A Teacher's Rape Reveals Massive Security and Mental-Health Treatment Failures in Arizona Prisons

Catherine screamed, but nobody heard her.

She and Jacob Harvey were alone in the classroom at Eyman Prison in Florence, where, just moments earlier, as part of her duties as a teacher for the Arizona Department of Corrections, she had been administering the 20-year-old inmate a prep test for his GED.

He had asked to use the restroom. Then, as Catherine pulled out the keys to unlock the door, he pushed her down with two hands, hooked her into a chokehold, and wrestled her onto her back, cracking her head twice against the floor. When she tried to push him off, he twisted the pen she used to score papers from her grip and stabbed her in the temple. The radio she carried to keep in contact with security skittered out of reach.

Be quiet and stay down, Harvey told her, wrapping his big hands around her neck.

Harvey's a burly 5-foot-7 with broad shoulders, close-cropped black hair, and drooping eyes. The full weight of his 190 pounds was on top of her.

He peeled off her black capris, pulled up her pink polo shirt, and raped her.

"Does that feel good?" he demanded.

Catherine didn't answer.

Blood gushed from the side of her head, matting her permed, blond hair and staining the front of Harvey's neon-orange prison uniform.

She thought she was going to die.

A year and a half later, Catherine (whose name has been changed for this story) still is visibly shaken. Seated at a conference table in a swanky Scottsdale law office, she wraps her arms across her chest so tightly that it seems she's trying to fold in on herself.

She has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and has to take medication to quiet the sound of Harvey's voice in her head and the phantom grip of his hands on her body. She does not make eye contact. Her sentences are short, staccato.

Catherine has not returned to teaching — and she is not sure she will ever feel safe in a classroom again. But she wants to make sure other prison educators can. So she is suing the DOC for $4 million in an attempt to force the state to re-evaluate security practices.

The department tried to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that a prison, by nature, is a dangerous place and that Catherine knew the risks when she took the job. Even some of her colleagues — out of necessity, perhaps — maintained the attitude that such a thing could never happen to them because they would not allow themselves to be alone in a room with a convict, much less turn their backs to one. 

"You're more likely to get raped working at a high school than in a prison," says Corri Wells, director of Arizona State University's prison education program. "With all that security, [prisons are] probably the safest places in Arizona."

Investigators from the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health, however, concluded that the state failed to adequately protect Catherine and fined the DOC $14,000.

Government records, court documents, and interviews with current and former agency employees suggest the issues may be systemic. Catherine's rape was one of 412 assaults on DOC staff in fiscal year 2014 — an increase of 36 percent since 2005, when the agency reported 149 attacks. In 2015, the department is on track to break records.

The most likely inmates to strike out against staff are the mentally ill, like Harvey, according to a recent report from the Treatment Advocacy Center. But experts say Arizona is providing neither the healthcare to keep the mentally ill stable nor the corrections officers to keep them in line.

"What happened is unconscionable, but it's not shocking," says Scott Zwillinger, Catherine's lawyer. "They left a crazy rapist alone with a woman. That's like leaving a great white shark alone with a seal puppy."

A soft-spoken idealist with a reticent, bell-like giggle, Catherine decided she wanted to go into education when she was 6 years old, inspired by a teacher who "made learning fun."

She earned her bachelor's degree in human development with an emphasis in early-childhood education, then got a job teaching second grade at a Tucson charter school. She loved working with children, but after four years and two different schools, she became disheartened by what she felt was "too much focus on business" at kids' expense.

It was her brother's idea for her to apply for a position with the DOC. He was an officer at Eyman, and for 16 years he had regaled her with tales of ruined men and women finding redemption inside the prison's classrooms. He had told a fair share of horror stories, too, of course, about the daily danger of working with rapists and murderers, so Catherine was wary, at first, but he assured her: "It's different for teachers, safer."

The move bumped Catherine's salary from $18,000 a year to $49,000, and she found it fulfilling, she says, to help people who largely had fallen through the cracks of the traditional education system.

The DOC employs teachers for functional literacy courses, General Education Development certification, and vocational training, such as plumbing or air-conditioner repair. A small group of ASU professors also voluntarily makes the trek down to the Florence prison complex once a week to teach writing composition, linguistics, and Chinese.

