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AZ Passes Repressive Prison Laws

As part of the national trend towards bashing prisoners the 41st session of the Arizona legislature recently passed a number of repressive laws designed to make life harder for prisoners as well as restrict their access to the courts. The laws went into effect on July 1, 1994.

§ 31-201.01 of the Arizona Revised Statutes (ARS) was modified to authorize the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) to charge prisoners $5.00 for each visit for medical treatment as well as for prescriptions, medication and prosthetic devices. A similar practice by the Nevada DOC is currently being challenged by ACLU attorneys [See: PLN , July, 1994]. (Nevada and Arizona are both in the ninth circuit.) Exempt from the payment plan are pregnant prisoners, those in mental health units, reception centers, Unit 8 at Florence, juvenile prisoners, prisoners with chronic health problems and the developmentally disabled.

§ 12-302 and §12-300 of the ARS were modified to no longer allow state courts to waive court fees for indigent prisoner litigants. Nothing in the statute prohibits the filing of legal actions if the applicant cant pay the legal fees. But, when the prisoner has funds available the court will have the ADC collect the amount due. "...on filing the court shall assess and, when funds exist, collect as partial payment of any court fees required by law a first time payment of twenty percent. Thereafter twenty percent of all deposits into the prisoner s spendable account administered by the state department of corrections shall be withheld until the actual court fees are collected in full." The ADC will forward the collected monies to the relevant courts on an annual basis. This applies to all civil actions and proceedings except for dissolution of marriage and child support cases.

§31-201.01 was modifed to grant state employees and agencies immunity from having to follow state laws or statutes. "No person convicted of a felony who is incarcerated while awaiting sentence or while serving a sentence imposed by a court of law has a cause of action seeking damages or equitable relief frown the state or its political subdivisions, agencies, officers or employees for injuries suffered while in the custody of the state or its political subdivisions or agencies unless the complaint alleges specific facts from which the court may conclude that the plaintiff suffered serious physical injury or the claim is authorized by a federal statute." Serious physical injury was defined as "impairment of physical condition that creates a substantial risk of death or that causes serious disfigurement, prolonged impairment of health or prolonged loss or impairment of the function of any bodily organ." This law may be argued to show a federal court that Arizona prisoners have no adequate "state remedies" for violations of due process, property deprivations, etc.

The ADC can now deduct money from prisoners spendable accounts to pay for state property damaged or destroyed by the prisoner; medical treatment for injuries the prisoner inflicts on himself or others; searching for and catching prisoners who escape or seek to escape; quelling riots or disturbances in which prisoners are involved.

§ 31-230 was created which orders the ADC to establish an annual cost of incarceration for prisoners which is supposed to be the average amount spent to keep each prisoner captive. "The state shall have the right to set off the cost of incarceration calculated under subsection A at any time and without prior notice against any claim made by or monetary obligation owed to a person for whom a cost of incarceration can be calculated, except that twenty percent of any claim or monetary obligation shall be exempt from the provisions of this section."

"If a person for whom a cost of incarceration can be calculated obtains a monetary judgment against the state and the attorney general appears and exercises the right of this section, any monies set off against the monetary judgment shall be distributed as follows.." The states general fund gets 70% and the AGs office gets the remaining 30%. This statute is plainly unconstitutional if the state tries to apply it to prisoners, successful Federal § 1983 actions against state officials will follow. A remarkably similar statute has already been held unconstitutional in Hankins v. Finnel, 964 F.2d 853 (8th Cir. 1992), the appeals court held that the Missouri Incarceration Reimbursement Act was unconstitutional when prison officials sought to confiscate the money damages awarded to prisoners who successfully sued their captors for constitutional violations. It held that the statute was contrary to the goals of § 1983 which seek to ensure that federal constitutional injuries by state officials are compensated and redressed.

§ 41-1604.07 was modified to allow the ADC to forfeit five days of a prisoners earned release credits if "the court or a disciplinary hearing held after a review by and recommendations from the attorney generals office determines that the prisoner does any of the following: 1. Brings a claim without substantial justification. 2. Unreasonably expands or delays a proceeding. 3. Testifies falsely or otherwise presents false information or material to the court. 4. Submits a claim that is intended solely to harass the party filed against."

We ask that our readers in different states keep us advised of changes in the law, and challenges to it, that affect prisoners so we can report it. We rely on you to send us local information that will be of interest to prisoners and their supporters across the country.

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