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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Sunday, September 27, 2009

ADC: Fearless and Thorough?

I gagged on most of this AZ Republic editorial today. 

If ADC Director Ryan was the one who said that the report on Marcia Powell's death is just the "tip of the iceberg", then maybe I'd think he was being honest with us. But the editors of the Arizona Republic don't have a clue what they're speaking of here, even if they read that report themselves. Either that, or they're complicit. 

It's just as impossible for the rest of us to see through ADC smokescreens now as it was four months ago. Ryan hasn't aired clean laundry in public, much less the dirty stuff. All that "candor" and "grit" is a bluff to make you think he's fully-disclosing; all the while he's deflecting attention away from the more entrenched problems in the AZ Department of Corrections ( which it is not clear was explored in this investigation despite the number of employees involved so casually in outright neglect and abuse).  

A pat on the back and a "carry on" is the last thing I'd be giving him now. They have a twisted institutional culture. Tell me that's inherent in running prisons, and I'll just use it to support my case for abolition. The whole system is evil. Incarceration in and of itself is violence.

Anyway, I'm with Stephen Lemons. I think Ryan should shine some real light on the place and come totally clean, or step down.

Ironic that Ryan just received a hefty sum of money to beef up staff and salaries for the "brave and committed officers of the ADC". Nothing was said by either him or Governor Brewer when she authorized it about spending a dime of that money on alleviating the brutalization, medical neglect, or substandard conditions of prisoners sleeping in "boats" on the floor in over-crowded, understaffed, poorly-maintained facilities. 

Before we go around congratulating him for hanging a few bad apples out to dry (while the rest of the orchard continues to rot), I think we should be asking why this came as such a shock to him in the first place. Listening to former guards, ex-prisoners, and family members of women currently in Perryville, I can say this report probably incites universal outrage, but hardly surprise - except at what we haven't heard it reference yet.

If Ryan's door were a bit more open and he really wanted to know if his employees were indifferent or sadistic towards their prisoners, he would know. Every one else knows what's going on in there, and while many people are afraid to speak of it, his ignorance is actually a little hard to buy. The scope of this corruption - the systematic dehumanization that resulted in Marcia's death - suggests that this is not just a "case" of abuse or a "series of miscommunications", but rather evidence of how the system typically works, not how it is broken. 

All those guards weren't just having a bad day - they treat folks like that all the time, and the rest are complicit whenever they are silent about the cruelty they see - which is far too often. Granted, this was Janet's and Schriro's mess left for Ryan to clean up in short order, but he's been a part of that institution long enough in influential enough positions to have played a role in cultivating the current culture there.

So, that's my intro to the Arizona Republic's attempt today to sweep this whole affair under the carpet and make Director Ryan out to be considerably more noble than he is. Clearly they won't be doing any serious investigations into the state prisons. That means it's up to the rest of us.

Corrections boss' candor laudable

Corrections officers at Arizona's prisons are entrusted with gritty, difficult, dangerous and largely thankless duties.

For that, they deserve our thanks.

But, like any of us, they are expected to abide by certain standards of behavior. As state employees, they have a public trust and explicit policies to guide them. As human beings, they must answer to their conscience.

A report last week on the death of a mentally ill inmate at the Perryville women's prison in Goodyear tells us 16 state Department of Corrections employees failed to meet many of those standards, including the ones regarding human decency.

The department's 3,000-page report tells us - often in surprisingly unvarnished terms - the depth of the abuse of Marcia Powell, 48, who died after standing, unprotected, in a holding pen in the searing heat for four hours on May 19.

There are details still not released. Because the 16 disciplined employees may appeal the report's conclusions, their names remain unknown. And there are facts still in dispute, such as whether Powell, whose body temperature when she was found had reached 108 degrees, was provided water.

But the report makes clear that established procedures and policies guiding prisoner treatment were ignored on that fateful day.

As a result, three employees have been fired, two have resigned in lieu of being fired, 10 have been suspended for up to two weeks and one employee has been demoted. Two others will face discipline upon returning from medical leave.

"This is the most significant example of abuse that I'm aware of that an inmate had to endure," said Charles Ryan, interim corrections director. "Frankly, that's just unconscionable. That is an absolute failure on the part of the department and its employees."

The thoroughness and bluntness of the report, which was prepared by the Corrections Department's Office of the Inspector General, are reminiscent of an investigation by the U.S. Marine Corps into the deadly crash of one of its fighter jets into a San Diego neighborhood last December.

Not everyone will be satisfied. Longtime prisons watchdog Donna Leone Hamm acknowledges the depth of the investigation but contends it reveals only the "tip of the iceberg" regarding problems with the prison system. Perhaps so.

Whatever the outcome of this tragic incident, the final chapter must begin with a thorough review of the facts. Investigators have done a good job of starting us toward that conclusion.

But one of the most gratifying outcomes of this tragedy is the determined sense of openness and honesty displayed by the interim director of the Department of Corrections. Charles Ryan aired a lot of dirty department laundry in authorizing this report. Tough as that might have been, good will come of his grit.

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