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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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Prosecuting innocence and opposition.

No one in this country is immune to prosecutorial harassment...if we don't let them take out the people they want, they'll come straight for us instead. And these are innocent people they've helped free. It's the innocent ones that scare the prison industrial complex the most - once they've been convicted, the rest of the system becomes complicit in burying their claims, and silencing their pleas, lest the public discover that our system of justice is deeply flawed. 

We are far more concerned with punishing the guilty than protecting the innocent, which is why we haven't designed a justice system which actually reduces violent crime by transforming institutions and relationships of power in communities, not imprisoning drug addicts and gamblers and throwing their children in a setting where they're as likely to be victimized as their parents are.


The Professor and the Prosecutor: Anita Alvarez’s office turns up the heat on David Protess’s Medill Innocence Project.

The Cook County State's Attorney's Office provides at least two reporters a memo containing scurrilous and unsubstantiated claims about the conduct of the Northwestern University journalism professor and his students in an earlier case.

In their own ways, they have risen to stardom on a stage built from misery, two battlers who grapple with questions of life-and-death justice: Anita Alvarez, a Chicago native and career prosecutor with working-class roots, who dramatically emerged from a pack of formidable opponents to become the first woman and first person of Hispanic descent to hold the top job in the second-largest prosecutor’s office in the nation; and the Northwestern University professor David Protess, a crusader against wrongful convictions who has guided his students to find fresh evidence that helped free five people from death row and sprang six others from imprisonment for murders they did not commit—putting prosecutors on the defensive with each notch in his belt.

Over the more than two decades they built their careers, the two rarely crossed paths. That changed when Alvarez, who took office a little over a year ago, found herself dealing with the latest Protess cause: the claim that a man named Anthony McKinney had been wrongly jailed for more than 30 years.

In this case, Alvarez turned the tables on Protess, challenging the motives and ethics of him and his students. In a court filing, her office has given voice to deeply unflattering, sometimes personal accusations: that some students may have paid a witness to recant; that other students “flirted” with witnesses, in effect, to persuade them to make incriminating statements; and that students may have been so driven to get an A that they twisted or suppressed evidence to suit their cause of freeing McKinney.

Alvarez insists that she is simply doing what a prosecutor should do—make every reasonable effort to ascertain the truth behind possible evidence and testimony in a criminal case. “I have a duty to seek out whatever evidence is out there, and that’s what I’m doing,” she told me.

Her approach, however, has set off a national controversy and ignited counteraccusations that her real interest is to intimidate, bully, and perhaps destroy Protess’s operation. Alvarez dismisses those allegations as “insulting.”

Meanwhile, outside court, her office has given at least two reporters a memo about a 1996 case as “background” information. The memo recounts scurrilous and unsubstantiated claims about the conduct of Protess and students who were working on an investigation that resulted in freeing two men from death row and two others from life sentences. “What on earth does [an old] memo based on lies and designed to smear my students have to do with the truth of whether Anthony McKinney was wrongfully convicted?” asks Protess.

Now, a case that was about whether a convicted man is innocent has morphed into an increasingly personal brawl between two heavyweights unwilling to back down—with academics, prosecutors, freedom of the press advocates, and students hanging on the judge’s decision...

(finish article at Chicago Magazine)

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