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Charlene Schwickwraith
ATAC

ATAC

Why is Oversight so Important to Me?

My son entered the Az Dept of Corrections in 2008. His first years were most likely very stressful; however, he didn’t complain or speak about his everyday prison life other than he was doing a few programs and working as a teacher’s aide. He had a plan to make the best of prison and do his time and come home. That plan worked out for him for a while but then one day he suddenly found himself in a predicament he didn’t know how to handle. He called me and told me about an issue that took place and the reality of that truly shook me to the core. I didn’t immediately know what to do so I went to the ADCRR website and decided to follow their recommended guidelines for dealing with inmate concerns.

Step 1 – contact the Deputy Warden

Step 2 – contact the Warden 

Step 3 – contact Constituent Services/Inmate Family and Friends

I quickly learned this process was not getting our issues resolved. Contacting the Deputy Warden, the Warden, and Constituent Services had become an enormous waste of time. A matter of fact Constituent Services never did return my call. I left many messages with Constituent Services and finally after a month of waiting for a response I decided I had no other choice but to write the Governor – surely once he knew what was happening in his prisons he would work diligently to remedy the horrific issue I was about to expose – after all incarcerated people are still Arizona citizens and they are under the care of the state he governs.  I carefully and thoughtfully formulated a letter expressing my concerns and addressing the issue that had unexpectedly upset our lives and then I sent an email to the Governor. I patiently waited for his reply and prayerfully his help. It was several months before I finally received a response to my cry for help – this elected official took the time to send me a form letter stating his office could not help us but had forwarded my concerns to the appropriate parties within AZ DOC! After all those months I found myself right back at Step 1!

This particular issue and how it has been handled is probably the most eye-opening reason I know ADCRR must have oversight. This particular issue was never resolved and it still exists today. The fact is there is literally no one to turn to for help with serious issues.  This is true for medical issues, legal issues, food issues, mail issues, and any of the other plethoras of issues that exist within the ADCRR.  After 5 years of fighting this battle on our own, we decided our only other recourse was to hire an attorney and file a lawsuit against the ADCRR and pray a judge would grant relief. To date, the Arizona Attorney General’s Office has spent over $40,000 taxpayer dollars to argue against us in this case; a case that has made it all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States and they lost! All this wasted money was something that simply began over a typographical error – a typographical error that endangered my son’s life. ADCRR will do whatever it takes to defend their many mistakes – no matter how large or small.  Instead of simply admitting to a typographical error and correcting the typographical error they have chosen to waste thousands of taxpayer dollars and thousands of hours of time. Above all, they completely repudiate the fact they wrongfully placed my son’s life in danger. 

We expect all citizens of Arizona to follow the laws and to be held accountable for their wrongdoings. Then why is it that Arizona’s citizens who work for the Department of Corrections are held to different standards? If they commit wrongdoings that endanger incarcerated citizen’s lives then why are they not held accountable? I believe it is because there is no one watching the watchers.

ADCRR is not made to be transparent about their actions OR non-actions.

ADCRR is not held accountable for their actions OR their non-actions.

We must have independent oversight for ADCRR. We cannot rely on any of the so-called oversight mechanisms that are currently in place. Calling the Deputy Warden, the Warden, and Constituent Services is not an oversight. If that were true I would not be spending thousands of dollars out of my own pocket on an ongoing lawsuit to resolve an issue that began over a typo. Arizona’s taxpayers would not be spending thousands of dollars on an ongoing lawsuit that could have and should have been resolved 10 years ago when the typo occurred. If calling the Deputy Warden, the Warden, and Constituents Services were oversight of Arizona’s prisons then Arizona’s taxpayers would not be spending millions of dollars on an ongoing Parsons vs Shinn lawsuit.

Had an Ombudsman’s Office and an independent Oversight Committee been in place when we needed help 10 years ago there would be no need to file a lawsuit. Getting issues resolved in a timely manner is just one of the benefits of having independent oversight. I can tell you it is extremely frustrating to have a serious matter brushed aside as if it were of no importance.

Having an Ombudsman Office and an independent Oversight Committee could potentially save Arizonans millions of dollars in lawsuits.

 Having an Ombudsman Office and an independent Oversight Committee to circumventing issues early on is being proactive – having to fight lawsuits that are filed due to negligence, abuse, and torture of Arizona’s incarcerated people is being reactive. It is time for Arizona to be proactive and create an independent Ombudsman’s Office and an Oversight Committee!

This is just one story from one family of why Oversight is no longer in question – Oversight is IMPERATIVE!

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