Rumors sometimes run rampant within the inmate population for many reasons too numerous to review here. You can rely upon what you read below:
RUMOR: INSTEAD OF DEDUCTING $100 FROM AN INMATES' WAGES FOR GATE MONEY UPON RELEASE, THE DEPARTMENT IS NOW DEDUCTING $250. This is true and is legal. At the 2018 legislative session, the DOC was authorized to deduct up to $250 in earned wages from a prisoner for placement in a dedicated discharge account (life term prisoners have up to $50 deducted). This is a "forced" savings account (which, unfortunately, does not grow or earn interest while on deposit) to be given on a debit card to the inmate upon release. Obviously, it provides a slightly better cushion for someone than having $100 upon release. It was passed as an emergency measure and went into effect immediately upon the Governor's signature. The same legislative proposal also provided for a process by which inmates can request disbursement from their inmate trust accounts for approved expenses prior to their release, mostly related to immediate family-related expenses. Prisoners should review the Inmate Banking Policies for specifics which are too detailed to mention here.
RUMOR: IF A PERSON APPLIES FOR A COMMUTATION OF SENTENCE, THE WORST OUTCOME IS THAT HIS SENTENCE CAN ACTUALLY INCREASE FROM WHAT WAS ORIGINALLY IMPOSED. This is false. An application for commutation of sentence is filed in the executive branch of government, and it essentially asks the Board of Executive Clemency to recommend a sentence reduction to the Governor. If at any point in the process the application is denied, then the prisoner's sentence remains the same and does not change at all. Neither the Board nor the Governor has the legal authority to INCREASE a person's sentence.
The way this rumor likely began is with some petitioners who apply through the SENTENCING COURT for a PCR (Post Conviction Relief) Petition or through a direct appeal. A successful PCR (also called a "Rule 32") seeks to overturn either an illegal plea agreement or an illegal sentencing hearing. If successful in doing so, it is possible -- in rare circumstances -- for the defendant to end up with a longer or harsher sentence than the one originally imposed. If successful at a direct appeal and a new trial is ordered, it is possible that the defendant could end up with more prison time than he originally was sentenced to due to being convicted at a new, subsequent trial of additional counts, etc. But this is rare and can sometimes be challenged as "vindictive prosecution."
In any case, there is ABSOLUTELY NO RISK FOR AN INCREASED SENTENCE TO AN APPLICANT WHO FILES FOR A COMMUTATION OF SENTENCE.
RUMOR: The new First Step Act, passed by Congress and signed into law by Trump will reduce state prisoner's sentences, require them to be housed in a prison closer to home, and provide an increase in the number of days of earned release credits that a state prisoner can earn.
TRUTH: No, the First Step Act applies to FEDERAL prisoners only. It has zero impact on any state-sentenced prisoner.
RUMOR: Arizona has passed a law to allow sentences to be 50% for non-violent offenders and 65% for violent offenders, plus it applies retroactively to people already in prison.
TRUTH: The legislative session for Arizona does not even begin until the second week of January 2019. No bills have yet even been considered by any committee, much less passed into law by both the House and the Senate and signed by the Governor. The Quaker group, AFSC, has spoken about a bill they hope to support which will, as they advertise, do the above. However, their announced calculation of earned release credits amounts to having violent and repeat offenders serve 75% of their sentence; not 65%. Also, they are apparently unaware of existing laws which mandate that earned release credits do not reduce the overall amount of a prisoner's sentence. So, if a person who is sentenced to 10 years for a non-violent crime, for example, only serves 50% of it, and then serves 15% of it on community supervision, he will STILL have 35% of the imposed sentence remaining, and AFSC has no explanation or suggestion about how that would be monitored or managed. This would be a major stumbling block unless legislators are willing to ALLOW the earning of release credits to reduce the total amount of the sentence to be served. They also want to propose that all changes to sentencing be retroactive, but this would create a bureaucratic nightmare for DOC to re-calculate the release eligibility dates of thousands of prisoners. They want all changes to apply to non-violent, violent and repeat offenders. We don't believe these proposals have a remote chance of being passed into law and, unfortunately, many prisoners and their families are being given false hope that the Arizona Legislature -- which has members who must run for re-election every 2 years, including in the Senate -- will support dramatic criminal justice reform measures. While we support sentencing reform too, we believe that any sentencing law changes will be much more modest, will not include violent or sex offenders due to the fear of negative media attention toward legislators who support such legislation, and will not be made retroactive if changes are made at all. We believe this is a much more REALISTIC expectation. Time will tell. But for now, no changes at all have occurred and the First Step Act should not be confused with anything that affects state-sentenced prisoners in Arizona or in any other state.
