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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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Remembering McClesky

This comes from the January 6, 2010 Real Cost of Prisons Project Blog. This is an amazing development - depending on how it survives the appeals, it could set precedent for restoring civil rights to prisoners and ex-felons across the country. Why did this take so long? It seems so obvious, yet three other courts voted the opposite way.

The rest of the judiciary won't give this their blessing, I bet. It's like in McClesky v Kemp when the Supreme Court was confronted with the Baldus studies on the death penalty, which provided extremely compelling evidence of racial disparities affecting the application of the death penalty, they balked.

McClesky was the most serious, viable challenge to the constitutionality of the death penalty since Furman. The majority wouldn't admit that racism was sabotaging the process of justice - the closest they got to it was acknowledging that if they recognized the validity of the Baldus studies, there would be far-reaching implications for every other aspect of the criminal justice system as well. There would be chaos at every level, and the authority of every previous Supreme Court ruling about race would be challenged. 

As it should have been. Here's congressional testimony from Julius Chambers about the legacy of racism that permeates the death penalty in America. He was arguing for the Racial Justice Act in 1988, which was intended to compensate for the McClesky ruling by giving the accused the chance to present statistical evidence that their trial or sentence was adversely affected by racism. The US Congress has yet to pass it, of course. Only two states in the country have done so (North Carolina and Kentucky).

Which is why I think this will probably be the furthest we get on this one, unless there's been enough time already for some of the circuit and appeals court judges to be replaced. This is the kind of precedent that all the resources of Power usually go into preventing.

Thurgood Marshall's most compelling argument against the death penalty was made in Furman in 1972, when it was briefly suspended as being cruel and unusual due to arbitrariness in the system. He joined Justices Blackmun and Brennan in their dissenting opinions in McClesky years later that articulated their concerns about the effect of racism on the execution of justice - and the justice of executions - in America. Conclusions from the Baldus studies were supported by the Government Accounting Office in 1990. Nevertheless, for too long their voices have remained in the minority. 

Anyway, the practice of stripping convicted felons of the right to vote - and making it very onerous to get back - emerged out of the Jim Crow South. We were looking for every possible way we could think of to keep the poor and minorities from having any political power whatsoever. Since poor blacks were such easy targets for criminalization in the wake of Reconstruction (so their labor could be exploited once again), denying criminals the right to vote - which has absolutely no relationship to most "crime" - was the logical thing to do. It's overtly racist, and it's high time we moved past that now. 

Think Arizona will be a leader?


WA: Convicted felons entitled to vote, court rules. Judge: Racial discrimination claims have merit

Convicted felons entitled to vote, court rules
Judge: Racial discrimination claims have merit

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

In a move that could see Washington inmates voting from prison, a federal appeals court has thrown out the state's restrictions on felon voting.

Under state law, residents convicted of a felony currently lose the right to vote until they are released from custody and off of Department of Corrections supervision. Tuesday's split ruling by a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel puts those restrictions in doubt, as two of three judges reviewing the voting rights lawsuit found that the state restrictions unfairly penalize minorities.

Attorneys for six Washington state prisoners, Circuit Court Judge A. Wallace Tashima wrote, "have demonstrated that police practices, searches, arrests, detention practices, and plea bargaining practices lead to a greater burden on minorities that cannot be explained in race-neutral ways."

Joined by Judge Stephen Reinhardt in the majority opinion, Tashima found that black and Latino Washingtonians faced arrest and prosecution at rates far higher than could be explained simply by increased criminal activity. Finding no "race neutral" explanation for the higher incarceration rates, the majority reversed a U.S. District Court decision and ruled in favor of the inmates.

"Although (the state) criticized the experts' studies and the conclusions, the (plaintiffs') reports, when objectively viewed, support a finding of racial discrimination in Washington's criminal justice system," Tashima said in the ruling.

"Given that uncontroverted showing," he added, "in the words of the district court, there can be 'no doubt that members of racial minorities have experienced discrimination in Washington's criminal justice system.'"

Speaking on the ruling, Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed said the court's decision came as a surprise, in part because three circuit court panels elsewhere in the country came to opposite conclusions while reviewing similar cases.

Reed said he believes the state prohibition against prisoner voting remains appropriate.

"That's part of the penalty," Reed said. "A person loses their rights when they violate the rights of others by perpetrating a felony. … As long as when they get out they get a chance to rejoin society, that's the important part."

Reed said he supported a recent change in state law aimed at enabling felons returning to society to regain the vote. Under the new rules, felons no longer have to pay off their court-mandated fines before registering to vote.

Filed 14 years ago, the suit named Reed's office as a defendant as well as the Attorney General's Office and the governor's office. Reed said he expects to appeal the decision either to the U.S. Supreme Court or an 11-judge panel of the 9th Circuit.

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