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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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

"No Man's Land" and short-staffing at ASPC-Lewis: Appeals court keeps Cortez case alive.

The following ruling is important, so follow those links and read the complaint and decision. And please be sure you have an attorney who knows prison law, folks, if you have lost a loved one inside, or are trying to save one still. 

If you need a list of lawyers who have sued the AZ DOC, one is here (pg1) and here (pg2). 

I compiled it myself for prisoners and their families to find help, not for the lawyers to get clients -  they didn't even ask me to list them - nor are there any guarantees that they will be great. Just interview them yourselves, and trust your better judgement. The firm litigating this case isn't on my list yet, so I'll put them down here - kudos to them for salvaging this claim.

The Leader Law Firm
John P Leader, Esq.
1715 E. Skyline Dr., #121
Tucson, AZ 85718
Phone (520) 575-9040 

05/18/19 UPDATE see the current campaign to oust Charles Ryan from the AZ DOC - 
same old story year after year and no one has the guts to deal with him, still. 
poor @dougducey  probably wont sack him even now...

#CHUCKCHUCK #DARTHryan #DarkSideRyan  #FireChuckRyan" 



By JAMIE ROSS /Courthouse News

Monday, January 26, 2015

 PHOENIX (CN) - Arizona may be liable for claims filed on behalf of a prison inmate who was assaulted by two others while a prison guard escorted them through "no man's land," a back-alley area without cameras, the 9th Circuit ruled Monday.

     Marty Cortez filed suit against Arizona and Bill Skol, the prison guard, in 2009 for failure-to-protect and negligence on behalf of her now-deceased son, Philip.

     On Nov. 16, 2007, officers applied belly chains -- but not leg irons, as allegedly required by prison policy - to move Cortez, Juan Cruz, and Steven Lavender from the detention unit to the visitation building. Skol, a visitation officer, was responsible for escorting inmates between the two structures.

     While in "no man's land" - a back alley hidden from cameras and non-escorting officers - Cruz and Lavender attacked Cortez and stomped on the back of his head as he lay on the ground, handcuffed. Skol allegedly used pepper spray on Cruz and Lavender, but did not physically intervene in the attack, which allegedly lasted for five minutes.

     Cortez suffered a brain injury from the assault, was granted clemency and released from prison. He later died of an apparent drug overdose.

     The defendants filed motions for summary judgment, and a magistrate judge found that the evidence supported her claims. U.S. District Judge Jennifer Zipps disagreed, however, and found for Skol and Arizona.

     "Given the inherently risky environment in which plaintiff Cortez's injuries occurred, there is no material issue of fact regarding whether plaintiff Cortez was exposed to an unreasonable risk, nor is there evidence to suggest that it was highly probable that harm would result," Zipps wrote.

     Cortez promptly appealed. On Monday, the 9th Circuit held that there was enough evidence to show the "high-security" inmates were undermanned, and that Skol acted with indifference to Cortez's safety.

     The opinion written by U.S. Circuit Judge Michelle T. Friedland, on behalf of a three-judge panel, noted that Skol admitted to an investigator that he overhead "a lot [of] talk and harassing words between the three inmates in the back cage," had reason to know that Cortez was in protective custody and was at risk for attack by other prisoners, and knew that prison policy required leg restraints.

     "Skol's admitted awareness of the policy, combined with the prison administrators' testimony regarding its effect, raises a genuine issue as to whether Skol proceeded with the escort despite knowing that the inmates were not properly restrained," Friedland wrote.

     Since there was enough evidence to show Skol acted with "deliberate indifference" toward Cortez, the State of Arizona still faces negligence claims against it, the panel said.

     "Because we have concluded that there are material fact disputes with respect to deliberate indifference, and because Arizona's gross negligence standard is lower than the federal deliberate indifference standard, we necessarily conclude that there are also material fact disputes with respect to gross negligence," Freidland wrote. "Indeed, in addition to being responsible for Skol's behavior, the State may also be liable for the aggregate conduct of other prison staff."

Johann Hari: Why addicts' lives matter...

Don't miss Johann's book on the Drug War!


