Florence, AZ

Prison breaks and prison closing

Alexis Young

By Alexis Young/ NewsBreak Pinal County, AZ

(Pinal County, AZ) — The Florence State Prison, erected by inmates in 1908, is slowly being shut down. The facility’s fate was sealed when Gov. Doug Ducey announced the prison’s closing in his 2020 State of the Address. Doucey claimed the decision would save taxpayer dollars while several news outlets estimated between $274 and $500 million dollars needed to keep Florence prison running for the next three years. Over the past two years, incidents involving Florence State Prison and The Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry have shed light on more than just financial issues.

In 2021, not only did two inmates escape from Florence prison, Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry Director David Shinn had to testify in a federal court hearing for an Eighth Amendment violation case originally tried in 2014.

Parsons v Ryan, the 2014 case, was filed against previous ADCRR Director Chris Ryan. AZCentral reported that Victor Parsons and a group of Arizona inmates sued for “unconstitutional conditions” in state prisons during 2012. By 2014 the case was settled then certified the following year. ADCRR never paid the settlement and was held in contempt of federal court, earning millions in fines.

The case is now referred to as Jensen v Shinn as the original settlement being rescinded and Judge Roslyn Silver ordering a bench trial in July 2021. The name change came after Chris Ryan retired, following the public discovery of videos depicting poor security protocols at Lewis prison.

Ryan wasn’t the only ADCRR Director to have a facility under his management exposed. On January 23, 2021, inmates John Charpoit and David Harmon escaped Florence State Prison. The video detailing their escape and the extent of the security problems at Arizona State Prison Complex-Florence was leaked recently this year.

With the prison in notable decline, corrections management companies GEO Group and CoreCivic were in the running for ADCRR’s Florence State Prison contract when the Department selected decade-old partner CoreCivic. Though both companies have faced lawsuits over dollar-a-day wages in immigration detention facilities, CoreCivic runs ADCRR’s Red Rock Correctional Center in Eloy, AZ. Arizona State Prison Complex-Florence inmates will be transferred to La Palma Correctional Center in the same city.

In a joint investigation between KJZZ and AZCentral the publications correlate investment in private prisons from Arizona lawmakers after years of hefty donations from companies including CoreCivic and GEO Group. The investigation reported that while official private prison advocates claim that private facilities eliminate bureaucracy, inmates living under these systems and others describe them as deplorable and greedy.

Though Gov. Ducey and Director Shinn say the Florence prison’s grand closing will save tax dollars, CoreCivic will receive $85 per inmate, per day. This is almost $20 more than the $67 other facilities were receiving.

Florence State Prison is still in the process of being deactivated; as stories develop so will Newsbreak’s coverage on the topic.

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I found an unexpected comfort and interest in journalism. From storytelling to holding the powerful accountable to the more technical parts of the job, most all of it interests me. I’m using that interest to ignite lights that will illuminate truth.

Phoenix, AZ

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