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, May 31, 2010

CCA Diamondback closure devastates Watonga community...

The following commentary and op-ed were forwarded to us by Frank Smith of Private Corrections Working Group. Awesome guy - he's been in this fight for awhile...

I hope Diamondback doesn't re-open; not as a prison, anyway. I hope instead some brilliant, creative young people there share and articulate a better vision and dream - something better than a prison - that the town is willing to invest in for them. There are so many possible futures out there to explore.        



"This is the third CCA prison to close this year, after Appleton, Minnesota and Huerfano county at Walsenburg Colorado.  The prison in California City, CA is expected to have no inmates by September and CCA is losing contracts right and left. Its competitors are in similar dire straits, such as GEO Group with a long-closed prison in Baldwin, Michigan.

But prisoner counts are down all over the country and every corporation is feeling the pinch. Most prisons with over 100 empty beds are probably losing money and they're walking away from contracts to operate, often leaving towns that funded construction of the prisons or substantial infrastructure economically devastated.

I'm figuring that the size of the Watonga payroll was greatly overstated in the editorial and in an article in the Oklahoman as well. I expect the info would have been from a CCA press release. I'm guessing that CCA may have inflated it by 40%. The deficits in revenues are not confined to the city of Watonga, but include the six-figure shortfall to Blaine county as well.

I predicted this decline in population over two years ago, but officials in towns such as Pahrump, Nevada, ignored my warnings and rushed to accommodate CCA where they're building an unfillable prison.

Sometimes I think these corporations must have hired Dr. Kevorkian as their CEO."

Frank Smith
--------------------------from the Tulsa World 5/29/2010----------------------

Watonga's woes: A private prison closes up shop

By Tulsa World's Editorial Writers

The closing of the 12-year-old Diamondback Correctional Facility in Watonga is a cautionary tale about what can happen when a community puts too many eggs in one basket, when a state becomes the penal colony to the nation and when an overabundance of private prisons is encouraged.

Diamondback closed on Thursday, leaving 300 employees jobless unless they can find work at another facility. The city is losing the benefits of an $11 million prison payroll, the annual sale of $400,000 of water and sewer services to the facility, and sales tax revenues from purchases made by 2,000 inmates.

The inmates are gone, most shipped back to Arizona, which no longer will house inmates in out-of-state facilities.

Watonga has a population of 5,600 and a city budget of $2.4 million. The loss is devastating, even if it's temporary. Diamondback's owner, Correction Corp of America, claims that it hopes to reopen the facility. But will that happen? Every state has budget woes and is cutting back. Housing inmates in private prisons might be too pricey an option.

The private prison proliferation here began under Gov. Frank Keating in the 1990s. It was a "Field of Dreams" philosophy: Build it and they will come. And, inmates did, shipped by the thousands to new private prisons. Oklahoma itself houses some of its own inmates in private prisons and there's been an unrelenting push by some legislators to use private prisons even more rather than reforming this state's sentencing system.

Private prisons are a double-edged sword. They put people to work in small towns but they don't always last forever. And inmates seldom receive the programming they need to break addictions or the retraining for new jobs on the outside. Like it or not, for-profit prisons are more about warehousing and less about rehabilitation. And states pay a pretty penny for housing their overflow inmates in private facilities.

We hope for Watonga's sake that Diamondback reopens. In the meantime, this is a lose-lose situation all the way around.