Thanks, friend, for remembering Marcia Powell...


-----------------from the Huffington Post-----------------

Addicts' Lives Matter: Here's Why We Need a Hashtag -- and a Total Change of Attitude

Author of 'Chasing The Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs'
Posted: Updated:

For the past few months, I have been watching the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter as it exposes the unpunished killings of African-Americans -- Trayvon and Michael and Eric, and all the other names that never make the news, because there are so many, and it never seems to stop. I had a very personal reason for watching it so closely. For most of my adult life, and for the past three years especially, I have been spending a lot of time with another minority group. All over the world, they are being killed or left to die, with nobody being punished, and nobody being called to account. There have even been government officials who suggest their deaths are a good thing
There will be some people reading this who shrug when members of this minority die, and say they brought it on themselves. I am talking about addicts, who I spent a lot of time with for my new book, Chasing The Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs. I would like to propose today the hashtag #AddictsLivesMatter, because we need to change how we think about them.

Here's a story I stumbled across that, to me, distills the darkest attitude we have fostered towards addicts in our culture -- the one that has been created by the drug war, and has been in place for a century this year.
In Phoenix, Arizona, I went to a prison called Tent City. It is a slew of tents in the desert behind barbed wire, and I went out in the sweaty Arizona sun with the prison's female chain gang, who are forced to wear t-shirts saying "I Was A Drug Addict" and dig graves. The guards force these women to chant rhymes that state they will be electrocuted if they show any "lip." It's not an idle threat: I met the father of a man who was killed with a taser in this prison, on camera, when he was offering no resistance.

I talked with the women about their lives as they wiped the sweat from their brows. One of them, Karen, was in her early forties and had a quiet, girlish voice as she stuttered her story about being violently abused by men all her life, and how the only thing that had ever made her feel any relief was drugs.

I also spoke with the women who work on prisoners' rights in Arizona, and I asked them one of my stock journalistic questions: What have you seen over the years that shocked you? One of them, Donna Leone Hamm of the excellent organization Middle Ground Prison Reform, started to reel off a long list, and a while into her list she mentioned the time they put a woman in a cage and cooked her, and then carried on. I asked her to stop, and go back a second. What did they do?

When Prisoner Number 109416 woke up in her cell in Perryville State Prison on May 19th 2009 she was suicidal. The prison doctor said she was just trying to get out of her cell. They took 109416 and put her in an uncovered outdoor cage. And they left her there. According to witnesses, she begged for water. She shat herself. She started to scream deliriously. And then she collapsed. By the time the ambulance arrived, her internal organs had been cooked, as if in an oven.

And here's the thing. Nobody was ever criminally punished.

Because she was an addict. Because she didn't matter.

Almost nothing was known about Prisoner Number 109416 except that she was in and out of prison either for having meth, or for prostituting herself to get it, so I set off on a journey across the US to find out who she really was. The story -- which you can find in the book -- tells us a lot about the drug war. Her real name was Marcia Powell and, as I learned from the father of her son, there were moments in her life when she got clean and recovered, only to be busted for old drug charges and to spiral back onto the road that ended in a desert cage.

This story is extreme, but as I learned on my long journey from Mexico to Vietnam, it is only the sharpest tip of the spear that is jabbed at addicts every day, across most of the world. It has been there since the start of the drug war. This war was launched in the 1930s by a man called Harry Anslinger, the head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, who was driven by an obsessive hatred of addicts. He treasured a poem that said he could only retire when "the last addicts died."

One of the people he took his rage out on was Billie Holiday. He had her stalked by his agents and sent to prison. He had her stripped of her ability to perform anywhere that alcohol was served. When she collapsed with liver cancer, his agents arrested her on her hospital bed. They handcuffed her to the bed. They confiscated her record player. They banned her friends from seeing her. People protested outside with signs saying "Let Lady Live." When her methadone was cut off, she went into withdrawal and died.

And here's where #BlackLivesMatter and #AddictsLivesMatter meet. When Anslinger found out Judy Garland was a heroin addict, he didn't have her stalked and killed. He told her to take longer vacations, and reassured her studio she'd be fine. Can you spot the difference between Billie and Judy? Can you spot the difference today between the addicts in Beverley Hills who get compassionate rehab, and the addicts in South Central who get cold jail cells?

