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)


ANTICOLONIAL zines, stickers, actions, power

Taala Hooghan Infoshop

Kinlani/Flagstaff Mutual AID


The group for direct action against the prison state!

Black Lives Matter PHOENIX METRO

Black Lives Matter PHOENIX METRO
(accept no substitutions)



PHOENIX: Trans Queer Pueblo


AZ Prison Watch BLOG POSTS:

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Az DOC Medical Power of Attorney forms ILLEGAL.

This alert comes from Donna Hamm at Middle Ground Prison Reform (a separate entity from Arizona Prison Watch). Please print copies of this post up and mail them in to prisoners you are in contact with:

Middle Grounders:

This message may not apply to all of you who have a loved one in prison, but if it does, it is important.

The DOC has been using a "Durable Healthcare Power of Attorney" form (we don't know for how long) which has been distributed to many inmates.  In the form, an inmate can name a person whom he trusts to make important medical decisions on his behalf if he/she is unable to do so, especially in end-of-life situations.

We recently reviewed a copy of the form which was sent to us by an inmate who didn't want to sign it until we reviewed it, and who stated that many inmates on his yard were simply filling out the form, signing it and turning back over to their CO III or IV.  He was concerned that his fellow inmates weren't really read the form word-for-word.


Once we read this statement, we immediately contacted DOC and demanded that they retract the statement from their form.  They agreed to do so, stating "It must have been an oversight; that sentence should not have been included in the form," and have also indicated that new forms will be printed.

However, we are concerned that the DOC will not diligently retract ALL the forms that may previously have been signed by inmates with the offending language contained.  We've asked their General Counsel to assure us that a procedure will be put into place to have CO's call each inmate into the office and have them rip up the old form and allow the inmate to sign off on the new form.  No assurances have been forthcoming that this will happen.  We are advised that "the revised/corrected form is on the Internet" (we couldn't locate it), but -- of course -- inmates have no access to the Internet.

If your loved one has signed one of these old forms, he should visit his CO III or IV immediately and retract the form if it contains the above-referenced sentence.  He/she is entitled to fill out the NEW/CORRECTED form and to have a copy of the fully executed form to send to whomever he/she names as his Healthcare POA.  No one should sign the form unless they are assured that they may have a photocopy of the executed form.

We hope that you will download a copy of this email and send it into the prison to as many individual prisoners as possible.  Multiple copies cannot be sent to one prisoner for handing out to many prisoners.  Ask your lived one to give you the names and DOC # of five or ten of the people in his/her unit so that you can individually sent this email to each one.

Also, on a somewhat related issue, at the same time the POA forms were handed out, the DOC also handed out an ORANGE COLORED "Do Not Resuscitate" form.   State law requires that all "DNR" forms be printed on orange paper.   If an inmate signs it, this means that he/she is giving permission to DOC to avoid providing any extraordinary life-saving measures in the event of emergencies or life-threatening conditions.  We recommend that no inmate should sign such a form.  Even in the case of life-threatening illness or emergency, we would not trust the DOC to make those sorts of decisions about care that are in the best interests of the inmate in all cases.  Hence, an inmate with serious injury or illness who has signed off on a Healthcare POA, which names someone he trusts to make decisions if he can't do so, can allow his POA to make all those decisions, including, if applicable, end-of-life decisions.  But it will be someone who KNOWS the prisoner personally, rather than an impersonal (and perhaps too hasty) decision by a DOC Director.   This is not legal advice; it is merely our opinion.

With the above opinion in mind, please be aware that in May 2009 when Marcia Powell was broiled in the hot sun in an outdoor metal cage, without water or bathroom breaks, and finally collapsed into a coma, she was taken to a hospital.  The DOC, having quickly determined that there was "no next of kin" listed in her paperwork, decided to turn off her life-support within just a few hours of her arrival at the hospital.  It turns out that she had been appointed a Guardian by the State of Arizona, a person who had actually visited Marcia at least once while she was in prison, and THAT person should have been the one to make the decision about turning off life support.  To us, even though the situation with Marcia was grave, it seemed that things just moved a little too fast when DOC thought they were in charge of making the decision . . .

None of us ever likes to think about something terrible happening to a loved one in prison.  However, the above information will put prisoner's families more in the driver's seat should such a thing happen.

Please encourage your loved one to ALWAYS read every word of every contract or document BEFORE signing it.  That goes for Plea Agreements, which are contracts, too!

Middle Ground continues to be a champion for protecting the rights of prisoners and their loved ones.

Donna Leone (Hamm)

Criminal Justice Consultant
Executive Director - Middle Ground Prison Reform

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Investing in community? Mesa prioritizes private jail.

According to KidsCount

11.2% of  Mesa's children and 
7.1% of her seniors live below poverty.
8.5% of Mesa's kids live in high-poverty neighborhoods, and
 13.1% of teenagers are high school drop-outs.

Mesa also has a falling crime rate.

In light of all that, you'd think the city could find something better to do with her money than incentivize further criminalization and incarceration of her black, brown and poor people...

------------------from the AZ Republic-----------------

Gary Nelson - Apr. 10, 2012 09:56 AM
The Republic |

Stung by soaring costs for housing misdemeanor offenders in the county jail, Mesa is looking for someone willing to build and operate a private one.
The City Council's public safety committee told the police department Monday it could issue a request for proposals to build the jail, which also would serve Gilbert, Chandler, Tempe and perhaps Scottsdale.

"This is a positive step," committee chairman Dennis Kavanaugh said, noting that a regional wireless cooperative among public-safety agencies could serve as a model.

AdTech Ad The size and cost of the jail are not specified. Assistant Police Chief Mike Dvorak said the department anticipates several proposals and will evaluate them on their merits.

The idea has been simmering for several years and has new momentum because of a projected spike in what the county charges cities to book and house misdemeanor offenders.

Mesa expects to spend $5.5 million for that this year. Next year's estimate is $6.9 million.