Teachers walk through a metal detector each morning, and their bags of books, photocopied handouts, and pens are searched for contraband. In maximum-security areas, students sometimes are in cages or have their legs chained to the floor. Students often share texts because inmates are allowed to keep only 10 books at a time and reading is one of the few approved recreation activities.

For the most part, though, teaching in prison, says Elly van Gelderen, an ASU English professor who runs a linguistics course at the DOC, is not much different from teaching anywhere else. She knows her students have committed crimes, she says, but she feels no need to know what they did, preferring instead to treat them like "regular human beings."

"They ask much harder questions in prison," she says. "They are more mature than most ASU students, more willing to think."

When she and her colleagues talk about their work, they cite research showing that studying in prison boosts inmates' self-esteem and sense of purpose.

Before their arrests, state prisoners are disproportionately poor, unemployed, and homeless. Only 32 percent nationwide have earned high school diplomas, compared to 88 percent of the general population, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics reports. After release, according to a RAND Corporation meta-analysis of the best studies conducted over the past 30 years, inmates who enroll in classes are 13 percent more likely to get jobs and 43 percent less likely to commit another crime than those who do not.

"A GED can really change your outlook on life," Catherine says.

The morning of the rape, January 30, 2014, Catherine was scheduled to oversee a GED practice exam at Eyman Prison's Meadows Unit.

A gloomy complex of gray buildings that is home to about 1,210 sex offenders, Meadows Unit is what officials call a medium-custody area, which means prisoners have been deemed a moderate risk to the public or staff and frequently are allowed to move about, meeting with fellow inmates in the cafeteria or attending classes, without officer escort.

Catherine got to work at 7:45 a.m., arranged the desks in her classroom into neat rows, and put out a booklet for each of the seven students scheduled to take the test. She used her handheld radio to summon the inmates. They arrived one by one and got to work without ceremony.

It was a smaller group than usual because the students were finishing exams from a previous session that Catherine had cut short for a doctor's appointment.

Harvey kept his head down, sipping a bottle of Propel as he identified grammatical errors in sentences.

Classmates described him as a quiet student who worked hard. He was not anxious about the test, he had told a fellow inmate over breakfast that morning. But DOD records show that he struggled in school. He had taken the GED preparation exam before — three times — and failed.

"Jacob was doomed from birth," Angela Nelson, a cousin, tells New Times.

His mother was killed in a hit-and-run before he was a month old. She was supposed to be on her way to his aunt's house, just a few blocks from the family's home in Choulic, a small town on the Tohono O'odham Nation reservation eight miles north of Mexico. But she was intoxicated, relatives said, and her body was found in a gutter several blocks in the wrong direction.

His father, already an alcoholic, hit the bottle harder after her death. When he wasn't drinking or sleeping, family members recall, he was in and out of federal prison for smuggling illegal immigrants over the border.

His grandparents took responsibility for him and his older sister, Araya, for the first few years. Harvey spent hours building a Hot Wheels track that wound all the way around the cul-de-sac where his grandparents and three aunts lived, and he played war with his cousins in a nearby wash.

Then, when Harvey and Araya were 6 and 7, their father found a new girlfriend, had a third child, and reclaimed custody.

He continued his partying ways, blasting loud music and sleeping late into the afternoon. The siblings pulled together, like "two twisted fingers," Araya says.

The two would watch cartoons until their empty bellies started growling and then run to an aunt's place to fetch food. But, when their father's girlfriend found out, she forbade them to leave the house.

Eventually, they taught themselves to use the stove and scramble eggs. They fed their new half-brother, dressed him, bathed him, and changed his diaper.

"Jacob always took care of me — even when I was older," Araya says.

When his sister did something naughty, Harvey took the blame and got the inevitable belt-whipping in the back bedroom. If they both got a beating, Harvey would hold Araya afterward, comforting her while she cried.

In elementary school, both Harvey and Araya were diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome, which often manifests through hyperactive, impulsive behavior. Although, people with the disorder can have IQs in the average range or higher, most never exceed the functional ability of a 7-year-old.

A doctor prescribed Ritalin to help manage some of Harvey's symptoms. But his aunts, worried that the medication suffocated his personality, threw out the bottle of pills.

