Fight the Treatment Industrial Complex

Fight the Treatment Industrial Complex by supporting the AFSC- Arizona campaign

Fight the Treatment Industrial Complex by supporting the AFSC- Arizona campaign
AFSC-Arizona staff are amazing advocates for prisoners - and as such, are true blessings to our communities. Spend time on their site - lots of resources.

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. collective@phoenixabc.org

until all are free -

MARGARET J PLEWS (June 1, 2015)
arizonaprisonwatch@gmail.com



AZ Prison Watch BLOG POSTS:


Friday, April 15, 2011

GEO Group, the Townwrecker: NPR, Part II.

Signs of the Times: "Homes not Prisons"
Phoenix Public Library, Central St. Bus Stop.
November 15, 2010.

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Private Prison Promises Leave Texas Towns In Trouble


Second in a two-part series on private prisons

The country with the highest incarceration rate in the world — the United States — is supporting a $3 billion private prison industry. In Texas, where free enterprise meets law and order, there are more for-profit prisons than any other state. But because of a growing inmate shortage, some private jails cannot fill empty cells, leaving some towns wishing they'd never gotten in the prison business.

More From This NPR News Investigation

It seemed like a good idea at the time when the west Texas farming town of Littlefield borrowed $10 million and built the Bill Clayton Detention Center in a cotton field south of town in 2000. The charmless steel-and-cement-block buildings ringed with razor wire would provide jobs to keep young people from moving to Lubbock or Dallas.

For eight years, the prison was a good employer. Idaho and Wyoming paid for prisoners to serve time there. But two years ago, Idaho pulled out all of its contract inmates because of a budget crunch at home. There was also a scandal surrounding the suicide of an inmate.

Shortly afterward, the for-profit operator, GEO Group, gave notice that it was leaving, too. One hundred prison jobs disappeared. The facility has been empty ever since.

A Hard Sell

"Maybe ... he'll help us to find somebody," says Littlefield City Manager Danny Davis good-naturedly when a reporter shows up for a tour.

The 372-bed Bill Clayton Detention Center is a medium-security prison that is currently sitting empty in Littlefield, Texas.
John Burnett/NPR

The 372-bed Bill Clayton Detention Center is a medium-security prison that is currently sitting empty in Littlefield, Texas.

For sale or contract: a 372-bed, medium-security prison with double security fences, state-of-the-art control room, gymnasium, law library, classrooms and five living pods.

Davis opens the gray steel door to a barren cell with bunk beds and stainless-steel furniture.

"You can see the facility here. [It's] pretty austere, but from what I understand from a prison standpoint, it's better than most," he says, still trying to close the sale.

For the past two years, Littlefield has had to come up with $65,000 a month to pay the note on the prison. That's $10 per resident of this little city.

A Resident Burden

Is the empty prison a big white elephant for the city of Littlefield?

"Is it something we have that we'd rather not have? Well, today that would probably be the case," Davis says.

To avoid defaulting on the loan, Littlefield has raised property taxes, increased water and sewer fees, laid off city employees and held off buying a new police car. Still, the city's bond rating has tanked.

The village elders drinking coffee at the White Kitchen cafe are not happy about the way things have turned out.

"It was never voted on by the citizens of Littlefield; [it] is stuck in their craw," says Carl Enloe, retired from Atmos Energy. "They have to pay for it. And the people who's got it going are all up and gone and they left us ... "

"... Holdin' the bag!" says Tommy Kelton, another Atmos retiree, completing the sentence.

The Declining Prison Population

The same thing has happened to communities across Texas. Once upon a time, it seems every small town wanted to be a prison town. But the 20-year private prison building boom is over.

Some prisons are struggling outside Texas, too.

Hardin, Mont., defaulted on its bond payments after trying, so far unsuccessfully, to fill its 464-bed minimum security prison. And a prison in Huerfano County, Colo., closed after Arizona pulled out its 700 inmates.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the total correctional population in the United States is declining for the first time in three decades. Among the reasons: The crime rate is falling, sentencing alternatives mean fewer felons doing hard time and states everywhere are slashing budgets.