Nobody wishes the drug war on people they love -- white people, in Harry Anslinger's case. Yet when it comes to the addicts we don't know, we have chosen -- as a society -- a policy of mass caging instead of a policy of compassion. Why? I interviewed Eric Sterling, the lawyer who wrote the drug laws from the United States throughout the 1980s, and who now bitterly regrets it and campaigns for sensible policies. He told me about one meeting, at the height of the AIDS crisis, where he and a group of senators were being briefed on how it was essential to distribute clean needles, or all the addicts would die. Eric didn't write down the words at the time, but he recalled that one of the senator suggested a mass die-off of addicts would be a good thing. After all, who wants addicts to survive?

It's important to stress that most people who support the drug war don't think this way. They don't want to kill addicts. They tell themselves that they are being harsh in order to be kind -- that you have to threaten punishment in order to encourage current addicts to stop, and to prevent other people from falling down that dark well. I don't judge anyone for believing this -- it is based on compassion, and it has been backed with an enormous amount of government propaganda for a hundred years.

But I would urge anyone who sincerely believes this to look at the evidence. There are places that have tried the punishment approach and addicts keep dying in huge numbers. And there are places that have tried the compassionate approach and addicts start to survive and recover in much greater numbers. I have seen this all over the world, from Switzerland to the North of England. To give just one example, in Portugal, after they decriminalized all drugs and chose to spend the money on caring for addicts instead, the rate of injecting drug use has fallen by 50 percent, and overdose and HIV transmission among addicts have come crashing down.

To choose this better path, we have to undo a lot of the assumptions that have been drilled into our heads. As Harry Anslinger was stalking Billie Holiday, he was helping to invent a whole new way of thinking about addicts -- as vampires, or zombies, or predators. We have dehumanized people who get addicted to banned drugs in a way we (thankfully) don't dehumanize people who get addicted to legal drugs, like alcohol. We have to recover the ability to see the humanity of addicts -- that they are people like us, with feelings and dreams and the capacity to be heroic.

I learned about this from many people -- but nobody taught it to me more than a man called Bud Osborn.
In the year 2000 Bud was a homeless street addict on the streets of the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. His neighborhood had the highest concentration of addicts anywhere in North America. It was the place at the end of the line in the city at the end of the line of the American continent, and all around him, Bud's friends were dying. They would shoot up behind dumpsters so the police wouldn't see them -- but if the police can't see you, nor can anyone else, so if you start to OD, you will be found days later, dead.

Bud decided he had to do something. But he also thought, What can I do? I am just a homeless junkie.
Then he had an idea. He gathered some addicts and proposed something simple. He asked them, Why don't we arrange a schedule, and patrol the alleyways ourselves? If we see one of us ODing, we can call an ambulance.

The addicts started to do it and their death rates began to tumble. That was great in itself, but it also meant they began to think about themselves differently -- maybe we're not pieces of shit. Maybe we are people who can achieve things. They started to turn up at public meetings to discuss The Menace Of The Addicts, and they would sit at the back, and after a while, they would put up their hands and explain they were The Addicts, and ask what they could do differently. People complained they left needles lying around, so the patrols were extended to collect discarded needles.

Bud learned that in Frankfurt, Germany, they had opened safe injecting rooms where people could use their drugs monitored by doctors, and that it had massively reduced the death toll. So Bud and hundreds of other addicts began to stalk Philip Owen, the right-wing mayor of Vancouver, everywhere he went, carrying a coffin, asking how long it would be before he ended the deaths.

Nobody had much optimism. Philip Owen was a right-wing businessman from a rich family who had said that addicts should be carted off to the local military base.

But then, after protesting for years, something nobody expected happened. Philip Owen wondered who the hell these people were, and he went to the Downtown Eastside incognito, and he spent night after night talking with addicts. And he was blown away. He had had no idea what their lives were like.

