Brian Kovacs

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Brian KovacsAugust 8, 201918min289703

You probably remember the expression, “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” Apparently it is for many Arizona Department of Corrections staff members as they continue to flee the department in record numbers. Many are choosing to retire or are leaving for other jobs or agencies. Is it surprising why so many people are choosing to leave? The department has been plagued with multiple scandals over the years, culminating with demands from a variety of organizations and public figures that Director Charles Ryan step down or be fired. Four department administrators recently “retired” from state service after the media released stories regarding department security deficiencies and malfeasance. Curiously, Director Ryan has not stepped down nor has he been terminated. Supposedly an unbiased, thorough investigation has begun regarding the Lewis prison security issues, and other questionable department practices.

Despite the department’s efforts at damage control, including the recent rescission of some department policies that were damaging to staff morale, employees continue to leave. A recent ten percent pay increase was negligible, and has had little, if any effect on staff recruitment or retention. In an attempt to increase staffing levels, the department has resorted to having the legislature statutorily reduce the minimum age requirement to eighteen for hiring corrections officers.

According to insiders, the department culture has not changed. Some say the department has weaponized its Administrative Investigations Unit to intimidate and silence staff members. Some staff members have received letters sent from AIU on department letterhead to their personal addresses warning them about their social media use. There are certain time and place restrictions on First Amendment rights, but that practice seems unsettling and Orwellian, and should be concerning to most. Management continues to mistreat their employees, sometimes using more subtle or surreptitious tactics because of increased public scrutiny. Employees have been denied transfers, use of their earned sick and annual leave, and assigned to unfavorable work areas as forms of retaliation and management abuse.

Working conditions in the state prison system have not improved; they have worsened in some institutions, according to sources. There have been a number of department safety issues mentioned in various publications and television news stories. There are problems with security doors not locking, giving inmates the opportunity to assault corrections staff at will. High-risk inmates are being placed in less restrictive prison environments without being properly vetted. Staffing shortages have resulted in department managers requiring staff to manage an inordinate number of inmates and liabilities. Sanitation issues exist that increase the risk of illness and disease to staff and inmates. Medical issues continue to be problematic for staff. When inmates do not receive required medical care or medication it can create health issues for inmates, and staff safety issues because of the potential for inmate retaliation. The situation becomes particularly dangerous when prisoners with mental health illnesses have not received prescribed psychotropic medications.

I am going to provide some recent examples of hazardous working conditions and dangerous security issues at the Arizona State Prison-Eyman complex in Florence, Arizona. Special Management Unit One is a so-called “lockdown” unit in the prison vernacular, and used to be considered a maximum security unit. It currently houses maximum and lower custody inmates. The sanitation in that unit is reportedly so horrid that an infestation of mice has developed. Inmates are allegedly trapping and killing them, and throwing them into the cell blocks where they are sometimes left for days. Although rare, another concern is the potential for a Hantavirus outbreak. Miscellaneous garbage is strewn about in cell blocks and officer control rooms throughout the prison, and roach infestation is widespread.

The Meadows Unit is a medium security sex offender prison also located in Eyman complex in Florence, Arizona. According to sources, a bed bug infestation has existed in that unit since approximately October 2017, and there is documentation of the problem dating back to January 2018. The bed bug problem still exists despite efforts to eradicate the parasites. Employees are concerned with the possibility of the parasites infesting their clothing, personal vehicles, and homes, thereby placing their own family members at risk. Rest assured that any evidence of the aforementioned conditions in those prisons will be eliminated prior to any facility tours attended by prison visitors. Multiple resources will be used to sanitize, organize, and put on a disingenuous display for the attendees. A DOC tour can be likened to a tour of North Korea in terms of institutional access and public transparency.

Cook Unit is another medium security sex offender prison located in Eyman complex in Florence, Arizona. Both Cook and Meadows units continue to operate by usually using one staff member to supervise one to two housing units for sometimes an entire shift ranging from 8-12 hours. Each housing unit can accommodate approximately 200 inmates. That means that one officer is expected to supervise approximately 200-400 inmates, and some inmates are being left unsupervised at times. Does that sound reasonable and safe to you? The department seems more focused on ensuring that posts are staffed with less emphasis on inmate accountability and staff safety.

Meadows Unit recently had an incident where a lone staff member had a medical emergency while working in a housing unit with approximately 160 inmates. The officer was locked in a secured control room but fell and struck his head on a concrete floor. He lay bleeding in a semi-conscious state without a backup officer present to immediately render aid. Luckily for him, an inmate reportedly went to an adjacent housing unit and notified an officer of the situation. That incident could have had a worse outcome, and demonstrates the risk to staff when understaffing occurs in those work areas.

