Retiring Arizona Prison Watch...

This site was originally started in July 2009 as an independent endeavor to monitor conditions in Arizona's criminal justice system, as well as offer some critical analysis of the prison industrial complex from a prison abolitionist/anarchist's perspective. It was begun in the aftermath of the death of Marcia Powell, a 48 year old AZ state prisoner who was left in an outdoor cage in the desert sun for over four hours while on a 10-minute suicide watch. That was at ASPC-Perryville, in Goodyear, AZ, in May 2009.

Marcia, a seriously mentally ill woman with a meth habit sentenced to the minimum mandatory 27 months in prison for prostitution was already deemed by society as disposable. She was therefore easily ignored by numerous prison officers as she pleaded for water and relief from the sun for four hours. She was ultimately found collapsed in her own feces, with second degree burns on her body, her organs failing, and her body exceeding the 108 degrees the thermometer would record. 16 officers and staff were disciplined for her death, but no one was ever prosecuted for her homicide. Her story is here.

Marcia's death and this blog compelled me to work for the next 5 1/2 years to document and challenge the prison industrial complex in AZ, most specifically as manifested in the Arizona Department of Corrections. I corresponded with over 1,000 prisoners in that time, as well as many of their loved ones, offering all what resources I could find for fighting the AZ DOC themselves - most regarding their health or matters of personal safety.

I also began to work with the survivors of prison violence, as I often heard from the loved ones of the dead, and learned their stories. During that time I memorialized the Ghosts of Jan Brewer - state prisoners under her regime who were lost to neglect, suicide or violence - across the city's sidewalks in large chalk murals. Some of that art is here.

In November 2014 I left Phoenix abruptly to care for my family. By early 2015 I was no longer keeping up this blog site, save occasional posts about a young prisoner in solitary confinement in Arpaio's jail, Jessie B.

I'm deeply grateful to the prisoners who educated, confided in, and encouraged me throughout the years I did this work. My life has been made all the more rich and meaningful by their engagement.

I've linked to some posts about advocating for state prisoner health and safety to the right, as well as other resources for families and friends. If you are in need of additional assistance fighting the prison industrial complex in Arizona - or if you care to offer some aid to the cause - please contact the Phoenix Anarchist Black Cross at PO Box 7241 / Tempe, AZ 85281.

until all are free -

MARGARET J PLEWS (June 1, 2015)


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Friday, July 31, 2009

Private Prisons still on the table

Desperate state may sell Capitol buildings, others

Under GOP plan, government would pay to lease back most of the sites

by Matthew Benson and JJ Hensley - Jul. 29, 2009

The Arizona Republic

“Call it a sign of desperate times: Legislators are considering selling the House and Senate buildings where they've conducted state business for more than 50 years.

Dozens of other state properties also may be sold as the state government faces its worst financial crisis in a generation, if not ever. The plan isn't to liquidate state assets, though.

Instead, officials hope to sell the properties and then lease them back over several years before assuming ownership again. The complex financial transaction would allow government services to continue without interruption while giving the state a fast infusion of as much as $735 million, according to Capitol projections…”

…Private prisons

“While the state is looking to sell and lease back selected properties, it also may try to contract out the operations of some prisons. The concessions provision is expected to be included within the new budget proposal, and legislative analysts believe it could generate as much as $100 million (on top of the sale/leaseback revenue) for state coffers. Private, for-profit prison operators would bid for the right to manage selected facilities, but the state would maintain ownership.

The concept concerns prison officials, who worry whether a private operator would be equipped and trained to handle the state's most hardened criminals. In a letter to Brewer last month, Corrections Director Charles Ryan wrote that a private operator would pay lower wages and provide less training.”

Thursday, July 23, 2009


Urgent Action Alert (AFSC TUSCON)

Some Arizona state legislators are determined to privatize ALL state prison complexes, as well as medical care and food services to prisoners, in spite of the Governor’s veto. This includes the state’s only women’s facility and may extend to maximum and supermaximum security units, including death row.

