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, August 21, 2011

Joe's Jail health care audit: Arpaio fails.

Many thanks to the AZ Republic for this report... Maybe if that $100 million of inmate programs' funds that Arpaio "misspent" had gone into improving services all along, some of the folks who have died there would have made it.

tent city, phoenix (April 5, 2011)


County's jails still falling short on health care, audit finds
Millions already spent improving inmate services

by JJ Hensley and Yvonne Wingett Sanchez - Aug. 20, 2011 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic

Despite spending millions of dollars trying to rectify long-recognized problems, Maricopa County still falls short of its constitutionally mandated obligation to provide adequate health care to jail inmates, a court-appointed expert says.

Her report, filed earlier this month as part of a long-standing lawsuit over jail conditions, is a setback for the county Board of Supervisors and the Sheriff's Office. For years, they have pledged to improve a taxpayer-funded health-care system used in county jails, where about 7,500 inmates are housed.

For years, the county has paid millions of dollars in legal fees, settlements and jury verdicts to inmates and their families for death and injury claims.

With a budget of $55 million, the county's Correctional Health Services oversees the delivery of care to inmates housed in the county's five jails and Tent City.

Jail-reform advocates first sued the county in 1977 to force changes, claiming inmates received substandard care. The court in 1981 issued guidelines for the county to follow, and the court has revisited the matter several times.

The 33-page audit by Kathryn Burns concluded that although the CHS has made substantial advances in a number of areas, serious issues persist, particularly within the Mental Health Unit through which thousands of inmates move annually.

An estimated one-third of inmates are on psychotropic medications, which treat mental disorders, said Dawn Noggle, CHS director of mental health.

The county received positive marks for its investments and improvements in staff training, inmate-health assessments and follow-up appointments.

It has increased the number of mental-health employees at Fourth Avenue Jail. Portions of health screenings during bookings are now electronic to better manage patient information. More group treatment is offered.

However, the audit also found continuing problems with inadequate or incomplete admission assessments on medical charts; premature inmate releases from treatment; discharges of detainees without discussion among staff; lack of continuity of care with outpatient providers; and inconsistent and poor quality of treatment within the Mental Health Unit.

In another related audit, a separate court-appointed expert recently reviewed the CHS' medical services.

Lambert King's 34-page audit cited similar improvements and deficiencies, indicated the agency is understaffed and said that technical problems pose a "significant setback" in implementing a long-awaited electronic-records system to better track patient care.

The system is now "indefinitely delayed" because the county needs time to solve the technical problems involving integration of two separate technologies.

Some of those same problems were cited as reasons for the CHS' loss of accreditation in 2008, and a few even were noted as far back as 1977, when the lawsuit was first filed.

Experts say the loss of accreditation makes Maricopa County vulnerable in its defense of legal claims by current and former inmates and their families.

The accreditation comes from the National Commission on Correctional Health Care, an independent agency that assesses medical and mental-health care in jails and prisons.
Shield against suits

That accreditation gives jails and prisons a national seal of approval that can help defend them against lawsuits over inadequate care.

Noggle acknowledged that problems persist but said correctional-health staffers are "making good progress" in screening detainees for health problems.

But the strengthened screening, she said, has led to a rise in the number of inmates deemed mentally ill, and that has increased demand on staff and resources. Noggle said the Mental Health Unit now admits 200 to 300 inmates a month.

"When you think about what we're doing on a daily basis, it's extraordinary," Noggle said. "We still have a ways to go, there's no doubt about it. It is an enormous challenge."

Burns' audit noted certain cases to highlight problems within the system. For example, it cited:

- Inadequate screening. An inmate previously had been booked into county jail nine times, and his records contained notes about his suicidal tendencies. The report alleges that staff did not notice those notes when the man was booked again last October. He committed suicide in jail in early December.

- Questionable treatment of inmates withdrawing from drugs and alcohol.

One Friday night last April, a pregnant woman who later tested positive for methamphetamine was booked into jail. Two days later, she demanded to go to the hospital. A nurse ordered Tylenol and sent the woman back to her housing unit. She gave birth to a baby boy in a bathroom of the Estrella Jail.

An inmate in the woman's housing unit said the woman "was in labor for several hours, but detention staff attributed her behavior to withdrawal and/or minimized her pain and discomfort and did not call or send her to medical (care) promptly."

Another inmate wrote that the woman was "in extreme pain and howling in the bathroom but not checked by detention staff."

- Unsanitary conditions. Despite periodic cleaning, cells in the Mental Health Unit had "floors, walls and windows appear grimy and stained with what appears to be dirt, feces and/or blood in some instances."

One mentally ill inmate refused to leave his cell for weeks. "When taken out for emergency treatment, his hair and feet were described as being matted with feces."

Members of the Board of Supervisors, ultimately charged with overseeing health care for inmates, said they were unaware of Burns' findings until contacted by a reporter. Staffers said they likely will be briefed on it next week.

Jim Bloom, chief of staff for Supervisor Andy Kunasek, concluded after reading the audit: "I think it's not so bad. In the past, I think we probably had a D. This report, I think, gets us closer to a C+ or a B-. We certainly have a ways to go, but we're committed to going there."

An Arizona Republic series in 2008 found the Board of Supervisors had failed to adequately respond to problems in the jail system despite having been told time and again through court documents, consultant reports and interviews that the CHS was providing inadequate care.

The CHS lost its accreditation as a result of the problems, and the county has paid millions of dollars in legal fees, settlements and jury verdicts to inmates and their families for death and injury claims against the county.

Burns' report was filed as part of the county's ongoing effort to get the Sheriff's Office and CHS out from under court-ordered oversight that began in 2008 after Judge Neil Wake ruled that conditions in the jails violated constitutional protections.

Since then, county lawyers and attorneys for the plaintiffs, who are affiliated with the American Civil Liberties Union's National Prison Project, have tried to develop a plan that would allow the jails to comply with Wake's ruling without the ongoing oversight.

Burns' audit tour was the first since that plan was put in place, and it was intended to gauge how far along the jails were on the path to compliance, said Eric Balaban, an attorney with the National Prison Project.

The plaintiffs' attorneys weren't expecting wholesale changes to be reflected in the jail system immediately, but they were hoping for fewer references to the same problems that have plagued the jails for decades, Balaban said.

"It's not unusual to take years to turn around a system that was essentially non-existent (at the time of Wake's ruling)," he said.

"We're concerned overall with the provision of health care. We're not going to get into ascribing bad motives to anyone involved here. We will continue to push the defendants as quickly as we possibly can to reach compliance with those markers."

The challenges are significant, Noggle said.

Budget-cutting at all levels of government has affected the CHS' funding.

Still, Noggle said, the CHS within the past year has added nine mental-health professionals, a mental-health supervisor, several psychiatric providers, two psychiatric nurses and six administrative workers dedicated to mental health.

And even as the county's jail population has declined in recent years, the number of inmates who are mentally ill or experiencing substance-abuse problems has increased, she said.

Many of those inmates have never, or only intermittently, sought medical help, making it more difficult to diagnose and treat them.

Dr. Jeffrey Metzner, a Colorado psychiatrist who evaluates mental-health systems across the nation, said local jails have become de facto mental-treatment centers.

"The number of mentally ill in jails has skyrocketed . . . and the courts have made it very clear that if you're going to incarcerate people, you've got to provide the treatment," he said.

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