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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AZ Prison Watch BLOG POSTS:

Monday, August 16, 2010

Punishing AZ prisoners' children.

Don't know how I missed this last month. Thanks, KPHO, for covering it. It's bad enough they brutalize the prisoners - why take it out on their families, too, now? Is this their punishment for organizing? The Department of Corrections is withholding the prisoner's own funds from their families for what reason? Of course: So the money can't be spent on anything illegal.

Is that the only presumption they have about prisoner's families? How condescending and patriarchal is that? Just because one person in a family is convicted of a crime, that doesn't make us all a bunch of criminals, Ryan. You need to re-think any policy you have that's rooted in that justification, because we're coming after it. This is really despicable, treating all your prisoner's families like welfare cheats.

Way to be on the ADC about this, Donna. We'll echo these concerns.


DOC Cuts Families From Inmates' Funds

Prison Inmates' Accounts Being Blocked By State

POSTED: 11:07 am MST July 13, 2010

Some Valley families that have relied on money from imprisoned relatives to make ends meet are being cut off by the state. Most inmates work jobs that pay 10 to 20 cents an hour, but some make almost $6 an hour and have thousands in the bank; however, a new state policy limits their withdrawals, hitting Valley families at a time when many say they need it most.

About 60 inmates wrote letters to CBS 5 News, asking for an investigation into how the Arizona Department of Corrections handles their money."They're holding our money hostage!" Christy Simental said. Simental was locked up for life, convicted of being an accomplice to murder 16 years ago. Her daughter, Palmy Peralta, said her grandmother, Pam, has relied on monthly checks from behind bars to make ends meet.

"She's been in there since I was a baby and my brother and sister were young," Peralta said. Peralta said there's no way they would have been able to afford rent, groceries, clothes and all the other incidentals over the years without the help.

"In the past, you know, we never had any problems and all of a sudden they dropped a bombshell and just said no more," Pam Peralta said.

Simental said the department is forcing families into a crisis situation and forcing families to turn to welfare when inmates could be supporting them financially."My kids are suffering out there and these people aren't allowing me to help them," Simental said.

CBS 5 News talked with the new director of the Arizona Department of Corrections, Chuck Ryan, about the strict new policy limits to retention accounts. Inmates said the new policy started when he took over."It is meant to be a savings account for the inmate. It is also a fund that can be accessed for emergencies only," said Ryan.

Ryan recently changed the policy so inmates can no longer send money to relatives, even if they are the legal guardian of their children. In addition to that provision, inmates can't pay for rent, medical bills or loans for their parents or any children over 18 anymore. They can't make withdrawals for school or church tithes as they had for years, and they can no longer buy any food or gifts for family members on the outside.

"I don't understand. I've paid these bills in the past. I'm just trying to be a good mother. Just because my daughter's 18, (that) doesn't mean I wash my hands of my children," Simental said.

Donna Leone-Hamm, executive director of Middle Ground Prison Reform, said the changes are beyond unreasonable."These families are in crisis. We want inmates to accept responsibility and have empathy and concern for their families, but this policy is the antithesis of that," Leone-Hamm said.

She said there's no good reason the department would suddenly crack down on inmate expenditures from their own accounts."I believe they're hanging onto the money because they need the money," said Leone-Hamm.

CBS 5 News investigated and learned that inmate retention funds, totaling almost $5 million dollars, sit in an interest-bearing account, making money for the Department of Corrections. The more money there, the less they have to pull from the department's general fund.

Ryan said that has nothing to do with it. He said he's simply enforcing policy that's been on the books for years but was being ignored. Paying rent for family members, for instance, can still be done as long as the payment is made to a rental or mortgage company, Ryan said. Medical bills, loans or utility bills can also be covered for the inmate's spouse, legal guardian of their children, or kids, as long as the check is made out to the doctor, bank or utility company. Ryan said the policy ensures inmates aren't using the money for anything illegal.

Yet, Leone-Hamm said none of the appeals she's aware of involve inmates accused of misuse of funds."There are exceptions. This is not arbitrary," insisted Ryan. He said inmates are always able to file an appeal, if they can prove a withdrawal is an emergency. Simental said the department's definition of emergency is a joke."Right now, we're in a recession. Our families need help," she said.

Simental said among her appeals is a request to let her pay rent for her son, a single father who lost his job. The department denial said, "The loss of one's job although significant, has not been deemed an emergency."

"Come on! Emergencies out here are real. We live in the real world," Peralta said.

After reviewing several cases of denied appeals by inmates trying to make withdrawals to pay for school, church tithes and disabled adult children, CBS 5 News asked Ryan what he would consider an emergency."An emergency would be the house burned down and you need to be able to access those funds," Ryan said. Leone-Hamm called the director's response the height of callousness."There's a mean-spiritedness to it when you say, 'Unless your home burns down, or something of that catastrophic-nature happens, it's not an emergency.'"

Ryan said inmates can always use money from their secondary spendable account, but inmates like Simental who work full time are limited to a $100 monthly deposit. The retention accounts have most of their money just sitting there. Simental said that's a shame, since families with children on the outside so desperately need their help. Her daughter Palmy said it isn't fair to change the rules after so many years."I would tell them to put themselves in our shoes," Peralta said.

Since the CBS 5 News interview, the director agreed it also didn't make sense to limit withdrawals on these retention accounts for inmates serving life sentences, but instead of allowing them to send more money home, he's not letting them work higher-paying jobs anymore. The department also said at least one appeal, to cover bills for a disabled adult child of an inmate, has been approved. Leone-Hamm promised to take the fight to Arizona legislators if the department doesn't lift the limits on inmate-earned income in retention accounts.

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