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:

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Morrison Institute: Less Prison, More Probation.

This from an unexpected place: The Morrison Institute. Thank you folks, for speaking up. Please do more work on this issue in the coming year in the community - don't just keep it to your academic newsletters and blogs.

Bill Hart: Time to open the prison gates?

Dec. 23, 2009
bill_hart.jpgBill Hart, Senior Policy Analyst

Another fine mess. That’s one way of describing Arizona’s overcrowded, billion-dollar prison system, so many of whose graduates — apparently uncorrected — go on to commit more crimes. “Train wreck” is another useful phrase. But it’s worth keeping in mind the one thing Arizona’s prison crisis is not: It’s not a mystery.

Nor is its solution.

Consider the twin basics of Arizona’s prison policy over the past 30 years: First, pass a bunch of laws requiring lots more convicted criminals to be sent to prison (e.g., mandatory minimum sentences); second, pass other laws making most prisoners stay inside longer (e.g. “truth-in-sentencing”).

What did we think would happen?

Arizona for years has ranked among the top 10 states in its incarceration rate, measured as the number of people locked up per 100,000 state residents. Meanwhile, in the past 30 years corrections has run up a larger percentage increase in operating spending than any other Arizona agency. Since just fiscal year 2004 we have added more than 11,000 inmates at a cost of more than $400 million.

Why the rush to lock everybody up? Some say Arizonans simply have a lust for punishment. Fans of incarceration, however, are quick to point out that crime in Arizona has declined since the 1990s. They are less quick to note that America’s leading criminal justice scholars do not agree that incarceration deserves all or even most of the credit for the crime drop. Or that crime has gone down in both states with harsher justice systems and those with milder ones. Or that Arizona continues to hold down first place among states in the rate of property crime as measured by the FBI.

In any case, we’re left with two unpleasant alternatives: Either let substantial numbers of prisoners out early, or continue to struggle through the budget mess hobbled by this billion-dollar ball and chain.

Like it or not, it’s time to open the gates. 

What about the nightmare of wanton violence that opponents warn of? Most inmates in Arizona prisons are locked up for non-violent crimes (though they might be repetitive offenders). Their most common offense by far is drug crimes, which accounted for 8,388 inmates in November, or about one-fifth of all prisoners. Next in frequency come the expected categories: assault (4,976), robbery (3,485), burglary (2,959), and murder (2,606). Then, however, comes aggravated DUI, which requires 2,188 prisoners to serve a total of four months behind bars.

 Which raises another question: Why are we going to all the trouble and expense of sending thousands of drunk drivers to prison (as opposed to jail or home arrest) for only four months? 

In fact, 39% of the total FY2008 inmate population was locked up for less than six months. Most of these are convicts who were granted probation or parole — that is, they were deemed low-risk enough to remain free or be released. Many of most were then locked up for “technical” violations, meaning they didn’t commit a new crime but perhaps missed a meeting with their probation officer or otherwise broke the rules.

It’s hard to see how releasing some of them early — and diverting many more incoming inmates to probation or jail — would pose a threat to the survival of civilization. It’s easier to see the upside: Keeping an inmate in an Arizona prison for a year averages out to around $22,000. Keeping someone on probation for a year runs slightly more than $1,000. 

No mystery here.

1 comment:

F Wilson said...

I have to disagree with your recomendations that we release more individuals in Arizona. I have monitored and analyzed the felony drunk driving situation in Arizona and also the types and frequency of violations of probation or parole violations that have caused individuals to end up in prison in Arizona for the past several years. Most of the individuals who presently are convicted of felony dui, end up serving their sentences, generally 4 months long, in county jails, chiefly "Sheriff Joe's Tent City", and not in the State Department of Corrections. The only individuals convicted of Felony DUI who are presently sent to the Department of Corrections are individuals convicted of a second or subsequent felony DUI or individuals who have been convicted of additional felonies, such as hit and run with injuries in addition to felony DUI. I will be happy to discuss this subject further.

F. Wilson