While Araya struggled to master reading and writing, Harvey made As and Bs in grade school. "He was so smart," his aunt says. He brought home awards for outstanding achievement in math, his favorite subject, and won the third-grade spelling bee.

At age 13, though, he got into marijuana, cocaine, and meth. He struggled to make friends and started getting in trouble at school for fighting. When he was 16, his grandfather died, and he spiraled into a deep depression. Not even Araya could get him out of bed for school.

Harvey's aunts arranged for him to join a residential program for troubled youth in Glendale. There, they say, the family hoped he would get anger-management training and mental-health treatment.

Instead, Harvey sneaked out his bedroom window at night, stealing NyQuil from a nearby convenience store and getting drunk before slipping back under the covers.

On the morning of November 7, 2011, he did not return to the group home.

About 2:30 p.m., he rang a neighbor's doorbell and asked for a drink of water.

The woman who answered was slender with thick blond hair, high cheekbones, and a sunny smile. She was happy to oblige. She and her husband recently had returned from a yearlong Mennonite mission in Guatemala, according to her family blog. She tutored children at a local library. He worked on a water-filtration project with a community-development organization. Together, they ran a guesthouse for hospital volunteers, sharing "God's love" and home-cooked meals.

She brought Harvey a disposable cup and tried to send him on his way. But Harvey blocked the door and pushed his way inside.

While her wailing 1-year-old looked on, he pummeled her face until she was barely conscious, grabbed her by the hair, and dragged her into a back room. There, he ripped off her clothes and repeatedly raped and sodomized her for an hour and a half. When she fought back, he threatened to kill her son, then, screaming curse words, he used a softball to bash her head again and again.

Harvey fled naked when the woman's roommate came home.

When police found him several days later at a juvenile detention center on the reservation, where he had been picked up for running away from the group home, he told them he didn't remember the attack. He had downed five beers and a bottle of vodka that day, he said, and was not in his right state of mind.

In a letter written before Harvey's sentencing in 2013, the victim told the judge she believed he was dangerous and violent. But she also believed in forgiveness.

"I wish that our criminal corrections system was very different," she wrote. "Our system seems to be more about punishing the inmates than correcting their behavior. If Jacob Harvey worked his way through a meaningful restorative justice system that really attempted to help him change, then I would say give him another chance when he is ready, and alternatively, if he is never ready then I would say that he should stay separated from the public."

The judge sentenced Harvey to spend 30 years in prison. He was 17 years old.

Harvey waited for the other students in the Eyman GED class to turn in their tests and leave before he made his move. When he finished, he helped Catherine pull up her pants and stood.

"Well, what are we going to do now?" he asked, looking down at her, lying on her back on the blood-smeared tile. He was calm. Cool.

Catherine's heart was pounding.

"I don't know," she said, cautiously. "What are we going to do?"

He retrieved the radio and held it up to his mouth.

"A teacher has been stabbed in classroom two," he said.

They waited. One minute. Two minutes. Five minutes. Ten.

When nobody came, Harvey hurled the radio against the wall. It fell to the floor in pieces. He tried to put it back together, but the battery would not stay in, so he gave it to Catherine. She fumbled. Her hands were bleeding on the buttons.

"How else can we get a hold of someone?" he said when it became apparent the radio could not be fixed.

There was a cordless phone at her desk, Catherine told him, but she would need to look up which extension to call. He walked with her across the classroom and hovered over her as she found the deputy warden's number in the directory, dialed, and repeated the message just as he had phrased it: "A teacher has been stabbed in Classroom Two."

On the other end of the line, Deputy Warden Edwin Lao was confused. "A teacher? Where?"

"In Classroom Two."

Harvey ripped the phone from Catherine's hands and slammed it on the console.

He picked a pencil up off the desk.

Gripping it like knife, he told her: Lie back down.

Harvey's mood swung back and forth so quickly, Catherine recalls, that he almost seemed like two different entities fighting for space in the same body. One was angry and out of control. The other was rational and detached.

