Prison Violence: Protecting Arizona Inmates

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Prison Violence: Protecting Arizona Inmates

Arizona has a severe prison problem.

According to the Prison Policy Initiative, the state has the 8th highest per capita incarceration rate in the world at 877 people per 100,000. July 2019 numbers show 42,263 men and women locked up in prisons across Arizona – 49% of which are serving their first prison term. Overcrowding has become a significant issue inside prisons across the state.

Arizona’s incarceration crisis costs taxpayers $1 billion each year. It prevents the state from investing in priorities such as social services, child safety, and education. It also takes thousands of people who could otherwise contribute to the economy off the streets. FWD.us researchers found that Arizona could give teachers a 20% raise by lowering incarceration rates.

The problems are further exacerbated by prison violence, safety concerns, and inadequate healthcare.

Overcrowded Prisons and Lengthy Drug Sentences

The main problem facing Arizona prisons is overcrowding, and it’s not because of an increase in crime. Data from the FBI shows that violent and property crimes in the state decreased by 12% and 44% since 2000. The number of individuals moving to Arizona isn’t the main factor, either. FWD.us found that between 2000 and 2017, the state’s incarcerated population growth doubled that of the general population.

If it’s not a rise in criminality or a spike in population, what gives?

In 2006, voters approved Proposition 301, a ballot measure that gave judges the power to send first-time methamphetamine possession offenders to prison. In the past, courts were only able to send people to drug treatment and counseling.

After 301? Not anymore

The number of convicts in jail went up three-fold after judges enforced the measure. Drug offenses now had harsher punishments attached to them, causing a spike in prison populations. Between the fiscal years of 2000 and 2017, incarceration due to drug possession increased 142%.

Unlike other states that try to rehabilitate drug offenders with community service or other programs, Arizona just locks them up.

Non-Violent Offenders

The increase of people getting incarcerated in Arizona for non-violent offenses has led to a spike in the prison population. Researchers found an 80% uptick between 2000 and 2017. They also found that more people went to jail for non-violent drug offenses than a combination of all violent crimes.

First-time felons got locked up for a myriad of non-violent crimes, such as:

  • Possession, distribution, or drug manufacturing

  • Driving under the influence

  • Vehicle theft

  • Burglary

Making matters worse for an already burgeoning overcrowding problem is prison sentence lengths. Arizona has shown a pattern of lengthening the sentences for non-violent crime repeat offenders. Depending on the crime, the state locks people up 25% to 100% longer than the national average. Arizona also has “truth in sentencing” laws that require inmates to serve 85% of their sentence.

The Rise in Prison Violence

The Department of Corrections (DOC) released a troubling report on understaffing and prison violence. Arizona’s correctional facilities have a shortage of around 1,150 officers. That is almost one-fifth of all officer positions across the state. Current officers always need to go on overtime to keep prisons from imploding.

The current officer shortage has a direct correlation to prison violence. If there aren’t enough prison officers to go around, some inmate programs aimed to help them integrate back into society fall by the wayside. A lot of inmates are also complaining about reduced “rec time,” one of the most sought-after prison activities they use to unwind.

Without physical or creative outlets, frustration builds and boils over. Inmates become aggressive, attacking officers and fellow inmates.

DOC data on prison violence in Arizona:

  • Attacks on prison staff and officers have increased by 49% over the past ten years. In 2018, there were 491 assaults compared to 330 in 2009. 2016 was a lousy year for prison workers as the attacks reached their peak at 590.

  •  Inmates fighting and assaulting each other has also increased in the past several years. inmate-on-inmate violence was up 32%, from 1,669 reported incidents in 2012 to 2,204 in 2018.

  • The number of suicide attempts has also risen from 379 in 2014 to 708 in 2018, although most aren’t successful.

The data is alarming. Overcrowding and understaffing have made Arizona prisons a dangerous place for both inmates and officers alike. Check the health and welfare of a loved one immediately by doing an Arizona inmate search and calling the appropriate correctional facility to see if he/she is doing OK.

Shoddy Inmate Healthcare and Safety Issues

Since the state privatized prison healthcare, inmates have been complaining about not getting adequate treatment. For instance, 78% of prisoners have moderate to intensive substance abuse problems, but a mere 3% receive treatment. Then you have the leaked video of prison cells with broken cell doors secured by padlocks. Locking up inmates this way is dangerous because if a fire or natural calamity hits, guards won’t have enough time to unlock each cell.

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