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Welcome to our website!  We hope the information posted here is helpful, especially if you are attempting to navigate the difficult and sometimes confusing and insensitive criminal justice system in Arizona.   Arizona has one of the harshest criminal codes in the USA and our state prison system is rife with problems: lack of professional medical care, gangs who harm or extort inmates or their families, cruel or negligent treatment of the mentally ill, overuse of solitary confinement cells, rule-breaking by prison guards, lack of cohesive rehabilitation programming, unfair discplinary system, among many other issues.  Arizona is the only state where visitors are charged a fee when applying for visitation at the state prisons, and none of the fee is used for visitation purposes.  Arizona prisons also have the largest population of protective custody inmates, which implies that the system is becoming more dangerous for inmates.   Security procedures employed at the prisons are often just for "show" and are meaningless in providing actual security.  Only in 2016, after inmate litigation, has the Arizona Dept. of Corrections attempted to integrate its housing units and job offerings.  Middle Ground Prison Reform has been in continuous operation since 1983 and we are the only agency or organization in Arizona whose sole purpose is to provide "watchdog" services over prisons and jails in our state.  Donna Leone Hamm, Director, has been appointed to the DOC Director's Stakeholder Committee, as mandated by Gov. Ducey, to advise the Department on various constituent issues or concerns (2017).


Mission StatementTo protect and define the rights, responsibilities, and privileges of the incarcerated. 

We support genuine efforts at rehabilitation of criminal offenders, which, in turn, fully restores them to our communities, promotes family stability, authentic long-term public safety, and reduces the numbers of crime victims in our society.  We engage in efforts to hold government agencies and their agents accountable for the tax dollars used to support prisons, jails, and other criminal justice activities. We perform this work via public education, legislative advocacy, litigation, and referral to existing social services.  We serve as a clearinghouse for relevant information affecting the incarcerated and their supporters.

Note:  Middle  Ground is an advocacy organization.  We are not a law firm.  We are not  a direct social service delivery agency.  Therefore, we do not provide or locate jobs, tools, clothing, educational loans, housing assistance or rentals, financial assistance or any other direct social services.  See our referrals to such agencies on the Menu item called "Ex Offender Information" page (left column).  We don't provide free attorneys to assist with criminal appeals or civil rights, personal injury or other types of litigation. Consulting services  by James or Donna Hamm for individual issues  and expert services are available as a fee-based service; an appoitment is necessary.  No walk-ins are permitted to our offices.  See our "Individualized Advocacy" category.


THIS IS OUR POLICY ON ANSWERING SNAIL-MAIL:   Presently, there are more than 40,000 people incarcerated in the state's prison system.  In addition, about 10,000 people are incarcerated in the Maricopa County Jail at any given time.  On average, we receive about 300 letters and/or post cards each month.  Many of the letters contain lengthy correspondence outlining facts about a criminal appeal, providing detailed medical records, or requesting review of hundreds of pages of documents, etc.  We are sorry to say that we are unable to personally respond to each piece of mail.  We simply don't have the staff, volunteers or budget to do so.  We do try to read the mail so that we can stay abreast of what is happening that is of concern to prisoners, but it is impossible to answer each individual letter or package sent to us.  We regret the inability to do so.  In addition, by law we are not responsible for unsolicited mail.  No one should send original documents or sole copies of any document.  Stamps are welcome and will enhance, but not guarantee, a reply.  We do not publish a hard copy newsletter.  Instead, we encourage visitors to this site to download and send copies of pertinent information to prisoners.  Please review mail regulations/policy before doing so and advise us in detail if you have difficulties getting web site materials into the prison units.   AGAIN, WE ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR UNSOLICITED MAIL OR LEGAL DOCUMENTS THAT ARE SENT TO US. WE  WILL NOT BE ABLE TO RETURN THEM UNLESS FULL RETURN POSTAGE IS SENT WITH THE DOCUMENTS.  PLEASE DO NOT SEND ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS OR THE ONLY COPY OF AN IMPORTANT DOCUMENT!





Prior to your first consultation appointment, visit the State Bar of Arizona web site and click on "Working with an Attorney, " to determine if the attorney you are meeting with has any past serious disciplinary information posted.  Depending upon the nature of the discipline, you can use your own judgment about whether you wish to proceed to retain this attorney.  Feel free to ask him or her questions about the disciplinary action and what steps the attorney has taken to insure that the infraction or conduct will not occur in the future.  If the attorney refuses to discuss these matters with you, especially since the information is posted as a public record, you need to decide if this is someone you want to trust with your own legal problems or needs. 