Not all people with fetal alcohol syndrome are violent. However, because of a mix of poor judgment, impulsivity, and inadequate treatment, people with this type of brain damage are disproportionately represented in prisons, states Dr. Richard Adler, a Seattle-based forensic psychiatrist who heads up FAS Experts, a legal group that specializes in providing medical testimony. The risk that someone will become aggressive increases with exposure to abuse and neglect.

One of the most common issues associated with fetal alcohol syndrome, which often is accompanied by mood disorders and psychosis, is sexual deviancy, according to a 1996 study. Almost half of those between the ages of 12 and 20 have engaged in sexual misconduct, ranging from statutory rape to assault.

Harvey's mental health was flagged as high-risk during an assessment before his March 2013 incarceration. Based in part on the appraisal, he was placed in close custody, the second-highest level of security for the most violent offenders, say court documents. When he was transferred to Meadows Unit in October 2013, it was against the recommendation of a DOC case manager.

The decision to move him, Catherine's lawyer argues, is just one example of how the DOC and Corizon Correctional Healthcare, a private company contracted by the state, were not adequately attending to Harvey's mental health. By failing to provide Harvey with the environment, medication, and behavioral therapy he needed to develop appropriate coping mechanisms, Zwillinger says, the agencies put Catherine and other staff members in danger.

"When a sexual predator goes to prison, you envision drugs, counseling, rehabilitation," the atttorney says. "He didn't get any of that."

Harvey's medical records are sealed, but even without reviewing the file, correctional psychologist Pablo Stewart says, he "can almost guarantee" that Harvey was not receiving adequate treatment because of the general quality of care in Arizona prisons, which he estimates is "in the running for worst in the country." Stewart recently completed a seven-month investigation of the system for a class-action lawsuit, Parsons v. Ryan, backed by the ACLU. The state agreed to a settlement in the case in February.

"It's really hard to adequately explain how bad it is," Stewart says. "It's like going to an emergency room with a broken leg and being told to go home and rest."

Arizona prisons have been short on psychiatrists since at least 2010, with some vacancies staying open for years, Stewart wrote in a 76-page expert report for the ACLU. In 2010-11, the Perryville complex had only one psychiatrist to oversee 1,382 mentally ill prisoners. Florence, Lewis, and Yuma complexes had no psychiatrists in 2012. By late 2013, just a few months before Catherine's rape, 41 percent of psychiatrist positions and 80 percent of psychiatric nurse-practitioner positions statewide were vacant.

Psychiatric staffing was so "grossly insufficient" that state mental-health contract monitor Dr. Ben Shaw expressed concern in an internal memo that "patient safety and orderly operation of DOC facilities may be significantly compromised."

Medical records frequently were incomplete and "disorganized to the point of being chaotic," Stewart found, putting patients at serious risk of receiving inappropriate treatment that could worsen mental illness.

Many patient files were missing a mental-health treatment plan or documentation of major conditions and drug allergies, he reported. One prisoner who had tried to kill himself twice during the previous nine months had a three-month gap in his file. Another who had attempted to scalp himself a number of times had two different medication-and-treatment histories for the same time period. In some cases, charts documenting the administration of medication continued long after inmates had been released, suggesting records were falsified.

Although best practice dictates that patients taking psychotropic medication should check in with a doctor at least every 90 days, according to internal DOC memos, inmate appointments were rescheduled over and over because, in each unit, the line to see a psychiatrist was more than 70 inmates long. Many prisoners went nearly a year without a consultation.

The delivery of medication also was sporadic, with some prisoners going months without their pills. During a three-month period in 2013, a DOC audit report shows, about 16,000 prescriptions went unfilled.

"They're treated worse than animals," Donna Firrello testified during a settlement hearing for Parsons v. Ryan. Her husband is incarcerated at Eyman and, she says, is not getting treated for his bipolar disorder. "The reason he's in there is because he was out of control for his bipolar," she says.

Aside from the obvious human rights concerns of failing to meet inmates' healthcare needs, Stewart says, the system also compromises safety. When patients are not prescribed appropriate medication or do not receive their medications as prescribed, they "will not improve and will almost always deteriorate, often to a point of being a danger to themselves and others.

"Good mental healthcare is part of good security," Stewart says. "If Arizona did good mental healthcare, there would be less assault, fewer people throwing their food trays at staff, less fighting — less everything."

