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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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

California Prison Riot

This riot occurred in California over the weekend, but some of the same underlying concerns are present in AZ prisons: over-crowding, limited space and opportunity for productive activity, racial/ethnic tensions, and gangs. Something for us to be mindful of here; our little melees have been nothing compared to this.

I know we're building more prison space in AZ to reduce overcrowding, but that's also to account for a similar rate of incarceration as the general population grows (1/100 adults is in jail or prison in AZ, which is about the national average).

More beds really aren't the solution; we need to decarcerate. We should just commute sentences of those in minimum security (who really aren't dangers to society) to be completed on probation, close down those beds, use some of the savings to hire PO's/train CO's as PO's to do community supervision for those released, use some of it to supplement community-based drug treatment and mental health programs for former prisoners, and use some of it to improve the remaining prison facilities.

Sounds way too simple, I know, but it can't be worse than our current trajectory.

The Chino Prison Riot

New York Times Editorial

August 11, 2009

Around 200 inmates were injured, 55 seriously, over the weekend in an 11-hour prison riot in California that appears to have had strong racial overtones. Officials are still investigating, but a major cause is already clear: 5,900 men were being held in a facility designed for 3,000. The violence should serve as a warning to officials across the country not to try to balance state budgets by holding inmates in inhumane conditions.

California has already ignored too many warnings. In 2007, a state oversight agency declared that “California’s correctional system is in a tailspin.” That same year, a prison expert warned that the California Institution for Men in Chino, the site of the recent riot, was “a serious disturbance waiting to happen.”

Last week, just days before the riot, a three-judge federal panel ordered the state to reduce its prison population of more than 150,000 by about 40,000 within the next two years. That was the only way, the panel ruled, to bring the prison health care system up to constitutional standards.

The 184-page order painted a grim and alarming picture — with some state prison facilities at nearly 300 percent of intended capacity and some prisoners forced to sleep in triple-bunk beds in gymnasiums. “In these overcrowded conditions,” the court said, “inmate-on-inmate violence is almost impossible to prevent.”

California’s problem — like much of the nation’s — is a mismatch between its harsh sentencing policies and its willingness to pay to keep so many people locked up for so long. A few years ago, it went to the Supreme Court to defend its right, under the state’s three-strikes law, to sentence a shoplifter to 25 years to life. (that's insane!!!)

Given the serious budget problems that California is facing, there is not a lot of extra money available. The state could, however, divert offenders into drug-treatment programs and other non-prison environments, which are less expensive than incarceration and better at rehabilitation. It could also do more to give prisoners job skills and help them re-enter society — so they don’t end up back behind bars.

The riot in Chino and the federal court ruling contain the same message for state officials everywhere: they must come up with smart ways of reducing prison populations and they must do it quickly.

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