Middle Ground Prison Reform
139 East Encanto Drive
Tempe, Arizona 85281
Donna Leone Hamm, Judge (Retired)
James J. Hamm
Director of Program & Advocacy Services
February 9, 2004
LETTER HAND DELIVERED TO LEGISLATIVE LEADERS:
The purpose of this letter is to express our concern that the investigation into the recent
Arizona prison hostage scandal, including the entire incident and all surrounding and related
circumstances, must be a genuinely credible and independent investigation. The entire event,
including management of the critical incident itself and the hostage negotiations, as well as other
seemingly unrelated factors -- such as inmate classification, staff training, salaries for prison
guards, turnover rates, selection and promotion of administrators, etc. -- needs to be examined
for what the incident and other factors can tell us about how this crisis occurred and about how
a similar tragedy can be prevented in the future.
DOC Director Dora Schriro, has already publicly stated that "the only two individuals
responsible for this incident" are in custody and that they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent
of the law. This comment clearly indicates that she already plans to deflect responsibility from
any errors her department made that allowed the initial incident to escalate to such unprecedented
levels. No other conclusion legitimately can be drawn from the statement. Ms. Schriro
personally advised us at Middle Ground, and also has stated publicly that her first several months
at her job were spent performing a detailed review of security and program procedures at every
institution on every shift. In her own words to us, in public hearings to the legislative
Ad Hoc Working Group on Sentencing Reform, and at other forums, she repeatedly stated that
she found the found the staff and security procedures "impressive."
NEED FOR TRULY INDEPENDENT INVESTIGATION
Substantial reasons why a completely independent investigation of this incident should
take place. Among them are:
- Credibility -- The Director of the DOC, Ms. Dora Schriro, was the "incident
commander" in charge of handling the prison hostage crisis. Allowing the person in
charge to confirm her own decisions and to select the facts that fit her perspective does
not constitute a legitimate investigation into the causes and circumstances of this crisis.
Governor Napolitano was a key player in aggressively manipulating the media and in
excessively restricting access to information during the entire 15-day incident. In
addition, she made major negotiation decisions with respect to the hostage-takers requests
to be moved out of state (and other unknown decisions and positions). She and her
appointed staff lack an ethical or credible position to evaluate or investigate the incident
or the management of the incident. Perhaps most importantly, Governor Napolitano's
known political aspirations constitute a vested interest in managing the content of a
preliminary investigation and a final report, so as not to damage her future prospects. On
a lesser scale, Director Schriro's yet unconfirmed appointment to her job by the Senate
also constitutes a vested interest in conflict with a genuinely objective investigation and
evaluation. The motivations of the people conducting the investigation must be beyond
- Comprehensiveness of the Investigation/Expertise: In all of the United States of America,
there has never been a prison standoff/incident of this magnitude. Dora Schriro has no
experience evaluating incidents of this type, nor do any of her staff. The Governor's staff
is equally inexperienced. National interest will be focused on Arizona, at least in
correctional circles. This must be a quality investigation, with "spin control" left off the
- Scope of Investigation: Thus far, the Department has released limited information that
raises more questions than it answers. We are not confident that the Department
comprehends the scope of questions that should be addressed by an independent
investigation. For example:
- COTA Training/Civilian Worker Training - The training of the non-uniformed
employees as well as the uniformed guards involved in this incident - from the
kitchen to the guard tower -- must be evaluated. An objective evaluation,
however, must, of necessity, include serious questions about both the training and
the trainers at the prison guard training academy.
- There needs to be a review of administrative and policy decisions that were made
with respect to operation, staffing and security procedures utilized in the kitchen,
on the early morning shift, in the yard at that time of day, for entry to the guard
- Who developed the guard tower entry/exit procedures that were in use on
February 18, 2004? What Warden, Deputy Warden, Regional Manager, DOC
Director, etc., signed off on the failed policy? What other serious or security-related policies has that same person developed? Which policies are still in place
at other institutions?
