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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Thursday, February 17, 2011

ToersBijns: Solitary hell and the mentally ill.

Another one of Carl's thoughtful blog posts about the rights and treatment of people with serious mental illness in prison. Carl was a Deputy Warden at the ASPC-Eyman Special Management Unit before retiring from the AZ Department of Corrections last year. For more on him, check out this post.


Solitary Confinement is Harmful to the Mentally Ill

By Carl ToersBijns
February 6, 2011

Having worked and studied the impact of maximum custody prisoners in the New Mexico and Arizona penal systems, I was enlightened by reading an article written by Dr. Terry Kupers, a psychiatrist with a background in the negative effects of solitary confinement. In fact, I must say that having observed and managed many of the same conditions of confinement described by Dr. Kupers, I am in agreement of his description of those mentally ill inmates currently housed in level V or maximum custody units. The madness he describes is a realistic and pragmatic experience for those who worked there for any length of time over two years and dealing with the same prisoners over and over making no progress in their treatment or their status within the system that incarcerates them for life. His "recipe for creating an explosion in long-term solitary confinement" is both realistic and accurately described based on my own observation, inferences and conditions met when the correctional administrator or supervisor in such a place. It is worth mentioning that in order to alleviate prison abuse conditions, there must be a process established that removes some of these man made conditions that create the chaos and bedlam that exists today and his efforts to "foster sanity" are appreciated at a time when the prison systems are in dire need of more funding and better programming for the mentally ill. [1]Here is Dr. Kupe's recipe for creating madness in solitary confinement: [1]

'¢ Begin by over-crowding the prisons with unprecedented numbers of drug-users and petty offenders, and make sentences longer across the board.

'¢ Dismantle many of the rehabilitation and education programs so prisoners are relatively idle.

'¢ Add to the mix a large number of prisoners suffering from serious mental illness.

'¢ Obstruct and restrict visiting, thus cutting prisoners off even more from the outside world.

'¢ Respond to the enlarging violence and psychosis by segregating a growing proportion of prisoners in isolative settings such as super maximum security units.

'¢ Ignore the many traumas in the pre-incarceration histories of prisoners as well as traumas such as prison rape that take place inside the prisons.

'¢ Discount many cases of mental disorder as "malingering."

'¢ Label out-of-control prisoners "psychopaths."

'¢ Deny the "malingerers" and "psychopaths" mental health treatment and leave them warehoused in cells within super maximum security units.

'¢ Watch the recidivism rate rise and proclaim the rise a reflection of a new breed of incorrigible criminals and "super predators." [1]

It should be noted first hand that before any judgments are made on prison staff abusing or mistreating mentally ill inmates in solitary confinement, there is a lead up condition that needs to be installed and met into the mentally ill inmate's program that assures the delivery of sound mental health treatment and evaluations that allows an atmosphere of treatment to exist in conjunction with the daily operations of max custody rather than a traditional punitive treatment inside these lockups.Dr. Stuart Grassian, a psychiatrist who has also studied the effects of isolation on mentally ill inmates, said that when dealing with mentally ill and drug-addled inmates, what is good for the prison system is not good for public safety. "The paradigm is that if we punish them enough, they will change their behavior," Dr. Grassian, whose research is cited, said "There's too great a tendency to label their behavior as willful. You put them in situations that are more and more stressful, their behavior will become worse." He added, "Most of these people get out at some point, and then they become a danger to all of us." [2]

It is critical to say that some of the content contained herein is ugly while others may be misconduct to a higher degree allowed by law but not by ethical standards for those who carry the burden of custodial responsibilities, prison abuse is prevalent throughout the world and the United States prison system. It is also fair to say that just because one bad cop was observed, charged or criticized for the way he or she handled the situation, it is important that we maintain a level of reason to ensure the tainting or besmirching of those who work inside these prisons are avoided as not all are bad cops and sullied their profession. Gleaning the facts related to the high profile case of the prison abuses reported throughout the country, it is with a tremendous amount of hesitation and regret that I am writing this story based on my acknowledgement that prison abuse is more common than it is led on to be and the type of abuse conducted while hidden out of view of the general public is more horrendous than anyone can imagine. The fact that we talk about the abuse of prisoners today is a phenomena on that rarely occurred in the past as the code of silence is very much in existence today as it has been for decades before.

