Rumors sometimes run rampant within the inmate population for many reasons too numerous to review here. You can rely upon what you read below:
SENTENCE REDUCTION RUMORS/QUESTIONS: The Arizona State legislature has not authorized, nor has the governor approved, any sentence reductions in 2013-14. If you are hearing information about sentence reductions for low-level/non-violent drug offenders, that is because the United States Sentencing Commission is considering reducing the sentences of FEDERAL drug offenders who have served at least 10 years of their sentence and who did not use violence or a weapon during the commission of their crime. Also, Eric Holder, U.S.Attorney General, has directed his deputy attorneys general to encourage federal judges to sentence drug offenders to less-than-the-guideline sentences and has indicated that the President will consider commutation of sentence for certain low-level drug offenders. None of these actions have any effect whatsoever on state sentencing issues, including in Arizona. Posted June 2014.
EX-OFFENDERS AND GUN RIGHTS: Conviction of a felony offense in Arizona (as in most states) automatically means that the person loses/forfeits certain civil rights (to vote, to hold elective office, to serve on a jury, and to own or possess a gun). If convicted of a first-time felony (just one count) in Arizona, no matter how serious the crime -- including murder -- upon absolute discharge from the sentence, the felon's civil rights are automatically restored, with the exception of gun rights. For multiple convictions of multiple counts or repeat offenses, all others must obtain absolute discharge from the sentence and then wait the prescribed amount of time to apply to the court for restoration of civil rights. In order to obtain absolute discharge, the offender must not only complete prison or probation terms, but must also pay all fines, restitution and other court-ordered fees, if applicable. If an offender wishes to apply for restoration of gun rights, it requires a special hearing and/or special inquiry by the court in order for the Judge to determine whether the offender deserves to have his / her gun rights restored. This inquiry would include a determination of the mental health status of the offender, and the reasons why he/she desired to own or possess a gun. Under many circumstances, this right is not restored. Violent offenders must wait ten (10) years after absolute discharge to apply for gun rights. Some will never qualify at all due to mental health and other issues.
Middle Ground recently dealt with a few cases of ex-offenders who expressed desire or intent to possess guns. One felon wanted to own a gun because of his living situation in a remote location and a desire to protect himself and his pets from wild animals. However, this is an ex-offender convicted of first degree murder who also has mental health problems. Even if he waited ten years to apply, no responsible judge would ever grant this person the right to own a possess a gun. He insisted that he wanted to do so and it required us to warn him of the legal difficulties he would be creating for himself if he ignores our good advice. His reaction? To accuse us of "harassment!" (This falls under the category of "no good deed goes unpunished. . .") Indeed, it is not too difficult to find people currently in prison who are serving time for "Misconduct Involving Weapons," which is the official charge that a felon violates when he/she possesses a weapon. A felon who possesses a weapon is commonly referred to by police as a "prohibited possessor." Our advise: If you are convicted of a felony offense of any type, willingly and forever give up your right to own or possess a gun (Yes, that means you can't live in a household where anyone in the house has a weapon and, yes, you can't ride in a vehicle with a weapon in the vehicle). Even if a court in Arizona reinstates your gun rights, you still have to deal with federal prohibited possessor laws, and it just isn't worth the effort.
News: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has recently ruled that private companies who provide telephone services to prisons and jails can no longer charge more than $.25/minute for interstate phone calls. Also, they will not be able to charge "connection" fees, which sometimes are in the range of $3-4/call. We don't know when this ruling will go into effect and we are aware that the private telephone companies are filing an appeal to this ruling, which will delay implementation. Middle Ground was one of many organizations that signed on to a Petition which was presented to the FCC on this issue, so we are proud of our small role in helping to bring about this change.
News: Many media outlets have given much coverage of the recent comments and policy decisions made by United States Attorney General Eric Holder. He recently stated that he is directing his attorneys to develop local policies which will govern who will be charged with FEDERAL drug crimes and who will not. The aim is to attempt to have federal charges filed against those who sell, manufacture or transport drugs, and not against those who possess them, especially for personal use. He also hopes to use compassionate releases more frequently for elderly and medically impaired federal prisoners. The remainder of his comments are directed at the Obama administration's views that too many low-level drug offenders are spending too much time in (federal) prisons. Remember, the U.S. Governorment (federal) has no authority to regulate STATE criminal sentencing codes or prison policies. So, it is necessary to say that while we don't disagree with anything that Mr. Holder said in his speech, we recognize that all he said were words, and they really don't affect anything until or unless they become law. It will take the U.S. Congress to pass laws governing any changes to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. Some U.S. Congressmen and Senators are in favor of giving federal judges more ability to deviate from the federal sentencing guidelines to fashion a sentence that is more focused on the individual, but -- historically -- we have seen what happens to things like fervent calls for gun control, immigration reform, and so on. We simply don't believe that the U.S. Congress has the guts and will to make significant changes in the status quo. So, despite all the media attention which was given to Eric Holder's remarks, we suspect not much will change, and nothing is proposed to change for currently sentenced federal prisoners. Also, please understand that none of what he said applies to the individual STATE criminal codes, including Arizona's.
