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

Monday, October 26, 2009

Bring the Prisoners Home!

Budget cuts may force early release of felons

By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services

PHOENIX  State agencies are proposing early prison release of a fourth of convicted felons, eliminating health care for children of the working poor and slashing so many police officers that the director of Department of Public Safety said will make Arizona “open territory’’ for smugglers.

The plans, made public Friday, follow estimates that, even with already enacted cuts, revenues this budget year will still fall about $1.5 billion short of current spending levels. As a result, Gov. Jan Brewer directed state agencies to detail how they would deal with a 15 percent reduction in state funds.

Other proposals include:

 doing away with tutoring to help students pass the AIMS test so they can graduate from high school;

 cutting state funding for school safety officers;

 virtually eliminating state supervision of loan originators, mortgage brokers and money transmitters;

 putting off for years monitoring air quality for certain hazardous pollutants.

The list does not yet include proposals from several agencies, including the departments of Economic Security and Health Services, both of which provide extensive direct services to the public. Those will not be made public until next week.

Brewer told Capitol Media Services the reports are not designed to scare lawmakers into backing her proposal for a temporary sales tax hike as an alternative to deep cuts.

“I don’t need to scare anybody into anything,’’ she said.

But Brewer also was careful not to embrace any of the proposals or say that they represent her starting point in negotiations with the Legislature for a possible special session before the end of the year.

“This is not what I’m proposing,’’ the governor said. “This is what the agency directors say that they believe they can get to with that 15 percent cut.’’

One of the most dramatic changes would be in the state prison system which would have to slash more than $153 million.

Corrections Director Charles Ryan said he can get some savings through administrative spending reductions. But Ryan said the real money gets saved by releasing about 11,000 inmates  more than a quarter of those now behind bars  and closing several prisons.

Some of that could come through an expanded “home arrest’’ program. Ryan said that may make sense, “given the improvements and enhancements in electronic monitoring.’’

Far more controversial would be having lawmakers alter state law to sharply reduce, in some cases by half, the minimum sentences that inmates would have to serve. And Ryan said his agency could save more than $23 million by immediately sending illegal immigrants back to Mexico, regardless of how much of their sentence they have served.

The move would let Ryan close the state prisons in Douglas, Globe and Fort Grant as well as the women’s release center in Tucson, and parts of other prisons in Winslow, Florence and Litchfield Park.

But Ryan said those ideas carry a risk, and not just the “negative public response’’ lawmakers would face from constituents.

“Rewriting the criminal code and releasing thousands of prisoners is neither realistic nor in the best interest of public safety,’’ Ryan wrote to the governor’s office. “Releasing thousands of prisoners because of the budget deficit will place the public at risk and is akin to turning our back on the lawabiding citizens of Arizona.’’

Brewer, who was in the Legislature when many of the mandatory sentencing laws were approved, said revamping them has to be considered.

“I believe that everything’s on the table,’’ she said. “We have to look at every possible way to get our budget balanced.’’

At the Department of Public Safety, director Roger Vanderpool said the worstcase scenario would eliminate 570 law enforcement positions, the equivalent of the entire city of Tempe police department.

Vanderpool said that change would not go unnoticed by criminals, especially smugglers, who would see Arizona as “open territory’’ for crime.

“I do know that they keep track of our interdiction units,’’ he said. “With less of those units being out there, it’s going to be easier for them to get their products through to cities in Arizona and across the country.

He also said he would have to slash road patrols, leaving rural motorists “on their own’’ if they break down.
Other agencies have their own warnings of what would happen if they’re forced to make sharp cuts.

The Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System proposes to eliminate the Kids Care program which provides nearly free health insurance for more than 46,000 children of parents who earn too much to qualify for free family coverage. For a family of three, that figure is $36,620 a year.

Agency officials said Arizona already has the fifth highest rate of uninsured children in the nation. Scrapping this program, they said, would push Arizona into third slot, with 18 percent of children younger than 18 without coverage.

“The Institute of Medicine notes that uninsured children are more likely to be hospitalized for preventable conditions and for missed diagnoses of serious or lifethreatening conditions,’’ the memo warns. And the cost of that care is borne by hospitals and, more generally, by everyone else who pays more for insurance.

The Board of Regents did not provide a specific plan of how it would deal with having to slash $135.2 million in state funding for the three universities. Instead, Ernest Calderon, president of the board, detailed what the cuts would mean, assuming the regents decided to use only a single solution.

For example, he said they equate to hiking tuition by $1,300 a year, eliminating 2,200 positions throughout the system or even the entire state support for Northern Arizona University.

But Calderon said the exercise is academic, as there is no legal way for the universities to cut that much: He said once the state accepted federal stimulus dollars for education, it became legally bound to maintain funding at prior levels.

By contrast, the Department of Financial Institutions had a very specific assessment of what would happen with a 15 percent cut.

“The core mission ... will be impossible to achieve,’’ the agency’s submission reads. That effectively would eliminate the agency and, by extension, do away with statechartered banks and credit unions.

The department points out that it started last budget year with 32 examiners. After the last round of budget cuts, it wound up with 19; taking another 15 percent of its funding would slash that to just five.

And acting Superintendent Thomas Wood Jr. said policy makers need to understand the implications of what that means.

“The high foreclosure rates and the drastic drop in Arizona real estate values is largely the result of an unchecked mortgage industry,’’ his submission reads, as the agency didn’t have the staff it needed for oversight.

“Continuing down the path of less regulation, when consumers and industry are clamoring for more accountability, is foolhardy and will act as a magnet for wrong doers across the West,’’ the proposal says.

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