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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Friday, June 7, 2013

Why AZ doesn't need another Supermax prison...

Hey Folks:

*** much to my surprise, there apparently IS supposed to be further discussion on funding for the new Supermax: The AZ LEG Joint Committee on Capital Review  is meeting next Wednesday (June 12) at 9:00 a.m. in the Senate Bldg, Appropriations Room 109. The committee documents most pertinent to this discussion are here. We need to get as many people out to that as possible and/or contact those members ahead of time. Keep an eye out for it to be rescheduled at the last minute, though.****

In light of that, I have just a few thoughts: the last part of this post below addresses how so many prisoners inappropriately end up in Supermax.  My buddy C  gave me his full blessings on this campaign (see flyer). Since I launched this campaign a couple of months ago, the DOC has reclassed him down again and moved him to a close custody general population (GP) yard at ASPC-YUMA - punishing him further by forcing him back into GP, where he has told them he is in danger (especially now that I've made him a high-profile prisoner). 

I think we should demand that an audit be done by the legislature of who exactly the current Supermax prisoners are and why they happen to be there - how many are inappropriately there because they are Seriously Mentally Ill (SMI) - does the ACLU already have a count on that? how many are like C (I can probably name/ identify about 15 actual prisoners like him), and  how many really are the "worst of the worst"? And what exactly is being done about the violence on the GP yards? Substance abuse (SA) treatment programs would help, as would educational and vocational opportunities - Ryan wiped everything out when he took over. I bet recovering drug addicts can't even designate that they want to be in clean and sober dorms - that would be another idea, though...

Those of you with family in prison: you might want to emphasize to your own legislators (find them here) that the DOC has failed to provide adequate mental health care and offers hardly ANY substance abuse treatment, yet they're putting people in supermax who have disciplinaries due to mental health and addiction problems, not violence. (the violent ones are being left to run the yards while the pacifists get punished.)

Check out the DOC's own records: below is their "Corrections at a Glance April 2013" monthly report (here's the section with all thier reports). In the left hand column (the red ink is mine) you can see how DOC identifies 75% of incoming prisoners as having a major substance abuse problem, but in 2012 only 2,633 prisoners received any kind of substance abuse treatment - that's only about 4% of the nearly 60,000 prisoners who went through our state prisons last year. 

Now this is especially alarming given that the DOC is planning to take all the money from the Transitional Program fund (which prisoners pay into from their earnings). The Transitional Program fund pays for the services that are supposed to help prepare prisoners for release - some may qualify for up to 90 days early release.  Evidently the DOC thinks putting money it takes from the wages of prisoners into new prisons is a better use of the funds than providing substance abuse treatment or helping people adjust to the community again. That's about 3 1/5 million dollars, as far as I can tell. Boy, are the prisoners ever going to be mad about that one. They pay $.08 out of every dollar they earn into that fund.

Another fund that could be used for treatment services for drug-dependent prisoners is the Inmate Store Account - where they have nearly 9 million dollars they haven't spent on prisoner programs, like they once promised they would. In 2011 the legislature approved annual transfers of $500,000 from that account to the DOC Building Renewal Fund, and it looks like the DOC wants the rest for general operations.

(see page 87 of this document for those figures)

Perhaps the DOC has better plans to rehabilitate prisoners down the road? Hardly. Here's Chuck Ryan's vision for our collective future: despite packing our prison system full of drunks and addicts, and a plethora of best practice guidelines about treating them, only a handful of AZ prisoners will ever get treatment for their addictions or alcoholism in his custody. While fighting for tens of millions to increase their capacity by thousands of beds in recent years, the AZ DOC's strategic plan for 2014-2018 indicates that they only plan to increase the number of prisoners who receive substance abuse treatment services from 3,000 in 2013 to 3,250 in 2014. But in the Governor's Master List of State Government programs 2012-2015 the DOC says that without an increase in what they call "human resources" both the substance abuse and the sex offender treatment programs will be maxed out, at capacity, at the 2013 levels.

It's troubling that Chuck Ryan's prisoners have been killing eachother and themselves at twice the rate they did under previous administrations...That doesn't sound anything near what we should be getting from our state's Department of Corrections - especially for a billion dollars a year. No wonder there's so much heroin and extortion and violence in our state prisons. And what happens to these prisoners when you kick them lose with nothing but $50 and a prison ID card at the end of their sentences? Are they all really coming out better prepared to deal with life clean and sober than when they went in?

Here's some "truth in sentencing" for the judges out there: some of those homeless or seriously mentally ill folks who you locked up "for their own good" will come out addicted to worse drugs with more skills to commit new crimes - and probably infected with Hep C, too. Some won't even survive it - they may end up like Shannon Palmer, Marcia Powell, Carlo Krakoff or Tony Lester instead.

Now that's just plain shameful.

SMI prisoners and addicts should be placed in more appropriate facilities with the proper treatment resources before a new Supermax is built. Furthermore, if more resources went into community treatment options and re-entry support for prisoners, not plans for re-incarceration of the most vulnerable and troubled, there would be less demand for more prison space down the road. 

