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, September 5, 2010

Private Prisons in Arizona: Frank Smith v. CCA

And he wins! Of course, I'm biased. Not only am I an abolitionist, but I love this guy - Frank is my comrade and friend, fighting prison privatization for something like 20 years. He genuinely cares about what happens to communities that fall for the industry's line of BS, and what happens to the prisoners and their families who are auctioned off to be warehoused by these people with only a profit motive in mind.

Frank's with the Private Corrections Working Group, a non-profit org whose list-serve I'm on to keep in touch with what the industry is up to around the world. Anyone else who wants to be added should just email Ken at

In the piece that follows from ABC15, first you'll hear from CCA, then you'll hear from Frank. He knows what he's talking about.


Hear Me Out: Are private prisons necessary in Arizona?

By: staff

September 4, 2010

PHOENIX - The nation faces tough questions in tough times, and there are people on both sides of every issue.

Arizona is no different. But who’s saying what about the issues important to Arizonans?

Each Sunday, debuts an Arizona issue - along with two opposing sides on the topic.

This week we're tackling the debate over the use of private prisons in Arizona.

After a much-publicized escape at a privately-operated prison in Kingman, the use of private facilities was called in to question and even became a divisive political issue for state officials .

Some say the use of private prisons saves taxpayer money and alleviates overcrowding issues at public prisons. They argue the use of privately run facilities is a boon to the economy and even helps provide jobs.

Others contend private prisons lack the security and oversight of public prisons and any savings passed on to taxpayers are greatly exaggerated. They say escape and safety concerns are serious issues continuing to plague privately-run facilities.

So, are private prisons necessary in Arizona?

PRO-Private Prisons


A History of Partnership:

For many decades, governments at all levels have turned to the private sector to provide services once delivered exclusively by the public sector. Public-private partnerships are now prevalent in air traffic control, education, toll road operations, waste management and corrections.

Correctional partnerships have been an effective instrument in the “toolbox” of government for more than 25 years. Partnership corrections providers work with states like Arizona to combine the best of both worlds – the oversight and accountability of government with the efficiency and cost effectiveness of private business.

Opponents of public-private partnerships often resort to scare tactics, innuendo and character assassination in order to try to prevent partnerships. These campaigns are often fueled by big labor unions or ideology or in the case of Arizona – both.

Value of Correctional Partnerships as "Relief Valve" to Overcrowding:

Correctional partnerships are an innovative, common-sense approach: business and government working together to ensure taxpayers get the most out of every tax dollar, while providing fair, humane treatment for America’s prison population. That’s why state, federal, and local governments turn to businesses like CCA to build, manage and maintain partnership correctional facilities throughout the United States.

Partnership prisons offer governments an immediate “relief valve” to the number one problem facing prisons today – overcrowding. Overcrowding impairs the safety and security of hundreds of prisons across the U.S. and puts our families and communities at greater risk. Overcrowding also forces prison officials to utilize space intended for classrooms and gymnasiums to house inmates, which severely limits rehabilitative opportunities.

By relieving overcrowding, partnership prisons enable more inmates to receive rehabilitation programs they need to become productive citizens when they are released. In CCA partnership prisons, on a daily basis hundreds of CCA employees provide extensive drug and alcohol treatment, education classes and vocational training to inmates entrusted to our care by our government partners.

Accountability is Paramount:

The first responsibility of any correctional system is safety and security. Partnership corrections providers follow stringent rules established by their government partners and are expected by policy makers to meet or exceed services otherwise provided by government agencies.

Cost Savings to Taxpayers:

Partnership prisons save taxpayer dollars through efficient business practices and innovative prison designs and technology. CCA is able to save taxpayers money by using our national presence to buy more at better prices for many items such as prescription medications, staff uniforms, inmate clothing and security equipment.

Partnership prisons reflect state-of-the-art designs that maximize technology and ensure the most efficient operations possible. CCA continues to upgrade the quality of our correctional services while improving costs and constantly innovating the way in which we do business.

Strong Community Partnership:

In addition to helping governments meet their public safety responsibilities, partnership prisons also give communities an economic boost. A new correctional facility typically means hundreds of permanent careers, plus hundreds of initial construction jobs. In addition, businesses like CCA pay significant property and sales taxes for the partnership prisons we own and operate.

CCA in Arizona:

Opponents of public-private partnerships are using a combination of innuendo and scare tactics to spread misinformation about CCA and the Arizona immigration crisis. Here are the facts:

--Neither CCA nor any individual employed to represent CCA has on behalf of CCA directly or indirectly lobbied the governor or legislature regarding immigration law.

--CCA has never lobbied the governor or legislature regarding any state criminal law.

--Nearly 90% of CCA facilities are accredited by the American Correctional Association, which represents the nation’s highest correctional standards, with an average score of 99.3%.

--Security is why we exceed official government standards in every one of our prisons. Security is our Number One responsibility, and it is our Number One commitment.

--The economic benefits to the taxpayers of Arizona are equally clear:

In Pinal County, CCA pays approximately $7 million in annual property taxes.

In that community, our annual payroll is estimated to exceed $120 million and we contribute more than $8 million in yearly utilities.

CCA has over 2,700 employees in Arizona and has helped spur 1,700 spin-off jobs, paying over $200 million in wages annually.

CCA related activities generated more than $435 million in economic activity in Arizona in 2009 and produced a total of $26.2 million in tax revenue collected by governments statewide.

In summary, by combining the oversight and accountability of government with the efficiency and cost effectiveness of private business, partnership prisons are providing quality correctional services while ensuring that hard working taxpayers in Arizona and states around the country get the most of every tax dollar spent.