Some sources say that an increase in attempted suicides and two recent inmate deaths at Special Management Unit One can be attributed in part to low staffing levels. On May 16, 2019, at approximately 2:00 A.M. an inmate was found dead in his cell. The deceased was reportedly discovered hanging from his cell door approximately four hours after death. Questions arose regarding staffing levels and whether the security checks were completed in a timely manner. Interestingly, the department video surveillance footage leading up to that time, and the corrections log book for that area have gone missing.

In the early afternoon of June 16, 2019, an inmate attempted to commit suicide using a homemade noose that he fashioned from a bedsheet. According to sources, he took at least six minutes or more to construct it while in a visible area of a cell block that has a video surveillance camera. He placed the noose around his neck and tied the other end of it to a safety railing on a second floor tier. He then jumped over the railing, and hanged himself. Two officers walked into the cell block as he jumped and were able to save his life. Sources said the area where the incident occurred is understaffed with only one control room officer to monitor two control rooms in an area that houses up to 96 inmates. That incident clearly underscores the danger of those prison areas where inmates are allowed to roam freely within their cell blocks during daytime hours with little or no supervision.

In the late afternoon of July 20, 2019, an inmate was found dead in his cell in an area of the prison designated for increased health and welfare security inspections. The inmate was reportedly transported to Special Management Unit One in the early morning hours that day and was taken to the unit’s medical facility. He was described as possibly being under the influence of methamphetamine and heroin. The medical facility released the inmate from their care and he was escorted to a watch cell. He was found dead in his cell later that day from a possible drug overdose. Sources indicated that one correctional officer was assigned to watch three cell blocks that day. The three cell blocks accommodated up to 24 special security watches, in total (including several suicide watches). The same officer was also required to perform other duties such as escorting inmates, feeding and clothing inmates, paperwork, etc.

Special Management Unit One is reportedly having security issues where inmates have successfully opened a locked cell door. They gained unauthorized access into a cell block and allegedly terrorized other inmates that were locked in other cells. That activity occurred multiple times in an area monitored by surveillance cameras. The Arizona Department of Corrections allegedly knew about it since July 24, 2019 but never informed corrections officers about the problem, and did not move those offending inmates from that area. Insiders said Director Ryan toured Special Management Unit One on July 26, 2019 but it is unclear if the visit was related to the cell door security issue.

ABC News affiliate, ABC15 in Phoenix, Arizona, recently reported that eight current and former Arizona Department of Corrections officers are suing the State of Arizona. They are suing for safety issues that led to inmate assaults, resulting in them suffering grievous personal injuries. According to the ABC15 report, a lawyer representing the State of Arizona argued for the case to be thrown out in the 9th District U.S. Court of Appeals because of qualified immunity. A 2008 United States Supreme Court case Pearson v. Callahan interpreted qualified immunity in part, as follows: “Qualified immunity balances two important interests–the need to hold public officials accountable when they exercise power irresponsibly and the need to shield officials from harassment, distraction, and liability when they perform their duties reasonably.” The lawyer representing the State of Arizona, Nicholas Acedo, stated, “None [of the corrections officers] allege that they were tricked into accepting their jobs or that on the day of their respective assaults, they protested the unit they were assigned to or the task they were assigned.” According to the ABC15 news report, Mr. Acedo added that the plaintiffs were previously aware of the alleged understaffing and broken cell door locks. Department lawyers tried using a similar legal argument when an educator that worked for the Arizona Department of Corrections was viciously stabbed and raped at Meadows Unit at the Eyman prison complex in Florence, Arizona on January 30, 2014.

The department lawyers said the victim was issued a [two-way] radio and knew the inherent risks working around an inmate population. That teacher had no defensive weapon available at that time, and was left alone in an isolated building with no one to check on her. I don’t know about you, but I’m outraged and disgusted by remarks such as those made by the department’s attorneys. I believe they are insensitive, and place blame on the victims for the crimes committed against them. Is Mr. Acedo suggesting the Arizona Department of Corrections did not exercise power irresponsibly when it required department employees to work in areas the department knew were understaffed and had dangerous security issues? The department can’t have it both ways. It puts tremendous pressure on its staff to perform well in understaffed prison environments with ever-increasing dangers and workloads, under threat of disciplinary action if their expectations are not met. But if something goes wrong then it’s the staff’s fault for knowingly working in an environment they knew was understaffed and unsafe.

