Retiring Arizona Prison Watch...

This site was originally started in July 2009 as an independent endeavor to monitor conditions in Arizona's criminal justice system, as well as offer some critical analysis of the prison industrial complex from a prison abolitionist/anarchist's perspective. It was begun in the aftermath of the death of Marcia Powell, a 48 year old AZ state prisoner who was left in an outdoor cage in the desert sun for over four hours while on a 10-minute suicide watch. That was at ASPC-Perryville, in Goodyear, AZ, in May 2009.

Marcia, a seriously mentally ill woman with a meth habit sentenced to the minimum mandatory 27 months in prison for prostitution was already deemed by society as disposable. She was therefore easily ignored by numerous prison officers as she pleaded for water and relief from the sun for four hours. She was ultimately found collapsed in her own feces, with second degree burns on her body, her organs failing, and her body exceeding the 108 degrees the thermometer would record. 16 officers and staff were disciplined for her death, but no one was ever prosecuted for her homicide. Her story is here.

Marcia's death and this blog compelled me to work for the next 5 1/2 years to document and challenge the prison industrial complex in AZ, most specifically as manifested in the Arizona Department of Corrections. I corresponded with over 1,000 prisoners in that time, as well as many of their loved ones, offering all what resources I could find for fighting the AZ DOC themselves - most regarding their health or matters of personal safety.

I also began to work with the survivors of prison violence, as I often heard from the loved ones of the dead, and learned their stories. During that time I memorialized the Ghosts of Jan Brewer - state prisoners under her regime who were lost to neglect, suicide or violence - across the city's sidewalks in large chalk murals. Some of that art is here.

In November 2014 I left Phoenix abruptly to care for my family. By early 2015 I was no longer keeping up this blog site, save occasional posts about a young prisoner in solitary confinement in Arpaio's jail, Jessie B.

I'm deeply grateful to the prisoners who educated, confided in, and encouraged me throughout the years I did this work. My life has been made all the more rich and meaningful by their engagement.

I've linked to some posts about advocating for state prisoner health and safety to the right, as well as other resources for families and friends. If you are in need of additional assistance fighting the prison industrial complex in Arizona - or if you care to offer some aid to the cause - please contact the Phoenix Anarchist Black Cross at PO Box 7241 / Tempe, AZ 85281.

until all are free -

MARGARET J PLEWS (June 1, 2015)


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Sunday, October 6, 2013

ACLU-AZ Victory: Arizona's Anti-Begging Law Declared Unconstitutional!

Hooray for the ACLU-AZ!!! I'm thrilled every time criminal statutes for crimes of poverty are struck down, of course - especially things like this. I, personally, am much more irritated when wealthy politicians solicit me on my personal cell phone than when some guy bums a few quarters off of me at the freeway exit. 

I've panhandled before, myself, when things were pretty tough - it's a demoralizing way to make what amounts to less than minimum wage, if you're lucky. I don't know why we have to be so hard on each other when we're down in this country...

 "without money we'd all be rich..."
Firehouse Gallery, 1015 N. 1st st, phoenix
open Fri 6-11, Sat 1p-11pm, Sun 1-6pm

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

Oct. 4, 2013

CONTACT: Steve Kilar, ACLU of Arizona, 602-492-8540 or

Arizona's Anti-Begging Law Declared Unconstitutional

Federal judge declares peaceful panhandling is protected speech
FLAGSTAFF – An Arizona law that made it a crime to panhandle peacefully in public places was declared unconstitutional today, as was Flagstaff’s practice of arresting, jailing and prosecuting people who asked passersby for money or food.

Today’s ruling abolishes a law used by police and prosecutors throughout Arizona to harass and arrest people for exercising their fundamental right of expression.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona and Flagstaff-based attorney Mik Jordahl filed the suit on behalf of an elderly Hopi woman who was arrested in Flagstaff for begging.

In a judgment entered by U.S. District Court Judge Neil V. Wake, the anti-begging provision—A.R.S. 13-2905(a)(3)—was deemed unconstitutional on its face because it violated free speech rights granted by both the U.S. and state constitutions.

“Prosecutors and police across the state will no longer be able to use this anti-begging law to criminalize protected expression,” said ACLU of Arizona Legal Director Dan Pochoda.

“Flagstaff officials ignored the fact that constitutional protections for speech do not depend on public approval of the views expressed,” Pochoda said. “Flagstaff will no longer be allowed to elevate the interests of local business owners above the rights of persons seeking a dollar for food.”

Judge Wake’s judgment prohibits the use of the anti-begging statute for any purpose by law enforcement officials in Arizona. All law enforcement agencies in the state will be notified that A.R.S. 13-2905(a)(3) is void and shall not be used for any purpose.

In addition, the judgment permanently prohibits any law or ordinance from being used by the City of Flagstaff for the purpose of “interfering with, targeting, citing, arresting, or prosecuting any person on the basis of their act(s) of peaceful begging in public areas.”

On Feb. 22, 2013, a Flagstaff police officer wearing plain clothes arrested Marlene Baldwin after she asked him if he could spare $1.25 for bus fare. Baldwin, who is in her late-70s, less than five feet tall, disabled and losing her eyesight, was jailed. It was the second time Baldwin was arrested for begging.

“I'm glad I won't be taken to jail just for speaking to people,” Baldwin said. “I was arrested by Flagstaff police and prosecuted just for asking for food when I was hungry.”

In addition to Baldwin, the ACLU also represented Robert George and Andrew R. Wilkenson, panhandlers who became afraid to exercise their right to peacefully solicit because they were threatened with arrest. The ACLU’s fourth plaintiff was Food Not Bombs, a volunteer-run organization that regularly feeds the homeless in Flagstaff city parks.  Several of its members were arrested for requesting donations from passersby.

“Many of the people arrested under the begging law simply needed a little assistance—not a jail cell,” said Jordahl, who served as co-counsel with the ACLU. “Law enforcement must stand up for the constitutional rights of peaceful beggars and not just respond to complaints from powerful downtown business interests who would take those rights away and sweep homelessness and poverty out of sight."

In 2008, the City of Flagstaff adopted a policy in cooperation with local businesses—called “Operation 40”—to remove panhandlers from downtown areas by jailing them early in the day. Flagstaff utilized the now-void statute, which equated panhandling with loitering, to justify the arrests. Between June 2012 and May 2013, 135 arrests were made by the Flagstaff Police Department under the law.

The Arizona Court of Appeals and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals have both struck down similar laws, including a Phoenix city ordinance.

Kelly Flood, ACLU of Arizona senior staff attorney, and Robert S. Malone, an attorney in private practice in Flagstaff, assisted with this case.

Read today’s order.

Read the complaint in the case.