two hundred years? Do they know that the early settlement of this nation involved pushing indigenous peoples into ever smaller, less habitable reservations?

How many school children are taught the cruel facts behind the genocidal removal of the inhabitants of the post-Revolutionary Southeast? There is hardly a Native American tribe that does not have a history of broken treaties and persecution. What this long, troubled relationship between European Americans and Natives constitutes is deliberate disregard for and discrimination against Native culture. Theft of lands, exiles, dispossessions, and a prevailing condemnatory and paternalistic attitude provide the background for the problems of Native Americans in prisons, both public and private, today. It particularly pervades the conditions of confinement of Indians in private prisons…

Eloy Council blesses CCA prison proposal

Here’s the local coverage of last week’s Eloy City Council meeting – there really is such a thing as a free press in Arizona. The people of Eloy should be proud of that, despite the performance of their public officials. Kudos to Lindsey Gemme, editor of the Eloy Enterprise at Tri-Valley Central for giving the private prison issue the fair hearing this month that the Eloy City Council wouldn’t.

I had no expectation of such a comprehensive report on the meeting – I drove Frank to it; this is a good account of how it went down. The mayor, as noted, is on Corrections Corporation of America’s payroll (is it any wonder?), and the rest of them showed more concern for roads and traffic lights than for the lawsuits and human rights claims filed against the CCA prisons in their town.


I was actually astonished that there was no council discussion of the abuse – no sign of disapproval, even. People have been brutalized and raped in the City of Eloy’s care – Hawai’i is even talking about pulling their prisoners out. If CCA and Eloy can’t be responsible for those already committed to their custody – at quite a cost to the public, in more ways than one – why should Arizona pay them to warehouse and dehumanize our people, too? What kind of critical public service is that really providing – torturing drunks, drug addicts and burglars already bound in chains? It not only diminishes our collective humanity, it puts us all at risk to let prisoners be abused in the end.
Gemme – you may or may not agree with my own editorial above, but I think identifying the allegations of CCA’s prisoner abuse in the meeting took integrity and courage – I think most editors in a similar situation might have considered that ice to be too thin. Good luck with the fallout. There are a lot of Hawai’ian and Californian families who will be watching your back now, at least – they need news they can trust more than anyone these days. We’ll be watching, too.

————————————-

The private life of prisons

Researchers address Council on dangers, costs of private prisons

By LINDSEY GEMME
Editor – Eloy Enterprise Tri-Valley Central.com
Published: Thursday, February 24, 2011
What seemed to be a housekeeping issue before Council during its regular meeting last Monday, Feb. 14, opened up a can of worms when three agreements with Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) came on deck.
Mayor Byron Jackson abstained from the discussion and approval of the CCA items, as his being a contract employee for CCA for landscaping presented a conflict of interest. Vice-Mayor Frank Acuna oversaw the discussion in his place.

The first of the three items were merely to formalize in writing a verbal agreement with an existing contract between CCA and the Dept. of Public Safety in Hawaii. Though the city had been involved, it had never officially designated in writing or policy the lawful roles of each member in the agreement.

“It creates a separate agreement defining the city’s and CCA’s previous agreement to house the State of Hawaii and Dept. of Public Safety inmates in Eloy,” City Manager Ruth Osuna explained.

The second was a request of Council’s support in a proposal CCA was sending out for a contract with the Arizona Department of Corrections for 5,000 prison beds. Pending the results of that bid, CCA could be building a new facility to accommodate those state inmates, or expanding on an existing one. Eloy is one of several locations CCA would considering siting a new facility, if needed.

The proposal will be submitted today, Feb. 24. The 5,000 beds could be split up into several facilities, and it is uncertain exactly what CCA will opt to do.

“Both out of the respect for the RFP process and for competitive reasons, it’s too early in the process and it’s premature for CCA to discuss what that proposal would entail,” CCA Public Affairs Director Steve Owen later explained.

Before approval of the items last week, two members of the audience addressed Council during the Call to the Public about the agreements with the for-profit correctional company.

Local resident Frank Smith explained that he has been researching private prisons for 15 years. Besides helping to build criminal cases in the past, he’s also become quite knowledgeable about the drain private prisons put on a municipality. For example, he said, prisoners use 150 gallons of water a day, each. Multiply that times 5,000 prisoners, that’s 273 million gallons of water a year in Eloy.

