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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AZ Prison Watch BLOG POSTS:

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Powell tortured to death in AZ prison.

I'm glad this is finally out there.

Needless to say, Director Ryan, given the news, the cease-fire is off. Sorry it was so short-lasted. I now have a better idea why you no longer wanted to speak to me. You don’t really care what I say – you just need to be careful not to incriminate yourselves. Even if I did hit a few nerves, I think I gave you a break, all things considered. I hope you’re all under a federal civil rights investigation, and can expect Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch at your door.

This may be about as far as I can go as an abolitionist. Set free the check-bouncers, shop-lifters, drug addicts, and other petty criminals. I even want to set free a few old "terrorists" and Black Panthers. But these people I want to put in prison for a good long time. In Arizona, where we can be fairly sure their lives will be made as difficult as possible, and that they will be neglected, abused, and brutalized for their crimes - whatever their degree of complicity or criminality.

These ADC employees were bred by the Arizona Department of Corrections' culture. They aren't aberrations we can dismiss; they're a troubling but pervasive and natural manifestation of an institution that systematically dehumanizes people in order to justify the circumstances and conditions of their confinement. What we do to prisoners day in and day out all across this country is inhumane.

As for Ryan - this responsibility is his. He has precious little time to bring about substantial institutional change. His saving grace is that he's not the one who's been running this show for so long. Homeland Security Director Janet Napolitano has a huge chunk of responsibility for this, too, as does her sidekick, Dora Schriro. All she ultimately did to reform state prisons during her stint appears to have been cosmetic surgery.

But Ryan hasn't exactly been a minor player all this time. Nor is he new to the scene. For this to come as such a shock to him - if it does - suggests that perhaps he needs to listen a little more attentively to what former employees and prisoners have to say about his institutions, because I've heard a lot of it before, myself, and I don't have anything like the kind of access he does to his people. 

This could have been prevented.

Abuse. Neglect. Cruelty. Punishment cages. 


No one wanted to believe it could happen here.

Too bad there weren't any investigative journalists really on top of this from the beginning. They were all over it for a few days, then before Marcia’s ashes were even put away, the story, as it were, was dead. 

For those who missed it, in the wake of Marcia's homicide last spring, an officer killed himself out at the complex, and 3 women in maximum security set their mattresses on fire (from prison, that's usually an SOS). Every sign of disturbance at Perryville was quickly repressed; the investigation was all the more reason to restrict access to information.

Women living there had no reason to believe they were safe in the hands of their keepers. Families who could get news to the outside were afraid their loved ones might be identified and retaliated against. The department knows of these concerns. I'd like to know how they intend to go about addressing them. 

The institutional culture at the ADC that allowed this to happen - and far more occasions of neglect and abuse we'll never hear about (it’s damn near impossible for prisoners to get rights' protections in court anymore) won't be changed by tweaking the policies, putting shade on the cages, and hanging the bad apples out to dry. I'm not sure it can be changed at all - that's why I'd vote to smash the state apparatus and start over, myself, without prisons and a system entrenched in retributive justice.

Except, perhaps, for people like those responsible for Marcia's death. Them I would condemn to a long, slow death by incarceration and slavery.

Call me a hypocrite, but this is a barrier I can't seem to get around just now. I just don’t know what restorative justice would look like for people like them.


Details emerge in inmate's heat-related death

Report describes mis-communications, policy violations

Disturbing new details emerged Wednesday in the death of Marcia Powell, an Arizona state prison inmate who died of heat-related causes after being left in an outdoor cage for hours.

The Arizona Department of Corrections' internal investigation of Powell's death on May 20 runs about 3,000 pages. The department announced this week that it has disciplined 16 people in connection with the incident, with five employees fired or forced to resign. A criminal investigation is ongoing.

Interviews with prison staff members, inmates and medical personnel illustrate how a series of policy violations and miscommunications led to Powell's collapse at Arizona State Prison Complex-Perryville in Good- year. She later died at West Valley Hospital.

Among the report's findings:

• Powell passed out in her cell on the morning of May 19. A few minutes before, she had announced she was suicidal. She was taken to an outdoor cage to await transfer to a psychiatric unit. But the sergeant who saw Powell lose consciousness never reported the incident to supervisors, despite the fact that Powell said she was having trouble breathing.

• At least 20 inmates told investigators that Powell was denied water for most or all of the time she was in her cage, despite regular requests. Corrections officers said Powell was given water.

• Powell was taking psychotropic medications that made her particularly sensitive to the heat, but medical personnel did not convey that fact to corrections officers.

• After more than two hours in the sun, Powell requested to be taken back to her indoor cell. Her request was denied.

• Powell was apparently denied a request to use the restroom and defecated in the cage. A corrections officer discovered that Powell had soiled herself but left her where she was. Medical personnel would later discover feces underneath her fingernails and all over her back.

• The psychiatric unit to which Powell was awaiting transport should have accepted her hours before she died, the report found, but a series of miscommunications prevented her from being taken in.

Powell, who was serving a sentence for prostitution, said she felt suicidal at 11 a.m. on May 19 and was escorted to the outdoor cage to await transportation for psychiatric care at the prison complex detention unit.
Officers seeking to move Powell to the unit were first told that it did not have available beds. Later, another inmate in the unit refused to put handcuffs on to be taken back to her cell, causing the staff to trigger its incident command system. The incident took more than 90 minutes to resolve, during which time no other inmates were brought into the unit.

Officers monitoring Powell were wary of asking psychiatric-unit staffers to accept another inmate during the standoff, even though three beds had become available. But investigators said it would have been possible to transfer Powell, since the uncooperative inmate was locked in a secure cell.

Prison policy calls for inmates to be kept in outdoor cells for a maximum of two hours. The cells had no shade, and on the day Powell died, temperatures hit 107.5 degrees.

Officers did not properly log Powell's time in the outdoor cell or when they checked on her. When she collapsed, no one could say for certain how long she had been there.

Doctors on the scene said Powell's body temperature was at least 108 degrees but may have been higher, since their thermometers topped out at 108.

Charles Ryan, corrections department director, called Powell's death "unconscionable" and "an absolute failure."

The most bitterly disputed aspect of the case concerns whether Powell was denied water.
Nearly all of the inmates interviewed by investigators reported that Powell screamed out for water regularly but was repeatedly denied. Others said she was granted water only once or twice in nearly four hours.

"I need some water - just a drop," one inmate overheard Powell tell a corrections officer, who reportedly ignored her.

Another inmate reported that a corrections officer mockingly repeated Powell's requests for water back to her, without giving her any.

All of the corrections officers interviewed for the report said Powell had been given water throughout her outdoor confinement.

Both inmates and staff members said Powell's history of mental illness and frequent erratic behavior meant that some of her requests were not taken seriously. She did not get the staff's undivided attention until she collapsed at 2:40 p.m.

Timothy Johnson, a physician's assistant who attempted to revive Powell, swore repeatedly at investigators when asked about Powell's death.

"This should not have happened," he said.

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