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, June 21, 2010

CCA in the long run: Hosting prisoners in hell.

Inspection tour of county jail reveals neglect, flaws

By Barbara Behrendt,

St. Petersburg Times (FLA) Staff Writer

In Print: Saturday, June 19, 2010

BROOKSVILLE — Situated beside the central booking area, the control room is the high-tech heart of security operations for the Hernando County Jail.

In that secure room, employees watch monitors showing every corner of the facility, remotely operate locks, store the important keys and charge the radios that provide needed communication throughout the facility.

There in that room is another critical piece of equipment: The big yellow bucket.

The bucket is essential on rainy days when the compromised roof lets water seep in, follow pipes and other conduit and drip down into the ceiling of the control room.

Ceiling tiles show tell-tale water marks and some of the tiles are just not there, allowing a glimpse up into the guts of the building where someone once tried a makeshift fix that doesn't fix anything.

Wearing a grim expression, Maj. Michael Page, Sheriff Richard Nugent's newly chosen jail administrator, stood under that leaky spot this week.

It was the last stop on a tour aimed at showing that while a preliminary engineering report found no major structural flaws, a lack of maintenance and oversight over the course of years have created serious problems that Nugent will inherit when he takes over the facility in August.

Page, who has a long career of running jails and prisons as well as inspecting them for a living, has formed a lot of opinions about the Hernando facility.

The facility has design flaws and some of the operational decisions by Corrections Corporation of America, which has run the jail for 22 years, don't make sense, he said. Page added those issues can be addressed later.

The problems would best be solved with a bulldozer, he noted, but he lives in the real world of shrinking tax dollars to run government facilities. Hernando officials will have to settle for major repairs that keep it from raining inside, stop further deterioration and, most importantly, maintain security.

The full scope of those repairs has yet to be assessed. But the initial report of no structural safety concerns — combined with a record of satisfactory inspections by jail inspectors over the years — raises questions about just how much money Nugent really needs to improve the jail.

The County Commission already has set aside $3 million from its reserves to fix the jail. But several commissioners have said the problems are more cosmetic and do not need that level of repair.

These questions are sure to be on the minds of commissioners during budget workshops Wednesday and Thursday as they will discuss drastic cuts in county programs and services to stem a $10 million deficit in next year's county budget.

For their part, sheriff's officials are insisting that the problems at the jail are more numerous and serious than commissioners realize.

During the tour, Page pointed to an exterior wall where a section had clearly been repaired because it didn't match its surrounding surfaces. Above the spot, windows were ringed by a cloudy haze.

Such windows stretched down the side of the structure, a sign, according to Page, that the ongoing water intrusion had seeped between the layers of glass and adhesive that make the windows strong, and weakened them.

In another stretch of exterior wall, the bottom of every outside door was crusty with rust. Page and sheriff's Lt. Jim Powers kicked gently at the doors and big flakes of the decaying door broke off.

The lock on one door was so loose it nearly came out when touched.

Assistant warden Orlando Rodriguez just shook his head at the sight. CCA, he said, had told the county many times that the doors needed replacing but there was never money to do that.

Yes, there were dollars set aside in the budget for such things but never enough to do the job, Rodriguez said.

The rust on the hinges of a huge door leading to a service way for the building's air conditioner was so bad that Page assumed trying to open the door would make it fall out.

In an office area, a rag hung above a fluorescent light fixture to catch dripping water. In another office, a carpet covers a trap door under which gray water runs.

"This is crap,'' an employee wrote on the message board in one office.

In an exercise yard for inmates, the concrete slopes the wrong way — away from the drain — directing water right into the metal door of the inmate housing area.

At another exercise yard, the door is too warped to easily open when it needs to be opened and its frame fits so poorly that from inside an observer can see daylight through the crack between door frame and wall.

Rodriguez said that CCA has done the routine maintenance that it is required to do, painting and fixing plumbing problems.

But Page is skeptical. There were certainly places that a little paint would have averted bigger problems later. But, then, the county didn't make CCA maintain the building, either. "Everyone's at fault,'' he said.

It all came down to skimping to save money, he said. The county did it. CCA did it.

That has undermined the building and now, as county officials prepare to talk about where to spend their money in 2010, Page clearly stated, "this is a county's building. It's not the sheriff's.''

The task ahead, he said, was to "make it livable.''

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at or (352) 848-1434.