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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PHOENIX: Trans Queer Pueblo


AZ Prison Watch BLOG POSTS:

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Women in a man's world: Transgender people in American prisons.

I, personally, have not yet seen "Orange is the New Black"; I get an awful lot of reality from the state prisons every day in my mailbox. The blog post below,  is a pretty decent examination of what really happens to transgender women in prisons - in Arizona, they are also forced to house with men, and seldom placed in protective settings. 

Most gay men and trans people writing to me from the Arizona Department of Corrections have alrady been assaulted, extorted, forced to perform sexual acts for both prisoners and guards, have been coerced into doing all the "women's work" on the yard, and so on - I've documented this extensively, and still the DOC denies that gay men and trans women in particular face a statewide, pervasive threat to their safety and welfare in our prison system.

If you are a queer activist, the loved one of a prisoner at risk, or an attorney involved or interested in litigating the AZ DOC over any of these issues, please contact me. Some of us are beginning to organize a strategic response.  My name is Peggy Plews - reach me at 480-580-6807 /

The post below comes from Autostraddle: "an intelligent, hilarious & provocative voice and a progressively feminist online community for a new generation of kickass lesbian, bisexual & otherwise inclined ladies (and their friends)."


Real-Life Sophia Bursets: Transgender Women Face a Nightmare in Men's Prisons

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The clear breakout star of Netflix's new series Orange is the New Black is actress Laverne Cox who plays Sophia Burset, a transgender woman serving time along with all the other prisoners in the fictional Litchfield Correctional Facility in New York. At one point, Sophia is denied her hormone therapy, highlighting the problem that trans* women in general, and especially in prison, of have in getting proper medical care. Sophia is the rare example of a trans woman in prison who actually gets to be incarcerated with other women. The horrifying reality of the situation is that trans* people are almost always put in prison with inmates that match their gender assigned at birth. This not only leads to lack of proper medical care, but also mental anguish, increased rates of harassment and violence and shockingly high rates of sexual abuse. For trans* women who are locked up, getting access to medical care and safety from the guards and inmates is a serious problem. But the problem starts when they are put in prisons designed for men.

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Perhaps the most high profile recent case of a trans* woman being sent to prison is CeCe McDonald. In June of 2011, McDonald, an African American woman, and a group of friends were walking past a bar when a group of white men started hurling racist, homophobic and transphobic insults at them. A fight broke out and McDonald had a glass broken in her face and needed 11 stitches. She and her friends tried to get away, but were followed and the main attacker, Dean Schmitz, was fatally stabbed with a pair of scissors. Despite Schmitz' history of violent crime and affiliation with white supremacist groups, McDonald was charged with second-degree murder but pleaded down to manslaughter. She was sentenced to 41 months in the men's prison in St. Cloud, Minnesota. As soon as she was arrested, McDonald had little hope of being placed in the correct prison. According to Katie Burgess, the executive director of the Trans Youth Support Network, "there's really no history of transgender people being placed according to their gender identity."

The National Center for Lesbian Rights says that transgender prisoners who have not undergone gender confirmation surgery are placed according to their assigned gender at birth. This means that all trans* women who do not want bottom surgery or are unable to obtain it are forced to live in men's prisons.  Given the fact that it is extremely difficult for many transgender people, and especially transgender women of color, to get steady jobs and housing, getting gender confirmation surgery is something that often remains out of reach. And it is trans* women of color who are most often targeted by police. The National Center for Transgender Equality shows that 21% of transgender women and nearly half of all black trans* have been incarcerated at least once in their lives. This is compared to 2.7% of the overall population. The surgery requirement leaves trans* prisoners, and especially trans* women, incredibly vulnerable to sexual harassment and assault.

A men's prison is a dangerous place for a woman. According to a Department of Justice study, more than 1/3 of transgender inmates was sexually abused and that trans* women are more than 13 times more likely to be sexually assaulted while in prison than cis women. The frightening reality is that when trans* women are arrested, they go from a world where they are already disproportionately the victims of violent crimes to a world that is perhaps even more dangerous. This is a bleak picture, and one that could very likely be improved at least somewhat if trans* women were simply allowed to live in the proper prisons.

Trans* women who are forced to live in men's prisons also have to face the humiliation of having to pretend to be the wrong gender. In many prisons, trans* women are forced to cut their hair and are not allowed any gender appropriate clothes. For many trans* women who already might suffer from depression and/or dysphoria, this is another burden they are forced to bear. Report after report has found that trans* people suffer higher rates of harassment, bullying and assault than other inmates, and this especially true of trans* women that are forced to live in men's prisons. For many trans* inmates, their greatest hope lies in being placed in Protective Custody, which often only happens after they have been sexually assaulted. Here they are kept away from the rest of the prison population and are usually safe from harm that would come from other inmates. However, they are more vulnerable to assault from guards and prison workers and face social isolation and a lack of activities and educational and vocational training.

For many trans* women currently incarcerated in men's prisons, sexual assault is only one of many problems they have to deal with. Many don't even have access to the hormones they need to keep their bodies and minds healthy. This is the case with Ophelia De'lonta, a trans* woman of color in a Virginia men's prison. The Virginia Department of Corrections recently ruled that her hormone therapy wasn't medically necessary and therefore they won't pay for it anymore. Courts have ruled that prisons must do what they can to keep all prisoners safe and healthy, but trans* prisoners have had the burden of proving they are unsafe or have an extreme medical need for hormone therapy placed squarely on their shoulders.

It seems like there are no set rules or guidelines for why trans* women who haven't had bottom surgery are placed in men's prisons. Prisoners have said that in most cases officers examined their genitals when they were arrested and made the decision based off of that, regardless of their gender identity, other steps they've taken in their transition or which prison they would most safe in. Several trans* women have tried taking their cases to the courts, hoping that they would be placed in women’s prisons, but they are almost always unsuccessful, due in part to a ruling that says inmates don’t have the right to be placed in any particular prison. Overall, it seems that the Criminal Justice System doesn't consider trans* women who haven't had bottom surgery to be true women. This creates a nightmare situation where trans* women are consistently placed in prisons that are entirely unsafe for them and ill equipped to properly care for them. Until all trans* women are seen as the women that they are and their medical needs and safety are considered to be priorities, prison life will continue to be a violent and terrifying experience for far too many trans* women.