If this proposal goes through, it will be Arizona’s largest ever relinquishment of state control over a core government function to the for-profit sector. No private prison corporation has ever attempted to run an entire state’s prison complexes. Very few manage high security prisoners, and only in small numbers. This is a risky, unproven strategy that gambles with public safety in the name of questionable returns.

If these prisons are privatized and the state abdicates its authority, this will place over 11,000 additional prisoners in the hands of for-profit corporations that have chronic histories of wasteful expenditures, contractual failures and public endangerment.

Why Arizona should SAY NO to for-profit prisons:

1. Privatizing an entire state’s prisons would be a reckless experiment that gambles with public safety.

No private for-profit prison corporation has ever attempted to run an entire state’s facilities. Even Tennessee, the home state of Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), refused the corporation’s bid to take over that state’s prisons. These companies have no track record to prove that they can safely manage all the various security levels and special needs of prisoners in Arizona. Do we really want our state to be a guinea pig for a national experiment?

Every for-profit prison corporation that would compete for these contracts has a history of serious problems, ranging from financial mismanagement, abuse scandals, riots and disturbances, and patterns of violence and abuse. The Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) found a significantly higher rate of prisoner-on-prisoner assaults in private prisons (66% more) than in public prisons. Inmate-on-staff assaults were 49% higher in the for-profits.

For specific information regarding lawsuits, incidents, and poor management of prison facilities for some of the prison corporations doing business in or with the state of Arizona for, please see the attached “Rap Sheets”or go to:

This risky, unproven strategy could prove to be a disaster for Arizona.

2. Private, for-profit prisons are no bargain.

Every credible, independent cost comparison study ever conducted has found that analyses of purported cost savings of private prisons in legitimate apples-to-apples comparisons, conclusively demonstrate that the for-profits cost about the same or in some cases are more expensive.

Maximus, an independent, reputable research firm, studied Arizona's prisons in 2006. It determined taxpayers were spending an estimated $1,526,289 MORE annually on two privately run prisons.

Counties and states often pick up the tab for things that private prison companies don’t provide, like mental health and medical care. And when there are riots or escapes, it is local law enforcement that has to put out the fires, send in SWAT teams, and track down escaped prisoners—at taxpayer expense.

Giving one private corporation a monopoly over Arizona facilities gives them little incentive to cut costs. What’s more, the proposal vetoed by Governor Brewer actually proposed to split any cost savings between the state and the private operator! Once they take over the entire state system, the corporation would have Arizona over a barrel if the company decided to raise its rates.

These are out of state, for-profit, publicly traded corporations that are concerned only with their bottom line, not what’s best for the people of Arizona.

3. Privatizing Arizona’s prisons means lower wages for prison staff, in the middle of a huge recession.

One of the ways private prison corporations cut costs is by cutting corners—primarily on staff pay and training. Public safety is one of the few remaining employment sectors in Arizona, and privatizing these jobs would be a huge economic blow to the thousands of men and women who work in these facilities.

That’s why the Arizona Correctional Peace Officers Association (the state’s prison guards union) rallied at the State Capitol Monday, July 13, to show their opposition to legislative efforts to privatize the state's prisons. Corrections officers were joined by AZCOPS leaders and union activists from CWA and AFL-CIO.

None of the corporations in the running for these contracts is based in the state of Arizona, so all the dollars spent on administrative costs would flow out of the state into the pockets of out-of-state corporate CEO’s.

4. Arizona legislators, including several members of the Republican leadership that brokered this deal, are in the pocket of the private prison industry.

All the major private prison corporations have numerous, highly paid lobbyists working day and night to influence our elected officials.

These lobbyists and other private prison interests gave $77,267 to Arizona candidates during the 2002 and 2004 election cycles. Republicans received nearly 90% of industry contributions.

Is it any wonder that some of the biggest beneficiaries of these contributions are now the ones leading the charge to privatize Arizona’s prisons?:

RECIPIENT 2002 2004

Sen. Russell Pearce (R-18) $880 $2,400
Sen. Robert Burns (R-9) $1,735 $736
Sen. Robert Waring (R-7) $650 $1,595
Sen. Thayer Verschoor (R-22) $0 $1,130
Rep. Andy Biggs (R-22) $0 $675
Sen. Jack Harper (R-4) $0 $625

Keep in mind, Arizona’s contribution limits are among the lowest in the country, at $270 per legislative candidate per election in 2002 and $280 in 2004. Unfortunately, no comparable statistics were available for the 2006 or 2008 elections.