News: Middle Ground has learned recently that the Arizona DOC has implemented a policy, which goes into effect in September 2013, which will prohibit anyone from purchasing a Securepak for a prisoner unless you are on that particular prisoner's approved visitation list. There is also a rumor that the DOC will soon implement a policy which allows money orders or deposits to an inmate account to be made only by someone who is on his/her approved visitation list. We strongly suspect that these actions are legal and would be upheld in the courts if challenged. Why? Because the DOC is very likely attempting to curb the extortion that takes place when an inmate's family is forced to send money to be placed on the account of another inmate, or to purchase commissary (Securepaks) for another inmate. The courts would recognize extortion as a serious security issue and that recognition would override any complaints from members of the public who wish to send money or Securepaks to prisoners to whom they are not related or to whom they chose to do so for compassionate reasons. We will perform due diligence to determine if there is case law which would support a challenge to this policy, but our guess is that a court would rule in favor of prison administrators on this topic. Posted August 2013.
Rumors: We wish we could settle this issue once and for all, but this is a rumor that persists in circulating around the prison system on a seemingly constant basis. It is a hoax. The rumor is: The day a prisoner is released from prison, he/she can go to a Social Security Office and obtain an "emergency fund" disbursement within hours of applying. Also, there is a rumor which states that an prisoner can qualify for social security benefit payments just because of having been in prison. Again, these are false. Web sites such as "prison talk" locations where unknown persons post such information as though they are citing to authority are all over the internet. Sometimes, an ex-prisoner him/herself claims to be posting the information. We will repeat this information even though we have posted in before: There is NO government program -- either state or federal -- that pays benefits to persons just because they were in prison. If you get out of prison and apply for food stamps and get them, it will be because you are indigent and can't afford to buy food. If you obtain social security benefits after prison it will either be because prior to prison you worked for at least 40 quarters (10 years) and paid a portion of your wages into the system and you are now at retirement age; or because you are elderly, even if you haven't paid enough quarters into the system, and will qualify for benefits of about $650/month; or because are of working age, but a doctor has certified that you are unable to work due to a physical or mental disability (these benefits amount to about $650/month). You cannot simply walk out of prison, head to a social security office, and be handed an "emergency" check. It is unfortunate that this rumor continues to be passed among prisoners, and sometimes is perpetuated by staff or family members of prisoners.
News: No, there is no bill that has been introduced at the Arizona legislature that will have the result of reducing sentences from 85% to 65%. There is no bill that will provide for retroactive or prospective (future) sentence reforms or reductions. There is no bill that will increase the amount of earned release credits that are afforded to prisoners. There is no widespread dialogue among legislators for a major sentencing over haul. Do not listen to rumors or to inexperienced/uninformed advocates who do not understand the realities of the legislative/political process. The criminal sentencing code in Arizona has NOT changed to reduce sentences or to provide for early releases of prisoners.
News: We recently discovered that the Dept. of Corrections was circulating a Durable Healthcare Power of Attorney (POA) form to inmates which contained an illegal sentence. The objectionable sentence included language which would mandate that a prisoner would allow the State to pass along the debt for his/her medical care to his "resources" (read: inmate bank account) and/or to his "estate." As a ward of the state, and with the exception of being required to pay a co-pay for medical visits, no prisoner is required to pay for any medical service received while incarcerated, nor is his/her estate required to assume responsibility for any medical care. Once we discovered the illegal phrase, we immediately contacted DOC's legal counsel and the Director.
The offending language was removed from the form ("It must have been a mistake that we left that sentence in the form . . . ") and, according to DOC, they are contacting each inmate who previously signed the illegal form to allow them to sign the corrected form. The offending form was allegedly in circulation for only a few months, so we don't know how many were signed by inmates, but if your family member or loved one has signed such a form, be sure to tell them that they need to schedule a visit with their assigned CO III or IV to make sure the offending form is destroyed and a new one is executed.
We wish to thank the inmate who sent us the offending form, BEFORE HE SIGNED IT. Inmates should be cautioned that they need to read each and every sentence of each and every form they are EVER asked to igned by the DOC (or by anyone else for that matter). If they cannot read the form, they should so indicate and ask someone to read it aloud to them. If the person refuses to do so, the form should not be signed.
