Richard Rossi
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 THE POLITICS OF THE DEATH ROW: CHAIN GANGS IN ARIZONA

To begin with, chain gangs in Arizona were reintroduced by the sheriff
of Maricopa County,  Joe Arpaio. He jumped on the wagon after Alabama
reintroduced the chain gangs in their state prisons. Mr. Arpaio decided
he could garner some votes and support of the voters by putting county
jail inmates with disciplinary problems to work doing road maintenance,
cleaning and grave digging for the county pauper grave yard. This became
very popular with the consituency. Mr. Arpaio has been termed 'The
Meanest Sheriff In The Country' in various national publications and
newspapers. Which makes Mr. Arpaio very proud. He has even written a
book on his toughness.

Shortly after the popularity of these chain gangs was established, the
Governor of the state of Arizona, Mr. Fife Symington, who was and is
under heavy political and criminal pressure, decided to grab the
limelight and jump on the bandwagon. Mr. Sam Lewis, the Director of
Corrections, started putting general population inmates with
disciplinary problems to work on various work details on prison grounds
and alongside highways. Then, in July of 1995, a death row inmate Luis
Mata received a stay of execution by the Arizona Supreme Court so that
it could be determined if Mr. Mata had received adequate legal
representation at his sentencing and whether he should be resentenced,
based upon a 1983 narrowing of the definition of 'cruel, heinous or
depraved' statute as used in his case. His sentence was not overturned,
simply stayed so that these issues could be determined.

Since at this very time Mr. Symington was in political hot water, he
seized upon the opportunity to conduct some political grandstanding. So
on July 14, 1995 with the parents of the woman Luis Mata murdered at his
side, Fife Symington called a press conference and stated: 'Last week,
the Arizona Supreme Court provided another case study in how judicial
activism is making the United States a land where vicious killers become
media stars and escape their punishments while their victims suffer for
years in anonymous silence.' He clearly had had enough of allowing death
row inmates the ability to languish in their life of luxury on death
row.

The problem our esteemed Governor Fife Symington has had for the last
year or two is that he has been involved in a bankruptcy debacle over
some failed real estate projects he was involved in. Apparently, the
federal government has been looking into his loan applications and
various business transactions for the last seven years. Well, the truth
of the matter is that he seemingly lied on his application forms to
obtain millions in loans. He inflated his net worth when he wanted more
money and he cried poverty when his creditors wanted repayment. There
are 23 grand jury indictments against him. Most of the counts are for
fraud, but one is for threatening a major credit union he owed money to
that if they didnít give him some favorable terms and delays, he would
have a state agency (a tenant in one of the projects) move out of the
building and cause a major financial catastrophe to the project.

This is a major offence. This is extortion. He can be removed from
office for this alone. He claims to be innocent and will not resign. Our
last governor - also a Republican - was impeached. The politics of
Arizona are abominable. But the people get what they vote for and
deserve what they get. We will have to see what happens. But politicians
donít usually go to prison or work on chain gangs.

Symington  went on to state: 'If the courts want to allow them 10 - 20
years appealing their sentences, thatís up to the courts, but how they
spend those 20 years is up to the state.' He vowed to devise a hard
labor plan for death row inmates. Instead of spending their days
watching television and filing endless appeals, we would have them
'digging holes and breaking rocks.' He thus ordered Sam Lewis, the
Director of Corrections, to implement a program for death row hard
labor. Those who didnít participate would lose privileges such as TV and
phone calls. Thus on December 7, 1995 the death row chain gangs began.

So as you can see, the inception of the death row chain gang was not
because of any disciplinary problems, rather as punishment for not being
executed fast enough for the likes of the governor and other politicians
in the State of Arizona. The work detail for the condemned row prisoners
is to work in the fields planting, weeding and picking the vegetables
for the prisonersí meals. Those who refuse to leave their cells for the
work detail are pepper-maced, then attacked by the guards in vast
numbers. You will receive a disciplinary write up and eventually be
taken to disciplinary court. Once outside on the detail, if you refuse
to work you will be put in a cage made out of chain link fencing the
size of a telephone booth. There is no protection from the hot sun and
you must stand there all day. You will also receive a disciplinary write
up and lose your privileges.

There is also another agenda here. By putting death row inmates on the
chain gangs with their legs shackled and handcuffs removed, then giving
them tools such as rakes and hoes to work with, the state is putting
instruments of destruction into the hands of prisoners. It had to be
considered that once prisoners were given the opportunity to settle
grudges that had remained unresolved for many years then fights would
break out. It was inevitable. And numerous fights have resulted with the
guards having to shoot the inmates to halt the fighting.

There have been six major fights between death row inmates to date that
have resulted in inmates being hit by a combination of bird shot, bean
bags and rubber pellets. It is fortunate that no one has been killed
yet.  On July 5, 1996, a general population inmate working on a chain
gang alongside the highway in Tucson was struck by a hit-and-run driver
and later died. No arrests have been made insofar as this crime is
concerned. It would be fair to say that no sorrow would be expressed by
those in charge if one death row inmate killed another. I can not
envision a quicker way to reduce oneís appeal time and speed up an
execution than to let the inmates kill each other.

Although chain gangs are a blight on humanity, those in charge can
justify the use of prison labor on chain gangs as punishment for bad
behavior. But how can one justify putting death row inmates to hard
labor as punishment for pursuing their legal appeals through the court
system?

I would think that doing this makes a strong case for cruel and unusual
punishment. Also a definite attempt to hinder those who work on their
legal cases themselves. I wonder how those in power would feel if the
tables were reversed and they were facing this situation?

.......................................................................

Richard Rossi #50337, P.O. Box 8600 Florence, Arizona 85232


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