This is the Joint Legislative Committee on Capital Review - tell them we don't need another Supermax, and they need to look into who we are imprisoning in the Supermax we already have. Here are the committee members  to contact before next Wednesday's discussion about approving the new Supermax:

Senator Don Shooter
Chairman 2013
Representative John Kavanagh
Chairman 2014
Senator Gail Griffin
Representative Lela Alston
Representative Chad Campbell
Senator John McComish
Representative Tom Forese
Senator Al Melvin
Representative David Gowan, Sr.
Representative Rick Gray
Senator Anna Tovar
Representative Andrew C. Sherwood

here's their address:
Joint Committee on Capital Review
Joint Legislative Budget Committee
AZ Legislature
1716 West Adams
Phoenix, Arizona 85007
Phone: (602) 926-5491 

This is one way that Supermax gets so full:

You would think from all the rhetoric about trying to curb gang violence that prisoners would be encouraged and rewarded when they resist gang domination - especially the younger, more easily-influenced guys. Often these men say they refuse to perpetrate gang violence because they're trying to turn away from criminal activity, or because they don't believe in hurting people they have no personal issue with - I'd want to help those guys if I was running the prisons, frankly. Once they make themselves a target by asserting their autonomy, though, instead of being provided some measure of protection by the DOC they're being pushed back out into GP yards with the mark of "snitch" on them for having sought out PC even once.

To assert their dominance, the yard leaders or gang leaders these PC prisoners push back against give the nod to putting a "green light" on them for things like eating or speaking with members of the wrong race or with someone who is openly gay or transgender - meaning they're fair game for anyone to attack. The violence isn't just reserved for child molesters or career "snitches".

Since virtually all of the General Population (GP) prison yards are now run by the gangs, not the guards, prisoners who are thus targeted are forced to seek protective custody (PC) from the state - which immediately means they go into the hole (detention), not the perpetrators of threats or violence against them - those guys are often left to keep running the yards, despite all sorts of witnesses that they are dealing drugs and extorting prisoners.

There they sit for one or two months while the DOC justifies denying their PC applications (if they don't have an attorney on board, anyway) and placing them on a different prison yard, asserting to the prisoner that the threat that drove them to seek safety in a hole is simply "self-reported" (i.e. their death warrants aren't signed by gang leaders on letterhead, so therefore they must be fabricating said threat), doesn't pose a substantiated danger from a security threat group (STG), isn't statewide/ systemwide, and doesn't warrant much concern simply because the terrified, traumatized prisoner may not have been "smashed" (beaten into a coma) yet.

When prisoners who are denied PC status get pushed out into a new GP yard, they're usually quickly confronted by other prisoners and told to leave or they will be hurt for having PC'ed up on the yard they just got off of.  They aren't any safer on a prison yard across the state than the one they originally get into trouble with the gangs on  because of both guard corruption and the prevalence of cell phones inside - the gang members and gang wannabes waiting to assault them often know about PC prisoner moves and their issues before the prisoners even land on the next yard.

In fact, by pushing them onto one GP yard after another - from which they will predictably PC up off of to avoid being assaulted - the DOC is exposing these guys to an even larger number of state prisoners who will identify them each time they land on a new yard on out as prisoners with PC issues (code for snitches and sex offenders). The DOC is thus setting that prisoner up to get hurt again, and again, and again for a long time to come that way.

If a prisoner refuses to go onto a GP yard because they are afraid of being assaulted - which they have the "right" to do - they can be given a major disciplinary ticket for an "aggravated refusal of an order to house" (RTH). That means they go back into the hole another month or so AND lose good time and visitation and other privileges, and eventually get enough RTH tickets that their custody scores are jacked up to maximum security - whereby the DOC can place them in the Supermax prison and simply bury them there, where no one can hear them any more.

I dare the legislature to audit the Supermax - ALL the Maximum custody cells across the system - to see who's really there. I have a real problem with this pattern of punishing the prisoners who resist violence. For refusing to comply with gang orders to extort, hurt or kill others - including guards and community members - prisoners shouldn't be forced into Supermax cages for 23 hours a day, only to be allowed out to exercise or use the shower if chained up with two guard escorts.

In fact, many of those in ASPC-Eyman/SMU-I now are actually low-risk, non-violent, and mentally ill - they landed there thanks to RTH tickets. They include prisoners like C, here - HIS STORY IS QUITE COMMON...

The intent of funding and exercising that level of control over prisoners movements is to manage highly dangerous prisoners - not to punish them for passivity, or simply move them out of the way because the administration and guards have lost control of the GP yards. That's an absurdly abusive and expensive response to punish and silence a guy who just doesn't want to go along with the gang rules or perpetrate racist violence. The DOC doesn't have to be too conscientious about who they put there, though, because no one pays attention out here, and they already have 500 more Supermax beds approved to build and bring on line, no more questions asked ***

HELLO??? Is anybody at the AZ LEG really watching how the DOC is spending our money? They have a billion dollar budget and it's still growing, even though the prison population has been shrinking. This is one reason why we have a ton of guys in Supermax now who really don't meet the DOC's standard criteria for maximum security. The legislature is being taken for a ride, deluded about who that new prison is going to house, and deliberately indifferent to all the class action lawsuit allegations about the mentally ill being warehoused there already.

The AZ Inspector General's office and a legislative committee - as well as the US DOJ, in my book - needs to audit the DOC's PC program and the use of the existing Supermax prison and maximum security designations before they build that addition out at ASPC-Lewis..."


FYI, families and recent prisoners:  I'm compiling a report for the US Department of Justice right now about the violence in AZ DOC prisons and the problems with the protective custody process (805), whereby it's impossible for male prisoners to refuse to "join" the gangs (which often involves assaulting another prisoner)  - much less just refuse to follow their stupid racist, sexist, patriarchal rules - without being victimized themselves, yet many guys still refuse. 

Do not go to Tom Horne's office  (AZ Attorney General) for info about civil rights in the prisons, or for help if you love a prisoner and want DOC investigated - they are the bad guys, too. The AZ Attorney General's office has no regard for civil rights; they defend the DOC against wrongful death, deliberate indifference and brutality suits, and are thus compromised. 

Report civil rights violations in the prisons to the ACLU of Arizona, the US Department of Justice (Civil Rights Division) and to me at  All reports of prison violence that folks are aware could be useful as I put this thing together, so please pass them on.