Perhaps I’m being obtuse. Am I missing something here Mr. Acedo? Yes, there are inherent dangers when you work in a law enforcement or corrections capacity, or any high-risk profession for that matter, but that’s not what I am referring to here. I am referring to known risks that could have been negated if handled properly. These are foreseeable, dangerous threats that are either preventable or created entirely by the ineptitude of department leadership; they are typically fueled by poor decision-making, and influenced heavily by political considerations. Apparently the Arizona Department of Corrections didn’t read or disregarded the news release dated Thursday, May 2, 2019 from the Arizona House Republican Caucus endorsed by 31 Arizona State Representatives. That statement reads, “Any policy that undermines public safety and jeopardizes the security of corrections officers is completely unacceptable, and we are deeply troubled by reports regarding Lewis Prison. We strongly urge the Department of Corrections to immediately take the necessary steps to address the issue, and we are encouraged that Governor Ducey has tasked former Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justices Rebecca Berch and Ruth McGregor with investigating the matter. We look forward to their report and recommendations, and we stand ready to take any legislative action that may be needed.” The Arizona Department of Corrections cannot be allowed to undermine public safety or jeopardize the security of corrections staff while using department policy to diminish its responsibility or shield itself from liability.

Many state corrections employees have been subjected to harassment, intimidation, and retaliation by the Arizona Department of Corrections management for speaking out against the present department culture. The current department management culture doesn’t encourage or condone individualists. Management discourages free-thinking and prefers to hire and mold robotic thinkers. The department has had five decades to create a tractable employee culture that is less likely to influence positive change within the agency. That attitude seems to be most prevalent with the old guard managers who do not want to disrupt the status quo. Considering the existing conditions within the Arizona Department of Corrections, it is not surprising that more employees have not spoken out regarding safety issues, or questioned management decisions, or their lack of regard for employee safety.

The Arizona Department of Corrections is clearly in need of significant department reforms. Recent news stories have highlighted the department’s security deficiencies, management bullying and ineptitude, as well as compromised employee and inmate safety. Unfortunately, the department culture will not change without continued public pressure and outside agency intervention. The department has demonstrated that it cannot be trusted to police itself. Safeguards need to be adopted to ensure the agency upholds the duties, and responsibilities that the public has entrusted it with.


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Brian KovacsMay 20, 20198min5500


In this wonderful day and age where technology is rapidly advancing, sometimes things get left behind. I have found this especially true in regards to the firearms industry. You want parts for a glock or an AR 15? Buckle your seat-belts because you would be absolutely blown away by the countless hours of scrolling you could do to modify your precious pieces. There are, however, some platforms that are somewhat behind the times. For me it was the AK platform that was the “child left behind”. Extremely short lengths of pull, difficulty mounting modern lights and optics, strange charging operation that requires nothing short of a degree in contortion-ism to accomplish, and that wretched spike grip suitable only to the hands of leprechauns and small children. I found myself wondering if there was a way to bring the AK into the current decade, and I decided that I was going to see if I had the testicular fortitude to take on the task of creating my “perfect” AK.
All projects have to start somewhere, and the base of my project was a bare bones Arsenal 107FR. I acquired the rifle after consulting the inter-webs and several friends who fancy themselves AK connoisseurs. The Arsenal SLR107 is a standard stamped receiver that I was assured would offer great ability to accept customization. After a trip to my local shop I was off to the races. In the attempt to insure that I made the right choice in my base rifle, I began to learn the AK platform. I spent several days on the range, and about 1000 rounds later, I had decided that there were things that I wanted to address.
I found that I was less than impressed with the length of pull and the lack of adjustment therein. I found the stock to be very short and it made me feel extremely cramped behind the rifle. While I had decided that I was going to replace it, I also looked into the option of a folding stock. Being that the AK does not require the use of a buffer tube, it would be nice to be able to have the rifle be utilized while folded, in addition to taking up less room in my gun case or underneath the seat in my truck. While shopping for an item that would fit the bill, I ran across an option that satisfied both my desire to adjust the length of pull and the folding capability. I chose to go with the Magpul Zhukov stock in OD Green. When I purchased the Zhukov, I found it to be an exceptionally easy install and a vast improvement to the original offering.
The next item that I chose really handled two issues with one piece. The main issue was that I had no way to solidly mount an optic. AK iron sights don’t really do it for me. They impede the sight picture with a severely closed-in front sight post, and to me this hampered the rifles capability in a major fashion. With the litany of extremely exceptional optic systems available to us today, I found it unacceptable that the mount on the AK platform was sub-par. What I settled on was a Zenitco B30 and B31 combo. I decided to pair this with a Holosun 403C in a low mount. To be fair, I got this in a trade which involved my old arsenal furniture, but it solved more than a few problems for me. I liked it because this rail is an absolute tank, and I found it to be extremely stable when installed on the rifle. I also liked that it was easy to service the rifle just by undoing two screws and lifting the top rail. If you can find one, I would definitely recommend the B30 rail system, as it greatly increases the capability of the rifle by allowing not only the ability to mount an optic, but a vertical grip as well.
The next thing that I set out to tackle was the grip. The grip is one of the pivotal connections between your body and the rifle. I found the factory offering to be extremely lacking. In my mind’s eye, the standard AK grip closely resembled a tent stake. I admittedly have large hands and the factory grip had to go. I settled on yet another Magpul offering in the MOE AK+ grip. This is totally an AR knockoff grip that I really like. The rubberized coating gives great grip, and I find it to be very comfortable for people of the man-sized hands persuasion.
The last area that I found needing improvement was on the very front end of the rifle. As an AR shooter primarily, I found the recoil impulse of the AK unpleasant. The rifle was equipped with a slant muzzle brake originally, and I found that it did too good of a job. I say this meaning that when I was shooting the rifle it was actually driving the muzzle end of the rifle down. This is usually a good thing, but in this case too much of a good thing was actually uncomfortable. It created a fulcrum effect which in essence drove the stock into my cheek bone. I swapped it out for a Strike Industries J Comp. This addition made the recoil more linear in nature, and while it is absolutely obnoxious for the people around you, who needs fillings right?
The end result is a rifle that I find to be an absolute joy to shoot. It is surprisingly accurate at formidable distance, and honestly it surpassed my expectations. For those of you that are of the opinion that the AK platform isn’t capable of accuracy, think again. I can confirm wholeheartedly that technology can be successfully applied to the AK platform, and if you’re thinking of trying it yourself, I would strongly encourage you to try.