The Arizona Bar information, however, will give you only minimal information about a disciplinary action; no details about what the lawyer did to result in the discipline will e revealed.  To obtain the full details of any lawyer's behavior which led to disciplinary action, you must visit the Arizona Supreme Court web site or contact the State Bar.  Only the Supreme Court can impose discipline; the State Bar can only recommend it.

The State Bar publishes suggested questions for someone to ask when a person is preparing to retain an attorney.   Those questions are listed on their web site, also under the tab, "Working With An Attorney."  However,  the Bar's suggested questions are not very probing, seem rather superficial, and clearly do not provide sufficient, detailed information, especially when one considers that hiring an attorney -- especially for a criminal matter -- often means placing a second mortgage on a house, dipping into retirement accounts or life savings; etc.  We suggest, when hiring a criminal defense attorney, that you add to the State Bar's suggested questions by asking:

1.  Have you ever been the subject of a state bar or supreme court disciplinary action of any type?  In Arizona?  In any other state or jurisdiction in which you've practiced?            

2.  If so, what was it and where can I read about it?  Will you give me a copy of the final decision?

3.  What complaint is most often made about you or your firm from your clients?4.  What have you done (or are you doing) to resolve those concerns?

5.  Can I receive a hard copy of all the records on my case each time you file something with the court, or communicate with the state?  If not, why not?  If so,

     will I be charged for those copies?  How much per page?

6.  Can I give you a direct order that I don't wish to waive my presence at any court appearances, no matter how minor they seem to you, on my case?  If not, why not?     For what types of hearings would you ordinarily waive an appearance of your client?  Or, another way of addressing the same issue is:

7.  If I tell you now, before I hire you, that I want to be included in all in camera conferences in the judge's chambers which involve my case, will you agree to insure that I am present for such conferences?  If not, why not?

8.   If you or your family are told (prior to retaining the attorney) that he/she can get the client out of (jail/prison) within a specific amount of time, ask:  Will you put that uarantee in writing with an agreement to refund my fee in full if you do not succeed?  If not, why not?  Have I misunderstood something you said?

9.    If I am convicted of (these) charges, at what point will you file a Notice of Withdrawal as my attorney of record?  Before filing the Notice of Appeal/PCR?  If so, who will file the Notices which involve time-dated deadlines?

10.  If I am convicted of (these) charges (or agree to a plea agreement), will you insure that I have at least 48 hours to review the entire PSR (Pre sentence Investigation Report) prior to the sentencing hearing, so that I can insure that it is complete and accurate?  If I find significant errors, will you assure me that these errors will be incorporated into a Revised/Amended PSR which will be attached by court order to the original PSR, so that the Department of Corrections will have both the original and the corrected version for its files?

11.  Will you put the above agreements/provisions in your Fee Agreement/Contract?  If not, why not?

12.  When clients compliment you on your representation, what types of comments do they make?

13.  Can I or my family tape record meetings with you to insure that we correctly remember the contents of our conversations?  If not, why not?  Do you object to my taking otes on our conversations?

14.  Are you familiar with A.R.S. 13-603 (L)?  Please explain it to me.  (Note: This is a statute which allows the defense attorney -- at the time of sentencing only -- to request that the sentencing judge issue an Order which permits the defendant to apply to the Board of Executive Clemency for a sentence reduction IF, AND ONLY IF, THE JUDGE BELIEVES THAT THE SENTENCE TO BE IMPOSED IS 'CLEARLY EXCESSIVE.'  This statute would not apply, for example, to someone who is sentenced to the super-mitigated term of imprisonment, etc.)  If a criminal defense attorney indicates that he/she is not familiar with ARS 13-603 (L), think carefully about hiring that individual.  It would mean that the person really doesn't extend himself for his clients and isn't up-to-date on all factors which affect a client's sentencing hearing.

15.  Will you be the person working on my case, or will the case be assigned to an associate attorney who works in your office?  How much work can I expect YOU to perform on the case?  Who will appear in court on the case -- you or your associate?