That money comes from Mesa's general fund and is not considered part of the police budget, Police Chief Frank Milstead said.

"We're not going to quit buying police cars because we have this big spike," he said. "But we've just got to come up with a better business plan than what we're doing now."

The private jail would be overseen by a board representing the police agencies using it. Companies bidding the on the project will be asked for numerous details, including how they plan to staff, operate and secure the jail.

Compliance with national standards for correctional facilities would be required.

If the model works well in the East Valley, Dvorak said other regions might want to pick up on the idea.
Arizona has no private jails at present. It does have private prisons, which hold felony offenders for a year or longer.

Dvorak said California has several private jails where police have noticed better accuracy in booking, lower costs and fewer confrontations between suspects and officers.

Milstead said the proposal for a private jail, which was first raised several years ago, went dormant for a while because of a notorious escape from a private prison in Kingman, Ariz., in 2010.

Two of the escapees murdered an Oklahoma couple.

"We were afraid at the time that people would not be able to differentiate ... between a private prison and a private jail," Milstead said.

At present, misdemeanor suspects are taken first to city holding facilities to be booked. They're arraigned in city court within 24 hours and if the court orders them held, they are taken to the county jail.

Mesa's holding facility can hold fewer than 30 people.

Peviously, the county's Southeast Valley jail at Mesa Drive and U.S. 60 both booked and housed offenders. The county stopped housing prisoners early last decade, and in 2007 stopped using it to book offenders as well.

That forced city police to take prisoners to the Fourth Avenue Jail in downtown Phoenix. Mesa police officers make about five such trips a day, Dvorak said.

Mesa Police Chief Frank Milstead said the county has indicated it would reopen the Southeast Valley facility within the next two months, but only to receive prisoners.

That still would help local departments, Milstead said, because they wouldn't have to spend so much time taking prisoners to Phoenix.

The old jail has 180 beds. Even if that part also were to reopen, it could house only some of the hundreds of misdemeanor offenders for which Southeast Valley cities are currently responsible.

Milstead and Kavanaugh both raised the possibility of the county turning over the vacant jail to Mesa or to a regional cooperative, but that would require political buy-in from the county board.

Mesa will pursue that with the county while also considering bids from private jail operators.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Correctional Health Services regains accreditation at MCSO jails.

 From what I hear every week, there are still some pretty serious deficiencies in how the health services staff treat prisoners in Joe's jails. And the AZ state prisons that are getting sued for having just about the worst correctional health care in the country are actually accredited, too, so don't get too excited here, folks. This fellow Tegeler's denial is a problem - he thinks the quality of their care has always been good, and he's the guy in charge - no wonder it was such a mess. The pervasive culture of contempt for prisoners and their families throughout both the MCSO and the AZ DOC also has to fundamentally change before any of the rest of this will really get better...that means, for starters, that the toxic leaders at the top of both institutions need to go.

 --------from the Arizona Republic---------- 

Maricopa agency for inmate care regains credentials

Upgrades let jail health group get reaccredited

The Maricopa County agency that treats jail inmates has earned back its national accreditation for its quality of care at all six county jails after losing the status three years ago.

County officials said better documentation, improved communication between the health-care organization and Sheriff's Office, and more staffing helped Correctional Health Services get reaccredited.

"Was the quality of care good two, three years ago? Yes. Is it better today? Yes," Correctional Health Director Thomas Tegeler said.

The National Commission on Correctional Health Care, an independent agency that assesses mental-health and medical care in prisons and jails, in January 2009 revoked the county's accreditation, citing poor quality of care in county jails that failed to meet federal standards.

County administrators began working toward reaccreditation later that year. Over the next two years, national officials did a site visit and a survey to determine how the county fared on 67 national standards, which include emergency-response planning, procedures for inmate deaths, medical screening at intake and during transfers, healthy-lifestyle promotion and suicide prevention.

National surveyors found discrepancies with five of the standards and, last December, awarded conditional accreditation to the county's six jails, pending documentation of the county addressing those remaining concerns.

Maricopa County last month officially received full accreditation.

Improvements made

Tegeler said in the last three years, the county worked to improve documentation, increased staffing levels and added other requirements, such as assessing inmate medical requests within 12 hours.

But the system, like many large health-care organizations and detention centers, continues to struggle with high staff turnover and relatively low pay. The issue is not unique to Correctional Health Services and will not likely disappear soon, Tegeler said.

"What we have in place today is enough to have us accredited," Tegeler said.

The county must show every year that it is in compliance with national requirements. The commission will do an on-site evaluation every three years.

The county Board of Supervisors, meanwhile, is negotiating terms of a $4.55 million contract with Alabama-based NaphCare Inc. to develop a long-awaited electronic medical-records system for Correctional Health.

The county for years has been criticized for its outdated medical-record-keeping system. Tegeler said that while the electronic system is not an accreditation requirement, it will help the county continue to better document patients' medical records.

Since 2009, Maricopa County has spent $4.9 million for an additional 68 staffers to help Correctional Health with medical, mental-health and personnel issues. Among new hires were nine medical detention officers -- Sheriff's Office employees funded through Correctional Health -- to help medical staff gain access to jails and become familiar with inmates' health concerns, county spokeswoman Cari Gerchick said.

When the county lost accreditation, there were concerns that it would lead to more inmate lawsuits against the county and result in increased liability for taxpayers.

The number of claims filed has remained fairly steady, however, with about 140 filed in the three years before and the three years since accreditation was lost. The county has paid out $1.9 million in expenses and indemnity payments in the last three years, bringing the total for health-care-related legal expenses to $14.3 million since 1998.

But the return of accreditation does not absolve the county or its taxpayers from paying for the sins of the past.

Snapshot of problems

The case of David Wayne McClurg embodies many of the problems that have afflicted the health-care operations in the jails for years, particularly because of the issues it raises with maintaining medical care as inmates are moved between facilities.