-Malone


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Brian KovacsMay 4, 20194min101041
I just read Richard Mehner’s painfully long and dry FOP Department puff piece. His words are so damaging to his own union that a response is really unnecessary, however, I can’t resist. He portrays the media that is covering this unfolding story as vultures that are “exaggerating, sensationalizing and disparaging” your industry. Based on all available documentation, video footage, and eyewitness accounts, I believe the evidence regarding the security issues at Lewis complex is irrefutable. His e-mail is an attempt to mitigate the serious security issues that led to many assaults on staff, and the death of Inmate Andrew McCormick on June 6, 2018.
He seemed more troubled about the Department’s public image, and his desire to remain relevant with promises of a pay raise, than acknowledging the Department’s failures so that this never happens again. The buck stops with the Department Director, Charles Ryan, and his executive staff. There is ample evidence his office knew about the security deficiencies for years. I grow tired of top-level managers and their sycophants shifting the onus to line staff while they shirk their responsibility, and accountability.
It is very simple. You don’t purchase prison doors and locks that have engineering issues, and are capable of being tampered with and/or disabled. It’s obvious that prison doors and locks should be of a robust design to prevent that. If there are engineering flaws with security equipment, it should be replaced immediately because lives depend on it. Why should the officers have to work harder to compensate for faulty equipment that the administration purchased, knew was defective, and failed to permanently fix?
He also mentioned the leaked surveillance video of the vicious assaults on corrections staff at Lewis complex. He felt the video footage has compromised a potential criminal case against the inmates that assaulted those officers. The video footage is damning evidence, and it is doubtful it would adversely affect a conviction based on all available evidence.
Mr. Mehner also stated, “The social media attacks on Director Ryan and the Department reflect poorly on all the hard work that you do every day. We must stop feeding into the negative campaign and offer fixes on this and every aspect of our profession.” I find that statement insulting to the intelligence of all Department staff that have been following these events. The media is exposing nonfeasance and malfeasance at the highest levels of the corrections department. Many staff members understand the dynamic and are very supportive of their efforts. That does not reflect on all members of the Department. It reflects on Director Ryan, the Executive Staff, and anyone else involved in this scandal.

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Brian KovacsApril 27, 201910min536647

The employees of the Arizona Department of Corrections are emerging from the shadows. They are unafraid, and are coming forward to share their stories of employee abuses at the hands of a dysfunctional corrections agency, led by embattled Director Charles L. Ryan. Director Ryan was appointed as the Arizona Department of Corrections Director in January 2009. The agency has been in a state of decline since he took command, and has reached a staggering level of incompetence. Journalist Stephen Lemons published a sobering article for the Phoenix New Times on September 16, 2015. It summarized the negligence of the Arizona Department of Corrections that led to sexual assaults, injuries, deaths, and the destruction of public property.

