On Monday Arizonans for Transparency and Accountability in Corrections (ATAC) announced its formation as an Arizona non-profit organization with a “mission to restore trust in the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry (ADCRR) through the formation of a citizen’s oversight and advisory board and corrections ombuds which will institute accountability and transparency of ADCRR and increase public safety while providing care for the incarcerated.”
ATAC Executive Director John Fabricius stated that “Oversight for the Arizona Department of Corrections has been discussed for a number of years; however, there has been a more concerted effort to pass transparency and accountability legislation the last couple of years.”
Fabricius went on to point to two pieces of legislation that were proposed in the Fifty-fourth Legislature Second Regular Session.
House Bill 2754 was co-sponsored by 19 members of the House Democratic Caucus. Representatives Diego Rodriguez, Richard C. Andrade, Isela Blanc, Reginald Bolding, Jr., Kelli Butler, Andres Cano, Cesar Chavez, Domingo DeGrazia, Kirsten Engel, Charlene R. Fernandez, Randall Friese, Rosanna Gabaldon, Jennifer Jermaine, Robert Meza, Jennifer Pawlick, Geraldine Petan, Athena Salman, Arlando Teller, and Myron Tsosie all signed on to the proposed legislation.
Representative Walter Blackman (R) initially proposed House Bill 2069 which provided little if any substantive external oversight of the Arizona Department of Corrections. He later proposed House Bill 2849 which was a departure from his first bill and was similar in detail to HB 2754.
“Representative Blackman’s second bill has many of the same elements as the Democratic bill because both Representative Blackman and the House Democratic caucus members that co-sponsored HB 2754 listened to outside experts that had looked at successful prison oversight models from around the country, conducted extensive research, and had modeled legislation based upon evidence and best practices.” said Fabricius.
Fabricius stated that he worked extensively with Representative Diego Rodriguez and his team in crafting HB 2754 and had discussions with the groups that worked with Representative Blackman on HB 2849. Fabricius reiterated ATAC’s point that “corrections oversight is a nonpartisan issue that requires a bipartisan solution.” On ATAC’s website, the organization states that they are nonpartisan and are striving to achieve bipartisan support for necessary corrections oversight legislation.
When asked about why ATAC believes oversight legislation is necessary, Fabricius listed a number of recent events in the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry (ADCRR) that they believe warrant the creation of an citizen’s oversight and advisory board as a standing committee in the Arizona Legislature and the corrections ombuds office in the Executive branch.
“In just the last few years we have seen the Lewis Complex lock-failure incidents, the United States District Court finding ADCRR in contempt of court in the healthcare class-action suit and fining the state an enormous amount of money, whistleblower complaints and allegations of retaliation by the department, staff and inmate suicides, financial irregularities, escapes, riots, unexplained inmate deaths, the failed response to COVID-19 which has resulted in preventable deaths and over 2000 positive cases amongst the men and women incarcerated in ADCRR which includes over 500 men at one unit it Tucson testing positive, no substantive decline in the recidivism rate, the rapid retirement of former director, massive understaffing, the lowering of the hiring age to 18-years old, and the institution of unconstitutional policies attempting to limit press access to staff and inmates. This is not an effective, transparent, or accountable government agency. Arizona families and taxpayers are paying in excess of $1.2 billion for this failed system.”
These are issues that the members of the ATAC team know well. Fabricius spent 15 years in the ADCRR and spent a majority of his time “assisting my fellow incarcerated men access the courts in post-conviction relief petitions, civil rights actions, Habeas Corpus applications as well as a host of other legal and administrative remedies.” Fabricius had earned a degree in paralegal studies and used that knowledge to address the numerous issues he and his fellow inmates faced inside the system. Sue Braga, the Director of Government Relations for ATAC, also served three years of incarceration in Arizona. Braga has decades of legislative advocacy and lobbying experience from her work in the healthcare field prior to her incarceration.
Charlene Schwickrath, ATAC Community Relations Director, and Deborah North, ATAC Policy and Data Research Director, both have loved ones incarcerated in the ADCRR and have worked for years with numerous organizations on sentencing reform legislation and for the humane treatment of the incarcerated in ADCRR. Fabricius, Schwickrath, and North have all volunteered with the American Friends Service Committee of Arizona. Communications Director Hannah Burke was also directly impacted in her youth and worked in a correctional facility after her graduation from college where she studied Sociology and Psychology.
ATAC has revised a 2019 proposal written by Travis Hiland and John Fabricius entitled Truth in Corrections: Restoring Public Trust in Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation, and Reentry which outlines the “Creation of an Independent Citizen’s Oversight and Advisory Board and Ombuds.”
Fabricius maintained that he believes there is a real possibility to pass oversight legislation this year which he attributes to the November election and the retirement of key committee chairmen in the House and Senate Judiciary committees. “These bills have to come to the respective chambers through committees and if the committee chairs don’t bring them up for a vote, they die right there,” Fabricius said, referring to the retirement of John Allen (R), Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, and Eddie Farnsworth (R), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
ATAC’s proposed legislation calls for the formation of a citizen’s oversight and advisory board in the Arizona Legislature and a corrections ombuds in the Executive Branch.