Source: The Institute on Money in State Politics, “Policy Lock-Down: Prison Interests Court Political Players.” April, 2006.

What YOU can do….

Contact the following policy makers tell them to SAY NO TO PRISONS FOR PROFIT!

Governor Jan Brewer
**Please THANK her for vetoing the earlier version of this bill, SB1028 and ask her to hold firm in her commitment to ensuring that Arizona fulfills its responsibility to manage its own prisons.
602.542.4331 or 800.253.0883 ph, 602.542.1381 fax. Make a comment online at:

ADC Interim Director Charles Ryan
602.542.5497 ph,

Arizona Speaker of the House Kirk Adams
602.926.5495 ph, 602.417.3019 fax,

Arizona Senate President Robert Burns
602.926.5993 ph, 602.417.3225 fax,

If you can blind copy us, we will have a better idea how effective this initiative is. If you receive responses, even boiler-plate ones, please forward those to us, if possible.
Thanks for all your continuing assistance. Together we can stop this!

Caroline Isaacs
Program Director,
American Friends Service Committee
Arizona Area Program
103 N. Park Ave., Suite 111
Tucson, AZ 85719
520.623.9141 p/520.623.5901

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

PRIVATIZATION WATCH: Cochise County Rejects New Plans for Prison

County wary of private prison

By Shar Porier


Published: Wednesday, July 22, 2009

BISBEE — “I think my constituents would come unglued.” That’s what Cochise County District 2 Supervisor Ann English said of the prospect of a second prison at Bisbee-Douglas International Airport. She made the comment during county supervisors’ work session on the matter Tuesday afternoon.

When the Arizona Department of Commerce sent out an appeal for a proposal to entice a privately operated 3,000-bed prison, the first location suggested by county staff was the county property at the airport.

L.H. Hamilton, county facilities director, explained that the Department of Commerce had sent requests for proposals to all counties in the state because an unknown company wants to build a prison in Arizona. The mystery company runs 70 prisons, halfway houses and other institutions across the U.S.

Since the county owns 410 acres at the airport that have been zoned “planned development,” Hamilton thought that was an appropriate place for it. The county could provide the 200-plus acres desired by the company at the location and a well. Douglas would be able to provide sewer service, since it has a 1,000-gallon-per-day line going to the existing 2,700-bed state-owned prison at the airport that would accommodate the additional load.

The property would have to be leased, which Hamilton said would bring $23,000 a year to the county.

But dangling a carrot in front of English, claiming the facility in her district would create 300 to 500 jobs, did no good. To her, it was a no-brainer.

She explained, “When the prison was built, it was set up as an economic benefit, and they told us new homes would go up to house the influx of employees. There have only been 10 homes built out there. In 25 years since the prison was built, there is no growth. Instead, it just shut down the whole area. And there is no additional work force available in Douglas unless they pay more than the state.” (Download Prison Town Comic Here!)

Another taker?

Supervisor Richard Searle told Hamilton that Willcox in his district was interested in the prospect, but he didn’t think there was enough time to get in a proposal by the deadline, which is the close of business Friday. Nor is there enough land at the Willcox airport.

It wasn’t the first offer the county has received to participate in a proposal for a prison. Supervisor Pat Call said there was interest shown recently near the county landfill.

“They may be interested, but when you get to the stage of dropping the cloak of secrecy, then they’re looking for free land and anything they can get,” Call said.

For some time, the county has been looking to develop the airport area, but many companies want a pre-existing building of warehouse size to move in and start up operations. The county just doesn’t have that kind of money, Hamilton said.

English suggested looking into federal economic stimulus money to set up the infrastructure needed to attract economic development projects, particularly those with low water use.

Searle said he was “neutral” on the matter, while Call agreed with English — no need to pursue it.

Herald/Review reporter Shar Porier can be reached at 515-4692 or by e-mail at


Thank you Ken Kopcyznski from Private Corrections Institute for sending this my way.