So Philip Owen made an announcement. He held a press conference with the police chief, the coroner, and the addicts, and he announced they were opening the first injecting room in North America. It opened, and Philip Owen's right-wing party was so appalled they eventually deselected him, and his political career ended. He was replaced by a left-wing candidate who kept the injecting room open.

But the taboo was broken. And now the results are in. Ten years on, the average life expectancy on the Downtown Eastside has improved by ten years, and overdose is down by 80 percent. Philip Owen told me he would do it all again in a heart beat.

Bud died last year. He was only in his early sixties, but life as a homeless addict during a drug war, before there was any help, had wrecked his body. For his memorial service they sealed off the streets of the Downtown Eastside, where he had once lived on the pavements, and enormous crowds gathered. There were a lot of people in that crowd who knew they were alive because of the uprising Bud began all those years before.

I learned so much from my friendship with Bud, but here's what I learned more than anything else: You never write anyone off. You never dismiss a human being. You never can assume anyone is worthless. It's hard to think of somebody with less power or respect than a homeless street addict -- but Bud saved thousands of lives, and he changed his city forever.

If you are reading this and thinking, Yes, the abuse of addicts is wrong, but what can we do? We all feel powerless. We all feel sometimes like we can't make a difference. Then think of Bud. If we band together, we have so much more power than we realize.

Every human has the capacity to be a hero -- including addicts. Every life matters. Every addict's life matters. Marcia Powell deserved better than being cooked in a cage. Billie Holiday deserved better than being handcuffed on her deathbed. Bud deserved better than years on the streets. In the twentieth century, we chose policies that kill addicts over policies that save addicts. As year 101 of the drug war begins, we have a chance to save the next Marcia, and Billie, and Bud. There is a better way waiting for us -- if only we are ready to seize it.

Please share your stories of addicts you have known, or addicts who have been killed by our wrong approach, with the hashtag #AddictsLivesMatter.

Johann Hari's book 'Chasing The Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs' is published by Bloomsbury as a hardback, ebook and audiobook. To find out where to buy it, or for more information, click here.

To be kept up to date on this issue, you can like the book's Facebook page and follow Johann on Twitter.

The sources for this article can be found in the book.

You can watch the video of Johann Hari's recent speech about #AddictsLivesMatter

Johann will be speaking and signing books at Politics and Prose in Washington DC on the evening of the 29th Jan, the 92nd Street Y in NYC on the lunchtime of the 30th Jan, Red Emma's in Baltimore on the 4th Feb, and at Ben McNally bookstore in Toronto (with Naomi Klein) on the 11th Feb.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Monica Jones' Conviction Overturned in AZ Superior Court!

Hooray!The state will no doubt want to refile charges, so stay tuned. I suspect this isn't over...

Sent: Monday, January 26, 2015 10:20 AM
Subject: ACLU News: Monica Jones Conviction Overturned

Good afternoon,

Crystal here from the ACLU, writing to inform you that Monica Jones’ conviction for manifesting intent to solicit prostitution was overturned today by the Superior Court of Arizona.

Jones was arrested and charged in May 2013 under a Phoenix law that the ACLU and others have argued is unconstitutional. In April 2014 she was convicted and then in August of that year she appealed her conviction. The ACLU filed an amicus brief in support of her appeal and has been supporting her since her arrest. Here is a background blog on her case:

Monica Jones comment:

“Today is a great day! My wrongful conviction under the Phoenix manifestation law was vacated this morning. I am so grateful to my legal team and all of my supporters across the country and world. My conviction being vacated is important but it is a small win in our larger fight for justice. There are so many trans women and cisgender women who might be charged under this law in Phoenix and similar laws across the country. There is so much more work that needs to be done so that no one will have to face what I have no matter who they are or what past convictions they have.”

