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Leah Farrington


Why Oversight is Essential to Me

As a first-time non-violent offender, I found myself sentenced to one year in Perryville Prison. When you arrive in prison, you have to go through receiving and assessing (R and A). Upon arrival, we were told some policies would allow women to receive the feminine hygiene products needed every month at no cost to the inmate. Two days into R and A, we quickly found out this was not the case, and women were lucky to get one pad or tampon handed out by an officer in front of everyone; some sort of humiliation typically followed this up. In R and A, you cannot buy commissary from the store. You are entirely reliant on what the Arizona Department of Corrections Rehabilitation and Reentry gives you. The humiliation and dehumanizing abuse by ADCRR had only just begun.

I was assigned to the San Carlos yard at Perryville. San Carlos houses the largest women inmate population averaging around 1400 women. Carlos is a working yard with several inmates allowed to leave the prison every day to work various jobs. One of these jobs is at Central Office. Central Office is the main office for the Arizona Department of Corrections Rehabilitation and Reentry. I was assigned to this work crew. Shortly after starting work, I began noticing certain women being treated differently or better than others, and I saw a distinct pattern of who was able to get the sought-after job assignments at first. I just did not care. I had been assigned to another building and did not have to see the sexual harassment and abuse by the executives at ADCRR. I was reassigned to the Tool Room, and this meant I had to stay every day with the person chosen to oversee the inmate work program. Though I have many personal experiences I could share here, I will suffice to say the predation and perpetuation of abuse were astounding. I mistakenly thought we women would band together and rise against this cesspool of atrocities. I did not realize that my fellow women were so normalized to abuse in their life that they could not recognize nor comprehend what was happening to all of us.

Back at the yard, walking the track one day with a beloved friend, a woman out in front of us passed out. She fell to the pavement, and she fell hard. During the fall, she split her head wide open, and those of us on the track rallied around while some others ran to get a guard. When a medical incident happens, the guards call an ICS (Inmate Causing a Scene), and the response time can vary. We waited 24 minutes before a guard, and someone from medical came to check on her. 24 minutes of us unable to help her and us having to watch her suffer on the hot asphalt. Enraged, we asked the guard and medical staff what had taken so long we were met with the answer “we are understaffed, and we barely even care.” The yard was locked down due to this ICS, and as I sat on my bunk trying to come to terms with the incidents that had occurred over the past few months, I had an epiphany. I swore to myself and any other woman who would listen to me that I would be sure people knew what happened in there when I got out. The fire only burned inside of me deeper later that night when one of the guards came and got his “girlfriend” so they could go have sex.

Upon my release, I realized Criminal Justice Reform in Arizona is an uphill battle. I was chosen to speak at the Capitol to lawmakers regarding HB2261 which later became SB1526. However, as I was testifying or lobbying for this bill to become law, images of the belittling would flash through my head. Every time a lawmaker would push back, question, or even vote no, I was reminded this is a culture handed down from lawmakers to the Executives at ADCRR, that culture is trained into the Correctional Officers, and there is no one overseeing this. We can pass all of the laws we want. We can fight diligently for policies to change. Still, if no one holds the Arizona Department of Corrections Rehabilitation and Reentry accountable, then nothing changes, and the perpetuation of abuse continues. Oversight would serve to ensure ADCRR complies with new laws and its policies.

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