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, September 11, 2011

AZCPOA: Diaz v. Brewer: gender justice

From the Arizona Correctional Peace Officers Association. I seldom post the stuff they send out, but this was pretty intriguing. I don't care much for some of the people Binh defends, but more power to him on this if they can get health coverage for all couples - and all kinds of families. Brewercare is killing too many people in this state already...

---------------September 11, 2011---------------

Recently the 9th Circuit issued a ruling in Diaz v. Brewer recognizing that the Arizona Legislature discriminated against same sex partners of state employees in rescinding their health insurance coverage.

You will recall that in April 2008, under then Governor Napolitano, ADOA rules were modified so that health insurance coverage could be offered to both same-sex and different-sex domestic partners. But, November 2008, voters approved Prop 102 which amended the Arizona Constitution to outlaw gay marriage, by defining "marriage" as the union of "one man" and "one woman"

The following year, in 2009, the Arizona legislature enacted House Bill 2013 that limited health insurance coverage offered by the State to a "spouse under the laws of this State." This effectively eliminated health insurance coverage for all same-sex and different-sex domestic partners as of January 1, 2011.

The Diaz v. Brewer suit was filed by a number of gay State employees to challenge House Bill 2013 as discriminatory. The plaintiffs filed for a preliminary injunction which was granted by the Federal District Court in Phoenix. The District Court noted that House Bill 2013 was not discriminatory on its face, because it affected both same-sex and different-sex couples. However the court found that HB 2013 had a discriminatory effect. This is because, under Arizona law, different-sex couples could retain their health coverage by marrying, but same-sex couples could not.

The preliminary injunction stopped HB 2013 from going into effect for same-sex couples (and required the State to continue to provide health coverage for them) until a full trial could be held on the case. Before a full trial could be held, the State appealed to the Ninth Circuit.

While the appeal was pending the preliminary injunction allowed same-sex domestic partners of State employees to retain their health coverage. Opposite-sex couples, however, lost heath coverage as of January 1, 2011.

A three judge panel of the Ninth Circuit reviewed the Arizona District Court's ruling, found it to be correct, and upheld it. The State of Arizona had argued that the law was valid because it: (1) promoted marriage, and (2) was a cost savings measure. The court rejected the "promotion of marriage" argument because same-sex marriages are illegal under the Arizona Constitution. Next the court rejected the "cost savings" justification because the only "cost" evidence that the State submitted was the fact that 863 "same and opposite-sex domestic partners" being covered. This is a miniscule number compared to the 57,000 State employees who have health coverage for their spouses and families.

Once the State of Arizona's justifications for the law were entirely discredited, the Ninth Circuit had to uphold the injunction. The court noted:

"the district court correctly recognized that barring the state of Arizona from discriminating against same-sex couples in its distribution of employee health benefits does not constitute the recognition of a new constitutional right to such benefits. Rather, it is consistent with long standing equal protection jurisprudence holding that "some objectives, such as 'a bare . . . desire to harm a politically unpopular group,' are not legitimate state interests."

The big question is what happens now? The State has a number of options: (1) the State can ask for an en banc rehearing in front of all of the Ninth Circuit judges and hope they overturn the decision, (2) the State can appeal to the US Supreme Court which will take some time, or (3) the State can let the decision stand and bring the case back to the Arizona Federal District Court for a full trial on the merits.

We should know what direction the State will take in the next few weeks. In the meantime, same-sex domestic partners of State employees will continue to have health insurance. Opposite-sex domestic partners, who lost health coverage in 2011 are not impacted by this ruling.

We are working on possible legislation to fix this issue for our opposite-sex domestic partner members. However, a lot hinges on the ultimate outcome of the case. If same-sex domestic partners wind up winning, we feel we have a strong argument to push for health insurance for opposite-sex domestic partners. We will keep you posted.

Martin Bihn
AZCPOA Attorney

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