Like every other state, Arizona

by francine Hardaway on February 13, 2003

Like every other state, Arizona has a big budget deficit. And, like every other state, a large percentage of the budget goes for corrections. When people in the technology community go to the legislature to ask for venture capital, weary legislators try to balance our need to grow businesses with the heavy demands of health care, education, and corrections. Business always loses. I believe it’s time for the business community to get behind changes in the three big systems that suck up all the budget dollars, or we will never receive a dime for the things we need to make Arizona a technology center.

I always have known quite a bit about what’s wrong with the health care and education systems, having been directly impacted by them over the years, but I have only recently experienced directly what’s wrong with “Corrections.” Until your family has a relative in jail or prison, corrections seems a long way off and a non-issue. And then…

For Example:

One of my former foster kids is in the “corrections” system. He’s bi-polar, went off his meds as an adolescent, and began to self-medicate. Sure enough, his life deteriorated, and he dropped out of school six weeks before graduation. He got a few traffic tickets for which he failed to appear. They turned into warrants. He couldn’t afford to pay the fines.He went to jail, got out, went right back to the drugs, stealing auto parts and selling them to support his habit. Of course he got caught. This time he went to prison.

At his sentencing hearing, I testified that he was mentally ill and needed help, and to silence me the judge assigned him to a drug treatment program. He finally got there after languishing in jail for six months and in prison for another three — waiting for a bed in the treatment program. While waiting, he could do nothing — take no classes, learn no skills.

In the treatment program (Marana), he made good progress. He got a GED and he was taking management classes.Then the state learned that there was another outstanding warrant for his arrest, and this made him ineligible for the treatment program. He was moved to a medium security prison.

After a month in the medium security prison (Buckeye), he was moved again. Now he is in the Towers Jail, awaiting trial for the outstanding warrant.

In Buckeye, he was waiting to get into vocational classes, for which there’s a long wait. When he was transferred to Towers Jail, he lost his position. Towers Jail has no classes. It has nothing.

One of the few things you can do for an inmate from the outside is send him books, which must come directly from a bookstore. I have sent Jerry many books over the past year, trying to “home” school him. Some arrived after he had been transferred to another prison, and he never got them.

When he got to Towers, I ordered four more books from Amazon.

Last week-end, I visited him. I found out that the books I sent were “contrabanded.” They were considered contraband because they were hard cover books and there were “too many” of them. My hundred dollars worth of books (which qualified me for Amazon’s free shipping policy) have gone into a black hole.

This kid (he’s only twenty) has lost a year of his life. He hasn’t been “corrected” at all. He hasn’t been taught anything. He says he’s over the drug thing and wants to get back to a real life. But he’s stuck in an inefficient,inhumane, uncaring system.

This system does not discriminate. As a visitor, I was treated like scum by high-handed guards who sit around drinking Mountain Dew and disregard the visitors’ requests. The visitors’ bathrooms at Towers Jail were overflowing with toilet paper, and the floors were full of water. The electronic “welcome” sign over the guard’s offices was still not programmed a year after the first time I saw it. Probably no one knows how — although we spent our tax money to buy it.

The conditions of the jail are a poor example for the people we are trying to “correct.” They are warehoused and then let out on the street without money, education, or a job. What exactly are they supposed to do besides sell drugs and steal? They’re left with no options.

And yet the misnamed corrections system sucks big bucks from the budget at every level: look at the beautiful new Federal courthouse downtown, with its un-coolable atrium. Look at the new Phoenix courthouse, with its curving stairways and veranda-like courtrooms. Wouldn’t you love to have such a grand facility?

Well, you do. You own it. You pay for it. If you were more vociferous about how this system was used, and more involved in how education’s failure creates corrections’ neccessities, we might some time have money for venture capital.

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