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:

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Arizona's Prison Privatization is the big joke.


December 10: International Human Rights Day
December 15: Fifth Special Legislative Session Begins
December 17: International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers (Tucson Memorial Service).
December 18: SWOP-Tucson Demonstration at the Arizona Department of Corrections, Phoenix.

Great commentary by Caroline Isaacs from the AFSC-Tucson office. Where are the real Republicans, the conservatives, like my grandparents? Did they all die and leave the party to Pearce et al?


Arizona’s Prison Privatization Scheme Is a Comedy Gold Mine. The Joke's on Us

by: Caroline Isaacs, t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed

You know you’re in trouble when "The Daily Show" sends a “fake correspondent” to your state capitol. Perhaps it was inevitable - who could resist the irony of a state literally selling its capitol to the highest bidder?

The comedy in the footage of the aforementioned correspondent standing on Rep. Kyrsten Sinema’s desk to test the quality of the drop ceiling in her office was eclipsed only by the tragedy of Rep. Linda Lopez's complete inability to answer the question that should have been first on the mind of every elected official in Arizona:  "After you sell these buildings and have to pay rent on them, how will you balance the budget next year?"

But the "Daily Show" segment was only the beginning. What’s got the cable “fake news” programs and incredulous audiences worldwide rolling in the aisles now is even more far-fetched: Arizona’s gonna privatize death row. State leaders want to give out lucrative, long-term contracts to private, for-profit corporations to run entire state prison complexes, essentially putting rent-a-cops in charge of women inmates, sex offenders and supermax lockdown units. Brilliant! How come nobody ever thought of this before?

Because it’s a terrible idea. In 30-plus years of America’s experiment with prison privatization, never has a private company run entire state prison complexes with multiple security levels. Only one, Corrections Corporation of America, manages high-security prisoners, and only in very small numbers. Even Tennessee, home of CCA, wisely passed on the company’s offer to run the whole state system.

Private prison companies prefer to cherry-pick the prisoners that are already cheapest to house - low-security with no medical, disciplinary or mental health problems. That way, they can skimp on paying or training their staff and make a nice tidy profit.

So why would any of these corporations even think of putting up $100 million to get some crumbling old prison buildings and contracts to manage prisoners from minimum to death row? Because their campaign contributions and armies of lobbyists have convinced Arizona lawmakers to sweeten the deal. The bill actually requires the state to split the savings generated through privatization 50/50 with the private operator. That’s right - we have to give them half the money back.

But wait! There’s more! The deal allows the prison companies to raise their per-diem rate (the amount the state pays them per prisoner, per day) every year for the length of the contract. With no upper limit. And what’s a measly $100 million compared to the combined guaranteed income of 20-year lease payments and those sweet per diems over the length of the contracts?

Now, a story like that is a comedy gold mine! The New York Times,  first nationally to report on the story, attempted to hide its smirk behind reassuring quotes from Rep. John Kavanagh, a backer of the proposal who just happens to be chair of Arizona's Joint Legislative Budget Committee, which happens to oversee the Department of Administration, which will be managing the contracts.

But there was no restraining Stephen Colbert, who took the Twainian opportunity to take this ridiculous idea to its most extreme conclusion: Let’s just privatize the entire criminal justice system and pay cops a commission for every arrest. Surely the profit motive will result in more efficient "justice." How could there be anything wrong with the idea of profiting from depriving other human beings of their freedom? Ha! Ha!

And now the joke is going global. On November 23, the Guardian UK  featured a story whose incredulous author referred to the Arizona proposals as "bizarre" and "kooky." Resisting the urge to outright mock us, Mr. Abramsky did, however, soberly note that the joke is really on the people of Arizona. Citing the dismal track records of abuse, escapes and riots that have plagued the private prison industry for its entire existence, he warned that this "wacky" scheme could have dire consequences.

So, laugh it up, everybody. Arizona taxpayers appear only too happy to foot the bill for your amusement. And be sure to tune in for the next installment, chronicling a state in even deeper debt, on the hook for 20-year contract obligations it can’t afford, fending off lawsuits over shoddy prison medical care and prisoner abuse scandals and frantically searching for the next brilliant short-term scheme to get us out of this mess

Caroline Isaacs is the Program Director of the Arizona program of the American Friends Service Committee. She has spent the last 15 years working with the AFSC-Arizona in some capacity, focusing primarily on criminal justice issues. Caroline has a B.A. in political science from The College of Wooster and a master's degree in social work from Arizona State University. In addition to her 10 years of criminal justice reform, she worked for four years in the social services field with homeless teens and is currently an adjunct faculty member at the Arizona State University School of Social Work (Tucson component).

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