The Drapetomania Collective in Arizona is researching conditions of imprisoned women

Since 2012, the Arizona Department of Corrections has, on multiple occasions, been found in violation of a Federal Court order concerning health care as a result of a lawsuit, Parsons v. Ryan. The suit is now known as Jensen v. Shinn. As reported by the ACLU, "U.S. District Judge Roslyn O. Silver found on June 30, 2022, that the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation, and Reentry (ADCRR) systematically violates the constitutional rights of persons incarcerated in the state's prisons by failing to provide them minimally adequate medical and mental health care, and by subjecting them to harsh and deprived conditions in solitary confinement units." 

In clear violation of the 8th Amendments protection of Cruel and Unusual Punishment, people incarcerated in Arizona prisons live the everyday consequence of state-organized and socially sanctioned violence. Privatized health care is about contracted profit. Treating patients eats away at that profit by providing contracted care. What ends up happening is that people in prison care for each other.

While research into the conditions of confinement has become more accessible, research about confinement conditions — health care, treatment by guards, legal issues, access to educational programming, etc. — by incarcerated people is not as common, much less by people incarcerated in prisons for women. 

To expose the conditions of confinement and inadequate or sometimes non-existent healthcare, a collective of people, some incarcerated and others living outside the prison, formed the Drapetomania Collective. Over the last five years, they collaborated on a research project to uncover the stories of incarcerated women from their perspective about conditions of confinement, the absence of health care, sentencing injustices, and the afterlife of prison. The Reframing Justice Project supported the project with funding support from Just Communities Arizona.

The Drapetomania Collective "is an Arizona-based, inside-out, underground formation of formerly and currently incarcerated women and their impacted comrades on the outside." 

The collective recently released four reports: 1) The Web of Criminalization; 2) Extreme Sentencing and the Abolition of Early Release; 3) Surviving Perryville Women's Prison; and 4) The Post Release Life Tail.

"This Inside-Outside collaborative project began as a mixed-methods investigation into sentencing issues in the state of Arizona, as directed by currently and formerly incarcerated women. Our research found patterns related to experiences of trauma, discrimination, exploitation, and egregious state violence from police, court officials, prison staff, and community resource agents. Our findings demonstrate the correlation between 'justice' and oppression reproduced by the Arizona Punishment System. 

The insights from our mixed-method analysis reveal Arizona to be a grave local exemplar of nationwide trends regarding racial and gender-based differential arrests, incarceration, extreme sentencing, and marginalization post-release. 

Significantly, this series unveils the ways the punishment industry disappears and silences those of us within it and keeps most of these conclusions from the public eye. We reject this by centering our unfiltered, lived experiences enduring the violences at the core of this system."

These reports, available as downloadable PDFs, are unique and powerful in what they reveal and how the revelations are organized, researched, presented, and written. Drawings, paintings, and other creations illustrate each report. 

The collaborative research reveals systemic and organized violence during all stages of forced passage through the criminal punishment system and the afterlife of incarceration. Most importantly, the brilliance, resistance, resilience, and thriving that this research represents, not only as a labor of the captive maternal but a potent political weapon to reveal the violence of the Arizona punishment system, deserved a wide readership and response. 

You can check out the Executive Summary here. Follow the Drapetomania Collective on Twitter.

Here is the art gallery.

Jimmy Jenkins, the criminal justice reporter for AZ Central, provides the most in-depth journalistic coverage of issues concerning Arizona prisons. 

Freelance journalist Victoria Law also reports on Arizona prisons and issues concerning the carceral society across the US.