MEDICAL/MENTAL HEALTH CARE WITHIN ADOC IS SUBJECT TO FINDINGS OF CONTEMPT FOR DIRECTOR RYAN
Honorable David Duncan, U.S. District Court Judge/Phoenix, has given the DOC until January 2018 to come into compliance with previously agreed upon Performance Measures (100 of them) as part of the now three-year-old settlement agreement in the Parsons v. Ryan class action lawsuit. Middle Ground director Donna Hamm has attended most of the court hearings and has heard the shocking revelations about DOC -- in concert with its private healthcare provider, Corizon -- with regard to healthcare for Arizona's prisoners. We heard about how Corizon purchased massage tables, rather than more expensive, but medically required exam tables with stirrups, which rendered them unable to conduct PAP smears on female inmates. We sat in court when the DOC introduced into evidence their "Temperature Logs," which are required to be kept because when temperatures exceed 85 degrees in housing areas, they have to move inmates whose medication is adversely affected by heat or high temps, and saw that the logs had not only been falsified (they submitted post-dated logs), but the readings were absured to any intelligent life form -- reading were recorded as "300 degrees," 900 degrees," and so on. We heard the Judge actually call one of the Sgts who had testified in court a "liar." We heard the Judge announce that it is clear to him that the Complex Wardens don't know what is going on "on the ground" in their own institutions. We heard him speak about how when he went for a visit to one of the Medical Depts (Perryville), it was so hot in the waiting room that he began sweating profusely and he ruined his hearing aid. And, during all of this, the $400/hour lawyers hired by DOC to represent them (not to mention Attorney General lawyers who participate via telephone in the hearings) try their best to make excuses for the deplorable conduct by the DOC/Corizon.
One performance measure seems pretty straight forward. It requires the DOC, when moving an inmate from unit to unit or from one complex to another, to transfer his medication with him and to insure that when he lands in his new cell, his medication is in the same unit with him so that it can be continued without interruption. Sounds logical; simple enough; correct? No, the DOC cannot seem to grasp this simple task in a way that allows them to be in compliance with this Performance Measure more than about 45-60 % of the time. Seems like a simple written checklist for the van driver would be in order; no? DOC simply can't'won't do it. We strongly suspect that it is due to the "culture" that pervades DOC. That is to say, many employees adopt the attitude "that is above my pay grade," or "that isn't in my job description," which means if they are assigned as security or a van driver, they don't care what happens in another Department, such as Medical.
The proposed sanction against DOC will be a fine of $1,000/incident of failure to meet a performance measure (and, according to the settlement agreement, the best they ever have to perform at is 85% compliance). If the Court finds the Director in contempt in January, the fines will amount very quickly to millions of dollars.. That's YOUR tax dollars that will pay the fine.
Stay tuned. Meanwhile, inmates suffer and die each day due to the abominable medical care within the Arizona Dept. of Corrections. We will continue to closely monitor this case, as well as to pass along all medical/mental health complaints that are sent to us.
Added: October 2017
Death Row Inmates Will Now Be Allowed to Be Classified to Close Custody
As a result of a lawsuit filed by a death row inmate, based on 8th Amendment and Due Process grounds, beginning by about July 2017, qualified death row inmates will no longer be required to be permanently housed at maximum custody levels of classification. Instead, well-behaved and otherwise qualified death row inmates will be allowed to be moved to "Close" custody -- which means they will have contact visits, group meals and recreation, job and programming opportunities, etc., just like all other Close Custody inmates. The death-sentenced prisoners will be housed in a unit by themselves, but their treatment and privileges will be the same as other Close Custody prisoners. They no longer will be subject to "permanent" assignment to Maximum Custody (SMU/Browning Unit) for the duration of their time in prison. This is a good "win" for the affected population. And many death row prisoners have spotless disciplinary records. Those who don't, or those who have active STG relationships will still remain in Max custody, but the incentive to earn their way to Close Custody will be strong. This cohort of inmates will not be permitted to go lower than Close Custody.