The latest Department scandal was exposed by Investigative Reporter Dave Biscobing from ABC News affiliate, ABC15 in Phoenix, Arizona. That story broke on April 25, 2019. It involved leaked Arizona Department of Corrections prison surveillance videos, and documents from the Lewis Prison Complex in Buckeye, Arizona. The documentation and other information obtained by Dave Biscobing clearly show that dozens of inmate cell doors do not lock in three prison units at that Complex. The doors have been broken for at least five years; the Executive Staff at DOC, including Director Ryan, know about the problem but failed to rectify it. High-risk custody level Inmates can open the cell doors and roam freely within their housing areas. Those security deficiencies resulted in several assaults on corrections staff by inmates, and one inmate death on June 6, 2018. Inmate Andrew McCormick was badly beaten by other inmates, and later died in the hospital from complications from the assault.

Investigative Reporter Dave Biscobing confronted Director Ryan at a public event with questions regarding the broken cell door locks. Director Ryan appeared nervous during the on-camera, impromptu interview with Biscobing. Mr. Ryan was aware of the broken locks and said that the Department receives about five million dollars per year in building renewal funds, but other projects have to be evaluated. He also said that locks cost money and it takes time to repair them. Dave Biscobing told him that officers were being ambushed, and injured by inmates, and one inmate was killed. Mr. Biscobing asked why the projects were not being prioritized. Mr. Ryan responded that they placed door pins in two cell blocks and instructed staff to secure inmates that managed to tamper with the locks. He said those inmates were placed in “tamper-proof” cell blocks and it greatly reduced the tampering of the pins. Mr. Biscobing produced evidence that contradicted Ryan’s statement, and was promptly interrupted, and ushered away from Mr. Ryan by one of the Director’s minions.

Talking Guns has learned that padlocks had previously been placed on many cell doors with broken locks at Lewis Prison as one solution to the problem. ABC15 Investigative Reporter Dave Biscobing released a follow-up story regarding an emergency visit that Director Ryan, and his retinue made to Lewis State Prison near Buckeye, Arizona on April 26, 2019. The Director arrived with a videographer and a team of maintenance workers. Mr. Biscobing’s sources said they were placing padlocks on cell doors. Apparently, they are placing additional padlocks on other cell doors with broken locks. This appears to be an attempt at damage control, and is obviously creating a safety issue for the inmate population should a fire occur in the institutions. Those inmate cells with padlocks have now become death-traps for the inmates that are housed in them.

There are several safety issues that still exist that the Department has known about for years, such as fire alarm systems in some of their prisons that don’t work. The Department circumvents fire codes by requiring officers to notate “fire checks” every half hour in the correctional log. According to several officers, that practice has become perfunctory, and meaningless. Officers are mandated by Department managers to engage in firefighting operations in the event of a cell block fire. The problem is that they have no training in those areas other than the use of a conventional fire extinguisher. They also do not have access to proper firefighting equipment. Several officers over the years have been exposed to toxic substances while attempting to extinguish flames and/or evacuate inmates. Department staff witnessed the decay of the inmate health care system and conditions of confinement under the leadership of Director Ryan. The inevitable lawsuit (Parsons versus Ryan) that resulted occurred on his watch. Parsons versus Ryan was a class-action lawsuit filed by the ACLU, the Prison Law Office, and co-counsel on behalf of more than 33,000 inmates in Arizona state prisons. It challenged the inmate health care system and conditions of confinement for maximum custody inmates.

On February 18, 2015, a federal court approved a settlement in the class-action suit. The settlement ordered the Arizona Department of Corrections to mend a broken health care system, beset by long-term, systemic issues that created numerous deaths and preventable injuries. There were many critical reforms ordered as a result of the settlement. Director Ryan once said that he “inherited” the health care problems when he became the Director of the Department in January 2009. If he had taken steps at the beginning of his administration to ameliorate those issues, many lives could have been saved, and that lawsuit could have been obviated. That landmark case has affected corrections departments across this Nation, creating many administrative, and financial burdens for agency leaders, and taxpayers. Arizona Department of Corrections employees continue to suffer the consequences of that legal action. Staff are overworked with larger workloads that the present system is ill-prepared to handle. It has created safety issues, and lowered staff morale while increasing staff stress, job dissatisfaction, and employee turnover. It has scourged the Department, and will forever be a blight on Director Charles L. Ryan’s administration, and its remarkable ineptitude.

