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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Monday, December 21, 2009

When will Andy Thomas help His Own Wrongly-convicted?

Another interesting story about an innocent man charged as a child molestor who spent 35 years of his life in prison. It's amazing that with that stigma, he walked out of there alive. On top of that, he's not a bitter man - despite having 35 years of his life stolen from him. He got right with his God, I guess, knowing he was innocent all along I wonder how many people he tried to prove his innocence to before the Innocence Project got to him? I wonder how many really believed him?

Whatever people may think child molesters deserve, don't think for a minute that the innocent aren't getting it too...and until their names are cleared they'll be treated like pedophiles all their lives: closing doors on jobs, housing, relationships, community...they will essentially be like exiles. The DAs who have made these mistakes recklessly while trying to put another notch on their belts are responsible for going back now and re-opening these cases and conducting investigtions on new evidence (including evidence that damning testimony was perjured).

Andy Thomas is one such DA.  I imagine because of his offices' aggressive threats to prosecute people with maximum charges and the promise of sentence enhancements, a lot of folks who aren't really guilty take the plea bargain hoping for probation, out of fear of the prosecutor's and judge's wrath if they challenge in court and lose. That kind of DA practice is much more likely to result in wrongful-convictions than an honest approach which repects the rights of defendants to have a fair trial, without being coerced or threatened into abandoning that right. If the people can't count on the People's attorney to assure that we won't be wrongly-convicted and forgotten about in prison - especially if he wants to be AG - Thomas better get cracking on those innocence claims.

Perhaps Arizona will have to write a special law for victims of the state to deal with County Prosecutors like Thomas, so that more protections can be put into place to prevent wrongful convictions and mount and resources can be made available to investigate thee claims. As I see it, these folks are as much victims as anyone else - and if Thomas can't take responsibility for a little restorative justice (it's not like he'll even get in trouble) then he needs to go. We wouldn't forgive a kidnapper for grabbing and chaining and abusing the "wrong" person for 35 years - then refusing to admit their responsibility - justifying their rationale, instead, and insisting on their righteousness, even when caught red-handed (there's something pathological about that). Why should the state get off any easier? That's half a man's life they took. 35 years in prison. That's pretty scary.


December 19, 2009

After 35 years in jail for a crime he did not commit, James Bain is a free man - and he's not angry

By David Usborne in New York

Singled out by victim at an identity parade, but DNA tests prove he could not have raped the nine-year-old boy

The release of a Florida man who had served 35 years in prison for a rape he did not commit is setting off a fresh wave of self-examination by the legal profession in America about the dangers of faulty testimony, which can result not just in wrongful incarceration but possibly also the execution of the innocent.

James Bain, 54, was released at a court hearing in Bartow, in central Florida, on Thursday after DNA tests showed he could not have committed the rape of a nine-year-old boy for which he was imprisoned in 1974. Of the 246 inmates across the US who have been exonerated by DNA testing since it first became available, none has been in prison longer than Mr Bain. He lost two-thirds of life to the drudgery and privations of prison.

At his mother's home in Tampa yesterday savouring his freedom as well as some of the marvels of modern living he has never had access to before, including cell phones, Mr Bain has so far refused to express bitterness over his experience. "I can't be angry," he said. "People had a job to do back then. It's just sad the way the outcome was."

With greying hair and beard, Mr Bain was 19 when he was convicted. After new laws in 2001 made it possible for prisoners in Florida to turn to DNA testing to try to prove their innocence, he filed motions four times for testing in his case, only be to denied each time. He was assisted in his fifth attempt by the Innocence Project of Florida.

It was drama until the last moment. Minutes before Thursday's hearing, results from the state laboratories came in corroborating the results of Innocence Project tests that the DNA on the victim's underwear did not match that of Mr Bain. "You are a free man," Circuit Judge James Yancey declared. "Congratulations."
The conviction of Mr Bain for the kidnapping and rape of the boy rested largely on his being singled out by the victim from an identity parade. He had no prior criminal record and he has always insisted that he had been watching television with a sister at the time of the rape.

Barry Scheck, a co-director of the national Innocence Project and a leading proponent for the use of DNA technology to exonerate the wrongfully incarcerated, said Mr Bain's case further highlighted the degree to which the US criminal trial system remains unreliable. It "tells us that we better get serious about eyewitness identification reform," he commented. "It's the single greatest cause of the conviction of the innocent." The case coincided with the release of a report by the Death Penalty Information Centre showing a sharp drop-off in the numbers of capital punishment convictions even in states known for high execution rates, in part, it says, because juries are becoming less confident there is sufficient certainty to warrant putting a person to death - and more conscious of the possibility that even on death row there is room for the innocent. 

In 2009, there were 106 death sentences, compared with 328 in 1994. While Texas averaged 34 capital convictions a year during the 1990s, juries sent only nine people to death row during all of this year, it said.
Under Florida law, Mr Bain is entitled to $1.75m (£1.1m) compensation for the years he spent in prison for a crime he never committed. On his release on Thursday, he said that among his priorities was to watch Titanic, a film which sustained him behind bars, and travel, notably to Nassau in the Bahamas, the hometown of his late father.

Adjusting to his belated freedom as an adult will not come easily, suggested Seth Miller, a lawyer with the Innocence Project Florida who helped handle his case. "He's going to have a lot of struggles," he suggested. "but with the help of his lawyers, family and his friends, he's going to make it just fine."

Exiting the court hearing, Mr Bain paused during a press conference to take a call from his mother and use a cell phone for the first time. "I cannot feel angry," he told reporters. "I put all that in God's hands. I have to think about my family and God, and friends I knew in prison who inspired me to move forward." 

He also took a moment to encourage others who remain behind bars to persevere in their quest for access to testing using DNA. "I tell these gentlemen in prison that have this kind of case, it's going to do one of the two, free you or lock you," he said.

Freed by genetics: Other miscarriages of justice

*In 1985, David Vasquez was convicted of the sexual assault and murder of a woman in Virginia. Despite his limited mental capacity, his so-called "confession" was used as evidence, alongside a hair comparison. But four years later, a DNA test pointed the finger at another man, exonerating Vasquez - who became the first man in the world to have a sentence overturned thanks to the use of DNA evidence.

*Sean Hodgson served 27 years in jail for the 1979 rape and murder of Teresa De Simone in Southampton, largely on the basis of a spurious confession. But Hodgson, a compulsive liar, had made the whole thing up. Earlier this year DNA evidence proved it, and he was freed - becoming the longest-serving prisoner in Britain to have their sentence overturned. He got a discharge payment of £46.

*This week Donald Eugene Gates, a 58-year-old who had served 28 years in prison, was cleared of a 1981 rape and murder with the conviction at last quashed - thanks to a DNA test - by the same judge who had presided over his original trial. "I feel beautiful," he said, boarding a bus home to Ohio from his Arizona prison. "I'm going to go back to my family and start my life over."

1 comment:

Sam said...

Great article. I was at the American Correctional Association conference a few years ago where I saw someone wearing this T-shirt, "District Attorney-the real Public Defender".
Those of us who work with inmates know there is a real "us vs. them" attitude in the culture of prison. Unfortunately, this same attitude is found in law enforcement. I can understand how some become cynical given the population that is served through the ever revolving door.
Hopefully those who prosecute cases can be more vigilant to be objective and not feel pressured by their cynicism or their constituency to produce quick results and in the end ruin innocent lives.