Dora's Darlings

Prisoners are precious to Dora Schriro, Arizona's new corrections chief

Of course, it helps that Schriro wants to increase pay, even though salaries for corrections officers in Arizona rank in the middle compared with other states. Schriro has also allowed the guards' union to post information on bulletin boards inside institutions and recruit members at the department's training academy.

Salaries aside, Masella says Schriro's door and mind are always open, and she isn't snooty despite the letters behind her name. "That's the part that amazes me the most," he says. "She's down-to-earth, somebody you'd love to just go out and have a beer with. So many people like that have their noses in the air."

But one meeting with Schriro was enough for Siers, the former medical investigator who says the director is soft on inmates.

David Hollenbach
Former St. Louis police chief Clarence Harmon says 
Schriro "walked into a mess" there.
Former St. Louis police chief Clarence Harmon says Schriro "walked into a mess" there.

Siers says he and other investigators who handle claims of substandard health care asked for a meeting last August when the director's office returned their reports without saying what was wrong. One report concerned an inmate who asked for a below-knee prosthesis.

Siers said he could find no evidence that the inmate had ordered an artificial limb before he was incarcerated, plus a nurse had seen the prisoner playing basketball. "He was provided crutches," Siers recalls. "I sent my answer to the director to sign off. She sent it back asking, 'What is the community standard of care regarding this issue?'"

Community standards are irrelevant, says Siers. This is prison, and medical care should be limited to medically necessary treatment to sustain life and health rather than a more expansive standard that would apply in the outside world and include prosthetics.

Siers says he was already worried after reading an article on Parallel Universe that Schriro wrote for the National Institute of Justice, an arm of the federal Department of Justice. Meeting her was the final straw. "I bailed -- I had a job lined up the next day and went back into mortgage lending," he says.

Schriro doesn't recall Siers, but she does remember the reports. The tone, she says, was wrong and reports often didn't provide direct answers to complaints. "They had a lot of boilerplate," she says.

With dangerously overcrowded prisons and a shortage of guards on her hands, Siers says Schriro had more important things to worry about than medical reports during her first month on the job. In St. Louis, Williams also says Schriro's priorities were skewed, which was abundantly clear when she told the Board of Aldermen that she'd hired janitors to clean the workhouse when she was hired two months before the jailbreak that led to her suspension.

"None of the [security problems] hit her radar screen, but the roaches did," the St. Louis union boss says. "As an administrator, I think she has a tendency to be a tree person. She doesn't see the forest.

"Once you listen closely and you pay attention to what she says -- and sometimes, more importantly, what she doesn't say -- you'll see that Dora is not a deep thinker at all."

Minutes after the Senate confirmation committee unanimously approves her, Dora Schriro is all smiles and awash in hugs from Masella and other supporters.

Senators had no tough questions, even on the Lewis standoff. In the end, and with no smoking gun proving that Schriro's policies led to the standoff, she clearly wasn't worth fighting over on the last day of a legislative session dominated by contentious arguments over the state budget.

Donna Hamm was the only person who testified against her, and Schriro brushes her aside after the meeting when Hamm repeatedly demands an answer to a months-old request for public documents. It's an obvious ploy to embarrass Schriro in front of reporters, who also complain that she's slow to release public records. But the director isn't cowed.

"Not now, Donna," Schriro says in a tone stern enough that it would be a bark if she wasn't so soft-spoken.

E-mail, or call 602-407-1715.

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