What upcoming changes to the prisoner mail policy are important? Middle Ground has been instrumental over the past few months in working with the Department of Corrections to change a portion of the Mail Policy which prohibits inmates from receipt of internet mail that contains the name of any staff member, or which contains the name of another inmate. This policy, instituted under Dora Schriro's administration, effectively eliminates the ability of an inmate from receipt of CASELAW -- which always has the name of a person as its caption and which could list a staff member as well. Also, this policy prohibits downloading from the internet on-line stories about staff members (such as those who might be charged with crimes, etc.), but doesn't prohibit the same story to be received by a prisoner who has a subscription to a newspaper! We complained to the Director and his Legal Counsel about this issue, and have been informed that the policy is being changed and will be put on a 30-day notice (to inmates and staff) very soon. In the future, the First Amendment rights of persons outside the prison will be protected when they wish to send information from the internet to a prisoner, as long as the information does not contain information that would jeopardize staff or the secure and orderly operation of the prison, or information which would aid in an escape or injury to another person. That's reasonable.
Through our advocacy, the DOC re-examined the cost they were originally charging for a first-class stamped envelope and reduced the price to $.55 (they originally charged $.65).
The Tucson prison complex is becoming a medical/mental health facility. Will all of the non-medical or mental health prisoners be moved to other locations? Eventually, yes. The DOC intends to keep 270 minimum custody/non-medical/mental health prisoners at the Tucson Complex to perform routine maintenance duties. About 1,000 beds will be added to the facility itself. These changes will be in phases, and -- hopefully -- sooner rather than later -- about 115 clinical staff positions will be filled. Clearly, there aren't enough M.D.'s, RN's, or other professional medical staff employed at the Tucson Complex at the present time. This will have to improve, and we will be monitoring the situation. We think this could be a good idea, but will take a "wait and see" approach.
Is it true that some foreign national state prisoners are allowed to be released early (after serving only 50% of their sentences)? Yes, although it may not seem fair, under A.R.S. 41-1604.14, the director of the DOC may release a prisoner to the custody and control of the United State Immigration and Customs Enforcement for deportation if ALL of the following requirements are met:
1. The DOC receives an order of deportation for the prisoner from US/INS.
2. The prisoner has served at least one-half of the sentence imposed by the court.
3. The prisoner was convicted of a Class 3,4,5 or 6 felony.
4. The prisoner was NOT convicted of an offense under Title 13, Chapter 11 (Homicide).
5. The prisoner was NOT convicted of a sexual offense pursuant to A.R.S. 13-1404 (Sex Abuse); 13-1405 (Sexual Conduct with a Minor); 13-1406 (Sexual Assault), or 13-1410 (Child Molestation).
6. The prisoner was NOT sentenced pursuant to A.R.S. 13-703 (Repetitive Offense -- sentenced with a prior offense); 13-704, Subsection A,B,C, D or E (Dangerous Offense); 13-706, subsection A (3rd strike/Life Sentence); or 13-708, subsection D (an offense committed while on pre-trial release or escape from pre-conviction custody).
Note: For those who are sentenced to consecutive sentences, even if all the sentences are for Class 3,4,5 or 6 felonies, this law would NOT apply because a prisoner cannot serve 50% of a sentence that he has not yet begun to serve.
If a prisoner who is released for deportation returns illegally to the United States, on notification from any federal or state law enforcement agency that the prisoner is in custody, the DOC director shall revoke the prisoner's (early) release. The prisoner shall not be eligible for parole, community supervision or any other release from confinement until the remainder of the sentence of imprisonment is served, except pursuant to A.R.S. 31-233, subsection A or B (Prison work; medical research, delinquency prevention, community betterment, compassionate leave, medical treatment, disaster aid, state emergencies).
What is Middle Ground's view of the use of private prisons? Middle Ground does not oppose privatization per se. We don't agree with those who profess doom and gloom about the way that private prisons are operated. If they are appropriately ready to operate when they open for business and have good management supervision and oversight/compliance with contract obligations, there is no reason to believe that they are any worse than state-operated prison units. In fact, we hear many positive comments from prisoners who've been housed at private prisons.
We also recognize arguments from opponents that as long as private prisons exist, the legislature will continue to keep the criminal code intact which, essentially, helps to fill those beds. We remind people that Arizona's criminal code was changed in major ways in 1994, well before the advent of private prison use in Arizona (for Arizona prisoners). Hence, we believe that the large numbers of people/capita who go to prison in Arizona would still be sentenced to prison even if private prison contracts, with the minimum quota of filled beds provisions, did not exist. We strongly support sanctions against private prisons when they don't comply with their contract, and we believe that the Arizona DOC has an enormous responsibility to maintain strict oversight of private prison contracts. Finally, the very detailed and strict contracts that exist between the state (DOC) and the private prison contractor provide for precise policies, procedures, reports and other obligations by the contractor which simply don't exist in the state-operated prisons. In other words, private prison contractors are obligated to perform in certain ways that state-operated facilties do not impose upon themselves. As long as these contract provisions are met, we think they provide a baseline of operational performance expectations that benefit prisoners in multiple ways.
