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:

Monday, November 30, 2009

Legislative Alert: No Private Prisons.

From the AFSC-Tucson, as noted above.

Urgent Action Alert!!!


The budget deal passed in the special session would sell our prisons to the highest bidder and could privatize most state prison complexes.  This includes the state’s only women’s facility and maximum and supermax security units, including death row. 

This has never been done before, setting Arizona up as a guinea pig in a risky deal that gambles with public safety for the sake of questionable short-term gains. 

If we allow our legislature to award these contracts, it will be Arizona’s largest ever relinquishment of state control over a core government function to the for-profit sector.  There will be no oversight of for-profit corporations that have chronic histories of wasteful expenditures, contractual failures and public endangerment.

This risky gamble has caught national media attention, making Arizona once again the “cautionary tale” for how NOT to handle your budget and overcrowding crises:

Republic Op-ed 10/27/09 

Why Arizona should SAY NO to for-profit prisons:

1.  Privatizing an entire state’s prisons is a reckless experiment that gambles with public safety.  

No private prison corporation has ever attempted to run an entire state’s prison complexes.  Only one (CCA) manages high security prisoners, and only in small numbers.  Even Tennessee, the home state of Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), refused the corporation’s bid to take over that state’s prisons. 

This is a risky, unproven strategy that gambles with public safety in the name of questionable returns. These companies have no track record to prove that they can safely manage all security levels and special needs of prisoners in Arizona. 

Every for-profit prison corporation that would compete for these contracts has a history of serious problems, ranging from financial mismanagement, abuse scandals, riots and disturbances, and patterns of violence and abuse.  The Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) found a significantly higher rate of prisoner-on-prisoner assaults in private prisons (66% more) than in public prisons.  Inmate-on-staff assaults were 49% higher in the for-profits.

For specific information on these major problems, please see the attached “Rap Sheets” or go to:

2.  This is a financial boondoggle for Arizona.
This proposal actually requires Arizona to split any cost savings between the state and the private operator!   If the whole point of this plan is to alleviate our budget crisis, why on earth would we give half the money back?

The contracts will allow the private corporation to raise its rates every year.  Giving one private corporation a monopoly over Arizona facilities gives them little incentive to cut costs.  Once they take over the entire state system, the corporation would have Arizona over a barrel and in no position to protest rate hikes.

These contracts will cost far more in the long run and will end up putting Arizona in even worse economic shape.  Even if we can find a private prison company willing to give us $100 million up front in 2010 (and there is no guarantee we will), we will be right back in the same financial hole the following year, and every year after that.  20-year leases on prison buildings will earn the buyers many times more than they will pay the state up front, plus we will be paying prison companies a per-diem rate for every prisoner they house. 

Finally, there’s no evidence that private prisons can do it cheaper.  Maximus, an independent, reputable research firm, compared cost savings in Arizona's public and private prisons in 2006. It determined taxpayers were spending an estimated $1,526,289 MORE annually on two privately run prisons.

3.  Privatizing Arizona’s prisons means lower wages for prison staff, in the middle of a huge recession.

Guards and other staff who currently work for the state Department of Corrections face layoffs, loss of pensions and health benefits, and much lower pay at private facilities. 

Public safety is one of the few remaining employment sectors in Arizona, and privatizing these jobs would be a huge economic blow to the thousands of men and women who work in these facilities. 

The Arizona Correctional Peace Officers Association (the state’s prison guards’ union) has come out against the proposal.  J. “J-Rod” Rodriguez, vice president of the Arizona Correctional Peace Officers Association told the Arizona Daily Star, “They’re trying to replace us with lower-paid guards, to handle sex offenders, murders, rapists, inmates with very volatile gang connections.” (“Arizona plan to privatize prisons may not fly,” Arizona Daily Star, 11/7/09).

What YOU can do….
Although the Arizona Department of Administration is in charge of awarding the contracts, the real power behind this process is the Joint Legislative Budget Committee (JLBC).  Contact the Chairmen of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee TODAY and tell them to SAY NO TO PRISONS FOR PROFIT!

Arizona Representative John Kavanagh, Chairman, Joint Legislative Budget Committee, 2009

Senator Russell Pearce, Chairman, JLBC 2010
(602) 926-5760,

You might also want to cc the other members of the JLBC, especially if you live in their district:
Rep. Andy Biggs,
Rep. Olivia Cajero-Bedford,
Rep. Cloves Campbell,
Rep. Matt Heinz,
Rep. John McComish,
Rep. Rick Murphy,
Rep. Vic Williams,
Sen. Paula Aboud,
Sen. Amanda Aguirre,
Sen. Chuck Gray,
Sen. Jack Harper,
Sen. Steve Pierce,
Sen. Rebecca Rios,
Sen. Jim Waring,

If you can blind copy us, we will have a better idea how effective this initiative is.  If you receive responses, even boiler-plate ones, please forward those to us, if possible.

Caroline Isaacs
Program Director,
American Friends Service Committee
Arizona Area Program
103 N. Park Ave., Suite 111
Tucson, AZ  85719
520.623.9141 p/520.623.5901 f

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