McClurg was arrested in Yavapai County in October 2007, and the nurse conducting his intake screening in Prescott noticed he had high blood pressure. McClurg was taken to a hospital in Prescott Valley, diagnosed with hypertension and given medication. When McClurg was transferred into Maricopa County Sheriff's Office custody days later, his paperwork included mention of his medical condition. Court documents also indicate that Correctional Health employees noted his medical condition when he arrived in Phoenix.

A chronology of the next 48 days that a private investigator prepared for a lawsuit indicates that McClurg, housed in Durango Jail, repeatedly complained to detention officers about dizziness, cold and extreme pain.
Doctors would later diagnose McClurg with Leriche syndrome, a circulatory disease, but his requests for medical attention were disregarded or discounted, according to court documents.

"The pain is getting worse by the day and my strength is getting weaker by the day also they said I had an appointment after 11/03/2007 and I have still not had an appointment yet," McClurg wrote in a medical request form on Nov. 13.

"The response was, 'Already on schedule for sick call,' " according to court documents.

In December 2007, McClurg was taken to Maricopa Medical Center, where his toes were amputated, followed by his legs. He would die in a Phoenix hospital in September 2008, prompting his family members to file a lawsuit in July 2009.

"The MCSO Detention Officers treated him as if he were a prevaricator feigning his symptoms to miss court, get special treatment or medical care," the investigator wrote. "It would not be an exaggeration to describe the next nine months as a living hell until his death."

His family's lawsuit continues to make its way through federal court, and the county had already paid more than $13,000 in expenses before the case left Superior Court.

County communication

Medical autonomy -- the ability for health-care providers to make treatment decisions without interference from detention officers -- was among the judging standards Correctional Health Services faced to regain accreditation.

Tegeler said that communication between detention officers and health-care staff had improved in recent years and that the two groups had never had problems working together to ensure health care is available to inmates even when security concerns lock down the jails.

"If there's a medical decision, there's nothing that impedes it," Tegeler said. "That has never been an issue here. MCSO has never been standing in the way."

Administrators for both groups said the reaccreditation process helped staff members refocus on the importance of documenting every interaction with patients, which also allows the county to refute frivolous inmate claims.

"The quality of care through this has really not been the issue," said MaryEllen Sheppard, a sheriff's deputy chief in custody operations. "It's the ability to document it."

Max Wilson, chairman of the county Board of Supervisors, said accreditation solidifies Correctional Health's reputation as a strong health organization, "and that's good for Maricopa County. ... We're up to the expectation that we should have been."

Mary Rose Wilcox, the most vocal county supervisor on issues with Correctional Health, said she is relieved it received the national status again.

"With that relief was also pride, because we were able to work back up again," Wilcox said, adding that the cooperation between the Sheriff's Office and Correctional Health was key. "You cannot operate alone, and that's what we were doing, MCSO and CHS were separate spheres."

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Sasha Abramsky on AZ and private prisons.

Arizona's Private Prisons: A Bad Bargain

SB 1184: Anti-shackling bill signed into law.

Sorry to be so slow on this, folks - thought I already posted it. Congratulations to all who worked so hard on this - and thank you! 

As for you, Sheriff Joe - go shackle yourself....

------------from the ACLU-AZ--------------

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Alessandra Soler Meetze, ACLU of Arizona, (602) 773-6006 (office) or 602-418-5499 (cell)

PHOENIX – In a historic win for women and mothers in Arizona, Governor Jan Brewer today signed a bill banning the practice of restraining pregnant inmates in shackles. The bill – which generated support from across the ideological spectrum – prevents jail officials from using leg or waist restraints during transportation, labor, delivery and postpartum recovery. With the passage of SB 1184, Arizona now joins 14 other states in banning this inhumane and unconstitutional practice.

"The end of this dangerous and widespread practice is long overdue," said ACLU of Arizona Public Policy Director Anjali Abraham, who worked with the bill’s sponsor, Senator Linda Gray (Republican- District 10), to garner support from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. "Restraining a pregnant woman can pose undue health risks to the woman and her child, and this bill reaffirms that pregnant women in prison—and their children—do not lose their right to safe and humane treatment."

The bill was drafted based on Arizona Department of Corrections policy and protects pregnant women incarcerated in county jails throughout Arizona. An ACLU analysis of county jail policies from across the state found that because there was no state law restricting the use of restraints on pregnant inmates, each jail had adopted its own set of policies and procedures that subjected pregnant inmates in Arizona jails to belly, leg and/or hand restraints, even while giving birth. In some jurisdictions, women wear leg irons on the way to the hospital to give birth. In Maricopa County, restraints are used until the woman goes into “active labor” or is administered an epidural.

“For far too long, shackling a pregnant inmate was a common practice that was not only dangerous to women and children, but made no sense considering most women inmates are nonviolent offenders who pose low security risks,” added Anjali. “Our legislators were rightly concerned about this practice. Not one Arizona legislator voted against this bill.”

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Correctional Association, Federal Bureau of Prisons, the American Medical Association, and the American Public Health Association all condemn the practice of shackling pregnant women. In addition, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2009 that the practice was considered cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment.
SB 1184, which does permit corrections officials to use the least restrictive restraints necessary for individuals perceived as a security risk, passed unanimously in both the House and Senate.

To read a copy of the bill, visit:

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Native America and AZ State Prisons: Remembering young warriors..

American Indians make up 4.6% of Arizona's residents, according to 2010 census figures. 5.0% of Arizona's prison population is Native American. The highest concentrations of them are at Perryville women's prison in Goodyear (7.6% of women are native American). There the highest concentration of indigenous women is being kept in the Lumley maximum security Special Management Unit - they constitute 14.3% of prisoners under lock down in that unit. 

Indigenous men are most heavily concentrated in the supermax complex, ASPC-Eyman, in Florence (6.4% of that population is Native American). In SMUI, where many of the seriously mentally ill are confined and neglected, often in solitary cells, they make up 9.7% of those locked down. 

One has to wonder if we aren't just trying to break the resistant and deviant ones, which is part of the genocidal pattern.