According to ABC15 Investigative Reporter Dave Biscobing’s follow-up report on April 26, 2019, democratic lawmakers and the ACLU of Arizona are calling for Arizona Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan to resign or be fired. The report said that Arizona Governor Ducey supported Director Ryan stating, “I just want to say that at this time, I’m supportive of Director Ryan and we’re digging to get to the bottom of what the facts are.” When Ducey was asked for his reaction to the leaked surveillance videos from the Lewis Prison, he said, “I don’t have any further comment.” According to ABC15,

Analise Ortiz, spokesperson for the ACLU of Arizona Campaign for Smart Justice, released the following statement. “The failures of Arizona’s prisons rest on the shoulders of Gov. Ducey, who has for years ignored chaos, suffering, and avoidable deaths in Arizona prisons. The governor has allowed millions of taxpayer dollars to be spent fighting and ignoring court orders and denying the existence of the prisons’ inhumane conditions, rather than focusing on fixing the problems. For the more than $1 billion Arizonans spend on prisons each year, we should have safe facilities, conditions that meet Constitutional minimums, and effective rehabilitative practices in place.”

We at Talking Guns call on Governor Ducey to demand the resignation of Arizona Department of Corrections Director Charles L. Ryan. If he will not tender his resignation, we call on you to fire him from the position. The citizens of the State of Arizona, the inmate population in Arizona state prisons, and the Arizona Department of Corrections employees deserve better leadership. The Director position represents the Executive Staff’s most visible symbol of professional conduct and ethics. It requires someone of impeccable character that is beyond reproach. Director Ryan’s autocratic management style has created immeasurable damage to the Arizona Department of Corrections, and his Draconian management tactics are unacceptable in today’s work environment.


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Brian KovacsMarch 11, 20196min326026

By Frank Drebin

Has the Governor’s Office and the Arizona State Legislature turned their backs on the rank and file employees of the Arizona Department of Corrections? It seems as though they have. The Department has not had a pay raise in approximately twelve years. That was during Governor Janet Napolitano’s administration. Think about that. Twelve years without a pay raise. Who does that? That pay raise was initially five percent but was reduced to 2.25 percent. It would take a raise of approximately 38 percent just to bring the Department to a competitive level with other agencies. Inflation continues to erode their paychecks, morale, and confidence that the State of Arizona will do anything to correct the problem.
There was much talk regarding a recent legislative bill to obtain a 10 percent pay raise for state corrections employees but that appears to have been shelved at this point. A 10 percent raise would not begin to compensate employees for what they’ve lost to inflation over 12 years. It would at least be a starting point and a gesture that the State of Arizona hasn’t completely forgotten the men and women that put their lives on the line daily to protect the citizens of this state. What I don’t understand is why this is happening. Why is there such tentative behavior to properly compensate employees of an agency that is in the death throes of failure. It certainly can’t be a monetary issue.
During his State of the State address in January 2019, the Arizona Governor called for increasing the Arizona Budget Stabilization Fund, also known as “the Rainy Day Fund,” to a balance of one billion dollars. He spoke of using the fund to protect teacher pay raises, to prevent budget gimmicks, band-aids, and potential future budget cuts. He also spoke of preventing tax increases, budget standoffs, and government shutdowns. We should not forget that Governor Ducey initially offered the teachers a two percent pay increase,and actually held a press conference to tout that as a success. Many teachers eventually risked everything and walked off the job for approximately one month to draw attention to their plight. They ultimately prevailed with a 20 percent raise with many stipulations. He was not championing their cause; he was politically vulnerable and had to act.
He also recently vetoed a measure that was backed by Republican lawmakers that would have cut Arizona tax rates to offset higher revenue the state expects to get because of a federal tax overhaul. It would have protected state taxpayers and effectively reduced state income tax rates by .11 percent. That is tantamount to a tax increase for most Arizonans, but the Governor believes that money should go to the “Rainy Day Fund,” not to Arizona taxpayers. The state has a surplus of approximately one billion dollars, excluding the windfall from the aforementioned vetoed tax cut measure. I also must mention the underhanded  $32.00 vehicle registration fee that was imposed by the Governor and legislature to pay for Highway Patrol operations rather than using gas taxes. Did you notice there was no mention of this fee during the election cycle? They didn’t raise taxes because it’s not a tax. It’s a FEE. Don’t euphemisms give you a warm, fuzzy feeling inside? I feel much better referring to a tax as a “Public Safety Fee.”
The Arizona Department of Corrections is in a state of crisis. The prison population is increasing while staffing continues to decline due to uncompetitive pay, attrition, poor morale, and inadequate working conditions. A recent landmark lawsuit against the state concerning inmate health care and conditions of confinement created additional workloads that the present system is ill-prepared to handle. Staff were already working long hours with burdensome workloads, and the additional stress is pushing many to a breaking point.
An entitlement culture developed within the inmate population as a consequence of the lawsuit and also because of Department officials willing to go to extreme measures to accommodate inmates. Officer assaults are on the rise but the Department continues to under-staff work areas while propagandizing that staff, inmates, and the public are safe. The primary issue is fair, competitive compensation. Until that issue is addressed the Arizona Department of Corrections will continue to hemorrhage corrections staff, and increase spending on overtime and training academies. More disturbingly, it will also continue to place staff and the public at risk. One thing is certain: They are running out of time.