The Texas Legislature, looking for budget cuts, is contemplating shedding 2,000 contract prison beds. Statewide, more than half of all privately operated county jail beds are empty, according to figures from the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.

"Too many times we've seen jails that have got into it and tried to make it a profitable business to make money off of it and they end up fallin' on their face," says Shannon Herklotz, assistant director of the commission.

The packages look sweet. A town gets a new detention center without costing the taxpayers anything. The private operator finances, constructs and operates an oversized facility. The contract inmates pay off the debt and generate extra revenue.

The economic model works fine until they can't find inmates.

In Waco, McLennan County borrowed $49 million to build an 816-bed jail and charge day rates for bunk space. But today because of the convict shortage, the fortress east of town remains more than half empty. The sheriff and county judge, once champions of the new jail, now decline to comment on it.

Former McLennan County Deputy Rick White, who opposed the jail, had this to say about the prison developers who put the deal together: "They get the corporations formed, they get the bonds sold, they get the facility built, their money is front-loaded, they take their money out. And then there's no reason for them to support the success of the facility."

Two of Texas' busiest private prison consultants — James Parkey and Herb Bristow — declined repeated requests for interviews.

The Inmate Market

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the total correctional population in the United States is declining for the first time in three decades. Among the reasons: The crime rate is falling, sentencing alternatives mean fewer felons doing hard time and states everywhere are slashing budgets.

Private prison companies insist their future is sunny.

A spokesman for the GEO Group declined to speak about the Littlefield prison, but he sent along a slew of press releases highlighting the company's new inmate contracts and prison expansions across the country.

Corrections Corporation of America, the nation's largest private prison operator, says the demand for its facilities remains strong, particularly for federal immigration detainees.

New Jersey-based Community Education Centers, which has been pulling out of unprofitable jails across Texas, issued a statement that "the current [jail] population fluctuation" is cyclical.

One of the places where CEC is canceling its contract is Falls County, in central Texas, where a for-profit jail addition is losing money. Now it's up to Falls County Judge Steve Sharp to hustle up jailbirds: "If somebody is out there charging $30 a day for an inmate, we need to charge $28. We really don't have a choice of not filling those beds," he said.

Another place where they're desperate for inmates is Anson, the little town north of Abilene, Texas, once famous for its no-dancing law. Today, Jones County owns a brand-new $34 million prison and an $8 million county jail, both of which sit empty. The prison developers made their money and left. Then the Texas Department of Criminal Justice reneged on a contract to fill the new prison with parole violators. The county's Public Facility Corp., which borrowed the money to build the lockups, owes $314,000 a month — with no paying inmates. They've got a year's worth of bond service payments set aside before county officials start to sweat.

"The market has changed nationwide in the last 18 months or two years. It's certainly a different picture than when we started this project. And so we're continuing to work the problem," Jones County Judge Dale Spurgin says.

Grayson County, north of Dallas, said no to privatizing its jail. Two years ago, the county was all set to build a $30 million, 750-bed behemoth twice as big as was needed. But the public got queasy and county officials ultimately scuttled the deal.

"When you put the profit motive into a private jail, by design, in order to increase your dollars, your revenues, your profits, you need more folks in there and they need to stay longer," says Bill Magers, mayor of the county seat of Sherman, a leading opponent.

When the supply of prison beds exceeds the demand for prison beds, there are beneficiaries.

The overcrowded Harris County Jail in Houston, the nation's third largest, farms out about 1,000 prisoners to private jails. Littlefield and most other underoccupied facilities in Texas have all been in touch with Houston.

"It really is a buyer's market right now, especially a county our size," says Capt. Robin Konetzke, who is in charge of inmate processing for the Harris County Sheriffs Department. "They're really wanting to get our business. So, we're getting good deals."

Nearby, disheveled and unsmiling men are brought from a holding cell to stand before a booking officer for their intake interviews. The detainees are wholly unaware that they may soon become the newest commodities of the volatile inmate market.

Mose Buchele, of member station KUT, and Aarti Shahani contributed to this NPR News investigation and report

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