Rumors sometimes run rampant within the inmate population, for many reasons too numerous to review here. You can rely upon what you read below:
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.
Updated May 1 , 2013
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.
The state is broke; government agency services are being cut; the future revenue projections are bleak -- isn't it likely that the legislature will vote soon to drastically reduce prison sentences or to let prisoners go home on early releases? No, it isn't likely at all that this will happen. To some people, this proposal might seem reasonable and even feasible. To legislators, who are politicians, it is not only unreasonable, it is ridiculous to "risk" public safety by releasing convicted criminals (no matter what type of crime convicted of) early from their already imposed prison sentences. There are plenty of groups (prosecutors, victim's rights, hard-line right-wing politicians, etc.) who believe that the more people who are locked up in prison, the safer our communities are. So, the method that Arizona's leadership has taken thus far to deal with the budget crisis is to cut / slash operating budgets for many departments and programs that serve the elderly, children, mentally ill, indigent, etc.; to raise tuition at state universities; to close parks and rest stops; etc. in order to preserve and protect "public safety" budgets -- the Arizona Department of Corrections and the Department of Public Safety. That is not to say that these agencies are not suffering some cuts, but they are not taking the same type of "hits" as other agencies. Although we will continue to urge legislators to examine the prospect of reduced sentences for Class 4, 5 and 6 felony offenses, and to reinstate early release eligibility for certain classes of offenders, we also understand the reality that there is much powerful, effective opposition to such proposals. The chances are almost nil that any proposals to reduce prison sentences or provide for early releases of currently incarcerated/sentenced offenders will occur at all.
We are sorry to predict that we don't realistically envision major changes to the criminal code in upcoming legislative sessions, either for newly convicted offenders or for those already sentenced. There may be some tinkering with some minor issues, but no one should expect major criminal code changes and certainly NO changes will be retroactive to those already in prison.
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 did pass 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: Will There Be Major
Changes in the current (Truth-in-sentencing) Criminal
Code ? This
rumor rears its ugly head each and every year.
The 85% sentencing code (effective as of 1/1/94)
is still in effect. No new laws have been introduced,
much less passed into law, which reduce the 1994 criminal
sentencing code from the 85% law to a 65% law.
For crimes committed on or after January 1, 1994, the
defendant -- if sentenced to prison -- will serve approximately
85% of the imposed sentence before becoming eligible
for release. In addition, each person sentenced for a crime after 1/1/94 will be sentenced to serve approximately 15% of the imposed sentence on community supervision status after release from secure confinement. There is no possibility, by the way, that the Legislature or the Governor would sign into law a bill that would restore parole eligibility or even commutation eligibility for those convicted of violent crimes who are currently ineligible. Public sentiment is clearly against such action and legislators pay a great deal of attention to the direction in which the wind is blowing.
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.
for news articles or advocacy letters of interest:
Middle Ground's Objections To Elimination of 25 to Life Sentences (2012)
Did They Actually Do It?
to Key Legislators Urging Independent Investigation
of Hostage Scandal
Hamm's Letter to the Editor/Arizona Republic 2/5/04hoenix
New Times 2/6/04 Article About
"Whitewash" Investigation of Hostage Scandal
Inmates Are Real Burden To Prison System