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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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Nichols: Sentencing, CJ Reform, Not Privatization.

State needs to whittle prison populations with reform
By Ann Weaver Nichols
Special to the Arizona Daily Star
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 12.17.2009

This month, the Justice Department released its figures on prison populations in 2008. Arizona was among three states with the greatest increases in numbers of prisoners and also among the top five states in rate of incarceration. 

Meanwhile, 20 states reduced their prison populations, through sensible reforms to sentencing policies and earned release programs.

Nationally, the rate of prison growth has declined markedly in this decade. Why? Among several factors, effectiveness and economy feature strongly.

Many states have determined that they simply cannot afford the "get tough" laws that incarcerate large numbers of people for long periods for largely nonviolent crimes. Nor have such lengthy sentences been proved to deter crime or improve rehabilitation. 

In many states leaders from both ends of the political spectrum are coming together to make thoughtful changes to their criminal codes that help balance budgets while preserving, and even enhancing, public safety.

Programs such as drug courts which provide treatment and require offenders to change behavior and contribute to the community have demonstrated better results at far less cost than incarceration.

Arizona currently finds itself in a difficult position: Our prison population is exploding and we have a budget crisis. Corrections eats up nearly 10 percent of our general fund. 

In budget-balancing proposals, education and social services are being gutted, special funds are being raided, and the Legislature and the governor still have not solved the problem. The state budget deficits are projected to continue into the next several years. 

In the face of this dilemma, two diametrically opposed solutions have been proposed related to corrections.

Some legislators believe that privatization of our prison system is the answer. They want to sell prison buildings and hand over management of most of our state prison complexes to private, for-profit corporations.

This would include our women's prison, sex offender units, death row, and super-maximum security units.

No other state has ever engaged in such a widespread privatization experiment, and no private prison company has experience managing such diverse prisoner populations.

Even if private companies could run our prisons for less than the state (and there is no evidence to suggest they could), at our present rate of growth, corrections will continue to hemorrhage taxpayer dollars well into the future, no matter who's running the facilities. 

A smarter option is to do what those other 20 states have done and reduce our prison population through safe, sensible sentencing reforms. 

There are models from states like New York, Michigan and Kansas that show that these reforms can save states substantial amounts of money while reducing recidivism. Keeping low-level non-violent offenders in their communities where they can continue working, supporting their families and paying restitution benefits Arizona far more than warehousing people and then releasing them with no job skills or drug treatment.

Through technology, participants in structured early release programs can be effectively monitored. These and other reforms have a track record of success.

Wholesale prison privatization is a gamble that will likely only pay off for shareholders of private prison companies. Arizona taxpayers, where would you like your money to go?

E-mail Ann Weaver Nichols at Ann Weaver Nichols is a retired professor from the Tucson Component of the Arizona State University School of Social Work.

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