Welcome to the latest horror-show vignette of Oz-like violence from our friends at the Arizona Department of Corrections, this time with a female corrections officer as the victim of a brutal beat-down.
Wednesday night, CBS 5 reported on the recent attack of ADC Corrections Officer Benavidez (first name not given) at Arizona State Prison Complex in Winslow.
According to journalist Allyson Blair, Benavidez was jumped by two male prisoners "while escorting more than 50 unrestrained inmates by herself."
Blair reported that Benavidez was in the hospital following facial reconstruction surgery due the assault. Her boyfriend told Blair that Benavidez was on a hit list because a tip from her ended with drugs being confiscated from a prisoner.
He told how one prisoner pounded Benavidez's head into the ground, while another kicked her and the others present did nothing. He described the prison as riddled with drugs and seriously understaffed.
Asked to comment, ADC spokesman Bill Lamoreaux emailed me the following statement:
"Ensuring the safety of the public, staff and inmates is always a paramount concern of the Department. Criminal prosecution of the inmates involved in this assault will be pursued by the Department upon the completion of this investigation.
"This case remains under investigation. As a result, the Department will not discuss the assault until the investigation is concluded."
The CBS 5 report comes shortly after House Minority Leader Chad Campbell called for the resignation of ADC director Charles Ryan, citing a "pattern of mismanagement," security lapses, an ADC suicide rate 60 times the national average, and too-close-ties between Ryan and the private prison industry.
Campbell also mentioned the high-profile 2009 cage death of ADC inmate Marcia Powell, and the suicide death of mentally ill inmate Tony Lester, who was given razors by corrections officers despite his illness. When Lester slashed his neck and wrists, prison guards did nothing as he bled to death.
"Under [Ryan's] direction," said Campbell in his release, "our corrections system has wasted tax dollars, jeopardized people's lives and damaged the state's credibility."
On Tuesday,the American Friends Service Committee, a prison reform-minded Quaker group, formally asked Governor Jan Brewer to appoint an independent committee to oversee Arizona's prison system.
The group stopped short of demanding Ryan's removal, but it did request that Brewer seek an investigation into all of Campbell's allegations against Ryan.
A press release from the group quoted AFSC's program coordinator Caroline Isaacs as stating that, while ADC directors need to be held accountable, "putting a new Director into an old and failed system won't change the outcome."
Isaacs insisted that, "Ryan's failures reveal a total lack of public oversight over our prisons."
The never-ending string of violent incidents, hazardous conditions, and alarming statistics pulled from the deep hole of ADC's recent record should have all of us scared out of our wits.
Aside from the preventable deaths of Powell and Lester, and the near-death experience of Officer Benavidez, this list of outrages includes the 2010 escape of three dangerous convicts from a private prison in Kingman.
Two of the men subsequently murdered a middle-aged couple vacationing in New Mexico.
An internal review done by ADC pointed the finger at human error and lax security.
Employees of the private prison company Management & Training Corporation "failed to follow sound correctional practices," Ryan stated at the time.
"ADC failed to properly monitor the activities at the Kingman private prison and did not hold the company's feet to the fire," he admitted.
In Campbell's demand for Ryan's hide, he notes that last year, legislative Republicans got rid of a state law, which required, "a comparison of state and private prisons every two years to ensure that private prisons were providing the same quality of services as state prisons at a lower cost."
Campbell observed that previous analyses, "consistently show that the state is losing money on private prisons," and have highlighted "serious safety flaws in all of Arizona's for-profit prisons."
In January, ADC ended its contract with Wexford Health Services, a private provider of health care to inmates. The previous year, it was revealed that the a nurse at Wexford exposed more than 100 inmates to hepatitis C by not properly disposing of a dirty needle.
Wexford was replaced by another private health contractor Corizon, which reportedly employed Ryan's former boss, onetime ADC Director Terry Stewart.
Ryan has denied any impropriety, but Campbell, in his recent statement, found the deal to be "indicative of cronyism" rampant at ADC.
But, obviously, ADC's problems are not confined to the private prison services contracted by the state.
Earlier this year, Ryan revealed on ADC's website that "in the past four and a half years, there have been 640 staff arrests," of which, 433 "were for behaviors like domestic violence, fighting, assaults, harassment, drug use and possession, and drinking-related offenses."
Ryan wrote that ADC staff arrests were on the rise, "averaging almost eleven arrests per month."
The good corrections officers, at least some of them, are bailing. In 2011 former New Times staff writer Paul Rubin reported on how a respected ADC corrections official at Buckeye's Lewis Prison Complex decided to resign after the horrific murder of a mentally ill inmate there by his cellmate, who slashed his throat and cut off his penis.
Lieutenant Chuck Bauer told Rubin that the murder of the mentally ill inmate didn't have to happen.
"For one thing, we were short-staffed to the max, as we have been for a long time now," Bauer explained, "and couldn't keep an eye on those inmates like we're supposed to -- simple matter of numbers. It was like a nightmare, and it could have happened to one of my officers just as well as to that poor guy."
Those words are particularly haunting considering the CBS 5 report on Benavidez. That woman is lucky to be alive.
I should also mention the class action lawsuit filed in 2012 by the ACLU of Arizona and the Prison Law Office, which accuses ADC of denying inmates adequate health care and of placing thousands of inmates in solitary confinement to the detriment of health and sanity.
The complaint reads like something out of medieval Europe during the plague years. Take this passage, from the ACLU's statement announcing the suit:
"In one particularly tragic case, a prisoner at the state prison complex in Tucson died last year of untreated lung cancer that spread to his liver, lymph nodes and other major organs before prison officials even bothered to send him to a hospital. The prisoner, Ferdinand Dix, filed repeated health needs requests and presented numerous symptoms associated with lung cancer. His liver was infested with tumors and swelled to four times its normal size, pressing on other internal organs and impeding his ability to eat. Prison medical staff responded by telling him to drink energy shakes. He died in February 2011, days after finally being sent to a hospital but only after his abdomen was distended to the size of that of a full-term pregnant woman."
The responsibility for this wretched state of affairs falls upon all Arizonans. There is a mentality in this state, which holds that inmates of either jail or prison deserve their fates, no matter what their crime.
But considering the state of "justice" here in Sand Land, just about any one of us could end up in Sheriff Joe Arpaio's jails or ADC's prisons and be at the mercy of the same indifference to suffering and deadly surroundings.
Even if you think you'll never grace the inside of an incarceration center during your existence, there is the possibility someone you care about might.
Or you could find yourself another unlucky member of the public, like that couple killed in New Mexico.
The dismal state of corrections in Arizona threatens all of us.
For Campbell's part, he has a legitimate issue of concern that he can make hay out of, both as a state representative, and as a likely 2014 candidate for governor.
I just hope he can gain some traction on it, beyond the confines of the Democratic Party.
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