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, June 20, 2010

Slaves of the State: Prisoner Labor.

This looks like good PR in the wake of the ADC murder and suicide recently - not to mention CCA's mess - who keeps an eye on them when they're in our state, anyway?

I know the men and women alike in AZ prisons often prefer these work crews to other jobs, or to no job at all.
But it disturbs me that no one seems appalled that our communities are eager to realize all kinds of benefits to incarceration that have nothing to do with lowering crime rates, and everything to do with savings/profit. That's one reason Israel prohibits privatization of prisons - because the profit motive is inherently at odds with protecting human rights. Besides, I do believe that exploiting prisoner labor doing public works like that deprives struggling young workers of such opportunities - some who might now end up committing crimes of desperation and going to prison. That's just plain stupid investing, if it's a community and not a company that's behind such a job market design.

Furthermore, if 93% of the state's prisoners are "violent and repeat offenders" (like how they lumped them into one category - that puts assailants and chronic check-bouncers in the same class of predator...) why are so many in minimum security going out into the community to work? They're all so dangerous that the ADC needs more beds and a bigger budget - and judges need to put people away longer - but they aren't so dangerous that they can't tend a municipal garden? That's doublespeak.

Why have a minimum security prison at all if you have a bunch of people there who will work, can be safe in the community, want to make amends and get on with their lives - and cost a lot of money to warehouse? The ADC could at least begin by abolishing those prisons...instead they're one of the few departments of corrections in the country planning to expand by over 100 prisoners a month. Everyone else is reforming sentencing laws, while Arizona is becoming more fascist. Director Ryan appears to be more of the same we had with Stewart - justifying modern-day convict-leasing. Nearly 10% of our state budget goes to that guy already...

Anyway, municipalities should be giving these folks jobs at decent wages BEFORE they end up as outsourced prisoners - especially struggling youth...

Doesn't anyone around here think outside the box?


Cash-strapped municipalities urged to turn to inmate labor

DOUGLAS - At 7:30 a.m. one recent morning, a group of 10 men was pouring concrete at a quiet corner on the northern edge of this border community.

Eight of the men earn just 50 cents an hour, allowing the cash-strapped city of Douglas to stretch its public-works dollars.

They are inmates from the Arizona State Prison Complex-Douglas 10 miles away - supplemented by one city worker and a detention officer - and they say they savor the chance to get out of prison and do something productive every day.

"It's an opportunity to get out and do some physical labor," said Anthony Perez, a 40-year-old Mesa resident serving a five-year sentence on burglary and drug charges. "It allows me to keep my mind focused on my future once I get out of here."

The benefits to cash-strapped municipalities as well as inmates are reasons Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan is pushing to take the program to other communities coping with dwindling tax revenues.

The agency has about 1,500 inmates putting in more than 1.8 million hours of labor every year through more than 100 agreements with governmental bodies around Arizona. But with about 13,000 minimum-security inmates in state custody, Ryan said there's plenty of room to grow.

"Inmate labor, in our estimation, is an underutilized resource," he said.

All those hours of 50-cent labor add up to significant savings for cities.

"It represents a cost avoidance of $12.1 million," Ryan said.

Communities like Douglas have come to rely on the labor pool that inmates in nearby prisons provide.

Douglas sits on the Mexican border, about 50 miles west of New Mexico. Its economy struggled after the smelter closed in the late 1980s. City leaders had less revenue to work with.

Michael Ortega saw the potential to fill that void in 1994.

Ortega, who was Douglas' public-works director at the time, said the relationship began with selling the program to residents who might have been concerned about inmates in orange jumpsuits doing maintenance at city parks and easing concerns of employees who feared the cheap labor pool would take their jobs.

"There were discussions amongst staff and employees, and we told them the reality is this: They're not taking your job," Ortega said. "They're helping you accomplish your job so I don't have to hire more staff, because I can't afford it."

In the 16 years since Ortega struck up a relationship with the prison warden, inmates have helped convert a former retail store into the town's library and built all the maple furniture in the building.

They have been instrumental in constructing a skate park and aquatic center and done dozens of smaller projects, such as building park bathrooms and performing routine maintenance.

On Thursday morning, a group of 14 inmates was busy demolishing the inside of the former Phelps Dodge Mercantile store in downtown Douglas. The building will eventually house a courtroom, a sheriff's substation and an arm of the Cochise County Health Department.

For now, it's another example of the cooperation and trust city employees have developed with the inmates.

"I don't hire inmates, I hire craft workers," said Armando Maza, the city employee supervising the demolition in the Phelps Dodge building.

Ortega, now Cochise County administrator, has taken to promoting the benefits of prison laborers to other cities long on projects and short on tax dollars.

In nearby Bisbee, a crew performs maintenance tasks every day at the Queen Mine, one of the area's major tourist attractions, which draws more than 50,000 visitors each year.

A group of schoolchildren from Tucson were thrilled with the prospect of going down into the mine. They didn't notice the three inmates clad in orange "ADC" jumpsuits.

That prospect of blending in suits Abel Suniga, a 35-year-old Phoenix resident serving a three-year sentence on drug charges.

"You keep busy, you know?" Suniga said as he finished chopping wood at the mine. "It helps the time go by quicker."

There are strict requirements for inmates like Suniga to get one of the sought-after jobs outside prison walls. And there is quick punishment for any who act up on the job.

The minimum-custody inmates must be within five years of being released and cannot have a criminal history that includes sex crimes or crimes of violence, such as manslaughter. They also cannot be subject to detainers from other agencies waiting to take custody once their sentence is up.

And they need to be working toward a diploma if they don't have one already.

Ryan said those factors motivate inmates to use their time behind bars to their advantage.

Research indicates such programs reduce recidivism among inmates, but Ryan said the jobs give convicts a taste of what will be expected after their sentence is up.

"It's going to be expected of them when they get out of prison," he said. "We don't want inmates sitting around idle doing nothing."