- The people who designed the Lewis facility had access to recommended security
procedures for its operation and use. Who in the Arizona Department of
Corrections reviewed them? What modifications, if any, were made to those
procedures since the opening of the Lewis Complex? What were the justifications
for those modifications? One of the details ultimately revealed to the media
included the fact that large quantities of prescription drugs were stored in the
tower. Independent sources have informed Middle Ground that prescription
medications for inmates in that Unit were stored in and dispensed from the tower.
The security implication that arises from this circumstance includes the fact that
heavy traffic to and from the tower area becomes an accepted - almost
commonplace - daily or weekly occurrence. This, in turn, affects not only the
security procedures that control access to the tower, but also the attitude and level
of alertness that is associated with anyone approaching the tower.
- The DOC director was quoted in the Arizona Republic newspaper as stating, "I
know the law is not on my side," as she refused to provide information. She stated
that she was intent on protecting prison employee privacy and personal
information. She is a person trained in the law, and she blatantly violates the law
by refusing to disclose unprivileged information; just exactly how forthcoming or
comprehensive do we expect her report will be? Can we expect that the subtitle
of her report will be entitled "DON'T GO THERE."
- The investigation needs to include interviews of the twenty-four other inmates of
the Kitchen work crew who were locked in a storage room after Coy and
Wassenaar took over the kitchen facility on January 18, 2004. Thus far, none of
their names have been released. Further, the investigation needs to explore which
inmates on the Morey yard may have known of Coy and Wassenaar's plans in
advance, and why they did not come forward with the information. Generally
speaking, there would have been five or six inmates who knew of the escape plot
by Coy and Wassenaar - but usual "intelligence" sources, if working properly,
would reveal the plot before it was activated. There are reasons why the inmate
population are not coming forth with such information, and it very likely is related
to a strong resentment/bitterness about the unfairness or arbitrariness of many of
the staff toward inmates.
- How did Wassenaar manage to get a shaving device (razor) and a shank
(homemade knife) into the kitchen area in the first place? What security measures
are utilized for entry to the kitchen area? We only assume that some inventory is
taken of kitchen implements that are supposed to remain in the kitchen whenever
inmates leave the area upon completion of their shift . . .
- How did one inmate (Wassenaar) overpower two guards in the tower, when both
guards had access to guns, pepper spray, handcuffs, night sticks, etc? This
occurred prior to his possession of a gun, and before Coy arrived at the tower.
- How long have the verbal response security codes been in effect and in open use?
From insider information, we know that the same codes for "security check"
("Code 20") and "all clear" ("Code 4") have been used for at least the last twenty
years. Isn't it time to modify them so that inmates don't readily know them?
- How did Wassenaar, once in the tower, learn so quickly the operation of the gates
and doors (he fired rounds into the yard to assist Coy away from officers in the
prison yard, and then provided Coy with access to the tower area and then to the
tower itself). Is the electronic system so self-evident that it requires literally no
training at all (even automatic checkout areas in grocery stores require a bit of
time and experience to learn to operate correctly)? Are all the buttons labeled to
make it easy for anyone to operate the panel?
In brief, we strongly urge the Legislature to take charge of this investigation immediately,
and prior to any sorting, revising, compiling or synopsizing of information. Arizonans deserve
nothing less than full disclosure - however painful or revealing the facts may be to one of the
state's largest agencies - so that there is a complete understanding of all the underlying
circumstances which led to this major scandal in United States prison history.
While the Director of DOC has a vested interest in convincing her employer (the
Governor), the Legislature (her benefactors at budget time) and the media (her "team", as she
referred to them at the end of the hostage standoff on February 1, 2004), that the only two people
responsible for the crisis are now locked away, we believe that she should not be permitted to do
so at the expense of a legitimate, thorough and independent investigation into all of the fact - the
unvarnished facts - of this crisis.
Donna Leone Hamm
James J. Hamm
Director of Program and Advocacy Services