Gov: Correct Corrections

More than 30 community leaders, including academics, clergy, public defenders and a former state senator, are calling on Governor Jane Dee Hull to create an independent task force to review conditions at the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections in response to a New Times special report.

The "Slammed" series ("The Kids Are NOT Alright," Amy Silverman, July 5) revealed how conditions at ADJC facilities have deteriorated since 1998, when a federal court order requiring that the department be monitored expired. The court order came as a result of a 1987 class-action lawsuit, Johnson v. Upchurch, that stemmed from a case in which a boy was held in solitary confinement for several weeks. Similar situations have arisen in the past four years, New Times reported. The stories included evidence of physical, sexual and verbal abuse of juvenile detainees by staff, inadequate mental health services and instances where kids were kept in detention far longer than their recommended time of stay.

The letter to Hull asks for a review of "conditions of confinement, length of stay determination and aftercare services throughout ADJC." It requests that the majority of task force members come from outside ADJC.

The task force members "should have total access to facilities, youth, staff and records, and be directed to do fact-finding and to make recommendations. One outcome must be a mechanism for on-going, permanent independent review."

The 31 signers include Russ Van Vleet, former Johnson v. Upchurch court monitor; Alice Snell, former chair of the Governor's Task Force on Juvenile Corrections; former state senator Stan Furman; Helene Abrams, juvenile division chief of the Office of the Maricopa County Public Defender; Andy Hall of Arizona State University's Center for Urban Inquiry; Richard Bitner, chair of Unitarian Universalists for Juvenile Justice; Rendell A. Davis, southern Arizona coordinator of The Restorative Justice Project; and Jan Christian, former executive director of the Governor's Select Commission and Task Force on Juvenile Corrections.

Christian, spokesman for the group, says the letter was sent to the Governor's Office July 12. As of July 19, she had not received a response. Hull crime policy adviser George Weisz says he first saw a copy of the letter July 19.

"We will be reviewing it," Weisz says of the letter, adding that he wished Christian had phoned him or ADJC Director David Gaspar to discuss the issues privately instead of calling for the creation of a task force.

Of the "Slammed" series, he says, "We think it paints a brush of the department of the whole that is not accurate. . . . The department is far better than it was four years ago, which is the comparison you're making."

But, Weisz added, the allegations in the stories are being reviewed. "If there's even one corner or one problem that we need to address, it's one too many."

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Amy Silverman is a two-time winner of the Arizona Press Club’s Journalist of the Year award. Her work has appeared on the radio show This American Life and in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Lenny Letter, and Brain, Child. She’s the co-curator of the live reading series Bar Flies, and a commentator for KJZZ, the NPR affiliate in Phoenix. Silverman is the author of the book My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome (Woodbine House 2016). Follow her on Instagram (@amysilverman), Twitter (@amysilvermanaz), and at