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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Monday, January 18, 2010

California Dreaming. Time to Wake Up.

This via Ken at Private Corrections Working Group. Arizona failed to study and learn from California's experiences before Marcia Powell died, or the ADC may have saved her life. For what, though - the state to chew her up cycling her in and out of prison until she was dead? They need to do a lot more than just abstain from outright killing people they're responsible for imprisoning. 

The governor and state legislature here have no excuse - they and the public are well-enough informed about conditions in the prisons to either make prisoner rights and safety - and real sentence reform - priorities, or shut up already about how much they care about vulnerable Arizonans. That's who's ending up in prison, by and large - other people's victims. Watch how many more end up there now that we're slashing public mental health care again (want to bet that Magellan still makes a profit, no matter how many homes are foreclosed on this year? Off of whose  backs? Who's invested in them, anyway?)

Talk about a colossal waste of public money - all that "profit" that could be used directly to serve people just goes into the pockets of millionaires preying on the good people of this state. That's why they want to privatize prisons, too - not to save the rest of us money, but to make some for themselves. They're invested in a future of crime-ridden communities, and they're pushing Arizona's small town economies into becoming dependent on mass incarceration. That should tell people something about their real priorities. It's got nothing to do with what's good for any of us. We're just consumers and fodder.

We see through it - some of us do, anyway. All the right wing has been doing for years is sticking it to us: cutting education, health care access, basic community services - some "crisis". They aren't ever restoring that funding - this is how they work. Empty the schools and fill up the prisons. Privatize everything (fascists). They have more reason than ever to try to keep people down - those guys are losing control quick (including over their own people - don't think Pearce isn't due for a grand jury if we're looking at abuse of power). 

If it wasn't for the divisive power of racism and misogyny we would have overthrown them by now. That and hunger. Hunger makes a lot of things harder. That's why they try to keep us living out of soup kitchens and food banks...there's nothing charitable about that.

Anyway, I don't agree with some of the arguments here - I think the practice of privatizing prisons should be banned altogether under human rights law, as they have done in Israel. But it does address some of the stupider things our legislature has done (and still plans to do, apparently)...


A poor prison plan for California
LA Times Editorial
January 17, 2010

When Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed shifting female inmates out of prisons to community detention centers in 2006, the Legislature said no. When he asked lawmakers the following year to approve $10.9 billion in bonds to build new prisons while also reforming sentencing laws and parole rules, they reduced the bond package and jettisoned the reforms. Last year, when he asked them to cut the prison budget by $1.2 billion, they fell about $200 million short. We don't blame the governor for being frustrated, but we do fault him for apparently giving up.

Schwarzenegger's latest prison plan, unveiled in his State of the State address earlier this month, is less a serious policy proposal than a hunk of red meat tossed out at voters who are understandably furious about cuts in education spending. It combines a deeply destructive budgeting formula with an untested theory about prison privatization. Yet, if there ever was a time when California needed its leaders to get serious about the prisons, it's now. The skyrocketing cost of administering the corrections system is helping to drive the state to the brink of financial collapse, even as the system's overcrowded conditions and abysmal medical care are violating federal law -- and forcing the courts to demand expensive fixes that exacerbate the budget problem.

Schwarzenegger's cynical response is to pit the prisons against colleges and universities, proposing a ballot initiative mandating that the state cannot spend more than 7% of its budget on corrections or less than 10% on higher education. We've already discussed the dangers of this kind of ballot-box budgeting, which puts decision-makers in a straitjacket and is largely to blame for the state government's deficit crisis. But what has received less attention is the governor's strategy for getting the corrections budget to 7%, from its current level of about 10%: privatizing the prisons.

Many politicians, especially on the GOP side of the aisle, are attracted to private prisons, under the theory that private industry runs everything more efficiently than government. That hasn't really panned out in other states. Studies on whether rent-a-reformatories are cheaper for taxpayers than government-run prisons have had conflicting results, largely because the data are hard to compare. Opinions also differ widely on whether private prisons, which tend to have lower guard-to-inmate ratios than public lockups, experience more violence. It's safe to say that if differences exist, they aren't very big.

It's not unreasonable to think that private prisons could be more successful in California than they have been elsewhere, because prison costs here are so out of line. A series of highly generous contracts with the prison guards union, whose political contributions make it a force to be reckoned with in Sacramento, contributed to a 32% jump in the corrections budget between 2006 and 2009, until the financial crisis forced legislators to make cuts in the corrections budget last fall. California spends far more per inmate ($49,000 a year) than any other state. A shortage of guards not only leads to abuse of the overtime system -- according to a September state audit, nearly a third of base-level correctional officers make so much money working overtime that their annual salaries exceed those of managers two pay grades higher -- but the guards have negotiated such bountiful benefit packages that it's actually cheaper for the state to continue paying overtime to older officers than to hire new ones to end the staffing shortage. The audit concluded that it costs between $3,200 and $7,800 more per inmate annually to house them in a California prison than in a comparable private facility.

Yet that doesn't necessarily suggest that privatizing the prisons is a good idea -- and it doesn't come close to suggesting we could lower the prison budget to 7% of the general fund solely through privatization. California's prison population has soared in the past two decades because the voters have passed ever-tougher sentencing laws while also tying the hands of judges to give them less flexibility in setting terms. Privatization won't solve either problem.

Moreover, private prisons come with a host of complications and trade-offs. Perhaps most serious is a loss of accountability and transparency. It's already hard for the public to find out what's going on behind the barbed wire, but abusive behavior by guards, inmate violence, accounting shenanigans and other common prison woes would be even further shielded under private control. What's more, the state might only be trading one influential lobby (the prison guards) for another (private prison operators and the communities that rely on them for jobs). Creating a prison-industrial complex with a financial incentive for locking people up could distort state politics, escalate prison spending and encourage overcrowding at least as much as the current system does.

The debate over prisons is in some ways similar to the debate over education, in which free-marketeers battle organized labor over charter schools. We think charters are a worthwhile experiment that can help make public schools better -- and the same could apply to private prisons, if they're given proper oversight. California already has a handful of private lockups, but they are very low-security facilities. We'd favor a change in union contracts and state laws that would allow privatization of a few higher-security prisons, so the impacts on costs and accountability could be assessed.

In other words, Schwarzenegger has a terrific idea for a pilot program. But to suggest that such an untested and possibly dangerous experiment is the solution to our prison problems, or that it could quickly produce a dramatic drop in expenditures, is disingenuous and irresponsible. What's needed is for the Legislature to do the job it failed to do last year and approve more meaningful parole reforms to get nonviolent drug addicts out of cells and into rehab, create a commission to revisit California's draconian and ineffective sentencing laws and take other steps long recommended by criminal justice experts to reduce the inmate population.

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