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:

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Middle Ground: Powell death tip of iceberg

by Donna Leone Hamm - Oct. 3, 2009 12:00 AM
Special for the Arizona Republic

The report outlining the investigation into the death of state prison inmate Marcia Powell is sickening and gruesome. One expects to read about such barbaric things happening in Third World countries.

The number of staff involved in this incident, the types of unprofessional conduct and the seriousness of their actions lead inescapably to one conclusion: namely, that Marcia Powell's death was the tip of an iceberg that indicates much larger and more endemic problems throughout the prison system.

The report is an indictment of prison personnel on virtually every level and bespeaks not just a lack of training, but an extraordinarily serious problem with supervision.

Powell, a known mental patient, expressed suicidal thoughts just prior to being caged in the hot sun. Earlier that morning, she lost consciousness in her own cell. No one reported it. No one checked to see if her prescribed medication made her more susceptible to the sun. It did.

She asked for water, but according to at least 20 inmates, she was denied. She needed a restroom break and was denied, which forced her to defecate on herself. When discovered, no one cared or did anything to alleviate the mess. Her body had feces on it; no chair was provided in the outdoor cage. In short, the investigative report is nothing short of appalling.

In 2001, Charles Long was the director of a boot-camp style organization that purported to turn wayward teens into better citizens. He supervised the camp, but wasn't present when one of his teenage campers became dehydrated, ate dirt, was taken to a motel to shower and became comatose soon thereafter. The teen died, and Charles Long originally was charged with second-degree murder and later convicted of manslaughter. He is presently serving out his sentence at the Department of Corrections.

Will County Attorney Andrew Thomas be as vigilant in holding prison employees and administrators responsible for Marcia Powell's demise?

The Powell report makes it clear that both line staff and prison supervisors feel they can act with impunity in regard to written prison policy. If Charles Ryan eventually is to be confirmed by the Arizona Senate in the position of department director, he must take off the "kid gloves" approach to prison employees and demand a new realignment of priorities and genuine commitment to change.

Installing misting systems and shade to outdoor cages is not enough. The DOC must attend to the abuses of authority that occur each day in denying medical care, tormenting mentally-ill prisoners, denying protective custody to those who need it, leaving unresolved the prison-gang issues, tolerating sexual harassment and abuse of prisoners, and not attending to the inordinate number of inmate suicides that have occurred, just to name a few.

The governor must provide oversight. These problems did not develop overnight and were in fact palpably present under the previous administration. They will not be resolved overnight.

Marcia Powell's death must be the catalyst for core changes in the operation of the department; in the recruitment, training and supervision of its staff, including administrative staff. Nothing else will do. Marcia Powell deserves that much.

Donna Leone Hamm is executive director of the prisoner-rights group Middle Ground Prison Reform. Reach her at

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