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:

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Collatoral damage: prisoners, their futures, and their families.

This report is especially for those who think we need to make people pay for the cost of their own incarceration, as if they don't already pay a price. On the contrary, Americans make prisoners and their families pay, and pay, and pay - long past the original terms of the sentence, in so many ways. We might as well cut off some of these prisoners' right hands and brand their foreheads with "CRIMINAL", given the social and economic consequences of having a felony record.

Trust me, Arizona - we punish our more impoverished criminals sufficiently with their imprisonment and other sanctions - the ones with money to pay for their prison stay generally spent that money on lawyers who got them off on probation. We don't need to go after poor kids like we do, though they are often the target of the AZ Department of Corrections, which makes it hard for prisoners to support their families, and is now also imposing a new banking fee on prisoners and a $25 annual fee on each visitor to recoup their background check expenses. No wonder ADC director Chuck Ryan was hand-picked by Governor Jan Brewer to be her Chief Disciplinarian: he seems to think a lot like her and AZ Me Party Senate President Russ Pearce, who both believe that children should be punished for the "crimes" of their parents.

So, from the PEW Charitable Trusts / Economic Mobility Project, here's the executive summary of Collatoral Costs: Incarceration's Effect on Economic Mobility. In short, it's devastating, and amounts to cruel and unusual lifelong punishment for offenders and their families - and has a far more insidious effect on their communities than most people have any idea of. I think the powers that be just keep us all thinking it's a good idea because it assures them that they have a constant supply of slave labor for the state and low wage labor in the community to undercut unions and the working class if we start feeling too entitled to things like a living wage...


Collatoral Costs: Incarceration's Effect on Economic Mobility

Executive Summary

Currently 2.3 million Americans are behind bars, equaling more than 1 in 100 adults. Up from just 500,000 in 1980, this marks more than a 300 percent increase in the United States’ incarcerated population and represents the highest rate of incarceration in the world.

Over the last four years, The Pew Charitable Trusts has documented the enormous expense of building prisons and housing inmates that is borne by states and the federal government. Indeed, in the face of gaping budget shortfalls, more than half of the states are now seeking alternative sentencing and corrections strategies that cost less than prison, but can protect public safety and hold offenders accountable. A less explored fiscal implication of incarceration is its impact on former inmates’ economic opportunity and mobility.

Economic mobility, the ability of individuals and families to move up the income ladder over their lifetime and across generations, is the epitome of the American Dream. Americans believe that economic success is determined by individual efforts and attributes, like hard work and ambition, and that anyone should be able to improve his or her economic circumstances.

Incarceration affects an inmate’s path to prosperity. Collateral Costs quantifies the size of that effect, not only on offenders but on their families and children. Before being incarcerated more than two-thirds of male inmates were employed and more than half were the primary source of financial support for their children.1 Incarceration carries significant and enduring economic repercussions for the remainder of the person’s working years. This report finds that former inmates work fewer weeks each year, earn less money and have limited upward mobility. These costs are borne by offenders’ families and communities, and they reverberate across generations.

People who break the law need to be held accountable and pay their debt to society. Prisons can enhance public safety, both by keeping dangerous criminals off the streets and by deterring would be offenders. However, virtually all inmates will be released, and when they do, society has a strong interest in helping them fulfill their responsibilities to their victims, their families and their communities.When returning offenders can find and keep legitimate employment, they are more likely to be able to pay restitution to their victims, support their children and avoid crime.

To calculate the impacts of incarceration on economic mobility, The Pew Charitable Trusts commissioned new analysis by two of the leading researchers in the field, Dr. Bruce Western of Harvard University and Dr. Becky Pettit of the University of Washington.

Major findings include the following:


• One in 87 working-aged white men is in prison or jail, compared with 1 in 36 Hispanic men and 1 in 12 African American men.

• More young (20 to 34-year-old) African American men without a high school diploma or GED are currently behind bars (37 percent) than employed (26 percent).


• Serving time reduces hourly wages for men by approximately 11 percent, annual employment by 9 weeks and annual earnings by 40 percent.

• By age 48, the typical former inmate will have earned $179,000 less than if he had never been incarcerated.

• Incarceration depresses the total earnings of white males by 2 percent, of Hispanic males by 6 percent, and of black males by 9 percent.


• Of the former inmates who were in the lowest fifth of the male earnings distribution in 1986, two-thirds remained on the bottom rung in 2006, twice the number of those who were not incarcerated.

• Only 2 percent of previously incarcerated men who started in the bottom fifth of the earnings distribution made it to the top fifth 20 years later, compared to 15 percent of men who started at the bottom but were never incarcerated.


• 54 percent of inmates are parents with minor children (ages 0-17), including more than 120,000 mothers and 1.1 million fathers.

• 2.7 million children have a parent behind bars—1 in every 28 children (3.6 percent) has a parent incarcerated, up from 1 in 125 just 25 years ago. Two-thirds of these children’s parents were incarcerated for non-violent offenses.

• One in 9 African American children (11.4 percent), 1 in 28 Hispanic children (3.5 percent) and 1 in 57 white children (1.8 percent) have an incarcerated parent.


• Previous research has shown that having a parent incarcerated hurts children, both educationally and financially.

• Children with fathers who have been incarcerated are significantly more likely than other children to be expelled or suspended from school (23 percent compared with 4 percent).2

• Family income averaged over the years a father is incarcerated is 22 percent lower than family income was the year before a father is incarcerated. Even in the year after the father is released, family income remains 15 percent lower than it was the year before incarceration.3

• Both education and parental income are strong indicators of children’s future economic mobility.4

With millions of prison and jail inmates a year returning to their communities, it is important to identify policies that address the impact of incarceration on the economic mobility of former inmates and their children. Based on information previously put forward by The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Public Safety Performance Project and Pew’s Economic Mobility Project, this report outlines ways to reduce the productivity losses associated with serving time in jail or prison.

These recommendations include the following:

• Proactively reconnect former inmates to the labor market through education and training, job search and placement support and follow-up services to help former inmates stay employed.

• Enhance former inmates’ economic condition and make work pay by capping the percent of an offenders’ income subject to deductions for unpaid debts (such as court-ordered fines and fees), and expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit to include non-custodial, low-income parents.

• Screen and sort people convicted of crimes by the risks they pose to society, diverting lower-risk offenders into high-quality, community-based mandatory supervision programs.

• Use earned-time credits, a proven model that offers selected inmates a shortened prison stay if they complete educational, vocational or rehabilitation programs that boost their chances of successful reentry into the community and the labor market.

• Provide funding incentives to corrections agencies and programs that succeed in reducing crime and increasing employment.

• Use swift and certain sanctions other than prison, such as short but immediate weekend jail stays, to punish probation and parole violations, holding offenders accountable while allowing them to keep their jobs.

1 Western, 2006; Glaze and Maruschak, 2008.
2 Johnson, 2009.
3 Ibid.
4 Isaacs, Sawhill and Haskins, 2008.

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