That's Not Italian
To my dismay, Marshall W.
Mason's review of Italian Funerals & Other Festive Occasions was dead on (May 16). Where were the festive occasions noted in the very misleading title? The characters and accents were about as Italian as Chef Boyardee.

I guess joking about your mother's senility is supposed to be funny. Apparently, John Miranda lived a very depressing life. Unfortunately, he wrote a play about it.

Michael V. Giacoppo

Delinquency Notes
I read with interest the conspiracy theory presented by John Dougherty in "Locked in a Masquerade" (May 16), as I know a little about La Hacienda, one of the contract providers formerly utilized by the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections.

During the period the state utilized this facility, calls for law enforcement service from La Hacienda to the Pima County Sheriff's Department increased dramatically. In fact, in the fall of 1995, because of serious concerns for the safety of the surrounding community, I and members of my staff met with officials both from La Hacienda and from Juvenile Corrections to voice our concerns and to request and discuss possible remedies.

Rather than accept an elaborate, conspiratorial explanation for the March cancellation of the state's contract with La Hacienda, I prefer to believe that the Department of Juvenile Corrections made an informed and responsible decision in the interest of public safety.

Captain Martha Cramer, commander,
Uniform Operations Division
Pima County Sheriff's Department

When one ferries a scorpion across the river, the inevitable sting comes as no surprise.

For that reason, the diatribe against the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections lacks impact. Because one or two diehard readers might have read the entire article by John Dougherty, I need to respond. I owe it to more than 700 hardworking people who are dedicated to preserving public safety by changing the lives of juvenile offenders.

The article quotes a few private contractors who allege that the department "steered juvenile detention business . . . to another private contractor." First, no contract with a community provider has been canceled in the past two years, and this department adheres religiously to all state purchase rules.

Three contracts were changed from block grants to fee-for-service. All three providers were quoted in the article. One prominently mentioned provider was David Miller, who runs La Hacienda in Tucson. Miller complains that the department stopped sending juveniles to him, which is untrue. Another point is missing--Pima County sheriff's deputies had to visit La Hacienda repeatedly because of disturbance calls. They asked this department to stop using La Hacienda. Department parole officers worked diligently with La Hacienda, but the problems continued.

Dick Geasland of Youth ETC was quoted as saying he had an "oral arrangement" with the department. Anyone who works with the State of Arizona knows business is not done that way. Perhaps the problem is that, as recently as April 10, a department monitor returned from one of Geasland's facilities with pictures of exposed wiring, unfinished construction and rooms strewn with sharp, heavy tools. That is not an appropriate placement for troubled juveniles.

The article also tries to draw connections between the department and two employees of Youth Services International. Boyd Dover of YSI worked for two former governors, both Democrats. It isn't clear how such connections are supposed to make points with the Symington administration. The other employee is Jon McCaine, who resigned as the department's clinical services administrator in February.

McCaine was asked to complete training programs for the department that were already in progress, but with certain restrictions. Two are crucial: McCaine had to refrain from representing YSI, or anyone else, before the department on procurement and contract issues for one year, and he had to promise not to disclose any confidential information to his current employer for two years. McCaine refrains from any contact with the department in his capacity at YSI. New Times' reporter was made keenly aware of these conditions, but chose to ignore them.

Ignoring reality is a luxury that is unavailable to the department. That is why, when U.S. District Court Judge Richard M. Bilby enjoined the state from accepting new juveniles on April 9, 1996, the department obeyed. The article made it sound as if the state grabbed a convenient excuse to create an artificial crisis. We argued before Judge Bilby that we were able to handle more juveniles, but lost. Then we obeyed a judge's order.

It has always been this department's contention that the state could fully use its existing capacity to house juveniles. Some critics think that population limit can be exceeded simply by contracting for space in another state. But Judge Bilby's population limit applies to all Arizona juveniles being held in secure facilities--even if they are in Texas or California.

Finally, the article tried to raise several red herrings. It alleged that inquiries by New Times forced the state to cancel an emergency purchase order. In fact, the department is in the process of setting up the normal bidding process now that the situation that led up to the emergency purchase order is starting to abate.

Most disturbing, however, is the allegation that someone--the article never says who--is thinking of "releasing dangerous youths before their sentences are served." This department has repeatedly assured the public that it would not release dangerous juveniles who are not ready to return to the community. Arizona's juvenile judges, our most vocal critics, have made the same pledge. It simply won't happen.

In summary, this article was a journalistic meringue containing very little substance. The Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections will continue with the progress that brought it into compliance with all 109 items in the 1993 Johnson v. Upchurch federal consent decree. Those plans include an ambitious construction program that addresses the needs of the future, not the imagination of a few critics.

Steve Meissner,
public information officer
Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections


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