The author of the article below is the uncle of Alfonso Farmer, who recently committed suicide in prison as well. Our condolences to him and all of Alfonso's loved ones...

-------------from Indian Country Today----------

A Needless Death: The Tony Lester Story

As a Lakota, I was taught to respect life and death. Living on the reservation, death is all too common. From young to old, we have all felt the pain of losing loved ones before their time. Death on our reservations in one way or another touches each and every one of us, even if we live elsewhere. The death of a young Indian man also tells me, we mustn’t forget Tribal members who are out of sight out of mind in shockingly high proportions in the criminal justice system and that their deaths touches us, too.

When I was contacted in reference to a young Indian man, Antony “Tony” Lester, 26 years of age, who lost his life by suicide while in prison in Arizona, it brought back memories of my 23-year-old nephew, Alfonzo Lee Farmer, who also lost his life by suicide in an Arizona prison and whose funeral I attended just last month.

According to the 2010 Census, there are 5.2 million Native American Indians, and we make up 0.9 percent of the total population. In many states, we are incarcerated in great disproportion to our population numbers. In my state, South Dakota, we make up we are 8.8 percent of the population and yet we make up 23 percent and 35 percent respectively of all inmates and 50% of female prisoners are Native American Indians. In Wyoming, we are 2.4 percent of the population and we make up 7 percent of prisoners. In Montana, we are 6.3 percent of the population and we are 18.8 percent of men and 29.6 percent of women in prison. According to the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, Native children make up 50 percent of youngsters in the federal prison system.

Let’s place these percentages in prospective and make one of these numbers a real person. Antony “Tony” Lester was an only child. His father was an enrolled member of the Salt River/Pima Reservation who did not have contact with him and his mother. His mother Eleanor is a Sioux/Assiniboine from Fort Peck Indian Reservation in Montana. Tony’s mother devoted her life to Tony, raising him as a single mom and always providing the best. He graduated from Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic School in Scottsdale, Arizona, and then later attended Brophy College Preparatory in Phoenix.

Tony was diagnosed with schizophrenia when he was in high school, struggled with his condition, and was a self-harming as a teenager. He told his family that the voices were “getting worse.” Tony was loved and cared for by his family throughout his illness and it was this illness that gave the state of Arizona a reason to send him to prison.

Tony Lester never had any prior convictions and yet he never stood a chance. In 2010, he was sentenced to 12 years in state prison on assault charges stemming from a suicide attempt during a psychotic episode the previous year. Two of his very close friends who tried to stop him from cutting his throat got hurt while grabbing the knife.

Tony was mentally ill and the state of Arizona knew this. Instead of being admitted to a psychiatric hospital, Tony was put in jail. Nine months of medication restored him to sufficient competency to be deemed fit for trial. He was found guilty by a jury. During this time, it was discovered that Tony was struggling with seven voices telling him to kill himself or he would not go to heaven and that his family would be harmed. Worse yet, says his family, the voices were not just talking to him but to each other, and he felt he could no longer control them.

The judge and court-appointed psychiatrist advised that Tony should be housed in a facility where he would receive the necessary mental health treatment. Yet this was ignored, and he was sent to the Arizona State Prison in Tucson.

Tony was placed with the general prison population; he went off his medication and was sent to a unit for behavioral problems. He was on and off suicide watch. The family recalls vividly that at 11:45 pm on July 11, 2010, they received a phone call informing them that Tony had been taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. A few hours later, at 3:15 am, they received a call saying Tony had died from injuries he had sustained. They learned he had cut his wrists, jugular vein and groin with a razor he was mistakenly provided in a prisoner hygiene pack.

The Lester family battled the state of Arizona for almost two years to gain access to footage filmed by one of the guards, Umberto Hernandez, on the day Tony died. The video shows that the guards did not at any time provide medical assistance. The video is very graphic and watching it, my prayers go out to Tony’s family. A year-long inquiry by Wendy Halloran, investigative reporter with KPNX (Channel 12 Watchdog News), in Phoenix, uncovered much shocking information surrounding the passing of this young man. Click here for the story.

Tony’s aunt, Patti Jones, along with his family throughout Indian country, are now his voice. His family is asking for your help in exposing the inhumanities Tony suffered. They ask you to view Ms. Halloran’s investigative report and post comments to and to Brian Williams at You may also contact Ms. Jones at

This story is far from over, looking at the statistics listed above many more Native prisoners must have met this fate as well. The statistics show extreme disproportionality from the beginning of the contact with the justice system, more apprehensions, more arrests, more adjudication’s, more convictions, harsher sentencing, deficiencies in legal advice. Getting involved in helping the Lester family is the first step in learning what we need to do in order to help all of our people.

I leave you with a comment placed on by a person who self-identified anonymously as one of the jurors: “We could see that he was ill, and we thought that he would get probation and get the help he needed.”

Oliver J. Semans is an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.

AZ privatizing prison health care to destroy state pensions.

I already posted on this yesterday morning, but I just came across Bob Ortega's piece in the AZ Republic, which is worth sharing as well. Note how the legislature ordered this move regardless of whether or not it saves money (or kills prisoners) - they just want to screw state workers out of their retirement plans. That's classic John Kavanaugh for you. Feel free to write him at the AZ House and tell him what a swell guy he is. He's still the chair of the House Appropriations Committee; looking at the state of our state, that should tell you a lot. He also runs a criminal justice program at a community college - no wonder he wanted to gut spending on universities. God forbid anyone here should get too smart - he needs us to stay poor and stupid so we can keep filling and staffing the prisons he wants to privatize.

Anyway, welcome to AZ, Wexford - we aren't putting up with any more BS from prison health care providers, so you'd better do right by our people right the first time around, or we'll run you out of this state.


Arizona prisons' health care to be run by Pa. company

Arizona's Department of Corrections awarded a $349 million, three-year contract Tuesday to privatize health care for prison inmates that will cost the state $5 million a year more than it spent in 2011.

