I began this blog in May 2009 following the death of Marcia Powell at Perryville State Prison in Goodyear, Arizona. It is not intended to prescribe the path that leads to freedom from the prison industrial complex.

Rather, these are just my observations in arguably the most racist, fascist, militaristic state in the nation at a critical time in history for a number of intersecting liberation movements. From Indigenous resistance to genocidal practices, to the fight over laws like SB1070 and the ban on Ethnic Studies, Arizona is at the center of many battles for human rights, and thus the struggle for prison abolition as well - for none are free until all are. I retired the blog in APRIL 2013.

Visit me now at Arizona Prison Watch or Survivors of Prison Violence-AZ

Thursday, July 16, 2009

ADC: Constituent Services for Friends and Family

I just got off the phone with Betty Cassiano from the AZ Department of Corrections Office of Constituent Services. As I noted in previous posts, her office follows up on concerns raised by friends and families of prisoners which aren't addressed or resolved at the prison complex level for whatever reason. Usually, contacting her office is the final step in the formal process of filing complaints or raising concerns on behalf of prisoners or their families, but she handles many calls in which her office is the first step someone takes. She and her two staff field approximately 3000 calls per month, in fact. In light of that, the amount of time she spent discussing Constituent Services with me so I could pass that on to others was quite generous, considering that I may simply help generate more work for her and her staff.

I was impressed with Betty's candor about the conditions and circumstances that arise in the prisons that require some kind of intervention from her office to resolve. She didn't try to sugarcoat anything, didn't try to discount inmates and families as getting hysterical over small stuff, and validated that sometimes the potential for retaliation at the unit/complex level is real.
Betty was also honest about the limitations of being underfunded, understaffed, having prison over-crowding, and so on. She couldn't promise to satisfy everyone who calls, as some issues are inherent in the nature of imprisonment. But she promised that her office would do their best to prioritize and respond to concerns - even making field visits to specific sites when necessary to witness conditions themselves and make recommendations for changes. She was really quite forthright and seems sincerely committed to helping friends and families cope with the incarceration of their loved ones and empowering them to help make changes in the system or their circumstances for the better when and where possible.

That said, I really encourage friends and families to use her office as a resource when you worry that your loved one may be suffering unnecessarily - whether it's because the air is out, the place is on indefinite lockdown, a particular guard is hassling them, a prisoner's health has declined dramatically - whatever. Being in prison is punishment enough and the need to maintain order and safety has its hardships, but that isn't to say that prisoners should have to endure extreme, inhumane, or unjust conditions. Sometimes shedding light on certain practices or policies that are having a negative effect on people is the only way to bring relief not only for the individual involved in the complaint, but for others as well.

Finally, Betty also directed me to the resources on the Constituent Services section of the ADC website, which includes a manual for friends and family, information about the procedures for addressing concerns about prison conditions or a loved ones particular circumstances, links to other sites that may be useful for families to have, and so on. She also validated the usefulness of information and insight from people who are formerly incarcerated in terms of evaluating policies and strategizing solutions, and has previously had former prisoners active on her Constituent Services Advisory Committee; thus, former prisoners with specific concerns about conditions are also welcome to call.

So, this is one route that friends and family can take to address issues pertaining to the conditions of incarceration with the AZ Department of Corrections. Again, the number for her office is 602-364-3945. The email address is If friends and families are organized into groups - or want to organize to have her or someone from her office come talk to them - she'd be more than willing to set something up to discuss how Constituent Services can be a resource for them.

As for my part, I hope to refocus my attention on larger systems' issues across the prison industrial complex - highlighting groups and activities in the community who are essentially doing abolitionist work by accommodating terminally ill and geriatric prisoners in the community, reducing the risk of incarceration or reincarceration of more citizens through sentencing reform, legislative activity, working with high-risk youth, changing practices in schools, confronting issues with racial-profiling and law enforcement, organizing Courtwatches to assess the fairness of sentencing so voters can make informed decisions about re-electing judges or district attorneys, exploring the use of alternative sentencing options for offenders with serious mental illness, projects for restorative rather than retributive justice, and so on. I am still willing to be a resource to assist with individual advocacy, but would much rather help friends and families to organize among themselves (and with Betty's office) to work towards what they consider as essential reforms on prison conditions and prisoner rights.

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