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Arizona's New Tin Horn Dictator

The tyrannical rule of Arizona prison director, Sam Lewis, came to an end with his resignation in December, 1995. PLN has previously reported the oppressive tactics employed by Lewis which rolled back many of the gains made by prisoners during the 1960's and 70's. Prisoners struggled through riots, strikes, and deaths - sacrificing blood, sweat and tears - to bring about a degree of dignity and decency to prison management policies.

Lewis, however, failed to heed the lessons of the past. He instilled a state-wide campaign of repressive policies designed to return Arizona's prisons to the barbaric times of the past. His management style earned him the title given him in the press by attorney John Franks who referred to Lewis as a tin horn dictator.

The August 1994 issue of PLN (Oppression on the Rise in Arizona) reported how Lewis took most personal property from prisoners, such as cassette players, CD's, clothing, gloves, cold weather apparel. He also reduced the variety of food items available through commissary orders to mere candy items. PLN accurately predicted what the outcome of such policies would be.

Under Lewis, the entire Arizona prison system experienced a marked increase of tension and violence. As Lewis's regressive policies bloomed full in 1994 and 1995 so did the prisoners' response, as reported in the June 1995 issue of PLN (Winds of Unrest Blowing Over Arizona). Those disturbances and riots were a harbinger of things to come.

During Lewis's reign he implemented policies such as one which forbids prison staff from addressing prisoners as sir, Mr., Ms., or Mrs. Instead staff are required to address prisoners as "inmate" or by their last name only. Just before Lewis resigned he implemented a chain gang for death-row prisoners, as well as chain gangs for prisoners in lock-down units throughout the state.

Also during his ten-year reign Lewis closed halfway houses, and most rehabilitation programs were eliminated or severely reduced. While Lewis proclaimed that treating prisoners harshly would be a deterrent to crime, the opposite appears to be true. The recidivism rate during his reign steadily increased. Many are leaving Arizona prisons bent on destruction as they feel that society has supported the repressive policies, and therefore no mercy will be shown in turn.

The new prison director, Terry Stewert, is cut from the same mold as Lewis. Already, in the short time since Stewert was appointed, he is being termed just another tin-horn dictator. Shortly after he took the reigns of office, Stewert ordered all movies forfeited, and that no future movies be bought or rented. He also canceled all premium cable channels. The movies and cable channels were paid for by the Activities and Recreation fund. This fund receives its revenue from the profits of services paid for by prisoners themselves (commissary purchases, telephone calls, etc.) and not from tax-payer money. He further ordered that all TV systems have a master cut-off switch which "shall be under the direct control of the warden of each facility." As of January 16, 1996, all TV's are cut-off from midnight to 6:00 am, and on weekends from 2:00 - 6:00 am. Each warden can cut off all TV's at his or her discretion, so censorship of varying kinds is anticipated.

Stewert's next focus was on food services. The following items were removed from the rotation menu: Texas French toast, cinnamon rolls, dinner rolls, biscuits, apple crisp and brownies. They were replaced by white bread or sugar cookies.

On December 27, 1995, just days after the new policies were announced, 200-plus prisoners at the Safford Tonto Unit, a medium security facility, went on a rampage, causing extensive damage.

DOC spokesperson Mike Arra said it was "a racial incident between blacks and whites." The true cause is the tension that has been growing under Lewis and that is now intensifying under Stewert.

Oppressive and inhumane prison policies were common to U.S. prisons in the 1960's and 70's. They were not a deterrent then, and they are not now. They only lead to riots, violence, destruction and death.

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