You might have heard that yesterday Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) Director Chuck Ryan claimed there is no such thing as solitary confinement in Arizona prisons. AFSC and basically the whole entire world disagree. Here is AFSC’s response in full. Link to PDF version at the bottom.
For Immediate Release
June 12, 2013
CONTACT: Matthew Lowen, 520.869.6392 (cell), firstname.lastname@example.org
Caroline Isaacs, 520.256.4146 (cell), email@example.com
Serious Issues with Maximum Security Prisons Unheard by JCCR
(Phoenix, AZ) – The Joint Committee on Capital Review (JCCR) met today to consider the first of five contracts for the construction of 500 new maximum-security prison beds, at a cost to Arizona taxpayers of $50 million. The contract was unceremoniously approved with little discussion and no opportunity for public comment. During this hearing, Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) Director Charles Ryan stated that “there are no solitary confinement cells in Arizona prisons” and that the new facilities will also not have any. This claim demonstrates either a misunderstanding or deliberate obfuscation on Director Ryan’s part of what constitutes solitary confinement.
Solitary confinement is the condition of being held in a cell alone for long periods of time (generally 22-24 hours a day) with limited to no opportunity to leave one’s cell or participate in congregate activities, and these conditions absolutely do exist in Arizona prisons. When questioned on this point by Sen. Tovar, the Director conceded that ADC policy allows maximum custody inmates up to two hours of out-of-cell time. Unfortunately for the 2,000 Arizona prisoners held in these facilities, this policy is very loosely followed, as the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) of Arizona has well documented. If the unit is understaffed (as on weekends) or there is a lockdown or other emergency, prisoners may well be in their cells for 24 hours, days at a time.
“Director Ryan saying that ADC’s maximum-security units aren’t solitary confinement is like the CIA claiming waterboarding is not torture,” points out AFSC’s Caroline Isaacs. She adds, “whatever you want to call them, the conditions in these facilities are harmful to people’s physical and mental health.”
The conditions of long-term isolation have well-documented negative impacts. These include severe mental illness, high rates of suicide, uncontrollable violence and self-harm, and an inability to successfully reintegrate into non-prison environments. The ACLU of Arizona has filed a class action lawsuit on this very issue, citing lack of adequate medical and mental health care in ADC facilities, especially the maximum-security units. AFSC staff argue that the cost of defending against wrongful death and other lawsuits should be figured into the cost of the additional beds. “How much has the state already spent fending off this class action suit and settling with the families of prisoners who have died or suffered serious injury in these units?” asked Matthew Lowen, AFSC’s Program Coordinator.
Additionally, there is a dramatic over-representation of people of color in the maximum-security units as evidenced by ADC’s own statistics. For example, while Latinos represent about 30% of Arizona’s population, they are 40.3% of the prison population, and over half (53.16%) of the supermax prison population. As prisoner classification is an administrative decision, this gross disparity raises concerns about structural bias on the part of ADC. (See AFSC’s Ethnicity Distribution analysis here.)
Construction of these new beds comes at a time when the prison population in Arizona has not grown for three years and is expected to remain flat for the next two. ADC claims the need for these new maximum-security beds is due to a lack of appropriate cells for certain “subgroups” of prisoners (i.e. maximum security and those in protective custody). However, there are indications that ADC may have changed its classification and method of accounting for “violent” prisons in the last few years. This shift began in 2010, right around the time that the prison population started dropping. (For a fuller accounting of this issue, visit this link.)
The $50 million contract that the JCCR approved in this morning’s hearing went to DLR Group and JE Dunn for the design and construction of the new units. Both of these companies have business ties to the for-profit private prison industry and a history of working on projects together for the Corrections Corporation of America, further cementing the ongoing relationship between the state of Arizona and private prison interests. (For more information on this topic, visit this link.)
For these reasons and more, the AFSC opposes the use of long-term isolation as well as the construction of any new maximum-security prisons.