Outdoor confinements common
Inquiry: Officers regularly left unruly inmates in sun-exposed cages beyond 2-hour limitBefore Marcia Powell, there was Vanessa Griego.
Powell died from heat-related causes on May 20, a day after she spent nearly four hours exposed to the sun in an outdoor cage at Arizona State Prison Complex-Perryville prison in Goodyear.
Just three days earlier, Griego was confined to a similar cage at Perryville for 20 hours, an incident that alarmed staff members and fellow inmates but was not investigated until after Powell's death.
Griego, 24, endured her stay in the outdoor cage without needing medical attention.
But a Department of Corrections investigation showed that lengthy confinements in outdoor cages had become a common practice over the past two years as officers tried to "wait out" prisoners who, like Griego, were agitated or refusing to return to their cells.
"Waiting out" prisoners meant corrections officers did not have to use force to return inmates to their cells. But it also meant inmates were regularly left outdoors for longer than the two-hour maximum dictated by prison policy.
The practice has since been discontinued as part of a raft of reforms initiated in the wake of Powell's death. (Unlike Griego, Powell was awaiting transfer to a psychiatric unit when she collapsed; earlier, she had actually asked to be returned to her cell.)
A criminal investigation by the Maricopa County Attorney's Office is ongoing in the Powell case.
But friends and family members of Perryville inmates say they continue to worry about the safety of their loved ones, particularly in the wake of charges that corrections officers there have denied food, water and bathroom privileges to inmates confined outdoors.
"The bottom line is, they just don't care," said Michael Beam, whose fiancee is an inmate at Perryville.
"They're supposed to be professionals, but they're not."
Beam said the death of Powell - who would have turned 49 today - devastated many of the inmates at the prison.
"There but for the grace of God, one of them could been in that situation," he said.
Angelina Goodman regularly visits a close friend at Perryville. Some corrections officers there are very cordial and professional, she said. But others act like bullies and brag about how tough they are, she said.
"It's very unnerving to leave my loved one there, knowing that these are the people who are supposed to keep control, when their mentality is such a perverse type of bullying," she said. "We just pray a lot.
Griego was placed in an outdoor cell May 16 after blocking her window with a mattress. After searching her cell, corrections officers told Griego they wanted to return her to the cellblock, but she refused.
After initial attempts to get her to return, corrections officers appeared to give up. She was granted one bathroom break at 2 a.m. There is no record of officers asking Griego to return to her cell between sunrise and 8 p.m., when she was finally returned to her cell.
She had not been able to use the restroom for 18 hours.
The office of Gov. Jan Brewer did not respond to a request for comment on revelations in the Department of Corrections' investigations into the Powell and Griego incidents.
Middle Ground, a prison-reform group based in
Donna Leone Hamm, the group's director, said prison officials should take greater action to ensure that department policies are followed.
"Staff and administrators don't have any compunction to follow the rules,"
Prison officials said policy changes instituted after Powell's death would ensure that inmates are no longer left outdoors for long periods of time.
Reach the reporter at casey .firstname.lastname@example.org.
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