*  NOTE:  A state bar or supreme court disciplinary action is different from a state bar complaint.  Anyone can file a complaint, and many do.  Many complaints are simply unfounded or are filed by a disgruntled client.  An actual disciplinary action (which can result in anything from an informal reprimand all the way up to complete disbarment) means that the original complaint was found to have merit and that action was ultimately taken against the lawyer to impose consequences of some type for that behavior.   From start to finish, especially in a claim that has merit, the process of disciplining a licensed attorney is a very long and slow process.

Is it advisable to be wary of or refuse to hire an attorney who has been previously disciplined while serving as an officer of the court in a position of the highest trust?   Often, yes.  Only you and your family can be the judge.    Remember, ask questions and get all agreements in writing -- especially if the attorney promises a particular outcome to your case. As previously stated above, for example, if the attorney says, "I'll get him out in six months. . . " (if you'll just write that check and hire me),  ask the attorney to put that promise in writing with a money-back guarantee.   Read every word of every document before signing it.  A Fee Agreement is a legal contract, just as a Plea Agreement is a legal contract. 


If you decide you are not pleased with the services of an attorney you have already hired, you can fire him. Call him by telephone, but ALSO put the information in WRITING and send it by certified mail to the attorney.  Tell him on the telephone and in writing to cease working on your case immediately and to submit to you an itemized account of all fees he has expended (against the retainer or fee you have already paid).  You should expect to receive such accounting within 30 days.  Ask for all records of the case to be returned to you (arrange to pick them up in person, if possible).  If you feel that the attorney has charged you far too much money and has not been able to account for it by demonstrating actual work on your case, you can file a complaint with the State Bar "Fee Arbitration" section.  Even if the Fee Agreement that you signed with an attorney states that your retainer is for a "flat rate" fee, your fee or a portion of it is still refundable if you take the right steps.  READ YOUR FEE AGREEMENT.   The process of obtaining a refund from an uncooperative attorney will not move quickly, so don't count on return of any funds from one attorney before you can hire another, but sometimes the Bar does order the attorney to refund portions of fees that are considered to be excessive when compared with the amount of work performed.  Contact the State Bar of Arizona for forms that allow the fee arbitration process to begin.                                                                                      


DON'T BE PRESSURED BY THE ARIZONA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS OR BY CORIZON TO PURCHASE RECORDS THAT YOU DON'T REALLY WANT OR NEED!  Due to medical information/records privacy laws, in order to obtain medical or psychological records for an inmate (whether you are a family member, an attorney, or other), you must first obtain a signed and witnessed "Medical Information Release Authorization Form" from the inmate.  The inmate him/herself can obtain the form from the Medical Dept. at the prison, fill it out and send it to you or, for attorneys, you can use your own form which the Department must recognize.  A regular "Power of Attorney" form isn't recognized by the Department as adequate to provide access to medical records.

After the inmate signs the original of the form and sends it to you,  a COPY of it (keep the original) is forwarded to the Medical Provider (in this case, Corizon).  At this point, Corizon will count ALL the pages in the entire inmate's record and send you an invoice for each page, at $.50/page.  Don't pay it unless you want the entire record.  If, instead, you wish to examine the files and pick certain pages for a specific time frame or illness, you are permitted to do so even though they will not generally inform you of this!  They make you jump through several obstacles to personally examine records, not the least of which is the current requirement that you personally examine the records at some inconvenient  physical location, so it requires stamina, patience and time.

For inmates who have been incarcerated for years or who have serious medical problems, the medical/psychological files might be extremely voluminous.  Therefore, paying for all of the records might run into the hundreds of dollars.  You don't have to pay this charge unless you truly desire all of the records.  It is a way for the Department to: (1) be lazy, so that they don't have to deal with the inconvenience of a personal visitor who will sit in one of their offices as they examine a file; (2) make money from family, friends or attorneys for inmates (who pass along the cost of the records to their clients).

We have also discovered other problems when obtaining authorized medical/psychological records from the ADOC.  Be sure to insist that they collect/obtain records from all of their scattered files -- Institutional, Master Record, Medical/Mental Health, Hospital and all other files.  Also, when you examine the files (either in person or after you pay for all of them before seeing any of them), be sure to confirm that the records are up-to-date.  Our experience is that even when personally examining medical files, the latest entries are sometimes several months old at the time of examination.  What this really means is that the medical provider (Corizon) is maintaining yet another file on this particular inmate's medical record that they have not shared with the requesting party OR that their records on the inmate are not up-to-date!.

