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Arizona Governor Creates Independent Prison Oversight Commission

by Douglas Ankney

On January 25, 2023, Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs (D) signed Executive Order No. 6, establishing an Independent Prison Oversight Commission (IPOC). Created to address the “urgent need to provide transparency and accountability of Arizona’s corrections system,” Hobbs said that IPOC’s responsibilities include safeguarding the integrity of the state Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry (DCRR), by preventing misconduct and identifying responsible ways to reduce costs.

In addition, IPOC is charged with providing lawmakers information to evaluate the success and efficiency of DCRR programs to improve public safety outcomes. Commissioners will also be ensuring that appropriate steps are taken to provide a safe workplace for DCRR staff and that prisoners receive humane treatment and are prepared for successful reentry into society. Collection and public dissemination of unbiased and accurate information about DCRR will also fall within IPOC’s purview.

Commissioners will inspect DCRR facilities and records, also speaking with staff and prisoners on topics to include medical and mental health care; cleanliness; educational programming; security; communication; and access to basic necessities. The 12-member Commission will include four legislators each selected by Republican and Democratic leaders of the state House and Senate. The remaining eight members will be appointed by Hobbs and will include someone from a prisoner advocacy organization; someone else with a background in rehabilitative programs; two formerly incarcerated Arizonans; a family member of a recently released prisoner; and experts with medical and mental health care experience. The chair of the Commission will also be selected by Hobbs.

Creation of IPOC came on the heels of an order by the federal court for the District of Arizona on January 9, 2023, ordering “substantial” changes to correct constitutional deficiencies in provision of healthcare, mental health care and conditions in isolation. But that order was soon followed by another far more scathing, when U.S. District Judge Roslyn O. Silver issued a highly detailed permanent injunction on April 7, 2023, saying she could not be “even minutely ambiguous because Defendants have proven they will exploit any ambiguity to the maximum extent possible.” Judge Silver directed the prison system to bring medical and mental health care providers to a minimum caseload, develop a staffing plan for isolation housing units and provide medical and mental health care screenings within one day after a prisoner enters custody of DCRR. [See: PLN, Sep. 2023, p.63.]  

Additional source: Gila Herald

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