Realizing that some observations, documentation and inferences of prison abuse may be subjective due to personal observation or presence in the process, it should be maintained that regardless of one's view of prisoner's rights, there are limits to how much a prisoner can endure while in the custody of a correctional officer or prison guards. Realizing my observations and inferences may be biased to some degree, it is with firm believe there is mass collateral damage of insanity fostered by the lack of treatment of mentally ill prisoners with the psychiatry available today. There are no excuses or reasons for mistreatment of human beings inside a modern civilized correctional setting within our own country. Keeping in mind that the correctional officers today are better recruited, better trained and better at managing the jails and prisons, there are still some chasms that need to be filled with better management techniques and professionalism that is still lacking in many systems. Eliminating those bullet points in Dr. Kuper's recipe is a beginning to restore many mentally ill prisoners back to a functional status allowing them to step down in custody and do their time on an open yard rather than being locked down 23 hours a day.

Spending approximately five years of my correctional career inside a maximum custody setting and mental health treatment centers, it is fair to say I have witnessed events that are beyond description and reality when it came to the human suffering and pain endured while under the supervision of a public service employee. Working another twenty years on coordinating, facilitating and operating a seamless operation to blend a balance between security needs and programming prisoners, it has been an uphill climb to say the least to overcome the cultures instilled and the attitudes that drive men and women to frustrations beyond normal limits and vent or execute their aggravation out on prisoners who can't run away from their wrath or anger.

The question comes to mind of how we can remedy these mistreatments and obvious misconduct of those few who bring down the negativity on many who do a job well done. How do we single out these suspects and come forward with the solutions to remove them from such a job since they obviously can't handle the environment's negativity and psychological impact of warehoused men and women packed in like a can of sardines, living, and enduring the wraths of many to survive and await their lawful release to get out of such a hell hole. We could focus on contacting the Amnesty USA for assistance but that would only create a stronger mesh screen to hide the reality from the inspectors resulting in non-findings and dog and pony shows while intimidating the captive audience into compliance while undergoing such an inspection or survey. The normally inflammatory relationship between prisoner and guard would be intense and retaliation, retribution and condemnation would be selective to send a strong message that silence is golden and words can result in broken bones. A logical solution to eliminating abuse of the mentally ill inside prisons would be to set up an oversight committee for the severely impaired mentally ill that have:1.The power to receive, investigate and resolve prisoner complaints without the usual interference of the administrative roadblocks or delays.

2.Be empowered with statutory rules for investigative powers to glean administrative serious incident reports, use of force reviews and critical incidents related to staff assaults, inmate on staff assaults, inmate on inmate assaults as well as all suicides, homicides and questionable deaths inside a prison.

3.Be comprised of five (5) members that could represent a liaison from the judicial system, the state police, the corrections department, the attorney general's office and a community member.

4.Commission or board would travel from one prison complex to another just like the parole board does or they can video conference specific cases to eliminate excessive travel and do these hearings electronically.

5.Their agenda would be one that would involve the gathering of the case(s); the review of the cases(s); the affidavits or written statement of the incident with details, pictures and medical reports accompanied with the initial criminal investigator's summary to indicate possible misconduct or findings questionable or incomplete.

6.Once the case has been discussed among the board members, a telephonic phone call conference would be set up with the warden of the facility where the incident occurred and an initial review would take place to see the extent of the warden's knowledge of the alleged incident and the matters of concerns related to the matter.

It is important that the process starts with the warden as that is the person in charge of the facility where the complaint originated and ultimately responsible for everything the facility does. It is important the chain of command is followed to show accountability and culpability of allegations at hand. Tough questions should be asked to see if they shirked their duty and their responsibilities concerning the complaint and if they did not know of the account, inquire why not. It is axiomatic in a Para-military organization that the immediate commander is responsible for everything the unit does or fails to do '" no exceptions, no excuses. It is imperative that some documentation exist to show the chain of command was informed and what action was taken after the notification. The rationale here is to prevent a cover up or perpetrated act to cast the case into oblivion.

The board must be cautious to avoid a willingness to dump the responsibilities and negligence on subordinates as it must be clear that wardens and deputy wardens have a heavy responsibility to understand their command and be informed leaders. This is why the chain of command is so vital to any good organization and investigative process. From a practical point of view, every subordinate situated in the chain of command starting from the first line responder to the middle level personnel to executive levels needs to submit a written and verbal report and be willing to provide testimony on his or her participation, knowledge or commands given. A clear determination should be made of their role of involvement and determine whether they were primary participants, complicit or accessory to the alleged misconduct and held accountable for their own actions as well as others. It is with both wisdom and anticipated forecasts that if such a board or commission were to be universally applied and established for every state correctional system in the United States and the District of Columbia, the rate of incident for prison abuse would decrease and brought under control with the level of transparency where citizens, family members and public appointed officials are confident that their respective systems are functional and in compliance to those standard comparable to the American Corrections Association and the U.S. Constitution. The expense or funding could very well be found in the re-allocation of funds already include in the state budget and re-allocation of trained staff to participate in this role of justice.



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