Finally, we have become aware of cases where an inmate has duly authorized a family member to examine and/or purchase copies of his medical/psychological file and -- although the paperwork has been filled out completely and properly -- the DOC staff or someone from Corizona will inform the inmate that  "no one can look at your file."  This is false and should be challenged. 

If anyone has difficulty obtaining or examining medical/psychological files -- after obtaining the required authorization forms -- please let us know.  A "Power of Attorney" is NOT the same as a Medical Information Release Authorization Form.                                                                           



Can't locate a prisoner or need to know his/her address in an Arizona prison?

First, visit the Arizona Department of Corrections websit at and check to see if the prisoner you are searching for is in their Inmate Datasearch.  A general location, such as "Eyman," may be listed for his location, or there might be more specific information, such as "Cook" (unit).  In any case, you would then go to "Prison Complexes" and either use the general/overall address for inmates who live at a particular complex, or the Post Office Box for the particular unit of a named complex.  If that doesn't work, unless you are a victim of a crime, you must call Constituent Services  at the Arizona Department of Corrections at:  (602) 364-3945 or, toll-free at 866-333-2039.


Do you know who your state legislators are?  If not, go to Vote Smart Organization and enter your zip code in the left-hand column.  

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The Balanced Approach

In Arizona, we spend millions of tax dollars on our prison system and jail system. We must ensure that those dollars are being spent wisely, effectively and carefully. We must define long-term public safety in such a way that it incorporates concern for the treatment received by offenders while incarcerated and the impact their treatment will have on their behavior once they are released into the community.  Long-term public safety MUST be the goal of any authentic correctional system.

Middle Ground recognizes that certain individuals are a danger to the citizens of Arizona and that vigilant incarceration is a primary concern for these offenders. We also recognize the necessity of:

-Identifying those offenders who sincerely wish to become productive, contributing citizens, and;

-Assisting them with vigorous efforts to correct themselves while serving their sentence.

Once incarcerated, every effort must be made to appropriately classify those who wish to correct themselves from those who refuse to change. Ethical, thoughtful, and professional programs must be offered, and humane treatment provided for ALL criminal offenders. It is both reasonable and prudent (in society's best interest) to foster the integration of corrected offenders into our community. This can only be accomplished by providing realistic opportunities for academic and vocational development, and for personal renewal in psychological and spiritual realms during the time of incarceration.

Prisons consist of large aggregations of people with serious social and/or psychological problems.  The staff are often composed of large aggregations of people who are either indifferent or  -- in far too many cases -- opposed to the idea of positive change.  Many so-called "correctional" staff simply do not believe that people can change.  This leads to lip service and false impressions regarding alleged programs of "rehabilitation."

There are many issues which need to be addressed in the prison reform arena.  Below is a list of some issues, but clearly is not exhaustive:

·                     the philosophy of prison "for" punishment, rather than "as" punishment

·                     brutality imposed on inmates by other inmates, and by staff on inmates

·                     the inhumanity of prison rules, policies, regulations, practices and day-to-day


·                     institutional indifference to an authentic correctional plan of action

·                     the treatment of the mentally ill and those with serious medical issues, including

                                    especially the lack of treatment for those with Hep C, TB and AIDS

·                     sexual harassment of female prisoners and sexual violence in general

·                     the lack of training in marketable job skills for prisoners

·                     the serious lack of release planning (and follow through by the DOC) and its consequences for recidivism

·                     the almost insurmountable obstacles faced by released offenders when they seek

                             jobs, housing, family reunification, restoration of rights, and general acceptance into the community


                      issues involving protective segregation of vulnerable prisoners

·                     gang violence and management

·                     staff training/professionalism/screening/recruitment

·                     the lack of commitment to or opportunity for meaningful post-secondary education

·                     the use of "super-max" (gulag-type) security units, and the consequences thereof

Middle Ground Prison Reform is dedicated to public education, legislative advocacy and litigation, when necessary, to protect and define the rights and responsibilities of prison and jail inmates and their loved ones.  We believe in a middle-of-the-road approach to solving problems and challenges, rather than one which supports the extreme of any position.