“You’re talking about a tremendous amount of water,” Smith pointed out. “You’ve got problems with water in Arizona, you’ve got the Salt River Project. It’s a consideration you should investigate before you approve this agreement.”

CCA tends to depend on the towns where their prisons are located to supply infrastructure like sewer lines and paving, he went on to say. “Not always, but most of the time. There is a liability here, you can get into trouble.”

Another liability, he added, were escapes from these facilities, such as the one in Kingman last year. According to Smith, the state is being sued $40 million for the Kingman escape.

“An escape that was inevitable given the level of training and turnover of the guards that were there,” he said. “It took them hours to notify the Mojave County Sheriff. After three hours, they didn’t even know who was gone…and it took another hour and an half or so before the EDC was notified who they were.

“You’ve got serious problems here. I think the city should investigate its exposure to liability.”

He cited the pre-Christmas riot in December last year where seven inmates were sent to the hospital as another instance of liability for the city to consider. Especially, he said, in light of the lawsuit being waged against CCA by 18 Hawaiian prisoners who reported serious abuse at the hands of CCA staff at the Saguaro prison.

Costs are another thing he warned the city to be wary about. “You don’t see the numbers that CCA should be giving you. And you don’t get the jobs here. There’s a very high turnover.”

For example in Texas, he said, the state discovered that seven of their private prisons had 90 percent turnover a year. “That’s not correctional officers, you’re talking about fast food workers with badges. That’s tremendous turnover.”

Vice-Mayor Acuna had to cut Smith off at the three-minute mark, and Caroline Isaacs came to the podium. Isaacs is director of the American Friends Service Committee Office in Tucson, which is a national organization associated with the Quaker religion and concentrates its efforts on criminal justice reform. She has been working with AFSCO for 15 years.

She began by announcing to Council about the public hearing on for-profit incarceration that they helped host in Tuscon on Oct. 27, 2010, during which several area community leaders presented their exhaustive research on private prisons.

According to the AFSC’s Web site, many Tucson area government officials were in attendance at last October’s public hearing regarding prison privatization. Correctional representatives from the Arizona Dept. of Corrections, CCA, and the Management and Training Corporation, although invited, were not in attendance,.

Those in attendance were: Phil Lopez (Ariz. State Representative, District 27), Assistance Tucson City Manager Richard Miranda, Richard Elias (Pima County Supervisor, District 5), Steve Kozachik (Tucson City Council, Ward 6), Nancy Young-Wright (Ariz. State Representative, District 26), and former associate editor for the Tucson Citizen, Mark Kimble, moderated by Mari Herraras from Tucson Weekly.

Presenters were Stephen Nathan with the Prison Privatization report International, Susan Maurer with the New Jersey Dept. of Corrections, Victoria Lopez with ACLU Arizona, Joe Glen with the Juvenile Corrections Association, and Jim Sanders with the Real Estate Appraiser in Tucson.

Some of the findings revealed at the meeting were that overall, it costs more to utilize private prisons than state-run institutions, are understaffed and Isaacs gave several examples from over the last year illustrating the safety concerns there are for prisoners.

This past summer, a Hawaiian inmate at Saguaro was strangled by his cellmate while the prison was in lock down in June 2010. That same month, another inmate was stabbed to death at Saguaro by two other inmates who could face the death penalty, and an employee suffered a broken nose and cheekbones and eye socket damage during a 30-inmate brawl over an Xbox game in July.

That’s not to mention the recent lawsuit pending against CCA by 18 of its inmates in December for abuse that went unchecked by the state’s on-site contract monitor.

Isaacs also explained to Council the uncertainty of the prison company’s cost nunbers, according to an audit done by a Hawaiian company for Saguaro.

“CCA chooses to report artificial cost figures derived from a calculation based on a flawed methodology,” she read directly from the audit. “Without clarified guidance by policy makers, the department has no incentive to perform better, and will continue to evade accountability by providing unreliable and inaccurate reporting of operating costs…”

At the end of her three minutes, Isaacs left information for Council to review at their leisure.

Council then turned to the task at hand, which were the three agreements with CCA.

The third agreement was to formalize a verbal contract between the city and CCA about the company’s role in building certain infrastructure to service its three newest prisons.

Councilman Joel Belloc questioned whether the roads around the newest prison, LaPalma, were completed and who was responsible for the upkeep of those roads. CCA representative John Gluch was present, and told Council that the roads were complete and were now in the hands of the city.

