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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Thursday, January 14, 2010

31% of Women in Jail have Serious Mental Illness.

This comes from Prison Legal News - an excellent resource worth subscribing to. It comes via the Texas Jail Project, a great website all about Texas' jails.


Mental Illness Prevalent Among County Jail Prisoners, Especially Women

by Gary Hunter (Prison Legal News)

A random sampling of 2,000 prisoners in five county jails found that, on average, nearly 15 percent of male prisoners and 31 percent of female prisoners suffer from serious mental illness.

The study was headed by Dr. Henry Steadman, Ph.D and Dr. Steven Samuels, Ph.D of Policy Research Associates Inc. and Dr. Fred C. Osher, M.D. of the Council of State Governments Justice Center.
Five jails participated in the two-phase, data-collection study. Phase one ran from May 2002 through January 2003. Phase two ran from November 2005 through June 2006. Nine interviewers were trained to conduct the clinical research interviews for phase one and sixteen were trained for phase two. Intensive training, numerous practice interviews and graded evaluations ensured a high rate of aptitude reliability among interviewers. Many of the interviewers from phase one also participated in phase two.

Four jails participated in each phase. Phase one included Montgomery County Jail and Prince George County Jail in Maryland and Albany County Jail and Rensselaer County Jail in New York. Phase two included the same jails with the exception of the Albany jail which was replaced by New York’s Montgomery County Jail.
Screening for mental illness began with a Brief Jail Mental Health Screen (BJMHS) upon admission. During phase one data was collected from 11,438 male and female prisoners. Phase two included 10,562 prisoners.
Prisoners exhibiting symptoms of mental disorders during the BJHMS were then administered “a semi-structured clinical interview designed to assess the presence of selected DSM-IV axis I diagnoses (18).” (SCID) DSM-IV is the Diagnostic Statistical Manual - IV Edition used by clinicians to identify behavioral disorders.

Interviewers screened participants for evidence of bipolar disorder I, II, various schizophrenic disorders, delusional and psychotic disorders. SCID interviews were conducted within 72 hours of admission into the jails. Signed consent forms were obtained from each of the participants. Overall refusal rate for both phases was 31 percent. The refusal rates were higher for women than men.

Percentages for admission of male prisoners with serious mental illness ranged from 12.8 to 20.8 percent in phase one and from 7.7 to 16.3 percent in phase two. Percentages for women ranged from 28.3 to 47.7 percent in phase one and 20.7 to 32.1 percent in phase two. Pooled data from both phases showed an average of 14.5 percent for men and 31 percent for women.

Generalizing the data, researchers concluded that “When these estimates are applied to the 13 million annual jail ad-missions in 2007…there were about two million (2,161,705) annual bookings of persons with serious mental illnesses into jails.” Researchers noted that the prevalence rate for females is double that of men. This is troubling “given the rising number and proportion of female inmates in U.S. jails.”

The study attributes the high rate of serious mental illness among prisoners to a “limited access to community behavioral health services.” This data is valuable for planning purposes and shows that jail administrators should anticipate that almost 15 percent of male admissions and 31 percent of female admissions will include some form of serious mental illness.

Several very debilitating axis I disorders such as anxiety disorder, which are also prevalent among prisoners, were not included in the study. Results call for “a clearer explication of the contributing factors and discussion of appropriate responses” not currently being met by our country’s criminal justice system.
The study, considered the most reliable research in the last 20 years, advocates the need to “address the tremendous cost of incarceration” and “alternatives to incarceration where appropriate.” It points out that incarceration only further deteriorates the condition of mentally ill prisoners. The problem only gets worse if those afflicted are sent to prison. [See PLN October 2008; pages 10 [ 40]. Source: Prevalence of Serious Mental Illness among Jail Inmates.

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