United States: "a culture of cruelty"
Protesters gathered at the Arizona Capitol on Friday afternoon, demanding the firing of Arizona Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan, and saying that the state's prison system has a "culture of cruelty."
ACLU of Arizona organized the protest, bringing about 30 people to meet at the state Department of Corrections building. The group then marched across the street to the Capitol to give a letter to Gov. Doug Ducey.
The event came three days after groups representing both Arizona prison guards and inmates came together to denounce what they called an "avalanche of negligence" in the state's prison system. The action comes about a week after an ABC15 investigation disclosed dangerous conditions at the Lewis Prison in Buckeye, including broken cell door locks that led to ambush-assaults on officers.
"Fallen on deaf ears for years"
"This is not just about the safety of correctional officers; this is also about the safety of incarcerated people and their health and that has fallen on deaf ears for years and years and years," said Analise Ortiz, a communications strategist for the ACLU of Arizona.
Erika Molett attended the protest because her father, Richard Washington, died in state prison in January.
"He was a healthy man, 180 pounds, and by the time we got his body from Pinal County to out here, he was 124 pounds," she said.
Molett says she doesn't know what caused her father's condition to deteriorate. But she found out that he had previously written a letter to his judge, saying that he was not getting the medical care he needed.
"I understand that they committed a crime; I do understand that. But they are not animals, and they have family out here that love them to death," she said.
A spokesman for the Arizona Department of Corrections did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday night.
At the time of Washington's death, Corizon spokesman Kurt Davis said, "We are confident that appropriate care was provided and that the investigation will yield similar findings.”
Arizona outsources its prison health care to private companies. Corizon currently has the contract.
Multiple organizations sign letter
Five organizations signed on to Friday's letter that was presented to Ducey's office, including the Arizona Prison Reform Movement, Puente Human Rights Movement, Living United for Change in Arizona, Poder in Action, and Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice.
Ducey was not in his office when the protesters arrived. They instead gave their letter to a legislative liaison.
Earlier in the afternoon at a press conference, Ducey was asked if Ryan is meeting his expectations as director in light of the recent reports about dangerous conditions in the prison system.
"I have an expectation. That expectation, from what I saw with this reporting, is not being met. So, we’re going to understand what’s there and we’re going to get to the bottom of it," Ducey said.
"We want to make certain that the correctional officers and prisoners are safe inside the prisons. That’s not what I saw."
The governor was speaking in reference to leaked video of inmates violently attacking corrections officers at Lewis Prison.
"We’re going to get to the bottom of it"
"We expect our prisons to be safe. We expect our men and women, as correctional officers, to be safe. And we expect problems like this to be resolved. We’re going to get to the bottom of it," Ducey said.
Arizona’s prisons also face an understaffing crisis in the wake of a 13-year freeze on officer pay. Corrections officials say the freeze has exacerbated already high turnover in a physically and mentally grueling job.
Corrections officers are among the lowest paid law-enforcement officers in the state, with a starting salary of about $33,000 per year.
A hope that stories will inspire action
Tempe resident Danielle Jensen attended Friday's protest and said her brother, Jeffrey, was severly beaten and died three months before he would have been released from Lewis Prison in 2017.
"My brother lost his life in the most terrifying and painful way imaginable," she said.
Jensen is hoping that her and other people's stories will inspire the governor to take action.
"I want you all to imagine, just for a moment, a world where you would welcome a person returning from prison into your own community, knowing that they are actually better than before they went in, not worse," she said.
"And definitely not on their death bed."
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Source — The Arizona Republic