“[This agreement] is just to put into writing the timing of the improvements,” Rick Miller said about the final agreement. “It is good to know that they’re going to be anticipating those costs, which, in time, will need to be paid. We’ll need traffic signals and that infrastructure will go in and they will be a participant in their share of that.”

All three agreements were unanimously approved.

“We certainly are very appreciative of the level of support that the city of Eloy has shown us and by extension, the broader Pinal County area, as well as the recognition they’ve given the services that we provide,” Owen later commented, “and the economic impact we have with our facilities. We look forward to our long term relationship withe community continuing.”

Eloy AZ: Jesus was a Prisoner, too.



Driving home from visiting a state prisoner for Christmas today, I was struck by how many prisons and detention centers are in towns (and wasteland) right off of the I-10 between Phoenix and Tucson – most located in Pinal County. Eloy is one such town – “city”, rather, as I discovered when I turned off of the highway at one of their exits.

Lo and behold, not only is Eloy teeming with prisons (4 of Correction Corporation of America‘s 6 institutions of incarceration are located there, including Red Rock and Saguaro Correctional Centers), but it is also apparently a City of God. Christ’s Father, that is.

Look closely at their sign…


Now, I actually found hope in that sign, but there are a lot of ways that could be read. Eloy, like virtually all prison towns, feeds largely on the lives of people imprisoned there from other places – mostly poor neighborhoods of big cities like Phoenix. Just listen to how prisons are sold to hungry communities: while saving the state money they promise revenue to build local schools with, jobs to fuel the economy, and bodies to add to the census and political pocketbook – bodies of people who have been stripped not only of their freedom as punishment, but also of the one right that most distinguishes U.S. citizens from non-citizens: the right to vote.

How that perverse penalty for most felons, regardless of the severity of their crime, is not considered a violation of the 8th Amendment in light of Trop v. Dulles, I don’t know. I have my own feelings about citizenship in this country, but that’s another blog post for another time. The point is that in a case in which a soldier was stripped of citizenship, the Supreme court found that “the total destruction of the individual’s status in organized society… is a form of punishment more primitive than torture, for it destroys for the individual the political existence that was centuries in the development. The punishment strips the citizen of his status in the national and international political community. His very existence is at the sufferance of the country in which he happens to find himself…”
It’s worth looking at, this whole felon dis-enfranchisement thing. It’s a holdover from the Reconstruction era when former slaves were criminalized just so they couldn’t vote or live free. That was well over a century ago. What are we still doing it for? I think it’s one big contributing element to guards dehumanizing prisoners such that they can perpetrate the most disturbing violence on them without much regard to consequences – the fact that we already collectively diminished their basic rights.

In any event, American prisoners are not only widely marketed, traded and sold as commodities because states pay to confine them, but – as an end run around the Emancipation Declaration – they are even constitutionally defined as slaves. Both their labor and their mere existence are exploited to generate income for “host” (actually, “parasitic”) communities, private investors, corporate and municipal employers of prisoners, vendors of all sorts – from those supplying commissaries/canteens to those monopolizing lucrative contracts for collect calls home to impoverished families.

The most revered beneficiaries of the criminalization and incarceration of vast numbers of the poor are those whose livelihoods (and children’s medical care) depend on “fighting crime,” “insuring justice,” and “promoting public safety”. Let’s not forget our beloved politicians, too. They rake in money, adoration, and power from that in all sorts of ways.

Add all those folks up and it’s no surprise that our society – particularly this state – fails to invest in proven strategies for reducing crime and victimization in favor of disenfranchising and dis-empowering those people who might resist the machinery that so violently destroys their lives and communities in retaliation for their offenses against property and the state.

One such person engaged in resistance would have been Christ. He really was a freedom-fighter, actually. A lot of people conveniently forget this, but he was a prisoner, too. Remember that line about “whatsoever you do for the least of these, you do for me”? He was talking about prisoners, among others.


So, to say that “the world needs Jesus” could mean that the world needs more prisoners, or it could mean that the world needs more forgiveness and grace. It could mean we need more bodies to buy and sell – and more consumers and workers to exploit for profit – or it could mean we need to overturn the moneylenders’ tables and loudly protest the torture of our prisoners at the hands of sadistic and vindictive guards.

I don’t know what the City of Eloy means to say by promoting Christ in the world – they will have to show us that themselves. I know what Jesus said about poverty, exploitation, judging others harshly, and caring for our prisoners. It’s all spelled out pretty clearly in the Gospels. If you read only one, choose Matthew. Hit the Sermon on the Mount and then Matthew 25:35-40 in particular. Then tell me if the world needs more prisoners, or more mercy. More punishment or more care...