He was not surprised to hear a teacher had been raped.

"Frankly, with the way they're handling things [in the state prison system]," he says, "it was only a matter of time."

As soon as the phone disconnected, Deputy Warden Lao grabbed an officer and headed to Catherine's rescue. But it took a while to find her.

Catherine usually taught in the Meadows Unit visitation room, a big, window-filled area near the compound's main security control room. Corrections officers always milled about, keeping an eye on things.

On the morning of the rape, though, an event was scheduled. So she was moved to one of the compound's four classrooms, just south of a big, dusty recreation yard. There, she says, she didn't see an officer for her entire 90-minute class.

During the attack, channels on Catherine's radio got switched so the call for help went to security at the nearby Rynning Unit, according to court documents. Officers were dispatched to get her from Classroom Two in Rynning Unit — even though there was no class scheduled. Another officer headed to Cook Unit, which doesn't have a Classroom Two.

Catherine heard Lao run past Classroom Two in Meadows Unit, apparently confused.

Harvey saw the officers outside and threw the bloody pen he'd used to stab Catherine at the window, alerting them of his location.

They rushed in. Lao ordered Harvey to get on the ground. When he did not comply, a corrections officer shot him with pepper spray, tackled him, and shackled his hands and feet.

Harvey remained nonchalant.

"Get off me," he said. "What's your problem?"

At the state prison's Yuma complex in April, a female corrections officer was sexually assaulted by an inmate serving a life sentence for first-degree murder. The same month, 25 inmates jumped a group of officers in Florence, sending seven to the hospital. This month, prisoners at the Kingman complex rioted, smashing windows, setting fire to beds, wrecking classrooms and computer labs, and sending at least 14 prison staff to the hospital.

Prison violence is so commonplace that such stories, despite their drama, rarely garner much more than a short story from Arizona media. But Catherine was a teacher — not a corrections officer — so her rape made news nationally.

Larry Gast, assistant director of the Arizona Department of Occupational Safety and Health, dashed off an e-mail ordering an inspection of the DOC's workplace violence-prevention practices as soon as he heard about it.

At the end of a six-month probe, investigators concluded that teachers and proctors working with convicted sex offenders "were not provided adequate workplace violence controls and practices."

Along with a hefty fine, ADOSH sent along a list of actions the DOC should take to remedy the problem, including installing a panic alarm system, providing more robust self-defense courses, and dedicating at least one correctional officer to protect teachers.

At the time, Catherine and other full-time DOC teachers were required to attend four hours of self-defense training. The instructor used an old-school slide projector to enlarge pictures of various kicks and jabs, Catherine says. Then he or she would get out a punching pad so teachers could swat at it once or twice each. They wrapped up class with a video.

The thoroughness varied with the instructor. Some took extra care to give the teachers corrections on their technique. Once, Catherine says, class was over in an hour and a half.

In the quiet of her lawyer's office, Catherine recalls three things from three years of training:

1) A good closed-fist punch is the most powerful way to slug an attacker.

2) A good closed-fist punch can break your hand.

3) Striking with an open palm hurts you less than a closed-fist punch.

During the attack, though, she remembered none of these things.

Other teachers who spoke with New Times say the self-defense course did not leave them feeling confident. A woman who had been with the department 14 years says she "never felt completely comfortable" at work. Most say, however, they were uninterested in taking the more extensive training that correctional officers go through.

"I'm a teacher, not a police officer," says one teacher who asked to remain unidentified to protect her employment. "What I really want is to be able to call for help and get immediate assistance."

Unfortunately, she has little faith this would happen.

Though officers in many states are assigned to stay in classrooms with teachers, it was normal at the time of Catherine's attack "for a teacher to be alone with a dozen [to] 20 inmates for two or three hours at a time and not be checked on," one teacher told ADOSH authorities. She was three rooms away during the attack and didn't hear Catherine scream. "There is no procedure for checking on anybody," she said.

An educator's only way of communicating with officers was via radio, Catherine says. But radio batteries often died halfway through class. Some days, there were not enough radios to go around so teachers had to do without.

"The first time that happened, I went home and told my parents: 'If something happens to me, I want you to march down there and demand to know if I had a radio,'" she says.