The contract to privatize prison health care -- originally pushed by Rep. John Kavanagh as a way to save the state money -- was awarded to privately held Wexford Health Sources Inc. of Pittsburgh.

Wexford, which has previously lost contracts for poor service and was implicated in a 2008 payoff scandal in Illinois, bid $116.3million a year, $1.1million less than the second-place bid by Corizon Inc. of Brentwood, Tenn.

The contract, which is renewable for two additional years, was approved by Corrections Director Charles Ryan and reviewed by the Governor's Office before it was issued. Arizona spent $111.3 million last fiscal year on correctional health-care services for nearly 34,000 inmates in 10 state prisons.

Over the past three years, health-care spending by the Corrections Department has dropped nearly $30 million, in part because of a declining prison population and reduced staff levels.

After a prior effort to privatize prison health care failed last year, Kavanagh, Republican chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, removed language from a bill that had required bidders to meet or better the Corrections Department's costs.

Despite the Wexford bid exceeding state costs to provide care, Kavanagh insists that, "in the long run, reducing pension costs" by eliminating hundreds of state employees through privatization saves the state money.

Lawmakers adopted legislation two years ago and revised it last year, requiring Corrections to privatize the health-care system regardless of whether it saves money.

However, Caroline Isaacs, director of the American Friends Service Committee's Tucson office, a prison-watchdog group, said, "This has never been about saving money; the real reason is that legislators are ideologically wedded to privatization and damn the evidence."

A Corrections spokesman would not comment on what will happen to about 600 state employees who work for the department's health-care division, but workers said they've been told that they will be interviewed for possible employment by Wexford.

Wexford spokeswoman Wendelyn Pekich declined to comment on whether Wexford will hire any Corrections employees. The Corrections spokesman said Wexford is expected to complete the transition to running health-care services by June 30.

Wexford, which provides health care under contract to 91,000 inmates in 100 jails and prisons in 10 states, was tied to a payoff scandal in Illinois. That state's director of corrections, Donald Snyder, served two years in federal prison after admitting he accepted a $30,000 bribe from a Wexford lobbyist to steer business to the company.

No Wexford officials were charged in the case. Wexford declined to comment on the bribery scandal.
The company also has had past problems meeting its contractual obligations. Clark County, Wash., declined to renew a contract with Wexford in 2009 at its county jail and juvenile-detention center after complaints that Wexford wasn't dispensing medications to inmates in a timely fashion, leading to psychological and behavioral problems with inmates on psychotropic drugs.

New Mexico terminated a statewide contract with Wexford in 2007 after an audit by that state's legislative finance committee found shortages of physicians, dentists and other prison medical staff and noted that the company had failed to issue timely reports on the deaths of 14 inmates the previous year.

Arizona hopes privatizing its prison health-care services will improve a system that has been criticized as inadequate.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Prison Law Office, a California-based prisoner's legal-advocacy group, filed suit in federal court last month charging that Arizona's Department of Corrections has denied adequate medical and mental-health care to inmates for weeks and months, even for life-threatening conditions.

The lawsuit says that understaffing, delays in providing medication and other problems have been persistent and systemic across all state prisons. The department has not responded in court to the suit and has declined to comment on it.

Dan Pochoda, the ACLU's Arizona director, said the Wexford contract won't affect the lawsuit or improvements in care that legal advocates for prisoners are demanding.

"The obligations on the state are the same," he said. "The Constitution is equally applicable whether the medical-care providers are direct employees of the state or contracted out to a private company."

The Department of Corrections said it will not release the contract document until Monday. Procurement officer Karen Ingram didn't give any reason for the delay.

However, if the contract provides the same terms as those spelled out under the request for proposals, Wexford will be audited quarterly and can be fined if it fails to meet performance standards spelled out in the contract, such as:

Completing a physical exam and mental-health assessment of all prisoners within two days of their arrival at prisons.

Triaging all inmates' health-care requests within 24 hours.

Completing referrals to a physician within seven days.

Maintaining adequate medical records.

Updating treatment plans and providing face-to-face assessments with psychiatric nurses at least every 30 days for seriously mentally ill inmates.

Having psychiatrists assess seriously mentally ill inmates on psychotropic medications at least every three months.

Developing re-entry plans for mentally ill inmates at least 30 days before they're discharged.

Such standards, if they are met, would be an improvement to the timeliness with which inmates receive medical and mental-health care, according to allegations in the ACLU-Prison Law Office suit.

There have been few national studies of the effect of privatizing correctional health care.

Kelly Bedard, an economist at the University of California-Santa Barbara who co-authored a 2007 study looking at privatization outcomes in 32 states, said that because private providers always have an incentive to save money and cut costs, the quality of care is highly dependent on how well a contract is written and on whether the state engages in meaningful, tough oversight.

Such oversight isn't common.

Bedard's study found that inmate deaths rise 2 percent for every 20 percent increase in privatization.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

AZ DOC: Nobly, heroically, protecting us from the dying...

I find this kind of thing particularly disturbing because the AZ DOC blames the tripling of the assault rate and the doubling of the homicide and suicide rates on staff shortages. No one watched Dana Seawright's back - or Shannon Palmer's, or Duron Cunningham's, or Tony Lester's, or Susan Lopez', or Marcia Powell's - when they were alive in their care, but the state always has plenty guards and chains at the bedsides of the helpless and dying...

Immigrant Mother Asks Arizona to Let Her Son Die in Peace

Published April 03, 2012  | EFE

An immigrant mother is asking Arizona authorities to let her son die in peace since he is in the terminal phase of brain cancer and is kept cuffed to his hospital bed with two guards beside him.

"My son is dying, he cannot move and yet they're still keeping him handcuffed," Martha Elena Palomares, originally from the Mexican state of Sonora, told Efe on Tuesday.

Her son, Juan M. Corrales Palomares, 20, is hospitalized at Tucson's University Medical Center.

Corrales, a U.S. citizen, was serving a five-year sentence for possession of drugs and a firearm in Safford state prison when he began to experience severe headaches.

