Fight the Treatment Industrial Complex

Fight the Treatment Industrial Complex by supporting the AFSC- Arizona campaign

Fight the Treatment Industrial Complex by supporting the AFSC- Arizona campaign
AFSC-Arizona staff are amazing advocates for prisoners - and as such, are true blessings to our communities. Spend time on their site - lots of resources.

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. collective@phoenixabc.org

until all are free -

MARGARET J PLEWS (June 1, 2015)
arizonaprisonwatch@gmail.com



AZ Prison Watch BLOG POSTS:


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Elderly in Prison

Upcoming Events


December 10: International Human Rights Day.
December 17: International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers (Tucson Memorial).
December 18: Sex Workers Outreach Project Protest at the AZ DOC in Phoenix.


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From James Ridgeway's blog, the Unsilent Generation:
(hit it: he's an outstanding journalist, he's always well-sourced,and he's done some great work on prisons and the Angola 3 for Mother Jones)
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The Graying of America’s Prisons

December 7, 2009 

The following appears as Part One of a two-part Special Report on The Crime Report (TCR), which is “a collaborative effort by two national organizations that focus on encouraging quality criminal justice reporting:  The  Center on Media, Crime and Justice, the nation’s leading practice-oriented think tank on crime and justice reporting, and Criminal Justice Journalists, the nation’s only membership organization of crime-beat journalists.” I’ll post Part Two as soon as it appears on TCR.



Frank Soffen, now 70 years old, has lived more than half his life in prison, and will likely die there.

Sentenced to life for second-degree murder, Soffen has suffered four heart attacks and is confined to a wheelchair.  He has lately been held in the assisted living wing of Massachusetts’ Norfolk prison. Because of his failing health and his exemplary record over his 37 years behind bars—which includes rescuing a guard being threatened by other inmates—Soffen has been held up as a candidate for release on medical and compassionate grounds.

He is physically incapable of committing a violent crime, has already participated in pre-release and furlough programs, and has a supportive family and a place to live with his son. One of the members of the Massachusetts state parole board spoke in favor of his release. But in 2006 the board voted to deny Soffen parole. He will not be eligible for review for another five years.

The “tough on crime” posturing and policymaking that have dominated American politics for more than three decades have left behind a grim legacy. Longer sentences and harsher parole standards have led to overcrowded prisons, overtaxed state budgets, and devastated families and communities. Now, yet another consequence is becoming visible in the nation’s prisons and jails: a huge and ever-growing numbers of geriatric inmates.

Increasingly, the cells and dormitories of the United States are filled with old, often sick men and women. They hobble around the tiers with walkers or roll in wheelchairs. They fill prison infirmaries, assisted living wings, and hospices faster than the state and federal governments can build them—and since many are dying behind bars, they are filling the mortuaries and graveyards as well.

The care these aging prisoners receive, while often grossly inadequate, is nonetheless cripplingly expensive—so much so that some recession-strapped states are for the first time seriously considering releasing older terminally ill and mentally ill prisoners rather than pay the heavy price for their warehousing. It remains to be seen what will happen when such fiscal concerns run head on into America’s taste for punitive justice. A recent report by the Vera Institute made this clear.

Politicians no doubt did not imagine this Dickensian landscape of the elderly incarcerated when they voted to lengthen sentences and impose mandatory minimums three or four decades ago. But their actions are yielding an inevitable outcome.  While the graying of the prison population to some extent reflects the changing demographics of the populace at large, it owes considerably more to changes in law and policy. And this is likely to continue into the foreseeable future.

According to the Sentencing Project, the United States imprisons five times as many people as it did 30 years ago and more than seven times as many as it did 40 years ago. Our criminal justice system now keeps 2.3 million people behind bars—about half of them for drug offenses and other nonviolent crimes. Twenty-five years ago, there were 34,000 prisoners serving life sentences; today the number is more than 140,000. The fact that each person is spending a longer stretch behind bars means that the falling crime rates of the 1990s do not translate into fewer inmates. It also means that more and more people who committed offenses in their 20s or even their teens are growing old and dying in prison.

The situation is particularly stark in California, Texas and Florida, which have large prison populations with cells crammed to overflowing because of harsh sentencing laws. In California, the population of prisoners over 55 doubled in the ten years from 1997 to 2006. About 20 percent of California prisoners are serving life sentences, and over 10 percent are serving life without the possibility of parole. Louisiana’s prison system now holds more than 5,000 people over the age of 50—a three-fold increase in the last 12 years.

While 50 or 55 may not be old by conventional standards, people age faster behind bars than they do on the outside: Studies have shown that prisoners in their 50s are on average physiologically 10 to 15 years older than their chronological age. Older prisoners require substantial medical care, because of harsh life conditions as well as age. Inmates begin to have trouble climbing to upper bunks, walking, standing on line, and handling other parts of the prison routine. They suffer from early losses of hearing and eyesight, have high rates of high blood pressure and diabetes, and are susceptible to falls.

A recent study by Brie Williams and Rita Albraldes, published as a chapter in the book Growing Older: Challenges of Prison and Reentry for the Aging Population, found that in addition to the chronic diseases that increase with age, older offenders have problems such as paraplegia because of the legacy of gunshot wounds. Many have  advanced liver disease, renal disease, or hepatitis. Still others suffer from HIV-AIDS, and many more from drug and alcohol abuse. Living under prison conditions, they are more likely to get pneumonia and flu.

Many prisons are notorious for not taking their inmates’ health complaints seriously, and there is anecdotal evidence this problem may be compounded when prisoners are elderly. A doctor under contract in one southern prison told me in a recent interview how a diabetic man’s illness was misdiagnosed, resulting in months of excruciating pain and the amputation of toes and part of one foot. Back in prison, the man asked for prosthetic shoes so he could get around by walking; his request was denied.

Another elderly prisoner complained of an earache which went untreated for months.  When it became unbearably painful, the prisoner was shipped to a local hospital emergency room, under contract to the prison. There the doctors found the earache was brain cancer—by then, too advanced to treat.

The exploding prison population has further undermined the already questionable quality of inmate medical care. In California, which has the nation’s largest number of state prisoners, a panel of federal judges earlier this year found that the state of medical care was so poor that it violated the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, and was in danger of routinely costing prisoners their lives. The only solution, the judges said, was to reduce prison overcrowding caused by the states draconian mandatory sentences. The court recommended shortening sentences and reforming parole, which they believed would have no impact on public safety; it has given California three years to comply.

To come in Part Two:  Challenging the status quo for geriatric prisoners

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