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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AZ Prison Watch BLOG POSTS:

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

NAACP to AZ LEGS: AZ DOC budget is dumb on crime.

 Here is the AZ DOC's proposed 2014 Budget. Note how they shift money from rehabilitation areas to cover new prison expenses again, though 75% of all new prisoners come in due to drug and alcohol problems. Judges in this state foolishly keep sending addicts and alcoholics to prison thinking they'll get the "help" they need there. What a crock. Truth is, under Chuck Ryan only about 4% of all prisoners even get substance abuse treatment -  is it any wonder we have recidivism problems? AZ prisoners are lucky if they don't just develop a new heroin habit and get Hep C instead.

"State of the State, 2014"
Arizona Capitol Complex, Phoenix

Tuesday, January 21, 2014 the Senate Appropriations Committee  meets to discuss the AZ DOC budget. I plan to be there (assuming they let me in). Below is a letter sent them by the Maricopa County NAACP, addressing many of the same concerns I've previously shared here. Don't expect the good senators to listen, though - it takes courage of the kind I haven't seen in this state to challenge the DOC. A new supermax prison is definitely not what would do the people good right now, but building it must be serving someone in power, since no matter how bad an idea it is, nothing appears to be stopping it.

Please send your legislators a piec eof your mind now, while they're making these decisions. You can find yours here. Among our likely allies: Democrats Sen Anna Tovar (Senate Minority Leader); Rep. Chad Campbell  (House Minority Leader). The people with power over votes, though, are Republicans Sen Andy Biggs (Senate President) and Rep David Gowan (House Majority Leader). 

All legislators can be contacted here:
1700 W. Washington St
Phoenix, AZ 85007

toll free:


"ADC wants to divert money meant for rehabilitation to build more prisons which are known to cause more violence and in the long run, harm public safety, the exact opposite of the calculation this committee should be making..."

To:  Senate Appropriations Committee

Senators:  Cajero-Bedford, Crandall, Griffin, Melvin, Pancrazi, Tovar, Ward, Murphy, Shooter

From:  Maricopa County Branch NAACP, Oscar Tillman, President

Date:  21 January 2014

Re:  Review of the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) 2015 Budget Request

Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) is out of step with the rest of the nation and ignoring evidence-based practices.  Arizona is the top per capita spender on prisons in the country and has the fourth highest percent of its budget dedicated to corrections.[1]  

In twenty years, our population increased 100% but in the same twenty years, our prison population increased 1036%.  Neither population nor the crime rate justifies this mass incarceration.  Arizona’s recidivism rate is 46.7% while the national average is 40% (Sloan, 2011).  Incarceration and longer sentences are associated with higher rates of recidivism. [2] Thus ADOC is ineffective in its delivery of both inmate rehabilitation and protection of public safety.  To continue funding this folly would violate the legislatures duty to conserve the public fisc and to protect public safety.

The prison population is going down.  Since 2005, the number of states with declining prison population levels has grown steadily – from 9 in 2006 to 14 in 2007 to 19 in 2008 to 24 in 2009, to 26 in 2011.  Many of these states saw dramatic decreases in crime as they reduced their prison populations.

Arizona’s prison population has also gone down or remained virtually steady for at least three years.   The JLBC Monthly Highlights reported that in November, ADC had 899 fewer prisoners than the previous November.  A surplus of beds of 1,000 is predicted for 2015. Why then would you approve any additional beds?

The director’s statement that the population has gone up by 809 directly contradicts information he gave to our Legal Redress Chairperson at a meeting in his office on 13 December 2013.  At that meeting, he stated that in fiscal year 2013, 18,070 prisoners were incoming and 18,374 were out going leaving a decrease of 304.  Others in the meeting who can verify the information were Peggy Plews of Arizona Prisonwatch, Dawn Northrup, general counsel for ADC, Stacy Crabtree from classification administration and Keith Smith from Operations.

Nationwide, prisons are closing.  Over 29,000 prison beds have gone off line since 2011.  In Colorado, four prisons have closed.  Tax dollars of $22 million were switched from DOC to diversion and re-entry programs to decrease both future populations of prisoners and prevent recidivism. In 2011, thirteen states reported prison closures. Prison capacity declined by an estimated 15,500 beds.  [3] In 2012, six states closed twenty prisons or expected to. The potential reduction of prison population was over 14,100 beds.   The estimated savings was $337 million. Florida led the nation with ten closures and an estimated $65 million savings.

In Texas there has been a 9% drop in the incarceration rate (closing one prison and maybe more); a 10% percent drop in the crime rate; and huge decreases in expenditures, with $241 million appropriated the first two years for treating mental illness and substance abuse, and for drug courts and other alternatives to incarceration, rather than appropriating $2 billion for more prison beds over the next five years.  [4]  From 2003 to 2009, Texas was so successful in reducing its prison population that it closed an entire state prison, thereby saving $50 million in the budget. Texas now has its lowest crime rate since 1973 with serious property, violent, and sex crimes declining by 13% since 2003.[5]  Why can’t we learn from Texas?

New York achieved a twenty percent reduction in imprisonment in ten years, with a reduction in the prison population of more than 14,000 people; New Jersey achieved a nineteen percent reduction in imprisonment in ten years; Kansas achieved a five percent reduction in imprisonment over six years; and Michigan achieved a twelve percent reduction in imprisonment in just three years. [6]  In all four states, crime rates declined.

