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, January 10, 2010

Turn the Eyes of The World: Solitary Watch News.

Hey all -

Here's Jim Ridgeway's Solitary Watch News.

We've been waiting for this sister "prison watch" site for a few months now - it's turning into an awesome resource. I've been hoping more institutions of higher learning would take similar responsibility as these folks have for coordinating and maintaining something like this. Can't seem to get anyone at Arizona State University all that interested in the prisons, so we're just freelance bloggers figuring this out as we go.

Thanks, Jim, for bringing the secrecy and shame of solitary confinement in the US into the light of day. Thanks to all you folks out there at the Washington and Lee University School of Law who are working on this project. I believe it will help bring some measure of human suffering to an end. 

Spend some time at the site, folks - there are some great resources there. Let's put an end to this practice in 2010. Start talking now, and use the political campaign season to get candidates to make public commitments to restricting the use of such conditions of confinement, be they employed for prisoner management, administrative convenience, "therapeutic" reasons, protection, or punishment, they end up serving as torture.


This Solitary Watch News site is part of an emerging project called Solitary Watch, which will serve as the first centralized source of information on solitary confinement in the United States. The full Solitary Watch web site will be launched in the spring of 2010.

Many Americans have recoiled from the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, and polls show that a clear majority oppose the use of torture under any circumstances, even on foreign terrorism suspects. Yet conditions of confinement in U.S. prisons and jails that transgress the boundaries of humane treatment have produced little outcry.  The use of solitary confinement in the United States is the clearest example of this.  Solitary confinement has grown dramatically in the past two decades; today, at least 25,000 prisoners, and probably many more, are being held in long-term lockdown. This widespread practice has received scant media attention, and has yet to find a place in the public discourse or on political platforms.

Solitary Watch is conceived as an innovative public web site aimed at bringing this issue out of the shadows and into the light of the public square. The mission of Solitary Watch is to provide the public—as well as practicing attorneys, legal scholars, law enforcement and corrections officers, policymakers, educators, advocates, and prisoners–with the first comprehensive source of information on solitary confinement in the United States. Combining a database compiled through state-by-state research with background, analysis, and breaking news, the site will serve as an information clearinghouse, educational resource, and online community.

This project is being launched at a pivotal moment, coinciding with several important developments in U.S. criminal justice. As Americans’ support for executions wanes in the wake of numerous exonerations and excessive costs, the alternative punishment of choice seems to be long-term solitary confinement, whether on prison death rows or in supermax lockdown units. Solitary confinement also awaits accused and convicted terrorists as they are transferred onto American soil from Guantanamo and elsewhere. Finally, in the absence of appropriate medical care, solitary confinement has increasingly been used as a way to control and warehouse mentally ill prisoners. As these trends continue, there will be an increasing need for a comprehensive, reliable source of information on this practice, and on the many practical, legal, and ethical questions it raises.

Solitary Watch is a collaboration between investigative journalists, scholars, and law students. Originally proposed by journalist James Ridgeway, the project has been developed in collaboration with the Virginia Capital Case Clearinghouse (VC3), a clinical program of the Washington and Lee University School of Law in Lexington, Virginia directed by veteran death penalty attorney David Bruck.

The Solitary Watch site will be hosted by Washington and Lee Law School. Bruck and his VC3 students will be responsible for gathering information for the Solitary Watch database, as well as contributing to other portions of the site. After developing a model, they will work to enlist other law school clinics across the country in collecting information on solitary confinement facilities and practices within their states.  This information will be fed into the database, and also displayed on state-specific pages designed and maintained by each participating law school clinic.

Solitary Watch News–original reporting on solitary confinement, as well as the Solitary Watch news blog, the archive of information and resources, oral history project, and social networking elements of the web site–is overseen by James Ridgeway in collaboration with writer and editor Jean Casella, with assistance from interns and additional contributions from law students and others. This site is a temporary home for Solitary Watch News, and will be integrated into the larger Washington and Lee site once the database and other elements have been developed.

Solitary Watch News is a project of the Community Futures Collective, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization, which serves as its fiscal sponsor for all grants and donations. Contact: Marina Drummer, Community Futures Collective, 221 Idora Avenue, Vallejo, CA 94591. 707-644-6575.

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