Arizona Prison Warden Offers 'Once in a Lifetime' Public Tour. ACLU Not Amused

An Arizona state prison warden in southern Arizona promoted an upcoming public tour to celebrate the complex's 50th anniversary as "a once in a lifetime opportunity," inviting backlash.

According to the Douglas Dispatch, on March 13, current and former correctional officers will lead visitors through the Arizona State Prison Complex in Douglas during a bus tour of the perimeter of the units, the dog kennels, and the firing range, followed by a tour of a vacant unit.

“Come and experience a day behind the razor wire and enjoy a free meal, a free bus tour, and a prison unit tour," Warden Glenn Pacheco said, according to the newspaper. "This is a one-day event and is a once in a lifetime opportunity for you and your family to experience.”  

The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona criticized the event as "deeply hurtful" and insensitive to incarcerated people. The group called the warden's statement "disgusting."

Pacheco said the event will mark the first occasion the prison will be open to the public for a tour, the Dispatch reported.

“Walk in the footsteps of prisoners who have been residents of these units during the last 30 plus years," Pacheco reportedly said. "Hear the prison doors close behind you. Discover what happens behind the high fences and locked doors of a real prison facility.”

Visitors will reportedly eat hamburgers, hot dogs, and macaroni salad in a former inmate dining room as they listen to "jailhouse rock and roll music."

The Department of Corrections did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Advocates with the ACLU and other groups have lobbied for criminal justice reform at the Arizona Legislature this session. They have urged legislators to reform Arizona's harsh truth-in-sentencing laws and mandatory minimums, with little success so far.

Arizona has the fourth-highest incarceration rate in the nation, according to a study by the criminal justice and immigration reform lobbying group FWD.us. The report found that Arizona's prison population has grown by 33 percent since 2000.

The health care services provided within Arizona's prison system were the target of the ACLU during a 2012 class-action lawsuit, Parsons v. Ryan. The ACLU and the Prison Law Office sued the Department of Corrections on behalf of incarcerated people in state prisons who said they were not receiving adequate medical, mental health, and dental care.

Although a federal judge approved a 2015 settlement in which the state agreed to make improvements, the court fined the state $1.4 million last year for failing to measure up to the terms of the agreement.

Update, March 7, 10:46 a.m. In response to the ACLU, Department of Corrections spokesperson Andrew Wilder said in an emailed statement, "People can see through the ACLU’s predictable feigned outrage here."

"The ACLU demands (and regularly receives) its own tours of Arizona prisons, so it should applaud the agency’s transparency in welcoming the community into the prison to learn firsthand about modern corrections," Wilder wrote. "We want the public to see our positive inmate programs and active efforts to reduce recidivism. Interestingly, the ACLU calls that 'disgusting' and 'unconscionable.'"
KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Joseph Flaherty is a staff writer at New Times. Originally from Wisconsin, he is a graduate of Middlebury College and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.
Contact: Joseph Flaherty