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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Monday, October 3, 2011

Felony Mental Health Courts could help turn the tide...

Here's some background on felony mental health courts from a document put out by the folks who pulled together Harris County's Felony Mental Health Court in Texas. Support the creation of such courts in Arizona to address the needs and challenges presented by people with mental illness being charged with felonies, and come on out to the next Roundtable by David's Hope on October 20 at 5:30pm.


"Criminalization of Persons with Mental Illness

A report submitted to the Harris County Commissioners Court on June 19, 2009, by Dr. Barry Mahoney of the Justice Management Institute, noted that in a little over five years, the average daily population of the Harris County Jail (designed for a capacity of 9,434) increased by more than 50 percent. Between January, 2004, and February, 2009, the jail inmate population increased from 7,648 to 11,546. Dr. Mahoney’s report noted, “[a]pproximately 25% of the inmates in the jail (over 2,500) have some type of mental health problem, as indicated by the fact that they are prescribed psychotropic medications. The Harris County Jail is now the largest facility providing mental health services in the State of Texas.” Dr. Mahoney reported that about 90 percent of the inmates with mental illness have previously been in the jail, a reflection of the frequent “recycling” of many of these defendants through the criminal justice system.

Furthermore, Dr. Mahoney also observed that, in recent years, the jail has markedly improved its capacity to house and provide services for mentally ill inmates. He went on to say that there is broad agreement among jail officials, other criminal justice practitioners, and the local mental health treatment community that more must be done to improve treatment for mentally ill or impaired defendants. The report indicated that there is a “strong consensus on the desirability of developing effective alternatives to jail for mentally impaired persons who are arrested (sometimes repeatedly) for low level offenses.”

Dr. Mahoney recommended that the county “consider[s] major expansion of specialty dockets, in light of the high proportion of persons charged with misdemeanor offenses and lower-level felony offenses who have substance abuse, mental illness, or co-occurring disorders.” He emphasized that these dockets should incorporate ‘best practices’ identified through research on the operations of specialty courts and dockets in other jurisdictions.

What is a Mental Health Court?

Mental health courts are problem-solving courts in which criminal defendants with a mental illness participate in a judicially supervised treatment plan developed by mental health
professionals. The defendant meets frequently with the judge, who provides monitoring, guidance, and praise for his progress. If the defendant fails to attend mental health or substance abuse treatment, uses illegal drugs, or fails to comply with other conditions of supervision, the judge will admonish the defendant and may impose sanctions, including jail time. A mental health court is a therapeutic court in which the adversarial process is replaced by a desire on the part of all participants for the defendant to successfully complete the supervision. The ultimate goal is to facilitate the rehabilitation of the defendant, so that he does not return to the criminal justice system."

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