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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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Project SAFE: fast track to prison for addicts.

Here's a research brief on this HOPE program, but I'm skeptical. Hawaii's sanctions went from a few days in jail to a few months in a residential treatment program - not in prison. There's no talk of treatment instead of prison here. That's a big difference between Project HOPE and Project SAFE.

Many probation departments in Arizona are little more than a collection agency for restitution and fees; tent city is for people who can't keep up with that already. Now we're planning to fast-track people to jail or prison for positive drops, no matter how petty their original conviction was. They could do more time for violating their probation than they might have had they just taken a jail sentence in the beginning. I think I'd rather do flat time in prison and live free again than be under that kind of surveillance and threat.

Much more needs to be done with Arizona's probation departments and courts than jailing the people they fail.
This just looks to me like another way to feed more non-violent offenders to for-profit prisons. Then Fischer at the ADC can lump these chronic addicts with the violent ones in more reports and call that category "violent or repeat criminals" (a category which presently constitutes some 94% of Arizona state prisoners - doesn't that sound scary? Makes you want to keep them all behind bars, doesn't it?). That's a way to create gross misrepresentations of their population, and they know it. It's the only way they can justify their outrageous budget and projected growth (while prison systems around the country are projecting a decrease in the use of incarceration, instead).

Hawaii was trying to keep people out of prison for addiction by applying swift sanctions while also providing treatment. Arizona just seems to want to expedite the incarceration process for people whose original crimes only warranted community supervision. We won't be getting the same rosy outcome as our island neighbors did; we will instead help fill Globe's new medium-security prison with now-dangerous "repeat-offender" junkies and potheads.


Probationers on drugs to wind up in jail - fast

In one way, at least, it's good to be a drug addict on probation in Arizona.

Probationers are typically allowed to test positive for drugs multiple times before they are finally hauled into court.

If they own up to violating this rule or that rule, and ask the court for a second or a third chance, they have every reason to expect those prayers will be answered.

Not anymore. Starting this fall, punishment will be swift and certain for those selected to participate in Project SAFE, or Swift Accountable Fair Enforcement. Use drugs on probation, and go straight to jail.

Six years ago, officials in Hawaii grew tired of people on probation missing drug-testing appointments, using drugs or absconding, so they developed HOPE, or Hawaii's Opportunity Probation with Enforcement.

One year after starting the program, they saw HOPE participants were 55 percent less likely to be arrested for a new crime, 72 percent less likely to use drugs, 61 percent less likely to skip appointments with their probation officers and 53 percent less likely to have their probation revoked.

It works like this: Probation officers identify people struggling with substance abuse and recommend them for the program. If the judge agrees, he or she "banks" 30 days of jail time for the probationer at sentencing.

If the probationer later tests positive for drugs, the judge immediately sends the offender to jail for two days. If offenders continue to use drugs, their days in jail increase each time. And if they continue to test positive, their probation is revoked and they are sent to prison.

Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch was so impressed with HOPE she asked judges around the state to look into implementing a similar program.

Pima County Superior Court Judge Terry Chandler has been working with prosecutors, public defenders, jail staff and the probation department for months to create Project SAFE.

It's expected to launch in October.

It's sometimes difficult to get people on probation to follow all the rules, but HOPE proves that if they know in advance what the judge is going to do, they'll make the right choice, Chandler said.

"HOPE showed that if you give swift and consistent consequences to drug use, you have a more positive result" than if you allow their probation violations to pile up, Chandler said.

David Sanders, chief adult probation officer for Pima County, said studies have shown that it's the punishment, not the length, that impacts people.

"The research shows that they get as much from a couple of days in jail as they do from a couple of months," Sanders said.

That being the case, a probationer with a job will likely be allowed to spend weekends in jail, Sanders said.

Pima County Public Defender Robert Hirsh is excited to see how the program works out.

"I hope the results are as favorable as those in Hawaii," Hirsh said. "In Hawaii they had fewer revocations and fewer new cases. It seems to have been successful in helping people get their lives together."

At the end of the year, officials will look at the results and decide if the program should be continued and possibly expanded, Chandler said.

Since the vast majority of crimes are committed by people using drugs or alcohol, the potential benefits are significant, Chandler said.

Contact reporter Kim Smith at 573-4241 or