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 18, 2011

Coconino jail crowding may bring a tent city

Or it may bring a detox/treatment center, which would be far better for the community and long-term outcomes with drug/alcohol offenders. I really hope your sheriff doesn't follow Joe Arpaio's idiotic footsteps. He's just a clown, as far as law enforcement officers go - even other cops here think so. Arpaio just happens to be a very powerful, twisted and dangerous clown.

In any case, he and his policies are not to be emulated by more intelligent people.
He's actually investigating the legitimacy of Barak Obama's birth certificate - a priority for his office, even though his people are brutalizing prisoners in the psychiatric wing of his jail, and the MCSO can't solve major crimes like murder because they're so busy chasing down immigrants who smuggled themselves over the border (and got jobs which are paying into - not stealing from - our social security accounts for us...).

So, good luck, Coconino County. Hope your sheriff is a smart man interested in evidence- based practice and goes for the detox center instead of a tent city.


Crowding at jail hits crisis level

AZ Daily Sun
ERIC BETZ Sun Staff Reporter
Sunday, September 18, 2011 5:25 am

This week, the inmate population at the Coconino County Jail Detention Facility reached "crisis" levels for the third time in three years, according to jail managers.

The Coconino County Sheriff's Office says the surge in prisoners is making it harder to manage various groups of inmates in a way that prevents conflict and is reducing how much money the jail can make from renting beds to state and federal agencies.

And if the problem persists, the jail might have to erect a "tent city" next summer to handle the overflow, especially if it must house more state prisoners for free.


The sheriff's office sent a memo to local law enforcement, prosecutors and judges this week asking them to do whatever they can to help alleviate the problem.

That means citing and releasing offenders when safe to do so and expediting the judicial process.

The problem started earlier this summer as the local transient population rose with warming temperatures in Phoenix. Most of the increase in inmates has come from misdemeanor offenders booked on charges like disorderly conduct or simple assaults. Felony bookings have not increased.

"This is the first time we've seen a spike in population to this extent," said Coconino County Sheriff Bill Pribil. "In summer we usually see population increases because we have a lot more transients coming to Flagstaff, but we've seen an unusually high increase this summer."


The jail typically classifies inmates and separates them by gender, criminal sophistication, past history, mental illness and other characteristics. Mixing potentially incompatible populations can increase the risk of an assault on officers and other inmates.

To manage populations safely, the jail tries to maintain an 80 percent occupancy. It's currently above 90 percent.

The jail has been fortunate there hasn't been an increase in assaults so far, Pribil said. And the number of misdemeanor bookings usually falls off significantly as the winter approaches.

But the surge has implications for the jail's future, with legislation taking effect next summer that will require the county to house state inmates sentenced to less than a year behind bars.


Rather than pay the county to house these inmates, the state can force the county accept the inmates for free or force it to pay the state an unspecified daily fee not to take them.

The jail currently generates about $2 million annually by renting beds to agencies like U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the U.S. Marshals Office and the Arizona Department of Corrections.

On a typical night, the jail will rent about 100 of its nearly 600 beds. This summer they've only been able to rent around 75 beds per night.

"Right now the (jail) district is solvent and looks to be so for the near future," Pribil said. "This could be a double whammy. At this point we have the capacity to absorb the increase, but that ability has come at the expense of lost rental bed revenue."


The sheriff's office is trying to stay ahead of the curve by brainstorming ways they can continue to make money and properly manage inmates even if the population continues to swell, or if the situation is exacerbated next summer.

Among the fixes being considered is a tent city similar to the one used by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Pribil says his officers have visited the facilities in the valley and they think it could work here if they needed it. The tent structures have already been picked out, as has a place to put them, but things like restrooms, showers and meal delivery would still have to be arranged. Managing such a facility would also require additional staff for the sheriff's office.

The tent housing could be operational within three weeks, if required, Pribil said.

But a tent city would only be possible here during the summer months.

Adding a full-service detention center in Page could alleviate some of the problem too, so that the county doesn't have to frequently transport short-term inmates.


A more comprehensive solution might be a regional detox, treatment and rehabilitation center. Pribil recently visited a facility in the Gallup, N.M., area that he thinks might work well in northern Arizona.

That New Mexico center is a partnership between counties, the state and the Navajo Nation, and Pribil says there is discussion about trying to get state funding and a possible partnership with the Navajo Nation for a facility here too.

If they can build a consensus, legislation on such a center could come as soon as the next session.

"As managers we need to look forward and see what might happen and see what might be our response," Pribil said. "We have quite the braintrust here. Our people are students of this profession."

Eric Betz can be reached at or 556-2250.

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