Hamm v. Ryan: This is our litigation which challenges the constitutionality of the $25 "visitor background fee" which is imposed on all persons applying to visit a state prisoner as of July 20, 2011. The case is currently in the Arizona Court of Appeals. The Opening Brief has been filed (by us); the State has filed their Reply, and our Response has been filed. The Court of Appeals will either deny review or issue an opinion. We believe that because this is a matter of first impression before the Arizona courts (no previous fees have ever been charged to prison visitors in any state), the Court will issue a written opinion. We hope to overturn this onerous fee.
Arner v. Ryan: This is our sponsored litigation (Plaintiff is a prisoner, David Arner) which challenges the 1% "banking fee" imposed on any deposits made to a prisoner's account as of July 20, 2011. The case is currently in the Superior Court, pending motions from both sides for Summary Judgment. If the decision is against Mr. Arner, we will appeal.
Note: In both of the above cases, none of the monies collected from visitors or from inmates is used to defray the costs of visitor background checks or of banking account management. Instead, 100% of the fees are used for "Building Renewal and Maintenance."
ACLU Lawsuit Against DOC Challenging Medical Care and Abuse of Solitary Confinement; The Defendants representing the Dept. of Corrections in this case have subpoenaed Middle Ground's records for all advocacy we have performed (since 1983!!!) for prisoners with respect to medical issues. We have objected to the expansive nature of the subpoena and have, thus far, refused to comply. Apparently, the Defendants attorney recognizes that Middle Ground Prison Reform has been a leading agency in advocating for prisoners medical care. The only other subpoena issued was to the Arizona Republic to obtain records they used as background for stories they have written about the dangerous and sometimes tragic medical care afforded to prisoners.
UPDATE: Hon. Neil Wake, District Court Judge, issued a Protective Order to cover Donna Hamm, as Director of Middle Ground as well as to protect Middle Ground as an organization, ordering that we were not required to produce any records for the Defendants in this litigation. In a hearing on the matter, the Defendants were sharply rebuked by the Court for their attempts to intimidate us with requests for production of massive amounts of records. We remaining on the Court's mailing list for all rulings by the Court pertaining to this case.
Betty Smithey Commutation/Release From Prison: Middle Ground has been a long-time supporter of Ms. Smithey, who has been incarcerated for almost 50 years -- longer than any female prisoner in the USA. We were instrumental in her commutation of sentence, issued by the Governor in late June 2012. Due to Middle Ground's work, Betty was released not on supervised parole, but via an absolute discharge. This means that she walked out of prison on August 13, 2012 as a completely free woman with no supervision from the criminal justice system whatsoever. Middle Ground was the only agency that advocated before the Board for an absolute discharge for Betty. We are pleased to report that Betty is doing just fine without a parole officer to monitor and restrict her activities. Betty's case is an extraordinary example of recovery and redemption for a woman who has struggled throughout almost five decades of prison to rehabilitate herself. She has survived and succeeded despite the Department of Corrections; not because of it.
Board of Executive Clemency Now Up-To-Date in Commutation Hearing Schedule: As of April 2013, the Board of Executive Clemency has fully caught up with their previous backlog of Phase I commutation applications. They are so caught up that they are now hearing only 20 Phase I cases each month, and the waiting period from the time an application is filed till the time it is heard (assuming the prisoner is eligible to apply and be heard) is only about 60 days. Although the rate of movement from Phase I to Phase II, and the rate of granting commutations by the Governor has not increased, at least the waiting time for a hearing has greatly diminished.
Middle Ground's Proposal to the Arizona Board of Executive Clemency: At the end of August 2013, the Boardl considered a proposal submitted to them by Middle Ground. The Arizona Justice Project has also submitte a proposal on the same issue. The proposal is for the Board to allow prisoners serving consecutive sentences to apply for commutation of sentence on the "bundled" sentences. Currently, a person serving consecutive sentences can only apply for commutation on the sentence he/she is currently serving, after serving 2 years of that sentence. Essentially, this renders the commutation process as meaningless and completely hopeless to those with excessive sentences rendered by virtue of the application of multiple consecutive sentences. The Board is, thus far, resisting any changes in their current policy which does not allow a prisoner to apply for commutation of multiple consecutive sentences. We will keep this issue active and keep trying. No legislative changes would be required to implement this proposed new policy. It simply requires a vote in favor of the proposal by a majority of the Board members.
Snail Mail and E-Mail Advocacy: Middle Ground continues to receive about 300 letters each month from prisoners throughout the state, in both state-operated and private prisons, as well as to receive about 30-50 emails each day from family members of prisoners. We try to respond as quickly as we can. Please remind prisoners who send us letters that they should not sent original documents; they will not have documents returned to them unless they include return postage; we do not visit prisoners in person; and we do not provide free lawyers for appeals, civil rights cases or for any other purpose.