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Brian KovacsMarch 9, 20196min4360

By Jim Malone

Have you ever fallen in love with something at first sight? I surely have, and when it comes to firearms I have found that sentiment to apply in exactly the same manner. The first time that I laid eyes on my CZ Bren 805, I fell in love.  When I shot it, my love was validated. Conversely, there are some times where you have an inherent dislike for things…No reason in particular, you just don’t like somethings face. The topic of this piece was not one of love, but more in line with the latter, at least at first.

The first time I looked at the sig p320, I was very much underwhelmed. I found the trigger to be less than awe inspiring, the aesthetics rather bland and borderline bulbous, and while the fit and finish was acceptable it left me wishing it were more than what it was. I had always found Sig Sauer pistols at the very least aesthetically pleasing, so to me the p320 was a total flop. As time went on the idea of a p320 faded into obscurity. My wife was the one to bring the idea back to the forefront, but the p320 that she presented was not the disappointment of the pistol I remembered.

The Sig P320 VTAC was striking. From the X series grip frame, the angular slide cuts, to the radiused slide, this pistol reeked of svelte. I found the grip to be very comfortable in my man sized meat paws, and I found the flat faced trigger to be an absolute joy to depress. I really appreciated the detail that went into the anti-glare ridges cut into the slide itself. That got me looking at the slide in more detail. There are two large lightening cuts on the side of the slide, and to further reduce weight Sig actually milled the slide down across the whole top. This paired nicely with the interesting sights from vtac. They are an extended height affair, with both a fiber optic set of green three dots and a lower set of tritium vials for low light use. I really enjoyed these sights, and they will be staying on the pistol instead of the Trijicon sights that I usually adorn my pistols with.

On the frame I saw several things that deserve mentioning. Firstly, the flat trigger is amazing. The weight is about 5 pounds, but it feels lighter than that. Paired with the awesome grip angle and just right grip texture, this pistol is quite the shooter. I found the controls very easy to use and intuitively placed. The magazine release was crisp and very positive, when depressed it virtually launches the empty magazines from the frame.

Off to the range I went, and the anticipation was palpable. I brought my Glock 34, old faithful as I call her, to bring what I consider a benchmark pistol to compare it to. Long story short I was both severely befuddled and extremely impressed at the same time. The VTAC is a tack driver. What befuddled me was that despite the thousands of rounds through old faithful, the VTAC held virtually the same size groups from magazine one.

From 15 yards, I was able to measure out one 17 round magazine in a group that measured just a hair over 4 inches with controlled quick paced fire. From the same 15 yards as fast as I could squeeze the trigger the VTAC produced a group that was about 8 inches centered on the target. The groups that I shot were imperceptible from the groups shot with my trusty 34, perhaps a bit better even.  The recoil impulse was extremely manageable.  The only way I can describe it with the justice it deserves would be to say it runs like a sewing machine, precisely and extremely linear.

What started as a hate affair turned into a tale of adoration in regards to the P320 VTAC. If you’re looking for a handsome, smooth pistol that begs to be pushed farther quickly, this is at the very least a solid contender. I believe that soon it will be the new old faithful. For those of you wondering if it is worth the $700 price tag I would say buy with confidence, you’re getting a steal.

 


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Brian KovacsFebruary 6, 20199min87923

By Frank Drebin

What has happened to the corrections system in Arizona? It seems to have shifted its focus from punishment to rehabilitation. Rehabilitation and successful reintegration into society for worthy inmates is certainly a desirable result from incarceration, however, without a punitive component there is no deterrent effect. There are countless studies by researchers and mental health professionals condemning a punitive-based system and endless data to support their arguments. One thing I’ve noticed about many of the studies is the lack of concern for the victims, victims’ families, and others affected by the offenders’ crimes. Where is the deterrent effect in our prisons? For some inmates their quality of life is better in prison than when they were out. All of their basic needs are met without work requirements. They have time to recreate often. They have access to cable television, video games, board games, music, movies, prison athletic events, educational and vocational opportunities, visitation with family and friends, etc. When some inmates come back to prison it is reminiscent of a homecoming event. An experienced corrections officer that has been in the trenches and has no agenda will most likely tell you the system is broken and is getting increasingly worse with every passing year. He doesn’t need an “empty suit” spewing statistics and mitigating issues that the officer knows are problematic for corrections personnel and society at large. The problems are complex to solve because the system is broken on so many levels. Previous prison administrators and politicians have kicked the can down the road for years, unable or unwilling to fix them. I believe the most notable areas of concern are staffing, safety and administrative issues, working conditions, and infrastructure. Many of those problem areas overlap but I will briefly present some of them.