Comments from legal team:

  • Jean-Jacques “J” Cabou, a partner at the law firm of PerkinsCoie who represented Monica in her appeal and argued her case, said: “Monica was convicted in an unconstitutional trial, under an unconstitutional law, of a crime she didn’t commit.  We are incredibly pleased that the appellate court agreed that Monica was unconstitutionally denied the presumption of innocence and that the court vacated her conviction.”                     
  • Chase Strangio, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s LGBT & HIV Project, who has been working with Monica for the past year and a half, said: “Like so many trans women of color, Monica Jones was profiled and targeted by police for walking down the street. Today’s reversal of her conviction is an important validation of Monica’s brave fight to be seen and treated like a human being.”
  • Dan Pochoda, senior counsel at the ACLU of Arizona, who has also been working on Monica’s case, noted: “Monica Jones was targeted by law enforcement after her public opposition to the coercive treatment of sex workers by Project ROSE. The demise of this Project is based on the inaccurate claim that most adult sex workers are "trafficked" is further vindication of Monica.”
The order can be found here: Happy to connect you to Monica Jones and her legal team for further discussion. You can reach me at 212-519-7894.


Crystal Cooper
Media Strategist
American Civil Liberties Union
125 Broad St., New York, NY 10004

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

ASP-Kingman's Deaths in Custody: Neil Early, 23.

UPDATE 05/19/19 

current campaign (over the SOS happening still)

#DARTHryan  #DarkSideRyan  


(I actually doubt @dougducey has the balls to #FIREChuckRyan but we should tell him to anyway)

UPDATE (1/25/15 3:20pm) 

I've heard from Neil's family since the post below, and they confirm he was murdered at ASP-Kingman/Cerbat. The AZ DOC should have cracked down on ASP-Kingman over the proliferation of drugs and violence there after the escape of John McClusky and friends, but by the sound sof things, it all only got worse once the spotlight was off this private prison.

Neil's mom has posted this message on her facebook, and has asked folks to share it far and wide.


(Neil Early 7/11/1991-1/19/2015)

We are the parents of Neil Early who was murdered in the Kingman Prison on Monday 1/19/15. Neil was only 23 years old. There are many untruths going on and we want to clarify a few details.

Neil wasn’t a bad man, misguided, but he wanted to do the right thing. He was in prison, doing 5 years and had 15 months left on his term. He was convicted of Drug Paraphernalia and Conspiracy to Commit Retail Theft. This meant that he stole some video games from two different stores and resold them for money. Stupid yes, but he shouldn’t have to die for a mistake he was already paying for. He now will never be a son again, a big brother, a cousin, or a father to his child. The family needs to know what happened to him! This should not be covered up! We are understandably very angry and need answers. He shouldn’t have had a death sentence for his mistakes!

The family is requesting anyone with ANY information please contact us:


The Early Family
PO Box 1138
Black Canyon City, AZ 85324

Original Post (1/21/15 6:41am)

Arizona state prison officials have kept the recent death of 23 year old ASP-Kingman prisoner Neil Early on the down low since it happened. My condolences to the family; I hope you sue - that's the only way you'll ever get to the truth. You sure can't trust the AZ DOC to get at it for you. Contact me if you don't know where to start: Peggy Plews at or 480-580-6807. 

I'd also like to hear from anyone else who can fill in the blanks - all I don't know about this kid's life, his dreams, and such that I can't find out from the AZ DOC website; I know there was more to him than what meets the eye. Send me a better picture, too, if you can.

Folks at Prison Talk suggest that Neil's death was a homicide, but none of the media outlets have reported it as such, and the DOC has nothing on their site (though his AZDOC profile has been updated to show he passed away.) Sadly, it appears he was having trouble with substance use in custody, up until shortly before his death. His judge did recommend he go to Marana facility for substance abuse treatment when he was sentenced. It's a shame they think (or pretend as if) people actually get any care in prison. They should have taken one look at him and known he would be prey in there, instead. It's time we stop sending non-violent offenders like him to prison on minimum mandatory sentences. That could be done this year, if the legislature had the will. 

Here's what AZCENTRAL.COM has to say this am:


Officials: Kingman inmate, 23, dies at private prison

An inmate's death Monday at a private prison near Kingman has prompted an investigation from the Arizona Department of Corrections, according to a statement from the agency.

Neil Early, 23, was serving a sentence for two counts of organized retail theft and drug paraphernalia charges from 2011 in Maricopa County.