Having said that, we still are very realistic about system-wide problems which exist in all prisons -- public and private. Medical care is of grave concern in both public and private prisons.
Q: My son heard a rumor in prison that the Governor has a bill on her desk , passed by the legislature, which will allow all prisoners who are first-time offenders and over the age of 55 to be released from prison after serving only 50% of their imposed sentence. True of False?
A: False. No such bill exists and no such bill was introduced at the Arizona legislature. No such bill is being considered by the Governor. This is an absurd, but persistent, rumor. Your son may have his information confused with a bill that didpass into law which allows prisoners with detainers for deportation to their home country to serve 50% of their sentence before being turned over to ICE for deportation. Several restrictions apply and the law does not apply to sex offenders, those convicted of homicide and some other serious crimes, etc. See. A.R.S. 41-1604.14 A. & B. for specifics.
MARICOPA COUNTY JAIL VISITATION HOURS
Visiting a loved one at the Maricopa County Jail has become far less convenient thanks to a policy adopted by Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Jail visitation takes place from 6:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m. for prisoners' family members. Due to a court ruling which is under appeal by the Sheriff, lawyers and their agents (paralegals, mitigation specialists, etc.) are allowed to visit seven days/week until 8 p.m. each day. No legal challenge is possible for family members or other regular visitors to the jail because there is no constitutional right to visitation. The purported reason for the policy change is due to the jail's budget concerns. There is no comment from the Jail about the length of time that this policy will be in force. We can think of dozens of ways the Sheriff could save taxpayer money without having to inflict such inconvenience on the public, but he is immune to paying attention to anything other than his own (inflated) ego.
FOR Status of Visitation At All MARICOPA COUNTY Jails
Each of the jails in Maricopa County now has a recorded message providing updated information regarding visitation status at their facilities (e.g., if there is a lockdown in place which prevents visitation, etc.). Supposedly, the messages are updated on a daily basis, but we checked each number before posting them below and found that not all of them are up-to-date. However, we are posting this information to facilitate access to jail visitation as much as possible.
Towers Jail (602) 876-1679
Estrella Jail (602) 876-1222
Durango Jail (602) 876-3555
Fourth Avenue Jail (602) 876-9001
Lower Buckeye Jail (602) 876-6007
Tent City (602) 876-1735
Rumor Control for Maricopa County Jails: No, Joe Arpaio is not on probation himself. No, his wife and family don't have personal connections to the inmate commissaries.
Q: Are Prisoners who've paid room and board while in prison (while working for an ACI job, etc.) entitled to have their money returned to them upon release? No, this isn't true. State law allows prisoners who work at jobs contracted with private businesses to be charged for room, board, restitution, fines, child support, or any other applicable costs, etc. No refund is due to anyone who pays such fees while in prison. In fact, it doesn't even make sense to believe this to be true. Why would the State authorize that Room and Board be charged to a prisoner who is being provided Room and Board (housing and food, etc.) and then give the money back after the person is released? Prisoners who work at jobs where Room and Board charges are applicable know when they accept the job (which pays much higher wages than regular prison jobs) that they will pay such charges from their paychecks. If they don't agree to the Room and Board charges, they can refuse to work at these particular jobs. There are plenty of prisoners waiting in line who are willing to replace them (to earn the higher wages.) Even AFTER the Room and Board charges are deducted from the paycheck, as well as court-ordered restitution, child support or other fees, these prisoners usually have larger paychecks than prisoners who work for regular (W.I.P.P.) wages. This rumor seems to have been circulating among women prisoners, and it simply is not true.
Q: Has the BLUM decision, which requires the DOC to store property until the release of a prisoner has been overturned by the courts, along with the controlling statute ARS 31-228 (A)? No, if an item of value is taken from a prisoner while he/she is incarcerated (as long as the item is not contraband), then the Department is required to store the item until the release of the prisoner. The prisoner cannot be forced to mail the property to someone on his/her visitation list, and the state is not permitted to confiscate the property. However, a person may not have an item in storage (a grand fathered TV, for example) AND have one that he/she purchased from the Inmate Store. In such a case, the stored TV would "count" against the prisoner's allowable limit on TV's, which is -- one. The BLUM decision still stands a Black Letter law on inmate personal property storage in Arizona's prisons (Middle Ground won this lawsuit on appeal many years ago), and ARS 31-228 (A) still controls the storage of inmate property that is not permitted to be in the inmates' immediate possession.
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