My son has been offered an opportunity to sign a waiver form to go into the "IHP." What is this program and how does it affect my son?
A few years ago, a Black inmate sued the ADOC, claiming that he had been the victim of racial discrimination in housing and jobs within DOC. The DOC decided to settle the matter out of court. The settlement, signed in 2015, stipulates that DOC must racially and ethnically integrate their housing and jobs in all state-operated prisons over the five years beginning in 2016. Hence, IHP is INTEGRATED HOUSING PROGRAM. The first units chosen for integration in 2016 were North Unit/Florence and Santa Rita/Tucson. According to the settlement, inmates were supposed to be offered incentives to agree to house with a person of another race or ethnic group. By the end of the five-year period of the stipulated settlement, all units and all jobs within the state-operated system are to be integrated. Private prisons were not included in the settlement. Volunteers were sought and we are uncertain as to what incentives were offered. In fact, upon information and belief, it is our impression that some inmates who have sought protective custody and have been denied are, instead, being "offered" IHP instead. This is an inappropriate way for DOC to limit their PC population and we are checking into whether this is actually happening or not. Meanwhile, some inmates are volunteering for IHP. We don't know if there have been major problems with implementation of IHP or not. Inmates who are excluded from the requirement for IHP are validated or strongly associated STG (gang) members and some others. But by approximately 2020, the state prisons will be presumed to be integrated. We'll see. If your loved one is offered IHP, we urge him to consider voluntary placement there, as he will end up in IHP on an involuntary basis in a few years anyway. Posted March 2017.
WILL ARIZONA SOON BAN ALL SMOKING PRODUCTS TO BE SOLD AT INMATE COMMISSARY/STORES? No. Although the Department is required by law to ban smoking inside all state-owned buildings (for employess and inmates alike, according to Director Charles Ryan, there is no current plan to stop selling smoking materials at inmate stores. Inmates will continue to be allowed to smoke in outdoor designated areas. Of course, we know that inmates do, in fact, smoke inside their dorms and in other locations, and this can be a great source of irritation to those who don't smoke and who don't wish to inhale secondhand smoke, but who fear retaliation if they report the smokers to prison staff. In any case, the rumor that all smoking will be banned is not true. December 2014.
WILL ARIZONA SOON BE MOVING PRISONERS WHO WERE FORMERLY CLASSIFIED AS PROTECTIVE SEGREGATION INMATES INTO GENERAL POPULATION ON THE THEORY THAT SOME OF THEM NO LONGER "NEED" PROTECTION? This rumor has been presented to us and seems to have some legs because some current PC prisoners have reported that they have been interviewed by SSU staff about moving them to GP. We certainly hope this is not true. Many years ago, we participated in a lawsuit which ultimately was resolved in the District Court of Arizona, Does 1-5 v. Stewart, which prohibited the Department of Corrections from arbitrarily limiting the number of beds that it could allocate to protective segregation inmates. Instead, the court said that the DOC had to provide "all the protective custody beds that are needed." At the time, then-Director Sam Lewis (who was replaced by Terry Stewart) attempted to arbitrarily limit PC to just 100 beds within the entire prison system. They attempted to move more than a hundred previously classified PC inmates into general population. As most advocates know, once a person has been in PC, and is considered a "snitch" by other inmates for any reason, he can never return to geneeral population, even if he leaves prison and returns on another sentence later on. There will always be someone who will remember him. For this reason, Middle Ground will strongly oppose any current attempt by the Department of Corrections to arbitrarily reduce its PC beds or to move prisoners out of PC into GP, just because they desire to reduce the total number of prisoners classified to PC. In 2014, there are over 9,000 prisoners in PC in Arizona and that is due, in part, to the fact that the Department has no control over gangs, illegal use of cellphones for systemwide communication among prisoners and gangs, and the proliferation of drugs, extortion and other activities which cause prisoners to ultimately require protective custody in the first place.
MIDDLE GROUND'S WORK ON THE BOTCHED ARIZONA EXECUTION: See our letter to the Governor; click link here
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.
Our advice: 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. 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: 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 could not find any case law to support a challenge to this policy and can only conclude that a legal challenge would allow a court to 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 you 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.