Staffing issues continue to plague most corrections departments. Recruiting and retention is usually affected by low pay, poor morale, poor working conditions, and supervisory issues. Some departments have poor vetting processes and have lowered entry standards because of high turnover rates. The result is many employees being hired that have criminal histories, integrity issues, work ethic problems, issues involving personal and professional conduct, and lack of maturity. The Arizona Departments of Corrections is hiring teenagers to staff prison control rooms to bolster staffing levels and reduce staffing costs. The employees have not attended a correctional academy. They’ve had very little training and are responsible for controlling critical security areas of the prisons.

Staff safety is a concern in many correctional institutions primarily because of low staffing levels, a growing prison population, and recent spurious reclassification efforts. Those inmate reclassifications were devised to eliminate maximum custody levels and facilitate court-ordered inmate programs. Inmates previously considered actual or potential threats to staff or other inmates were somehow deemed safe to walk freely, or under escort without the use of mechanical restraints. Housing units on medium-custody prison yards are routinely understaffed unless a major incident occurs. Staffing levels and safety concerns are then typically temporarily addressed until public scrutiny and media exposure fades.

Administrative issues have been problematic for staff and institutional efficiency for years. There seems to be a disconnect between many upper-level managers and lower-level employees in many departments. There have been many different management and training systems introduced over the years. They are always presented with enthusiasm and touted as great achievements by upper-level management. Many employees see the presentations as nothing more than empty rhetoric. Despite all of the data, charts, and graphs presented, they feel they are just more management gimmicks that will fade away just like the others before them. The bottom line is that many employees are still disengaged, lack commitment, and feel unsatisfied with their jobs. They see myriad management issues, including: cronyism, micro-management, poor communication, no transparency, incompetence, lack of leadership, harassment, bullying, retaliation, flawed promotional systems, and poor supervisory training and supervision. An abundance of managers appear to be uninterested in finding solutions or solving existing problems within the correctional system. They seem to be satisfied with the status quo and are more interested with their own career development than assisting staff, and truly caring about staff needs. They are just putting in time at their current assignment and avoid or create controversy until they can move on to the next promotion or undertaking. That mentality creates divisiveness, and a lack of trust and confidence in management that affects the agency mission.

Working conditions are an important area of concern because studies have indicated that pay is important to a point but many employees value a supportive, happy workplace over monetary rewards. Prisons are dismal environments to work in. The hours are long, and employees have many restrictions concerning what they can bring into a prison setting, including personal items and food. Many prison environments are unsanitary, and health hazards exist in certain facilities. The work is labor-intensive in some units with burdensome workloads expected to be completed within unrealistic time frames. The work is often done with insufficient tools to properly perform the job. Department policies and post orders sometimes conflict with the work environment. For example, one corrections officer is assigned to an area to oversee inmate movement and activities that require two officers. Some employees are subjected to mandatory workplace rotations, and frequent changes in their staffing assignments to accommodate employee shortages. The system fosters a work-life culture that is not supportive of family life. Hard-working, productive staff members typically receive more physically demanding assignments that require more responsibility. Staff  members that exhibit bad behavior or incompetence are usually rewarded with easier assignments or more favorable work-site locations. Many managers simply want to get the daily job done with as little controversy as possible. They are also mindful of department efforts to reduce high employee turnover. Rather than severely punish or terminate recalcitrant or poor-performing employees, they are often moved elsewhere to become a burden for other staff members.

The inmate population is another source of stress for staff members. A recent landmark lawsuit against the state regarding health care issues and conditions of confinement has cowed prison administrators. That court decision emboldened inmates and led to the cultivation of an entitlement culture within the inmate population. Inmates now have more out-of-cell time for recreation, educational classes, and job opportunities. Health care, including mental health care needs were ostensibly improved. Inmates receive more visitation time, increased commissary, and other privileges, including the playing of video games on large screen monitors, and movie nights in the medium-custody facilities. Staff are subjected to more scrutiny by management concerning their interactions with inmates. It has created apathy and a reactive rather than proactive mentality among staff members. They are concerned that increased inmate interactions will lead to accusations of impropriety or potential legal entanglements.

Infrastructure is a concern because many institutional buildings are in a state of disrepair, and pose potential hazards to staff and inmates. Some departments have high-mileage vehicle fleets that are poorly maintained and need to be replaced. Technological updates need to be implemented. We are in the information age , and yet many reports, accountability logs, and journals are still being hand-written. Isn’t it time for some sort of a change? Sweeping these issues under the carpet only endangers staff and more importantly the public.