Michigan closed three prisons and five prison camps, estimated to save $118 million; New Jersey closed a 1,000-bed prison in Camden, with an annual operational cost of $42 million; and New York closed three small minimum-security prisons and shuttered annexes at prisons that remain in operation, estimated to save $26.3 million in the 2010–2011 budget. [7]

 In 2008, Mississippi’s corrections budget was $348 million, triple the budget in 1994.  Mississippi passed legislation allowing “parole eligibility” for nonviolent prisoners who had served “25% of their sentences or one year, whichever is longer.”  Since then, Mississippi has reduced its budget by 5%, the state’s violent crime rate has reduced to levels not seen since the 1984, and the recidivism rate has decreased to 30%.

Since 1995, Arizona has had a 43% drop in violent crime but unlike other states, Arizona has had a 21% increase in incarceration. In the same time period, New York had a 53% drop in crime and a 30% drop in incarceration. The crime drop is not a result of incarceration, quite the opposite. [8] A recent report by Pew (States Cut Both Crime and Imprisonment, Christine Zuria, December 19,2013) found that over the past five years, the majority of states reduced both crime and imprisonment rates.  Arizona is one of only 15 states that is increasing its imprisonment rate by 4% though our crime rate has dropped by 21%.

A RAND study found that spending $1 million on drug treatment would reduce crime fifteen times more effectively than imprisonment.  Yet the proposals in the budget for drug treatment and community supervision are not funded.  They would do the most to reduce incarceration and save the state money. Likewise, the transition fund should not again be raided.  ADC wants to divert money meant for rehabilitation to build more prisons which are known to cause more violence and in the long run, harm public safety, the exact opposite of the calculation this committee should be making.  The legislature established a Transition Program in A.R.S. §31-381. The program is funded by inmates work (A.R.S. §31-254 (D)(3),(E)(3)) and cost savings (A.R.S. §31-285(C)) that are to be directed to services.  Using those monies for services to assist transition into communities and reduce the recidivism rate would both save the taxpayer money and improve public safety.

The funding for the 500 bed super max must be stopped immediately
.  ADC’s proposed model, Eyman prison, has already been declared unconstitutional (Madrid v. Gomez, 889 F. Supp 1146 (1995);  thus ADC is simply setting the groundwork for a costly lawsuit.  Other states are closing their supermax prisons or units because they are the most ineffective and costly of them all.  Yet Arizona has chosen exactly the opposite direction to the detriment of both our public safety and the public purse. In states that have reduced solitary confinement—Colorado, Maine, and Mississippi—violence has not increased. Since Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman released seventy-five percent of inmates from solitary in the id-2000s, violence has dropped 50 percent.  [9] Regardless of the monies already spent, to continue down this road of folly is worse.

The ADC proposals are not evidence based and not focused on the best interests of Arizona taxpayers or on public safety.  Crime and the number of prisoners keep declining; yet ADC keeps asking for more money.  Any sensible and fiscally conservative legislator cannot approve such tactics.  "You cannot build your way out of it. Very simply, you cannot build your way out of crime," said Louisiana Secretary of Corrections Jimmy LeBlanc, who supports reducing the incarceration rate and putting more resources into inmate rehabilitation.

In fact, a large percentage of those currently occupying Arizona’s beds should not be.  The class action lawsuit [10] against ADOC for its failure to deliver appropriate medical, psychological and dental care illustrates the inappropriate use of maximum security cells for the mentally ill.  Because of the “war on drugs” more than half of all prison and jail inmates—including 56 percent of state prisoners, 45 percent of federal prisoners, and 64 percent of local jail inmates—have mental health or drug problems (Glaze, et. al., 2006).   Treatment is a far better solution than expensive warehousing.

ADC could cut the population dramatically by releasing prisoners within 90 days of their release dates.
 The law already provides for that contingent but ADC refuses to use it effectively to reduce the number of prisoners and refuses to account for their failure to do so.  Another national trend has been to release the elderly prisoners who cost much more to warehouse.  If prisoners are over 50, an evaluation should determine if they are still dangerous.  If not, they should be released to community supervision, which is much less costly.

Another population in ADC’s maximum security is LGBT prisoners who have sought protection from physical and sexual abuse. Rather than stop the violence and punish the perpetrators, ADC inappropriately puts the victims into maximum security.
The taxpayers are spending enormous amounts of money to keep people in maximum security because ADC has lost control of the yard. The solution is not to lock up the victims and the mentally ill but to insist on an audit of the existing maximum security prison cells to see who is occupying them and why before committing taxpayer funds to any more beds.

For all the above reasons, lack of information, inappropriate use of existing maximum security beds, ineffective and inefficient policy decisions, violation of the duty to conserve tax payer monies, and harm to public safety, we ask that you give an unfavorable review to the ADC budget proposal.


                                                                        Oscar Tillman



[1] The national average us 7% but Arizona’s is 11%.

[2] What Works:  Effective Recidivism Reduction & Risk-Focused Prevention Programs (2008)

[3] (On The Chopping Block:  State Prison Closings 2012, Nicole Porter, The Sentencing Project, December 2012)

[4] Prison Break: Budget Crises Drive Reform, But Private Jails Press On, Posted Oct 1, 2012 3:50 AM CST, By Terry Carter

[5] Race and Social Justice as a Budget Filter: The Solution to Racial Bias in the State Legislature? Sahar Fathi* Gonzaga Law Review, Vol. 47:2, p. 532 2011/12

[6] Misplaced Priorities:  Overincarcerate, Under Educate, NAACP , Excessive spending on incarceration undermines educational opportunity and public safety in communities, 2011

[7] Id.

[8] What Works:  Effective Recidivism Reduction & Risk-Focused Prevention Programs (2008).

[9] I thought solitary confinement in Iran was bad until I went inside America’s prisons, May 4, 2013, Shane Bauer, Mother Jones

[10] Gamez v. Ryan No. CV-10-2070-PHX-JWS (MEA)