Palomares said she received letters in which her son complained of bad headaches, but she was still surprised when he called her last week from UMC to say he had undergone surgery on Feb. 29.

"He called me to tell me with his own mouth that he didn't know what was happening, that his head hurt him a lot. It was a nurse who told me that they had found some tumors and that it could be cancer," the mother said.

The doctors told her that her son, who is now unconscious, had terminal brain cancer, and they recommended that she disconnect him from life support when the time came, something that she refuses to do.

"What mortifies me is to see that they still have one of his legs cuffed to the bed and two guards are always with him. They don't allow more than one (visitor) in the room and they ask for identification to enter," she said.

"In the situation my son is in, I don't think he can escape, or that I can take him anywhere," she added.
Upon being contacted by Efe, spokesmen with the Arizona Department of Corrections explained that agency policy is to use handcuffs as a way to guarantee the safety of their personnel and of the prisoners.

Palomares also questioned the medical care her son received while he was in prison.

"I don't know what happened with him, someone told me that he had fallen inside there," she said.

Last month the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona filed a lawsuit against the state corrections department arguing that prisoners are not receiving the medical and mental care they need.

The documents presented to the court by the ACLU indicate that sick prisoners who asked for medical attention were told things such as "be patient" and "it's all in your head," or urged to pray for a cure.

"We're asking for several things, among them an order prohibiting the Department of Corrections, for example, from putting people with mental problems in isolated cells," Alessandra Soler, the executive director of the ACLU in Arizona, told Efe on Tuesday.

NBC 12's Halloran investigates: Solitary in Arizona.

From KPNX, Channel 12 - Wendy Halloran kicks the AZ Department of Corrections' butt over the scathing Amnesty International report on solitary in AZ prisons that I blogged on earlier. Pay particular attention to the story of Mark Tucker...

AZ DOC contracts health care out to substandard provider

Wexford Health Sources has a rich history of undercutting prisoner health care and fighting off huge lawsuits. The state of New Mexico even terminated their corrections contract for their poor service delivery several years ago, and after they were hired by Mississippi to care for their prisoners, the prisoner death rate began to skyrocket. Here's their rap sheet, maintained by the Private Corrections Working Group. Their database is composed of news clippings and organized chronologically by state.

In light of the shoddy job the AZ Department of Corrections has done on prisoner health care, it should come as no surprise that they would pick Wexford to carry on their tradition of's what happened to the prisoners in Mississippi once they took over:

----from the Clarion Ledger-----

November 23, 2008 Clarion Ledger
Mississippi's inmate mortality rate was second in the nation in 2006, the most recent year for which national data are available. And according to a review of state-level reports, Mississippi's mortality rate rose in 2007. It's a situation that is raising legal concerns with lawmakers and moral questions with prison-reform advocates.

 Mississippi Department of Corrections officials say the high rate of in-custody deaths is the result of a number of factors: aging prisoners, drug and alcohol abuse prior to incarceration and the generally unhealthy lifestyles of Mississippians. 

But Patti Barber, executive director of the prison-reform group Mississippi CURE, said the state does a poor job of looking after the chronic health needs of inmates. "We are getting tons of letters from inmates, for instance, who have been diagnosed with diabetes. They are not getting their (blood) sugar checked daily, as they are supposed to," she said. "Things just plain aren't getting done." 

That is what the Mississippi Legislature's Joint Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review found last December when it released a report on inmate health care. The PEER report found inmates did not receive timely medical treatment from MDOC's medical contractor, Pittsburgh-based Wexford Health Sources, and that Wexford did not meet medical care standards set forth under its contract with the state. In addition, the PEER committee found Wexford did not adhere to its own standards in following up on inmates with chronic health problems. Wexford, which took over inmate care in 2006, referred all questions to MDOC....


If there's anyone out there from Wexford who has a different take on your company's ability to treat our prisoners right, please feel free to contact me - I'll seriously consider publishing your opinion on this matter. We'd like to know if you folks have finally gotten it right.

Solitary hell in Arizona: cruel, inhumane, and illegal.


Thanks to our friends at Amnesty International for flying out last summer - Chuck Ryan wouldn't let them in to see the prisoners, but he couldn't keep them away from the rest of us... 
and thanks again to Bob Ortega, who refuses to let up shining the light in the darkness of our state prisons.

Amnesty International accuses Arizona of abuse in prisons

Arizona's state prisons overuse solitary confinement in cruel, inhumane and illegal ways, particularly for mentally ill prisoners and juveniles as young as 14, the human-rights group Amnesty International charges in a report to be released today.

According to the report, which is to be delivered to the governor and state lawmakers, Arizona prisons use solitary confinement as a punishment more than most other states or the federal government.

document Report | document ACLU lawsuit | Suit: Inmates denied adequate care

The group found that some inmates are held in isolation for months and sometimes years, and it called on the state to use the practice only as a last resort and only for a short duration.

In addition, it asked that the practice not be used against children or people who are mentally ill or have behavioral disabilities. The group also called on state officials to improve conditions for prisoners in solitary confinement and to act to reduce the high number of suicides in Arizona's prisons.

Arizona Department of Corrections officials said they had not read the report Monday and were unable to comment.

According to the DOC, 3,130 inmates, or 8 percent of the state prison population, were being held in the highest-security, maximum-custody units as of Friday, and most were confined alone.

Although maximum-security inmates include those who are violent and may represent a threat to other inmates or staff, Amnesty noted that Arizona's own figures show that 35 percent of inmates in maximum security were committed for non-violent crimes.

Amnesty International's report cited sources who said prisoners are regularly assigned to maximum security for relatively minor rule violations or disruptive behavior, often because they have mental-health or behavioral problems.

The report noted cases of Arizona inmates who have been in solitary confinement continuously for 15 years. Amnesty said that various international human-rights treaties and experts, including the United Nations' Special Rapporteur on Torture, have called on states to limit the use of solitary confinement to exceptional circumstances, for short periods and to prohibit solitary confinement of children 17 and younger.

