Arizona Governor Doug Ducey on Tuesday morning commuted the sentences of three terminally ill men incarcerated in the state prison system, his office announced.
This morning's signings follow lengthy waits for these men, who have just months to live and were all unanimously recommended for compassionate release by the state's Executive Board of Clemency in February, nearly two months ago.
Ducey did not provide commutations for two other Arizona inmates who also were recommended for compassionate release.
The three men to be freed are Dana Huff, Aubrey "Lee" Bryson, and Ray Garcia. The Executive Board of Clemency unanimously recommended in February — on the 12th, for Huff and Bryson, and the 18th, for Garcia — that their sentences be commuted.
Advocates and family members wanted to know what was taking the governor so long to sign off on those recommendations.
"If it was their family in there, they'd be doing everything to make sure he could get out," Edward Bryson, brother of Lee, told Phoenix New Times last week.
Upon learning of the commutation from New Times Tuesday, Bryson called the news "awesome."
His brother has Stage IV metastatic cancer. At his hearing before the Executive Board of Clemency in February, a state doctor estimated Bryson had less than three months to live.
Bryson was sentenced to eight years in prison in 2015 after stealing a truck. His sentence was commuted to time served.
“I wish the governor would’ve acted earlier, but I’m grateful for his decision today,” said State Representative Kirsten Engel. The Democrat from Tucson is one of the members of the House Judiciary Committee who has been pushing for the release of medically vulnerable and nonviolent inmates during the COVID-19 crisis.
Huff, who was sentenced to two years in prison in May 2019 for an aggravated DUI, has an aggressive form of cancer. He's been given less than four months to live, KJZZ reported last month. His sentence has been commuted to time served with community supervision.
Garcia was sentenced to two years and 10 months in July 2017, after being convicted on charges of drug violations, according to the proclamation accompanying his commutation. His sentence was also commuted to time served with community supervision.
The governor's office has not yet responded to a request for comment for this piece, including questions about precisely when the men will be released, why the commutations took so long to occur, and the statuses of the two other men who were recommended for compassionate release.
"I'm hopeful that the governor will act on [them] as well," Engel said of the remaining two men.
Advocates for inmates, including their families, lawyers, and legislators like Engel, also want the Arizona Department of Corrections, which houses more than 42,000 inmates, to release nonviolent inmates who are at greater risk of getting sick or dying from COVID-19, like those who are elderly or medically vulnerable.
The governor's office has said that it will not release any inmates, even though counties in Arizona and other states have begun doing so.
A recent visit to Florence prison by attorneys for incarcerated plaintiffs in the prison health care lawsuit Parsons v. Shinn found a lack of soap and hand sanitizer, crowded conditions that preclude social distancing, and policies like rationing soap.
Nonetheless, department director David Shinn has claimed that "it oddly appears the best place to live presently is in one of our institutions."
To date, 44 inmates in Arizona have been tested for COVID-19, according to the Department of Corrections. Eight are still pending. To date, no inmates have tested positive for the virus.
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