We have been at war in Afghanistan for nine years now, and in Iraq for almost as long (or more than twice as long, if you count the casualties of the sanctions). That’s longer than any declared war in our national history, and there’s really no end in sight, despite what time-lines the President offers. We’re still sending our youth off to kill or be killed in the name of liberty and justice for all around the world, while doing so little to defend those two values here at home.

I find that unacceptable.

My wish for the new year is that the spirit of the Christ whose life and teachings I myself have learned something from is recognized and honored in every prisoner we hold in our facilities of detention, correction, and punishment – particularly by those among us who identify as “Christian”. They seem to hold most of the keys to those places, ironically.

If the City of Eloy is truly a City of God, as it would seem they purport to be – then the Pinal County Sheriff and prosecutor would go after the abusive guards at Saguaro as swiftly and surely as CCA will go after the prisoners who rioted at Red Rock this week. They would not fear the political reprisal of honest citizens for doing so. If anything they would be seen as heroic for aggressively championing the human rights of people literally in chains who are at the mercy of their tormentors.

Likewise, if Eloy is a City of God, then CCA wouldn’t get away with defending the employee misconduct at their institutions that we’ve heard about this month from Hawaiian prisoners. They would be out in front of this lawsuit, disciplining and referring the guards in question – as well as the warden there – for criminal prosecution, which the local criminal justice system would jump on. Of course, last I saw CCA was defending the despicable videotaped brutality of their guards in Idaho, too, so I don’t expect that much of them. But I expect more of a City of God.

The state feeds us fear to maintain power, but in truth most American prisoners haven’t physically harmed anyone but themselves. Even many who are charged with “violent” crimes never struck a soul. Robbing a bank with nothing more than a squirt gun or a note, for example, is considered a “violent” crime. So is brandishing a box cutter at security guards chasing you down for shoplifting (that got one mentally ill kid I adore 5 years, including a year in Supermax).

Now, if those are violent crimes, what do we call repeatedly assaulting and threatening to rape, torture, and kill helpless people? Why is every City of God not up in arms? Which of our brothers are we forgiving for what, and whose cries are we drowning out with our choirs on Sundays? Shall we continue to extract an eye for a dollar or a tooth for every rebuke of the state, and pay a dollar of our own money to those who threaten to extinguish prisoners’ lives?

That isn’t even how it was supposed to work in the Old Testament, much less the one dominated by Jesus.

I’ve been born more than once, I am sure, but because of the way Christ’s life and message and symbols have been abused, I don’t call myself a “Christian” or abide by the mandates of any religion. I just try my best to live by the principles and values that ring true to me, most of which are common but not exclusive to the Christian faith. Self-professed Christians out there need to consider for themselves what his truth is and how to live it; I just wish that if they identify Jesus as their role model they would follow his guidance a little more closely. The world would be a bit better for it…and we wouldn’t constantly be at war in his name, either.

Christ, I have no doubt, would deeply disapprove of our system of “justice” in America – particularly Arizona – and how we perpetrate violence on our prisoners. After all, he was criminalized for defying both capital and the state, and lived and died as a prisoner himself. As I read it, he went out that particular way for a reason, too.

Anyway, for the sake of the thousands of disenfranchised, incarcerated and otherwise detained souls whose misery they have profited from, I hope Eloy is a City of Jesus’ version of God. How they and CCA deal with the perpetrators of abuse in their prisons will tell us much more than the signs they’ve placed at their gates do.

(read CCA’s rap sheet at the Private Corrections Working Group’s website. Catch up on CCA’s Idaho “Gladiator School“, too. But give the people of Eloy a chance…)

Eloy Red Rock Riot update: Christmas Eve

The latest word from Red Rock (in a news release via K-Gun in Tucson) is that 43 prisoners have been identified as being involved in the riot today and are in administrative segregation under investigation (isolated in detention units). According to them, seven prisoners were treated for injuries at a hospital, only one of whom was admitted (his injuries are reportedly non-life-threatening).

It still appears as if only California’s prisoners were involved.

(photo credit: TriValley Central)

Prison Talk has a thread going (that’s the link to the most current page, as of this evening) where family and friends of prisoners there are sharing info about which yard was involved, what’s happening with visitation, etc. I can’t figure out much more from that yet, but they usually know what’s going on before the media does – and will keep talking about it long after the media loses interest.