Early was sentenced to a 5-year prison term in May 2012 after having previously served less than a year in 2010 for for theft charges.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Corizon HealthScare: Meet me in St. Louis...

The article below was posted from the AP to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch today. This was the comment I left for their readers: 

Corizon has been nothing but disastrous to Arizona state prisoners, ignoring too many to death and leaving their families devastated. We've had a whistleblower speak out and a class action lawsuit here (Parsons v Ryan), exposing how evil they are - as well as numerous protests by prisoners' loved ones and interviews with survivors, but it has been to no avail. 

Some think that's due to Good Old Boy Terry Stewart's influence in AZ (he's the former AZ DOC director - Chuck Ryan's mentor - now in bed with the folks at Corizon Healthscare), but I can't explain why other states still have contracts with them. Voters should really scrutinize things closely if their jails or prison systems are going with these folks and renewing contracts year after year, there's probably something dirty going on that keeps them sucking your tax dollars up for their profits at the expense of some of your most vulnerable citizens. Stop the privatization all together, if you can. It doesn't deliver what it promises, and you'll end up paying more after too many die in the end.

Posted as Peggy Plews

God only knows why the new governor, Doug Ducey, has retained Chuck Ryan after the embarassment his administration was to Brewer - must have something on that guy, too. It's like the whole Republican party here just dug their heads in the sand when it comes to the AZ DOC, though, not just the chiefs. Their mascot should be an ostrich, not an elephant. Elephants are, after all, thoughtful, compassionate, and wise...

By the way, if you're fighting these bastards on behalf of a loved one at the AZ DOC, follow the links to these older pieces, but be sure to be current on the relevant AZDOC policies (Department Orders) and send them the right copies - the docs and links in these old posts have probably expired.

 Corizon's Cruel and Unusual Greed: Follow the Money with Prison Legal News

Corizon and the AZ DOC: Prisoners & Families, Know Your Rights.


Corizon's deliberate indifference: fighting back.


artwork is mine....

------------from the St Louis POST-DISPATCH--------
St Louis Post-Dispatch
Janaury 20, 2014 

Months after he landed in Florida’s Manatee County Jail, Jovon Frazier’s pleas for treatment of intense pain in his left shoulder were met mostly with Tylenol.

“I need to see a doctor!” he wrote on his eighth request form. “I done put a lot of sick calls in & ya’ll keep sending me back and ain’t tell me nothing.”

Four months later, after Frazier’s 13th request resulted in hospitalization and doctors diagnosed bone cancer, his arm was amputated, according to a lawsuit by his family.

But the cancer spread. Frazier died in 2011 at age 21, months after his release.

As an inmate, his medical care had been managed not by the county sheriff’s office that runs the jail, but by a private company under contract.

That company, Corizon Health Inc., is under growing pressure after the loss of five state prison contracts, downgrades by analysts and increasing scrutiny of its care of inmates held by some of its largest customers, including New York City.

Corizon, responsible for 345,000 inmates in 27 states, including Missouri, is the country’s biggest for-profit correctional health provider, but it’s just one of many firms vying for billions of public dollars spent on prisoner care.

Corizon was established in 2011 when privately held Valitás Health Services Inc., the Creve Coeur-based parent of Correctional Medical Services Inc., acquired America Service Group Inc., a Tennessee-based provider of prison health services.

With corporate headquarters in Brentwood, Tenn., Corizon touts Creve Coeur as home to its operational headquarters.

For-profit prison care raises questions about ceding public responsibilities to private companies. It turns, though, on a thornier issue: How do you ensure care of people who society mostly would prefer not to think about?

Inmates “are still human beings. I think some people forget that, I really do. They’re somebody’s child,” said Shirley Jenkins, Frazier’s grandmother.


States spend $8 billion a year, a fifth of their corrections budgets, on prison health care, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts and the MacArthur Foundation. Local jails spend millions more.

Some critics fault the idea of privatizing the job.

“The problem is a structure that creates incentives to cut corners and deny care to powerless people that have no other options,” said David Fathi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project.

Others say deficiencies with prison care go beyond whether it is privatized.

