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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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

ASPC-Tucson: Prisoners neglected in cages, again.

This is despicable. This makes the failure of the Maricopa County Attorney's Office to prosecute anyone from the Arizona Department of Corrections for Marcia Powell's death all the more disturbing. Clearly they think they are untouchable, like most agents of the law. In essence, the higher ups at ASPC-Tucson slapped them on the wrist for this one and kept it all under wraps. It was only because the prisoner and his wife (and finally Donna Hamm) complained that it got anyone's attention.

The investigation reads something like the one on Marcia's death - everyone pointing their finger at someone else, or just not being able to recall who did what. It went on through three shifts, evidently, so it's not like it was just the guard who was pissed off who locked the guy up and left him there. And it wasn't just prisoner Solis who got left in the cages that day - four other guys were left there too long, as well. I bet it's a routine thing that prisoners just don't often complain about because they're used to being treated like dirt. They're probably glad they aren't still getting hogtied and left in the sun as punishment.

I'm glad Ryan at least nailed his administrators - including Sonberg - though the punishments for the rest still hardly fit the crime. They're all implicated in suppressing reports of neglect and abuse that I hear about from prisoners - things that just get handled "in-house".

As far as I'm concerned, it's not the breakdown in staff discipline that's the problem so much as it's the dehumanization that allows ADC officers to treat prisoners as they do. If there wasn't an entrenched culture that tolerates and even encourages the humiliation, depersonalization, and trivialization of prisoners' needs so thoroughly - which comes from the top down (through policies that seek to discourage people from seeking medical care, for example, to save the department money) - abuse and neglect wouldn't be so commonplace at their prisons...

I have more to say but won't say it here - read the investigative report Stephen links to for yourself. I think I'm going to ask the Attorney General tomorrow why the state can't prosecute Marcia's killers since the county won't. The neglect and abuse of prisoners needs to be treated as a crime and the victims need to be seen as human beings worthy of protection, or this will just keep happening as a casual occurrence that no one thinks they should even be disciplined for.


Could Marcia Powell Happen Again? Prisoner Kept in Tucson Cage Overnight, Warden Sanctioned

A warden, a deputy warden, and a regional director have all been suspended several days without pay as a result of an inmate being kept in an outdoor cage overnight at the Arizona State Prison Complex in Tucson.

According to a Department of Corrections investigation of the incident, inmate Elisio Solis was confined to an outdoor cage for 19 hours from around 9:45 a.m. on April 29 of this year to around 5 a.m. the following morning.

This is in violation of policies regarding such enclosures, policies that were revised in the wake of Marcia Powell's 2009 heat-related death at Perryville Prison in Goodyear.

ADC policy now prohibits a prisoner from being confined to an outdoor cage for more than one hour without the approval of a deputy warden. (Inmates can be in the cages for no longer than two hours max.) The policy also forbids the enclosures from being used for disciplinary purposes.

But these restrictions were transgressed in the case of Solis, who was placed in the outside enclosure after a verbal altercation with a corrections officer, who called Solis a "motherfucker."

According to the ADC investigation, when Warden Sandra Walker learned of the violation, she advised underlings that the matter was to be handled "in house."

ADC Director Charles Ryan did not learn of Solis' treatment till August 5, after receiving an e-mail complaining of the matter from prison reform advocate Donna Hamm of the Phoenix-based organization Middle Ground Prison Reform. Ryan then ordered an investigation into the incident.

The inquiry shows a breakdown in discipline, with corrections officers finding excuses for not following ADC guidelines, showing ignorance of ADC policies and generally shirking responsibility for their actions.

Their supervisors don't fare much better in the report.

"Supervisors failed to follow DO 704 [the policy regarding outside enclosures]," the report states. "And [they] `passed the buck' to each other during their interviews. Staff interviewed had memory issues related to their shift on April 29, 2010."

You can read the ADC report, minus its attachments, here.

During the investigation, ADC Regional Director Shelly Sonberg, who has to sign off on supervisor complaints, admitted that she doesn't read them all because there are too many. Instead, she selects one at random to read "cover to cover," and relies on her staff to make sure the complaints are complete.

Sonberg was recently suspended 40 hours without pay. Warden Walker received the same sanction. Deputy Warden Keith Hartsuck was suspended for 80 hours without pay.

ADC spokesman Barrett Marson denied that Walker had wanted to cover-up the Solis matter, only that she had kept the investigation at the complex level. Still, Marson called the breach of policy a "significant incident," which is why punishment was meted out.

"The director believes this should have elevated up the chain of command," Marson told me.

Solis, who is doing 19 years on a murder conviction in Maricopa County, complained that he was sick after his outdoor confinement and claimed he had to beg for a blanket. Temperatures had dipped to 48 degrees Fahrenheit by the time he was transferred from the cage in the early morning hours of April 30, according to the report.

Unlike Powell, Solis did not have to contend with the heat, as the high for April 29 in Tucson was 75 degrees, and there was shade in the cage. He had access to food and water, and was allowed bathroom breaks.

Solis' life was not endangered. But the fact that prison officials didn't want to alert higher-ups should tip you off to the importance of the Solis incident. Moreover, the ADC report notes that four other inmates were confined to the cage that day for longer than the time period allowed.

"Given the fact that this was originally scheduled to be handled `in house,' [Director Ryan] was never supposed to find out about it," observed Hamm, whose e-mail sparked the investigation. "You have to wonder how many incidents in other locations, or even in that location, have been deemed in-house and that Ryan never knew about."

Hamm believes the practice of holding prisoners in outside cages for long periods of time as punishment is widespread. She fears this could lead to another Marcia Powell-like incident, and she faulted the ADC's lack of discipline.

"Look, this is a paramilitary organization," she said of the ADC. "And that means that people pretty much don't get to question policy. You follow it.

"But people are not following policy all the way up and down the chain of command. They're winking at the policy. And that's just unacceptable."

She said she's suggested that Ryan name a unit after Marcia Powell as a way of reminding his staff of the importance of following ADC policies on outside enclosures. She said she also may ask the U.S. Justice Department to investigate ADC's practices regarding the cages.

That Ryan acted so swiftly in this matter is laudatory. However, the fact that he had to find out about it from an outside source is unsettling, as are the accounts of staff shiftlessness and complacency in the ADC's own report.

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