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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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Toersbijns: The Perils of Mission Creep at the AZ DOC.

The post below is from Carl Toersbjins' blog. Carl is a former Deputy Warden for the State of Arizona's Department of Corrections. He worked at ASPC-Eyman, the state's Supermax facility, until he retired in 2010. He was also employed for many years by the New Mexico Department of Corrections. Read his blogs at Associated Content and The Arizona Republic for more on mental illness and Arizona's state prisons.

The editorial inferred by the accompanying artwork is mine, not Carl's.

Prisoner Names Project
Phoenix New Times Office
(November 12, 2010)

SOS DOJ: Suicide in AZ State Prisons
(Dodge Theater, Phoenix. Halloween, 2010.)


The Perils of Mission Creep

Open Letter to Arizona Department of Corrections' Director Charles L. Ryan

By Carl ToersBijns

It well understood by every lawmaker, every politician and every agency leader in government that the creation of a mission statement should be more than a wall decoration in the office wall. It must reflect a "best practice" and reflect successful planning and goal setting by an agency or organization. Creating a good mission statement is meant to keep you on track and focus on your direction. There are times when the direction you have taken will take you away from your mission statement and into an abyss. This is commonly referred to as mission creep where you "creep" into areas you didn't plan on departing from or explore.

The Arizona Department of Corrections has set guiding principles within its on strategic plan and mission statement. Some of these principles are to provide a level of comfort for those government branches that interact with the agency daily by statute. Others are designed by federal law or agreements initiated to provide logistic or political support. The phrase of "safe and secure" is always part of a mission statement within prisons but rarely taken to the value it was designed to create.

The agency has a legal and operational responsibility to be accountable and responsive to its employees; to inmates and most definitely, its citizens. Their actions must show a high priority on quality of services and trust illustrating their effectiveness to manage such a large agency. Their work should be transparent, done with integrity and willing to change when mission statements and objectives or goals are not met within their time of expectation.

The agency has failed to maintain an environment that is humane and equitable to both employees and inmates. It has failed to address the number of assaults that occur daily within our prisons leaving staff and inmates injured, sometimes seriously and every now and then maimed forever. Today they have not solved the public's needs or expectations of a safe and secure prison environment. The leadership has not demonstrated a passion for action and has not demonstrated proactive skills that could in fact reduce the violence within the prisons. These administrators lack the aspiration to do a job and do it well but are not inclined to perform any better unless encouraged by the leadership of the agency. These leaders who are in charge of staff safety and inmate control have relinquished their authority to those unqualified to lead and accept lesser trade offs in their performance to get paid for eight and out the gate every day. Leadership was designed to energize the work force and inspire excellence by role modeling and doing the job with open communication and good ideas. This is most lacking in many administrators today.

Visiting the agency's website, their strategic plan will reveal an extreme high number or escapes last year at 5 reported. Perhaps it is time for the Director, Charles L. Ryan to review who is at the helm of these institutions where the staff assaults are creeping up beyond limits of reason and acceptance. Perhaps now is the time his energy is directed into the treatment of fairness for all who sweat and toil within the settings of these prisons and receive no gratitude for doing so. Looking at the statistics for 2009 there were an average of 29 staff assaults per month and 52 inmates on inmate assaults reported. Gleaning the same statistics for 2010 the data reveals there the average of 28.5 staff assaults per month and 62 inmates on inmate assaults reported. It is almost certain that he will claim the add inmate population has contributed to these numbers, however, the average reflects no effort to curb the violence.

It would behoove the Director to sit down with his core of leadership [or change his leadership] and review the mission statements for an anticipated change in actions and decision making. Perhaps, he should remind every one of them what the mission statement is and "stick it" into their heads so they won't forget who they work for [the citizens of Arizona] and who they are accountable to for their dealings and decision making.One can see by the charts attached the gradual process of maintaining control over the environment has changed over time and resulted in undesirable consequences that labor on staff injuries, resignations, frustrations and low morale. Another aspect of this erosion to the mission statement is the high inmate assaults on both staff and other inmates, suicides and homicides that occur within the prisons within a culture that has developed a tolerance to death or violence.

The Director needs to infuse new energy into the agency and its leadership. He must deliberately discuss the agency's shortcomings and avoid getting distracted on other issues that created confusion and dissension among staff. He has betrayed his own mission statement and his own policies in the manner business are conducted today inside his agency. His focus has changed and he is losing a grip on those very things that he promised to address when he came on board back in 2009.


SOS DOJ: CRIPA AZ State Prisons
(Dodge Theater, Phoenix. Halloween, 2010.)

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