The deadly escapes from Management and Training Corporation’s (MTC) prison in Golden Valley, near Kingman, has briefly lifted corporate veils, providing the public with a narrow window on the dangerous and virtually uncontrolled operations of the for-profit industry’s Arizona facilities. The incidents were perhaps inevitable.

Inadequate staffing and training, failures of alarm systems and equipment and poor policies were the proximate cause, abetted by the abject failure of state monitors to address the obvious deficiencies.

The for-profit industry took advantage of a vacuum in Arizona’s regulations concerning their construction and operations. Beginning with three facilities in 1994, the industry rapidly imported prisoners to Arizona from across the nation. In Eloy and Florence they held District of Columbia and INS, Bureau of Prisons, and U.S. Marshal’s Service federal prisoners, as well as tribal prisoners. Exporters dumping many of their most violent felons included Washington, Alaska and Hawaii.

The prisons were insecure, often cheaply and inadequately built, staffed largely by poorly trained, poorly paid transients. They quickly experienced riots, sexual assaults of women prisoners and murders. Escapes abounded through the end of the decade, scattering fugitive murderers, rapists and other violent felons in Pinal County and beyond.

This was hardly unusual. Surveys going back to the advent of Arizona’s for-profits suggest that the escape ratio from private prisons nationally is about 30 times as high as from public facilities.

Before this escape, MTC experienced riots this year at its Arizona facilities, Marana and Kingman. Competitors had riots also. MTC founder Robert Marquardt claimed that Golden Valley was their “first major glitch.” A quick check revealed at least a dozen escapes, plus race riots and murders before 2010 in Texas, New Mexico, California and Utah.

Concerned with the lack of professionalism, Governor Janet Napolitano and Director of Corrections, Dora Schriro, resisted expansion of these prisons in the state, but the legislature refused to appropriate funds for expansion of the state system. Napolitano was forced to capitulate in 2003, allowing a facility to be constructed in Golden Valley, at first intended for DUI offenders, mostly minimum custody.

To deal with overcrowding, Arizona also exported prisoners, first to Texas, then Oklahoma, Colorado and Indiana. In each of these venues, riots precipitated by inedible food quickly followed as for-profits cut costs by hiring inept staff, providing little treatment, and flagrantly disregarding contractual terms.

Though crime was dropping, Arizona’s prison population was rapidly expanding.

The industry actually helped to manufacture that crisis. It lobbied for harsher sentences, tougher parole policies, even supported adding more crimes to the books. It did this especially through its criminal justice committee participation and chairmanships within the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization to which a majority of the country’s conservative legislators belong. These gatherings produced “model legislation” to be brought back home - bills that assured the industry more prisoners, more market, and more market share.

Legislators holding critical posts continuously forced these irrational policies on states. It was hardly coincidence that in Arizona and elsewhere, a flood of campaign contributions went to sponsors of industry-favored bills. In Arizona, appropriations committee chairs such as Bob Burns and Russ Pearce were particularly willing to accommodate.

The proponents maintained this got the best bang for the taxpayers’ bucks. To the contrary however, an extensive study by Arizona in 2005 analyzed costs in 2003 and 2004. The for-profits actually cost 8.5% to 13.5% more than comparable state facilities. Subsequent studies further failed to verify any illusory “savings.”

By 2007, the industry had added five more Arizona facilities to the six it operated before 2000. The state contracted with some to provide alcohol and substance abuse “treatment.” In fact, inmates received little in the way of useful services.

Attempts by skeptical legislators to rein in industry abuses and lack of accountability were met by ferocious lobbying defeating such bills. This year Representative David Lujan’s bill to regulate their operations, establish an escape fund to cover liabilities, insure professional qualifications of employees and establish civil penalties for malfeasance, never got out of committee. A bill providing the same transparency of operations as required from public facilities, sponsored by Representatives Sinema, C.H. and C.L. Campbell, Meza, Patterson, Ableser and Cajero Bedford, met the same fate. This mirrored CCA’s federal success in particular of denying the public’s “right to know.”

A June 21st article published by In These Times, written by Beau Hodai, revealed relationships between the industry, Governor Brewer and the Republican majorities. Brewer’s campaign manager is CCA lobbyist Chuck Coughlin. Her chief spokesperson, Paul Senseman was CCA’s chief lobbyist. His wife continues the family tradition at the Policy Development Group. Public Policy Partners, holding GEO’s account, employs Richard Bark, an author of S.B.1070. He lobbies for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, where CCA has a “board level” seat.

CCA also contributed $10,000 to the successful campaign to raise the regressive sales tax. More state revenues mean more possibilities for contracting out prisoners.

Brewer has attempted to create the illusion of distance between her and the industry. She has scrupulously avoided answering questions about this relationship in the primary.

In order to retain its lucrative contract, MTC has apparently fallen on its corporate sword, accepting responsibility for which liability must still be shared with the state.

Responses to requests by the media for Kingman monitors’ reports, that should have shown the shortcomings of security, have been inexplicably delayed.

On August 19th Coughlin made an appearance on Phoenix televison, ostensibly to explore the catastrophic administration failure to oversee MTC’s operation. Despite the clear record that Kingman was a Republican policy initiative, he first mendaciously tried to blame the failures on Napolitano and Schriro, then diverted discussion away to the tax bill.

Expanding the smokescreen, he began to blame entities that shared zero responsibility for the situation: The SEIU and UFCW unions, the boycott, the All Star Game, “President Obama’s electoral coalition,” immigration and “the left.”

The time for obfuscations is over. The public wants solutions. It wants them now.

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