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Justice studies graduate focuses on Arizona prison reform


Hayley Lanae Worrell

Hayley Lanae Worrell

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December 17, 2021

Hayley Lanae Worrell’s story is one of perseverance and tenacity as she fights for justice for incarcerated Arizonans. Supported by professors in the School of Social Transformation at Arizona State University and inspired by the Arizona Justice Project, Worrell has worked tirelessly to amplify the voices of the wrongfully convicted. 

In 2017, after a slew of harrowing events in her personal life, Hayley was left grief-stricken and looking for ways to cope. As it's often said, one way to better your circumstances is to uplift others in the community: so Worrell decided to do just that. 

Looking to get involved and to advocate for others, Worrell immediately started researching the best path to becoming a lawyer. Eventually, she decided to pursue an undergraduate degree in paralegal studies at a local community college before enrolling in the justice studies program at ASU. 

With the help of a financial aid package through FAFSA and the convenience of an online cohort, Hayley was able to tailor her academic experience to fit her schedule. The honors student was able to manage her responsibilities such as child care, emotionally supporting her family and advocating for reform within the local community ­— all while delving through pre-law coursework. 

“Each class has opened my eyes a bit more to the problems that need fixing and I realized just how many issues there are with the criminal justice system. I did not know how common these problems are ... I don’t think I had fully grasped that." she said.

Even with the tremendous pressure in her life, she did not feel alone. Hayley noted that her efforts are backed by several educators and community members at ASU. She credits professors Madelaine Adelman and Justine Hecht for recognizing her potential in the social justice field and giving her the motivation to leap.   

“Besides the invaluable research skills that I have learned from them, my professors have instilled confidence in my abilities as a social justice warrior. I have always been extremely hard on myself, and to have professors take the time to offer their support and make sure that I know it is OK to believe in myself ... it’s an amazing thing to experience,” Worrell said.

Driven by the support she received, Hayley got involved with her most rewarding endeavor yet as a mixed-media content specialist for a local nonprofit called Arizonans for Transparency and Accountability in Corrections (ATAC). The group supports comprehensive legislation that aims to create an office of an independent ombudsman and a citizen-led legislative oversight committee over the Arizona Department of Corrections. This organization supports legislation to create transparency and accountability in the Department of Corrections, which currently holds a budget of $1.3 billion. 

As Worrell became involved in this initiative, she was able to connect with the director of ATAC to pitch a few ideas on how to advance this important message. One day, an idea materialized, borne from her past career experiences in freelance photography and book publishing. It became clear how she could put those skills to use to addresss current social predicaments.

“I ran over to my grandparent’s house with my camera and my children, and I began to interview them. I placed them together and came up with the slogan ‘We are just one family' (with a loved one in prison). This video series aims to tell the stories of injustice in hopes that it will change hearts and minds. ... I pitched the idea to the organization, and they loved it! I wanted to give people the opportunity to hear these stories through the eyes of family members so that they would want to fight with us,” she explained.

Alongside the director of ATAC, John Fabricius, she traveled across Arizona, filming families who had volunteered to share their story of how they or a loved one believe there is injustice within the prison system. During the interviews, many families spoke out about alleged abuses that occur, as well as the insufficient drug and alcohol treatments. The final product from Worrell’s interviews and research is a recurrent video series named after her slogan, “We Are Just One Family.” 

The “We are Just One Family” series premiered on Nov. 24. It can be viewed on FacebookYouTube and Twitter. ATAC will be releasing a video from the series every two weeks in preparation for the new legislative session. Visit aztracco.com for more information. 

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