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