Hayley Worrell
Picture of ATAC


Independent Oversight of the Arizona Department of Corrections : Why It Matter?

As I walked into the prison gates for the first time, visiting my husband, who was wrongly convicted and sentenced to twelve years in the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry, I noticed how glamorous the security area and surrounding offices were within the prison walls. The halls were decorated with holiday decorations, freshly painted walls, and perfect granite countertops throughout the space. The bathroom adjacent to the security area looked to have been updated recently with countertops and sinks that would resemble what you would find in a high-class hotel. I was pleasantly surprised, “Wow, this is nothing like in the movies!” I thought as I made my way through the sliding metal doors into the visitation room.

Through the metal doors that opened before me, it was like I was walking into a different dimension. Holes were gaping through the ceiling amongst water damage that I could tell had been seeping through for ages. The bathrooms in the visitation room resembled what you would find at a run-down park, which was just the tip of the iceberg. Although the State Department of Correction’s budget states that $161,779,000 goes towards “Other Operating Expenditures” and another $12,500,000 goes towards “Prison Construction and Operation Funds,” the visitation room says differently. This single prison alone showed me that they are not using those funds to keep the majority of the prison buildings in acceptable conditions.

My husband told me about what it was like on the other side of that wall throughout the visit. He was overjoyed with a bottle of water since it was clear instead of the yellow tinted water with floating particles that he had become accustomed to during his prison stay. He was grateful for the overpriced vending machine food, which was a nice change compared to the food he made during his job at the kitchen labeled “Not For Human Consumption.” The Department states that they budgeted $40,914,600 to spend on food for the inmates, and yet somehow, that multi-million dollar budget cannot provide food for human consumption. I guess that is how people get the saying that “prisoners are treated like animals.”

Another primary concern that is shown within the prison is healthcare. Although I know that there are many significant healthcare concerns, especially regarding women in prison, I can speak to my husband’s knowledge and what has happened directly in his time within the Department of Corrections. The Department stated that they budget $194,711,700 on inmate health care. Yet, somehow my husband had a spider bite that turned into a pus-filled wound was sent back to his bunk when seeking medical attention and told to lance it himself and put a paper towel on the area. Thank God that it did not have adverse health effects; however, the point remains. The Department does not provide the necessary health care for inmates in that multi-million dollar budget that they allotted for it.

With a $1,367,625.30 total budget allotted of taxpayer money to the State Department of Corrections, there needs to be independent oversight. As a provider for my family, I constantly check bank statements, save receipts, and make sure that my money is going to where I planned it to go. What makes the Department of Corrections any different? If there is no independent oversight over a massive government agency like the Department, how will we know where that budget is being spent? How do we know if our money is going towards healthcare and edible food for an inmate or upgrading their office buildings? How do we know if those inmates that are a part of our community, our loved ones, and our friends are getting adequate drinking water or health services when they are ill? That is why independent oversight is crucial.

The Arizona Department of Corrections recently changed its name to The Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation, and Reentry. While a good start to change how our State Prison system operates from punishment to rehabilitation, we need independent oversight to see those changes occur. Without this independent oversight, it will just be another name change with no actual programs and reform that The Department will initiate to aid our community. With better reform, prison conditions, and resources, we can ensure that the individuals who are sentenced to the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation, and Reentry are taken care of and rehabilitated. With an independent oversight committee, we will have confidence in knowing that our tax dollars will fund change, rehabilitation, and a safer community. Because inmates are not just inmates, they are and will always be a part of our society. They are your past, present, and future neighbor, your best friend’s brother, your loved one, or your friend. They deserve the help they may or may not need in conditions suited for people and not animals. They deserve independent oversight. As Arizonans and taxpayers, we deserve independent oversight so that we can honestly do the best for our communities and state.

The Department of Corrections is responsible for taking care of the individuals who find themselves under its supervision when they are sentenced. They are responsible for adequate health care, edible food, clean water, and rehabilitation programs. Without independent oversight, we cannot be assured that our taxpayer dollars are being used for those needs. Human lives are at stake without this oversight, and I urge every one of you reading this to start looking at how the Department operates with open eyes. I encourage you to fight for change, even if you or a loved one is not directly affected by the conditions surrounding the prisons in our state. I urge you to fight for all of the 41,794 and counting people whose voices have been taken from them during incarceration. Don’t just read the countless horror stories that occur due to the lack of oversight that the Department has regarding the individuals in their care. Be the change that is desperately needed.

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