Note:  Middle Ground does not perform legal work, nor do we "provide" attorneys to represent clients or classes of clients in lawsuits, provide legal advice on any issue or represent clients before any judicial or administrative body.  We are an activist organization (as in above paragraph).  If you desire referral to an attorney, expert witness, mitigation specialist, or a person who prepares alternative pre sentence investigation reports, please call us at 480 966-8116.  Also, see the section called "Individualized Advocacy" on this web site.






If you'd like to view the eulogy for Marcia Powell, who was killed at the Perryville Prison on May 19, 2009, when prison guards placed her in an outdoor cage in the hot sun for a minimum of four (4) hours without shade or water, and without checking on her welfare, presented by Middle Ground's Director, Donna Hamm, CLICK HERE.  If you would like to view the letter we wrote to Gov. Jan Brewer (which was copied to the FBI and to the U.S. Dept. of Justice), asking for an independent criminal investigation of Marcia Powell's death, CLICK HERE.   If you wish to read our May 14, 2010 letter to County Attorney (Acting) Richard Romley, urging prosecution for the prison employees who killed Marcia Powell, CLICK HERE.  As a result of a decision made by the Maricopa County Attorney, no criminal charges were filed against any prison employee over Marcia's brutal death in prison at the hands of DOC employees.

On September 23, 2009, the Department of Corrections released a 3,000+ page report on their investigation into the death of Marcia Powell.  It is gruesome reading.  Some of the details include:

1.  Before Marcia was placed in the outdoor cage, she had passed out in her cell.  She told staff she was suicidal.  The Sgt. who saw Marcia lose consciousness never reported the incident to supervisors, despite the fact that Marcia said she was having trouble breathing.

2.  During the investigation, at least 20 inmates told investigators that Marcia was continuously requesting water, but it was denied.  All the guards who were interviewed said she was given water.  Staff are obviously willing to lie in a death investigation to "cover" for each other.

3.  Marcia was taking psychotropic medications at the time (prescribed) which made her particularly sensitive to the heat, but no medical personnel conveyed that fact to prison guards.

4.  After more than 2 hours (which was the maximum time allowed in the outdoor cage per policy), Marcia requested to be taken back to her indoor cell.  The request was denied.

5.  Marcia requested to use a restroom.  The request was denied.  She defecated in the cage.  Twice.  A guard discovered that she had soiled herself and left her right where she was.  Medical personnel would later discover feces underneath her fingernails and all over her back.

6.  The psych unit to which Marcia was awaiting transport should have accepted her hours before she died, but a series of "miscommunications" prevented her from being taken in.  Guards who were near the end of their shift did not want to begin the lengthy paperwork process required for a transfer, so they left the job for the next shift, which meant that Marcia was left in the cage for longer and longer amounts of time.

7.  No logs, as required by existing-at-the-time DOC policy, were kept on Marcia's time in the outdoor cage.  No one has been able to determine how long she was actually in the cage.  The DOC has claimed that is was about 3.5 hours.  It could have been much more and, according to some inmates who wrote to Middle Ground, is was much longer than 4 hours.

8.  Thermometers recorded Marcia's core body temperature at 108 degrees, but the temp could have been higher; the thermometers topped out at 108.

Our comments:  Reading about the "emerging details" contained in the DOC's 3,000 page investigative report on Marcia Powell's death is sickening.  Anyone with an iota of compassion for one's fellow man cannot help but be mortified to think about the horror of Marcia's final hours and minutes.  The actions of the DOC personnel go beyond cruel; they are barbaric.  One expects to read about this sort of thing in a Third-World country.  The number of people involved, the types of unprofessional conduct (euphemistically referred to by the DOC as "miscommunications"), and the seriousness of the actions taken or not taken lead inescapably to one conclusion:  namely, that Marcia Powell's death at Perryville was the tip of an iceberg that reveals a much larger and more endemic problem at the Perryville Complex (and perhaps throughout the DOC).  The 3,000 page report is an indictment of the Perryville corrections personnel on virtually every level, and clearly bespeaks not only a lack of staff training, but an extraordinarily serious problem with supervision.  There was obviously no belief whatsoever by numerous personnel that anyone had any duty to follow policy and procedure, or to actually care for the inmates in their care and custody.

The title of the 3,000 page investigative report should be, "BACKYARD BULLIES ON THE ARIZONA STATE PAYROLL."

To read Middle Ground's letter to the Governor, dated and sent September 24, 2009,CLICK HERE.

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