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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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Privatization: Why We Must Resist

September 17, 2009
By Bill Richardson
On Sept. 17, 2007, two murderers from Washington state escaped from a private prison in Florence where they were serving time. They reportedly jumped a guard, hopped the fence and were gone.

A for-profit private maximum security prison could soon be coming to a community near you.

Two weeks ago, Gov. Jan Brewer signed into law House Bill 2010, which starts the bidding process to turn over Arizona Department of Corrections prisons, including maximum security facilities, to a private corporation in the name of cutting costs and generating revenue. Brewer previously vetoed the private prison bill in July. The private prison industry stands to make lots of money while the state gets some quick cash, but at what cost to us?

Private minimum security lockups may be fine for misdemeanors and DUIs, but a maximum security prison?

A Phoenix daily newspaper reported on July 29 that state corrections officials are worried about private prisons being able to handle Arizona's "most hardened criminals." On June 14, it was reported that Corrections Director Charles Ryan voiced concerns to Brewer in a letter questioning the ability of for-profit prisons to control volatile maximum security inmates. Private guards reportedly receive less pay and training than state officers.

Experts tell me 30 to 40 percent of Arizona's 40,000 prison inmates are associated with gangs that continue to grow both inside and outside of prison. In 2008, the U.S. Department of Justice reported the Mexican drug cartels, this country's "greatest organized crime threat," have established affiliations with street and prison gangs, and as much as 80 percent of crime is committed by gangs.

According to Frank "Paco" Marcell, a retired jail intelligence supervisor for the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office and a member of the National Major Gang Task Force Board of Directors, "The biggest threat to Arizona corrections are the gangs that control crime inside and outside of the prison. (State prisons) investigators are experts in dealing with prison gangs and are state-certified peace officers who work closely with other law enforcement agencies."

Private prison guards aren't Arizona peace officers.

On June 17, the FBI Violent Street Gang Task Force, which includes state prisons investigators, announced the indictment of 26 Arizona prison gang members on racketeering charges. Last month, they stopped the murder of a Phoenix resident by a prison gang.

Arizona's prison population has grown 60 percent since 1998.

The pitch for private prisons is they save money. But according to a Dec. 6, 2007, Tribune commentary titled "Private jails not the answer," by Gerald Sheridan, the sheriff's office's chief of custody, "The National Council on Crime and Delinquency conducted a review of privatization and found the average cost savings was about 1 percent, usually through lower labor costs. Cost benefits of privatization have not materialized to the extent promised. Government bears the burden of administering punishment and this responsibility should not be delegated to a for-profit company."

The state Corrections Department and the Arizona Department of Public Safety are equal partners in protecting us. For years, the Legislature has failed to properly oversee and fund DPS. Neglecting DPS has dangerously impacted the state. Arizona is known as America's gateway for organized crime and drugs.

Farming out public safety responsibilities to for-profit private prisons to save "about 1 percent" is another frightening example of the lack of understanding the governor and Legislature have regarding the threat dangerous inmates and organized crime gangs present to us.

Privatizing prisons is another sad chapter in Arizona's legislated devolution.

Retired Mesa master police officer Bill Richardson lives in the East Valley and can be reached at [].

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