“I don’t have a great love for private health care ... but I don’t think that they’re the source of the problem,” said Dr. Marc Stern, former health services director for Washington state’s prisons. Stern, who once worked for a Corizon predecessor in New York state, issued a 2012 report criticizing the company’s care of Idaho prison inmates while serving as a court-appointed expert.

“I think the problem is how much money and effort we are willing to put into correctional health care,” Stern said.

Some critics, though, say Corizon is notably problematic.

“We get letters from prisoners about medical care not being provided, and the list is endless. And it’s increased tremendously since Corizon took over,” said Randall Berg, executive director of the Florida Justice Institute, who represents inmates petitioning for care.

Corizon says it strives to provide quality care.

“We are always troubled by any questions on the care provided to our patients and view this as an opportunity to reconfirm our commitment to operational ethics and professionalism,” company spokeswoman Susan Morgenstern said in a written statement. The company declined to answer questions.

The criticism surrounding Corizon isn’t new. Correctional Medical Services, or CMS, which later became Corizon, was the main subject of a 1998 Post-Dispatch investigation of for-profit prison health care providers. Looking at CMS and other firms, the investigation found more than 20 cases nationwide in which inmates died as a result of alleged negligence, indifference, understaffing, inadequate training or cost-cutting.

In 2012, Corizon was sued for alleged medical missteps in the death of Courtland Lucas, an inmate in the St. Louis jail. He died May 25, 2009, from complications of a heart problem, congenital aortic valve stenosis, while under the care of CMS. The lawsuit was settled in the fall of 2014, but the terms were not disclosed.

Corizon’s struggles are widespread.

Its care of the 11,000 inmates at New York City’s Rikers Island is under “comprehensive review” by officials, who say they are concerned about problems including at least 16 deaths since 2009.

Arizona hired Corizon last year to replace Wexford Health Sources Inc. after its care came under fire. But an advocacy group warned that “if anything, things have gotten worse” in state prisons. Arizona and the ACLU recently reached a settlement calling for more monitoring of inmate care.

Meanwhile Corizon has lost long-standing prison contracts in Minnesota, Maine, Maryland, Tennessee and Pennsylvania since 2012. Auditors in three states documented problems, including slowness to address poor recordkeeping and inmates’ urgent requests for off-site care.

Corizon, which generated $1.4 billion in revenue in 2013 and is owned by a Chicago private equity firm, has battled stiffening competition. In recent months, Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s have downgraded Corizon’s holding company, citing financial underperformance, contract losses and competition that has squeezed profits.

The connection between Corizon’s contract losses and questions about the quality of care it provides is not clear.

But the challenges are evident in Florida, where a year after the state privatized prison care and awarded Corizon a $1.2 billion contract, news reports point to rising inmate deaths. If the company does not address substandard care, the state’s corrections commissioner wrote to Corizon’s CEO in September, Florida may begin withholding payment.

In Minnesota, an audit last year found that inadequate communication between prison staff and Corizon doctors during overnight hours “may have been a contributing factor to inmate deaths.”

But in announcing Minnesota’s change of contractors, the corrections commissioner said Corizon had provided “excellent” service. In a written response to questions, the state corrections department said its decision was not related to the audit. It would not comment on inmate deaths.

Corizon’s work in local jails also has come under scrutiny.

In October, Volusia County, Fla., officials questioned Corizon executives about lawsuits and its financial stability before voting unanimously to switch contractors. The hearing was held in the shadow of a lawsuit filed locally by the family of Tracy Veira, an inmate who choked to death in 2009 in a cell where she was supposed to be under watch while detoxing from painkillers.

A nurse working for one of the companies that merged to form Corizon saw an ailing Veira in the jail’s clinic the afternoon before she died. She told a supervisor the inmate looked as if she needed hospitalization, but Veira was instead sent back to her cell, according to an affidavit filed in the case.

When the commissioners questioned Corizon’s executives, there was no mention of Veira. But Commissioner Deb Denys said she was mindful of the case, scheduled for a July trial.

“I think everybody was,” Denys said. “Sometimes you don’t state the obvious.”

Jennifer Mann of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.