ADCRR: $1.4 billion threat to safety

The Arizona Departement of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry (ADCRR), including Director David Shinn and ultimately Governor Doug Ducey, is entrusted with two crucial fiduciary responsibilities:

  • The humane care of our nearly 34,000 incarcerated neighbors and family members, thousands of staff, and the public safety of over 7 million Arizona residents.
  • The good stewardship of over a $1.4 billion of Arizona taxpayer dollars.

In both of these crucial fiduciary responsibilities of care and accounting, the ADCRR systematically fails. And the cost in human lives and financial waste continues to rise.

ADCRR Failures: At a glance

A wastefull broken agency

From 2018 to present, although the incarcerated population in Arizona steadily decreased from 42,071 to 33,326, the corresponding appropriated budget for ADCRR increased from roughly $1.1 billion to over $1.4 billion.

Despite a decline in prison population and the strikingly disproportionate increases in the ADCRR budget, Arizona prisons continue to be riddled with security failures, crumbling infrastructure, grossly inadequate healthcare, poor confinement conditions, major technology deficiencies, and high rates of staff attrition. 

In the last few years alone, our incarcerated neighbors and family members have suffered significant hardships beyond the baseline harsh realities of confinement. These often occurred as a direct result of the failures of the system entrusted with their care.

As outlined below, the unchecked deficiencies of ADCRR continue to put our communities, corrections staff, and incarcerated people at risk. It is abundantly clear, throwing tax-payer money at ADCRR without independent oversight, transparency, and accountability is futile and irresponsible.

Contents

Failed Security

Fiscal incompetence

As of 2019, the department has spent more than $24 million on a contract to build and maintain a new inmate management system (ACIS). “We have a couple modules they spent millions of dollars on that we can’t use at all,” a department source said. 

“The program that tracks inmate property is not working. So they went back to the old way of tracking it by hand with paper because the software wasn’t working.” 

A department source testified that requirements for the project were poorly scoped from the beginning, resulting in a contract that went millions of dollars over budget.

Trapped beyond release dates

According to ADCRR whistleblowers, hundreds of incarcerated people eligible for release are being held in prison because the ACIS software cannot interpret current sentencing laws and calculate release dates. 

After repeated internal warnings, employees sent a report to department leadership in October 2020, detailing the software failure. 

Instead of fixing the bug, sources said they’re trying to interpret complex sentencing laws and manually crunch numbers on calculators to calculate release dates. “We still can’t get them out the door. These people are literally trapped.”

Putting people in danger

Other key ACIS modules have failed, including those that track inmate health care, head counts, security classification, and gang affiliations. 

“We can’t keep the right medication with seriously ill inmates when they’re transferred to a new unit,” a source said. “We’ve put people in cells together from conflicting gangs without realizing it. We’re putting people in danger. It’s only a matter of time before someone gets killed or dies.”

Complicit negligence

ACIS has experienced more than 14,000 bugs since it was implemented in November 2019. One source recalled, “Every person associated with the software rollout begged [leadership] not to go live.” 

But multiple sources said they were instructed by department leadership to “not say a word” about their concerns. “We were told ‘We’re too deep into it—too much money had been spent—we can’t go back now.’”

Failed Staffing

Arizona’s prisons are dangerously understaffed. High staff attrition contributes to security failures, risk to human life, and fiscal waste.

  • On the “Brink of Collapse.” In August 2022, several ADCRR staff whistleblowers reported ASPC-Lewis in Buckeye, the largest complex in the state housing about 4,400 men, is on the “brink of collapse” due to dangerous understaffing levels.
  • September 2022, federal court testimony reveals prison administration at APSC-Lewis ordered inmates to police each other, resulting in hundreds of sanctioned beatings.
  • Impact on the annual operations budget due to significant overtime expenses were over $64 million in FY 2020, alone.
Failed Infrastructure

ADCRR facilities consistently experience issues with infrastructure that profoundly impact the safety and security of incarcerated people and ADCRR staff, including: 

  • Contaminated water
  • Crumbling buildings
  • Lack of heat and air conditioning
  • Failed locking systems
Failed Computer Systems

Fiscal incompetence

As of 2019, the department has spent more than $24 million on a contract to build and maintain a new inmate management system (ACIS). “We have a couple modules they spent millions of dollars on that we can’t use at all,” a department source said. “The program that tracks inmate property is not working. So they went back to the old way of tracking it by hand with paper because the software wasn’t working.” A department source testified that requirements for the project were poorly scoped from the beginning, resulting in a contract that went millions of dollars over budget.

Trapped beyond release dates

According to ADCRR whistleblowers, hundreds of incarcerated people eligible for release are being held in prison because the ACIS software cannot interpret current sentencing laws and calculate release dates. After repeated internal warnings, employees sent a report to department leadership in October 2020, detailing the software failure. Instead of fixing the bug, sources said they’re trying to interpret complex sentencing laws and manually crunch numbers on calculators to calculate release dates. “We still can’t get them out the door. These people are literally trapped.”

Putting people in danger

Other key ACIS modules have failed, including those that track inmate health care, head counts, security classification, and gang affiliations. “We can’t keep the right medication with seriously ill inmates when they’re transferred to a new unit,” a source said. “We’ve put people in cells together from conflicting gangs without realizing it. We’re putting people in danger. It’s only a matter of time before someone gets killed or dies.”

Complicit negligence

ACIS has experienced more than 14,000 bugs since it was implemented in November 2019. One source recalled, “Every person associated with the software rollout begged [leadership] not to go live.” But multiple sources said they were instructed by department leadership to “not say a word” about their concerns. “We were told ‘We’re too deep into it—too much money had been spent—we can’t go back now.’”

Failed Healthcare

In March 2012, the ACLU and Prison Law Office filed a federal class action lawsuit stating: “Prisoners in custody of AZ Department of Corrections receive such grossly inadequate medical, mental health and dental health care they are in danger of suffering serious and preventable injury, amputation, disfigurement and even death.”

On two separate occasions, the ADCRR was held in contempt of court for failing to meet healthcare benchmarks laid out in a 2015 stipulated agreement, and was fined $1.4 million in 2018 and $1.1 million in 2021, with additional fines continuing each month until they are in compliance.

After a decade of broken promises by Arizona state prison officials, U.S. District Judge Roslyn O. Silver ruled in June 2022 that the ADCRR systematically violates the constitutional rights of people incarcerated in the state’s prisons by failing to provide them minimally adequate medical and mental health care, and by subjecting them to harsh and degrading conditions in solitary confinement units.

Inhumane Confinement

Recently released inspection documents detail filthy conditions, broken equipment, and frequent use of expired food, some labeled “not fit for human consumption.”

In her June 2022 ruling, Judge Silver also found that ADCRR overuses isolation, with approximately 9.5 percent of its population in isolation—more than double the national average. She noted that some 200 people who ADCRR did not believe require isolation were, nonetheless, in isolation. Further, Judge Silver found that the conditions in ADCRR detention units were “alarming,” with ADCRR failing to offer people showers, recreation, or even food.

Take the Pledge

In the face of mounting evidence of ADCRR waste, neglect, and harm to our communities and prison population, we have a financial and moral obligation to establish independent oversight of the Arizona corrections system.

There is a glaring blind spot in the Arizona public’s ability to scrutinize the government’s activities, to shine a spotlight on abuses, and to hold officials accountable.

To that end, we invite you to take the Restore Public Trust in Arizona Corrections Pledge. By signing the pledge, candidates for political office and incumbents commit to support accountability and transparency in the ADCRR