Amnesty's report found that 14 children 14 to 17 years old had been held in maximum custody at the Rincon unit in the Tucson state prison, under conditions similar to those of adults: 22 to 24 hours a day in their cells, limited exercise alone in a small cage and with no recreational activities.

Because children and adolescents are not fully developed physically and emotionally, they are less equipped to tolerate the effects of isolation, according to studies cited in the report.

Some charges in the Amnesty report echo those raised in a federal lawsuit filed by the Americal Civil Liberties Union and the Prison Law Office last month, alleging that Arizona's Department of Corrections doesn't provide adequate mental-health and medical care.

The state has not responded to that suit, and the Corrections spokesman said the department wouldn't respond to any parts of the Amnesty report that related to that litigation.

Last July, Corrections officials declined to meet with Amnesty representatives from London who were visiting Arizona, nor allow them to visit the Eyman state prison, which houses about 1,950 maximum-security inmates.

A spokesman said Corrections Director Charles Ryan had other commitments. In a letter to Amnesty, Ryan cited security concerns in declining their visit request. On that same tour, Texas and California correctional officials met with Amnesty's representatives, and California permitted them to visit maximum-custody units.
About 1 percent of federal inmates are held in conditions similar to Arizona's, according to data from the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

The U.S. holds more prisoners in solitary confinement than any other country in the world, Amnesty said.
With more than 8 percent of Arizona's inmate population in maximum security and a large portion of those inmates in solitary, the state's rate puts it at the high end among U.S. states, most of which hold from 1 to 3 percent of their inmates in some form of solitary confinement.

Most Arizona maximum-security inmates are isolated in "special management units," windowless cells that, contrary to the U.N. Standard Minimum Rules for Treatment of Prisoners, have no direct access to sunlight or fresh air, and have lighting that is dimmed at night but left on 24 hours a day, the Amnesty report said.

Inmates in SMU units are not allowed to work. They typically receive two daily meals in their cells, have no contact with other inmates and are allowed out of their cell no more than three times a week for two hours for exercise and showers, in many cases in a windowless room with nothing except tall walls and a mesh over the roof.

Amnesty cited allegations that the cells are no longer steam-cleaned between inmates, so that food, urine and feces are stuck on the walls and food slots.

Both Amnesty International and inmates contacted by The Arizona Republic expressed concern that the conditions in solitary may contribute to Arizona's high prison suicide rate, which was double the national average last fiscal year. Seven of the 10 most recent suicides in state prisons were by inmates being held in solitary in maximum-security cells, according to Corrections death reports.

While many states, including California, New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, Ohio, Mississippi and Wisconsin, bar placing seriously mentally ill inmates in solitary because the social isolation and sensory deprivation can lead to further psychological deterioration, Arizona does not.

Amnesty cited reports that serious mental illnesses often go undiagnosed in Arizona prisons because of a lack of mental-health staff and inadequate screening and monitoring.

Amnesty reported that mental-health staff don't have weekly rounds, visiting maximum-security inmates only when there's a crisis, and consulting with them at their cell door.

It noted the ACLU lawsuit, which alleges that prisoners in solitary wait an average of six to eight months to see a psychologist, with some waiting more than a year. One prisoner diagnosed with serious mental illness spent two years in solitary without seeing a psychiatrist despite repeated requests and referrals by staff, according to the suit.

Amnesty noted 43 suicides listed by Corrections from October 2005 to April 2011 and said that of the 37 cases in which it was able to collect information, 22 -- or 60 percent -- took place in maximum-custody solitary units. There have been at least eight more suicides since April 2011 and 16 other deaths that the department described only as "under investigation."

In letters to The Republic, inmates have raised concerns similar to those in the Amnesty report. "While on suicide watch here at SMU-1, the lights stay on all night and make it impossible to sleep -- all day, all night," wrote Dustin Brislan, an inmate with a serious mental illness in solitary confinement at Eyman.

"Lack of contact, of seeing the outside, seeing any bit of sunlight, smelling fresh air, all of that has increased my mental illness. I'm only allowed recreation every other day, where I'm put in a windowless cell off area."

The Eyman prison is the only one in Arizona not accredited by the National Commission on Correctional Health Care, which requires that prisoners being held in solitary confinement have at least weekly contact with mental-health staff.

By contrast, North Dakota's prison system hasn't had a suicide in 12 years, and none in maximum security since the early 1990s, according to that state's director of corrections and rehabilitation, Leann Bertsch.

"People with mental illness do very poorly in isolation," she said, "so we work with them intensively because we don't want them staying in isolation for long."

That means constant supervision, daily visits with behavioral counselors, and other interventions by trained staff as part of a comprehensive suicide-prevention policy.

The Amnesty report also questioned why Arizona's Corrections Department requires all prisoners sentenced to life to spend at least their first two years in solitary confinement, regardless of whether they pose a threat to other inmates or guards.

"There appears to be no valid reason," the report said. American Bar Association standards call for prisoners to be kept in solitary more than a year only if the prisoner poses a "continuing, serious threat."

Many states have reduced solitary confinement in recent years, often under court order, only to find that their costs drop and prisoners behave better when they aren't in solitary.

Mississippi cut the use of solitary by 80 percent in 2007, and Maine by 60 percent last year.

Amnesty International said Arizona should:

• Reduce the number of prisoners in isolation to only those who are a serious and continuing threat.

• Improve overall conditions, provide more out-of-cell time, better exercise facilities, meaningful education and rehabilitation programs.

• Introduce measures to allow some group interactions and association to benefit inmates' mental health and provide incentives for better behavior.

• Remove all serious mentally ill prisoners from solitary and prohibit them from being placed in solitary.

• Improve mental-health monitoring; take steps to reduce suicide, including more humane conditions in suicide watch cells; and prohibit solitary confinement of prisoners under 18.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Incarceration and Family Values: Time to wake up America.

 art by Nicolas Lampert at Justseeds

Sadhbh Walshe has been doing a great series on American Prisons for the UK's Guardian. This is one of many pieces. 