The Arizona Correctional Peace Officers Association attributes the issue, in part, to chronic under-staffing.

In the past decade, the number of inmates in Arizona's state-run prisons has climbed from 27,250 to 34,807, DOC statistics show. At the same time, 565 corrections officer positions have been cut.

The agency fought the Arizona Legislature for funding to restore 103 jobs in 2013, but, according to its latest strategic plan, the DOC struggles to fill them. In 2014, for example, the agency hired 1,000 new officers, but so many people quit because of "non-competitive pay and the increasingly physical nature of confrontations with inmates" that job vacancies actually grew by year's end. As of March, the department had 614 open positions.

Such numbers mean Arizona's prisons regularly operate with fewer officers than recommended by even their own security protocol, says David Lopez, a former DOC sergeant who was with the agency for 15 years. In Lewis Prison's maximum-security Morey Yard, for example, the state recommends a minimum of 28 on-duty officers, he says. Morey often has only 16.

"In training, we are taught that there should never be more than 10 inmates to one officer," Lewis says. "But on any given day, we are outnumbered probably 50 to 1."

Since the attack, Catherine has been living with her parents. She sees a psychologist once a week and a psychiatrist once a month. Otherwise, she does not go out much.

Crowds give her panic attacks.

She made an exception for her nephew's graduation in June.

She instantly regretted it. The seats at University of Phoenix stadium were jammed in close and everywhere she looked, people seemed to close in on her, banging down the walls she had built to protect herself. Panic ensued.

She closed her eyes and thought about expanding her diaphragm, letting the air fill up every crevice of her lungs. In and out. In and out. In and out.

In the end, she enjoyed herself a little. She was proud.

"Little victories," she says, flashing an uncommon half-grin.

Cogs are turning at the DOC, too.

The agency tried to swat away Catherine's lawsuit by claiming that if she "could appreciate the danger of her situation, as an employee, she could have done something about it." When reporters inquired about possible disciplinary action against prison administrators, a DOC spokesman said none was needed.

"[Catherine] is a DOC employee who routinely worked at the prison complex," Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Weisbard wrote in a January 14 court filing. "By being placed in a classroom at the complex, the officers were not placing [her] in any type of situation that she would not normally face. The risk of harm, including assault, always existed in a prison like Eyman."

While the national media reamed the department for victim blaming, officials quietly installed cameras in prison classrooms and trained teachers how to use pepper spray. A corrections officer is now assigned to check on each classroom hourly.

Some teachers say they feel the new measures are unnecessary.

"I choose to work in a prison," one teacher told ADOSH investigators. Having an officer nearby made her feel "silly . . . I'm not a teacher princess."

Some teachers have expressed relief. Others still are uneasy.

At one prison, cameras still are not in working order. At another, no one is assigned to monitor video feeds.

"It'll help catch someone after the fact, but it's not going to prevent anything from happening," one tells New Times.

Catherine doesn't think an hourly check is adequate.

"What happened to me, it happened in 15 minutes," she says, voice trembling a little.

As part of its settlement agreement with the ACLU, the DOC has agreed to address more than 100 issues with psychiatric medical staffing, record keeping, and pharmaceutical care, including ensuring that inmates consult with a licensed mental-health provider upon arrival and filling inmate prescriptions within two business days.

"I'm cautiously optimistic," says David Fathi, ACLU National Prison Project director. "The state knows that this is a federal court order that [it is] obliged to comply with."

However, during a tour of Arizona prisons in June to check on the DOC's progress, Fathi says, he was alarmed to discover that the state — which is supposed to be at 75 percent compliance at this point — is way off track. Care is not prompt. Inmates on suicide watch are not monitored by healthcare professionals. Psychiatrists still do not meet with the mentally ill on a regular basis.

"This definitely isn't a drastic turnaround," he says.

Catherine, whose civil case isn't scheduled to go to court until late 2016, understands that the DOC will need time to heal — just as she does. But, she says, "someone needs to kick it in the butt" and "get people talking about it.

"No one should go to work and wonder if they're going to come home at 5 o'clock," she says. "Regardless of where they work."

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Elizabeth Stuart
Contact: Elizabeth Stuart