The families will be more current than I am, as well, so follow them if you’re really concerned about what’s going on and how other prisoners there are being affected. While rumors may sometimes fly in forums like Prison Talk, CCA’s news releases aren’t necessarily the whole truth. They don’t even have anything about the Red Rock Riot or the lawsuit at Saguaro up on their newsroom website, so don’t turn to CCA for “news” on their prisons.

My friend, Frank Smith from the Private Corrections Working Group (a private prison industry watchdog), dropped me a line today that he left the following remark about the Red Rock Riot on the TriValley Central website. Frank’s insight is often worth repeating:

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“These prisons are chronically troubled.

Thanks to campaign support and contributions to Republicans there is virtually no oversight. Arizona officials have no clue as to whom they hold; what murderers, pedophiles, rapists, kidnappers have been imported from hundreds or thousands of miles away. The female staff is endlessly sexually harassed by management. Escapes and riots are as regular as rain in the tropics.

When charges are successfully brought against murderers from out of state, it is Arizona taxpayers who will pay to keep them for most or the rest of their lives.

This “minor” incident, as the for-profit prisons are careful to term them, overtaxed Pinal County emergency services. Who will be paying for the costs of the medivac choppers to Maricopa County? Who will be called to address a “major” incident?

In Colorado, there was a 1999 riot in a badly constructed prison built by the same outfit to which Mohave County sole-sourced the Kingman prison, thanks to promoters who are now hovering over Arizona communities like a flock of vultures. It took law enforcement from four states to put down that riot. In 2004 a CCA riot in the same prison cost the state about three quarters of a million to put down, but it only got $300,000 or so in reimbursement.

These ineptly run lockups have long since exhausted the potential labor pool in Pinal county and low-wage labor required to run them will come from Maricopa or Pima counties.

Despite the staggering incompetence of the for-profits, Coolidge officials have welcomed still another such mistake, this one to be run by MTC, the outfit that gave us riots in Pima and Mohave county this year, and the escapes of three murderers who killed a vacationing Oklahoma couple. MTC has had escapes, riots and murders in other states as well, including California, Texas, New Mexico and their home state of Utah. MTC was thrown out of Canada, where cooler legislative heads prevail and politics are not dominated by special interests.”

Eloy again: Riot at CCA’s Red Rock Prison

Below is the AP release on the CCA Red Rock Correctional Facility riot yesterday in Eloy, AZ,  which involved only the California prisoners located there.

Something is amiss in that town. As some readers may be aware, this facility is operated by the same Corrections Corporation of America that runs the Saguaro Correctional Center in Eloy. They also operate the La Palma Correctional Center and Eloy Detention Center there.

Hawaiian prisoners confined at Saguaro are suing for the abuse they endured in the wake of a smaller disturbance/uprising there in July of this year, during which at least one guard was injured. Again, no Hawaiian prisoners were involved in this incident yesterday.

Here is the link to a more complete article about it from Tri-Valley Central, the local media there (the source of the photo here). Read the comments that follow it – those are always interesting (though sometimes very troubling). According to Tri-Valley’s report, no guards were hurt but three prisoners had life-threatening injuries. They have not been publicly identified.

Still looking for this from the prisoners’ and families’ point of view – please forward what you may come across out there. I will post more as soon as I have it…For those of you planning holiday visitation, call ahead. Both Red Rock and Saguaro are now on lock down.

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10 inmates injured in riot at Arizona prison
San Francisco Chronicle
December 23, 2010

17:37 PST

Eloy, Ariz. (AP) — Ten inmates have been injured after a riot at a private prison in central Arizona. Eloy police say the disturbance occurred during Thursday afternoon’s lunch hour at the Red Rock Correctional Facility and involved an estimated 110 inmates. They say the riot was in an area of the prison that houses only California inmates.

It’s unclear what triggered the riot, but prison staff used pepper spray and ended it within 10 minutes. They say no staff members were injured and seven of the 10 inmates hurt were taken to hospitals outside the prison for treatment of injuries ranging from moderate to serious.

Prison officials say the 1,596-bed facility now is in lockdown.

Red Rock Correctional Center is owned by Corrections Corporation of America and houses male inmates for California and Hawaii and detainees of the U.S. Marshals Service. CCA managers along with California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation investigators are investigating the disturbance.