A shout out and thank you to Miss America, too, for championing the children of incarcerated parents...

-------------from The Guardian--------

How prison undoes family values

The exploding US prison population has seen huge growth in the number of children with a parent in prison – to terrible effect
Laura Kaeppeler, Miss America 2012
Laura Kaeppeler, Miss America, who is using her reign – and personal experience – 
to publicise the cause of children of incarcerated parents. 
When Laura Kaeppeler was 14 years old, her father was sentenced to 18 months in prison for mail fraud. She found the experience of having an incarcerated parent so traumatic and shameful that when she was crowned Miss America in January of this year, she announced that rather than using her position to champion a nebulous cause like world peace, she would be focusing any attention that comes her way on what has become a very American problem, the growing number of children who have lost a parent to prison.

In the last 30 years or so, the rush to lock people up for ridiculously long sentences even for minor crimes has led to an explosion of the prison population. And as the majority of prisoners are also parents, the population of children with a father or mother in prison has also exploded. Since 1990, the number of children with a parent in prison has increased overall by 82%, and the number of incarcerated mothers has increased at almost twice the rate of incarcerated fathers. There are now an estimated 10 million American children who have had a parent in prison (pdf), on parole or under some kind of probationary supervision. And, as is always the case when you are talking about the prison population, there is a disturbing racial disparity; one in 15 black children have a parent in prison, compared to one in 111 white children.

It's hardly surprising to learn that the experience of having a mother or father in prison does not tend to be an empowering one. But there is evidence aplenty to show that, like Miss America, these children are often deeply traumatized by the experience. Their school work suffers, they can become emotionally withdrawn or aggressively act out. The negative consequences tend to be exacerbated if they are unable to maintain meaningful contact with the parent they love while he or she is in prison; even more so if, as often happens, they lose contact with that parent permanently.

Maintaining contact with an incarcerated parent is challenging, to say the least, and certainly not something that the state or federal authorities seem to think is a priority. If they did, they surely would not have more than half the prison population in institutions that are between 100 and 500 miles from inmates' actual homes, and some over 500 miles from home, making visits next to impossible for struggling families. This distance factor alone goes a long way to explaining why, as of 2004, 58.5% of inmates in state prison and 44.7% of inmates in federal prison had never received a visit from their kids. If a child in Philadelphia wants to see their mother in the women's prison that is an eight-hour drive away on the other side of the state, they have to be up at 1am to board a special charter bus to take them there.

These visits are crucially important for the children, however. One foster mother who was looking after two sisters whose parents were in prison for drug offenses described bringing the girls to visit their father whom they hadn't seen in years:
"On the day of the visit, we got up early to hit the road in time to make visiting hours at the prison. Once we arrived, my purse was searched, the children's colored drawings for their dad were inspected and we had to walk through a metal detector, before being locked into the family visit room. I was relying on my girls to remember their father, since I had no idea what he looked like. They lit up like Christmas trees when they caught sight of an Abraham Lincoln-esque figure in prison blues who walked across the room.

"As a foster parent, I didn't want to intrude on the first visit in years with his children, so I never really talked with their dad. But he looked very happy to see them and promised his little girls the world. I heard him promise to get out of prison and to get a house where all of the family could be together again. Since the family included four other siblings, my heart broke a little when I realized how very tough that task would be for him, a former felon. Later, I heard that he, like a lot of prisoners, had his parental rights terminated, which is only one of the tragic outcomes of incarcerating parents."
This is, indeed, one of the tragic outcomes of parental incarceration – that even a short prison sentence can result in the lifetime loss of one's children. In 1997, Congress passed the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA), which requires foster care agencies to file termination of parental rights if a child has been in care for 15 of the last 22 months. So, if a mother gets a median 36-month sentence for some minor drug offense, she is at risk of having her parental rights terminated. Once that happens, the termination is permanent and irreversible.

Across the US, advocacy groups are trying to have the ASFA law amended so that incarceration by itself will not be grounds for losing one's children. They are also fighting to have prisoners placed closer to home or, better still, in halfway houses if the offense was a minor one, so that visiting is not as difficult or traumatic. Parenting classes for prisoners and better visiting conditions in general will help also. But unless we stop using incarceration as a one-stop shop for all social ills, stop being "tough on crime" and start being tough on the causes of crime, it's impossible to see how this cycle of despair will ever end.

Interested parties can write to:
Sadhbh Walshe
PO Box 1466
New York, NY 10150
Or send an email to:

PEW: Americans are tired of packing the prisons.

illustrating the school-to-prison-pipeline...

This press release below came to my attention tonight courtesy of Lois at the Real Cost of Prisons Project - check them out. And listen up, dear legislators...


Public Opinion on Sentencing and Corrections Policy in America

On behalf of the Pew Center on the States, Public Opinion Strategies and the Mellman Group conducted phone interviews with 1,200 likely voters nationwide on January 10-15, 2012. The survey has a margin of error of ±2.8%. The margin of error is higher for subgroups.

2012 polling, consistent with 2010 research, indicates that voters are concerned first and foremost with keeping communities and people safe. Without question, voters want a strong public safety system where criminals are held accountable and there are consequences for illegal activities. They also believe that these goals can be reached while reducing the size and cost of the prison system.

A national public opinion survey conducted in January 2012, along with similar surveys in Georgia, Missouri, and Oregon, found those attitudes persist and revealed opinions on specific policy solutions. (The focus of this survey is people who have been convicted of non-violent offenses.)

1. American voters believe too many people are in prison and the nation spends too much on imprisonment.

2. Voters overwhelmingly support a variety of policy changes that shift non-violent offenders from prison to more effective, less expensive alternatives.

3. Support for sentencing and corrections reforms (including reduced prison terms) is strong across political parties, regions, age, gender, and racial/ethnic groups.

For details go to: