Raising Arizona’s Commitment to Health and Safety: The Need for Independent Oversight of Arizona’s Prison System

Michele Deitch

Executive Summary

Arizona’s correctional system has long been the subject of high-profile lawsuits, scandals, and other serious grievances that demand increased levels of transparency and accountability. This article provides guidance to policymakers interested in how an independent prison oversight mechanism could help promote healthier and safer prison conditions and help keep legislators and the public better informed about what is happening inside these institutions. The need for such transparency has only increased during the COVID-19 crisis. The article examines the current state of conditions in Arizona prisons; discusses federal court involvement on issues related to prison health care in the Parsons class action case; addresses the critical need for permanent independent oversight of the Arizona prison system; and explores what an oversight body in Arizona might look like. Most significantly, the article examines recent legislation in Arizona that proposed potential structures for a prison oversight body, and recommends an approach for Arizona that builds on lessons from other jurisdictions about how to make this independent oversight entity as effective as possible.

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