Arizona Prisons: A Social Justice Emergency

Below are snippets of 3 articles that outline the inhumane conditions of Arizona state prisons. This is a subject or urgent concern for us as Christians and requires an immediate response – we are calling out for humane treatment of all prisoners. Even Republican Reps in AZ are calling out for change (See below in bold). Mentally ill prisoners kept in solitary confinement, put in cells with violent and dangerous criminals, daily suicide attempts, neglect and lack of  health care to the point of death for many…and it goes on.

We are called to pray for and take action for those in prison, no matter what the crime. Many of the prisoners who have been murdered or abused in AZ prisons are not violent – they are in for drug charges, writing bad checks, etc. Many of the abuses are on the mentally ill, who truly have no voice in protecting themselves. However, the Christ-like position on this is that even if their crimes are heinous, we are to have mercy, compassion and demand humane treatment. If this seems like a radical or ultra-“liberal” stance, don’t take it up with us…here are just a few of the scriptures concerning prisoners and our values, attitudes…

Matthew 25: 36
Jesus says “I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

Hebrews 13:3
“Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.”

Matthew 23:23

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice,mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.

 Arizona’s prisons deadlier than most:

At least seven Arizona inmates have been murdered over the past two years, a prison-homicide rate more than double the national average, an Arizona Republic investigation shows.

The third cell-mate victim was Shannon Palmer, 40, a mentally ill man sentenced to three years in prison for climbing a utility tower during a thunderstorm. He was placed in an isolation cell at the Lewis state prison with a murderer, Jasper Rushing, who later told a PhoenixNew Times reporter that he slit Palmer’s throat and castrated him on Sept. 10, 2010, because Palmer wouldn’t stop talking.

Margaret Plews, who runs the Arizona Prison Watch website and monitors prison deaths, agreed that corrections officials should not have housed a mentally ill inmate with a murderer.

Arizona prisons can be deadly for sick

For two years, Ferdinand Dix repeatedly filed requests with Arizona’s Tucson state prison staff, asking to be examined for a chronic cough, shortness of breath and loss of appetite.

When Dix, who was serving five years on forgery and drug charges, finally received a checkup, the doctor didn’t notice cancer had caused his liver to swell to four times its normal size. He told Dix to drink energy shakes.

It wasn’t until he was “nonresponsive” and had been transported to an outside hospital that Dix was diagnosed with small-cell lung cancer. He died a few days later, on Feb. 11. He was 47.

These deaths are among dozens of examples of preventable deaths uncovered in a broad investigation by The Republic into high rates of suicide, homicide and accidental deaths in state prisons.

Corrections Director Charles Ryan denies that health care in Arizona’s prisons is inadequate or that there is an institutional indifference toward ailing inmates.

But Corrections officials do acknowledge that a long-planned privatization of prison medical care has made it difficult to fill vacancies. They also say care has been hobbled for more than a year by cuts to outside contractor payments, which state lawmakers imposed two years ago.

Even Rep. Cecil Ash, a Mesa Republican, says “Our correctional health care is shocking; it’s unacceptable.”  “They’re out of sight, out of mind. And they don’t vote,” he said of inmates.

Critics: ‘Maximum security’ a factor in prison suicide rate

Arizona puts more prisoners in solitary for longer stretches than most states and the federal government. While many Arizona inmates are in maximum security because they are violent and present a threat to staff and other prisoners, 35 percent of the inmates currently in max were imprisoned for non-violent crimes, according to the state’s own data. Corrections officials routinely assign non-violent prisoners to maximum security for disruptive behavior or for violating minor rules.

Carl ToersBijns, a retired deputy warden who served at Eyman state prison, among other places, said that maximum-custody units are filled with people put there because of repetitive misconduct. He said they should be placed in treatment programs instead.

“If a deputy warden finds you to be problematic, they can manufacture a packet to place you in max custody for 12 months. It’s a year’s review, and central office rarely goes against a warden’s recommendations,” he said.

That’s how many mentally ill inmates wind up in maximum security — because they can’t control their behavior, says Stuart Grassian, a psychiatrist and former Harvard Medical School professor who has spent decades studying the effects of solitary confinement.

 

2012-08-24T01:58:11+00:00

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