May 27, 2004
The director of Arizona’s prison system sailed through her Senate confirmation Wednesday after months of questions about her future because of a lengthy hostage standoff in January.
Dora Schriro, director of the state Corrections Department, was unanimously recommended by a Senate committee and approved on voice vote by the full Senate. Schriro said she was pleased by the strong support.
"I think we’re in some very promising times," Schriro said. "There’s a quite of bit of energy in the Legislature to take a hard look at a variety of policies and practices of public safety and the operation of law enforcement."
The Senate also voted Wednesday to confirm David Berns as head of the Department of Economic Security, the state’s largest agency.
But it was Schriro’s confirmation that had been closely watched. Schriro faced surprisingly easy questioning from lawmakers and received almost universal praise for her leadership since she was appointed June 13 by Gov. Janet Napolitano.
"We want her confirmed because we see a new light in the department that wasn’t there before," said Capt. Steve Miller, a corrections officer at the Yuma prison complex who came to the Capitol to support Schriro. "The windows have opened, the doors have opened, and we see a change that 99 percent of the staff are looking forward to."
Schriro was hired from Missouri where she had managed the city jails in St. Louis and had been director of the Missouri prison system. When Schriro arrived in Arizona, she had to confront a severe inmate overcrowding problem while the state was struggling through its largest fiscal crisis in history. She and Napolitano convinced the Legislature after a lengthy special session last year to spend up to $68 million for temporary out-of-state space and to build 2,000 new beds split between public and private prisons.
Then in January, two dangerous inmates stormed a guard tower at the Arizona State Prison Complex-Lewis west of Phoenix and held two correctional officers hostage for 15 days before releasing them.
Unhappy with a commission selected by Napolitano to study the events leading up to the standoff, Republican legislative leaders convinced Maricopa County Attorney Richard Romley to hire an outside prosecutor who conducted a grand jury investigation.
Senate President Ken Bennett, R-Prescott, delayed Schriro’s confirmation until late in the session, hoping to see the grand jury report first to keep the Lewis prison standoff from dominating testimony. A judge hasn’t decided whether to release that report to the public.
Bennett’s fears proved to be unfounded Wednesday as senators said they couldn’t indict Schriro’s actions.
"Anything that comes out of the on-going investigations, that’s really a matter between the governor and the director," said Sen. Jay Tibshraeny, R-Chandler.
Tempe-based Middle Ground Prison Reform publicly opposed Schriro’s confirmation. Donna Hamm, director of the prison inmates rights group, claimed the state prison system has refused to release public records and questioned the validity of videotape evidence.