FILE - Prison, jail, inmate, corrections

As the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC)transitions to new Director David Shinn after the retirement last month of controversial former Director Charles Ryan, an independent group is hoping to create a committee that will help guide prison reform discussions.

The American Friends Service Committee-Arizona (AFSC-AZ), along with Arizona residents John Fabricius and Travis Hiland, have drafted "Truth in Corrections: Restoring Public Trust in the Arizona Department of Corrections." Among the proposals it contains is one for “...the formation of a citizens advisory and oversight board.”

The authors of the report call for the proposed new board to provide guidance and oversight in areas including safety, inmate health care, finances and inmate recidivism reduction.

In an ongoing case, the ADC is appealing a July 2018 contempt of court ruling that cited the department for failing to meet court-mandated standards when it comes to the healthcare of the inmates in their charge. The court mandate came after ADC settled a class action lawsuit in 2012 brought by inmates seeking better healthcare.

Donna Leone Hamm, director of Middle Ground Prison Reform, said any discussions about a citizen advisory board should be tabled until after the new director is in place.

“The new director, who starts his job on [Oct. 21], should be given a chance to demonstrate his willingness to take suggestions, provide records and documentation, make changes and address all types of problems," Hamm said. "This is the first time we've had a new director in a decade, so it is reasonable to assume that changes will be made.”

Hamm points to the case as an example of one of her concerns with the proposal

“Even attorneys representing inmates in the class action lawsuit involving medical care do not have unannounced access to the prisons; they must provide a two-week notice," Hamm said. "The proposal also provides wide-ranging activities, reports and other tasks, but at the end, it acknowledges that it is not intended to have any policy-making or decision-making authority.”

Hamm adds that the prison system in the state is not without some oversight now.

“We have recently been appointed to a Constituent Advisory Committee of the [Department] of Corrections," she said. "This committee has been in existence for quite a while, but under the directorship of Charles Ryan it has been very benign. We were assured that under the new director the committee will significantly ramp up its activities and that the Department will be much more receptive to considering ideas, proposals and recommended solutions which the committee may offer. In our opinion, this path of action should be tried first, especially since it involves volunteers and not paid advocates.”