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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Friday, September 10, 2010

Despair Behind Bars: Suicide in Arizona Prisons

Today being International Suicide Prevention Day, I thought it would be a good time to remember both the victims and survivors of the kind of despair that drives one to take one's life. For some reason, Arizonans are much more prone to suicide than most of the rest of the country. As reported by the Arizona Republic last year:

"Arizona perennially finishes in the top 10 nationally for suicides per capita, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2007, 986 Arizonans died by suicide, twice the number of those who were murdered, according to Magellan. The rate of suicide was 15.9 per 100,000 people; in New York, the rate was 6.9 per 100,000.
Among people with serious mental illnesses, the risk of suicide is roughly six times higher than for people who have not been diagnosed, according to academic research..."
Considering that suicides in this state far outnumber homicides, one has to wonder why we allow life-saving mental health services to be cut each year while we busy ourselves with feeding increasing numbers of people - and public funds - to the criminal justice system.

Because of the nature of my blogs, my focus here has been on prisoners. My Arizona Prison Watch archives are not exhaustive of all prisoner suicides in the state over the past 15 months, but I believe I have accessed all those who were reported by the AZ Department of Corrections. They are as follows:

23 y.o. Lasasha Cherry (9/08/10) ASPC-Perryville/Lumley

28 y.o.
Patrick Lee Ross (8/31/10) Great Plains Correctional Facility, OK (Cornell under contract with AZ)

28 y.o. Geshell Fernandez (7/23/10) ASPC-Perryville/Lumley

26 y.o.
Anthony Lester (7/12/10) ASPC-Tucson/Manzanita

29 y.o. Robert Medina (7/11/10) ASPC-Eyman/Browning

17 y.o. Jerry Kulp (5/11/10) ASPC-Tucson/Minors' Unit

46 y.o. James Adams (3/14/10) ASPC-Eyman/Browning (Death Row)

28 y.o. Jesus Cota (1/10/10) ASPC-Eyman/Special Management Unit

47 y.o. Monte McCarty (12/26/09) ASPC-Eyman/Special Management Unit

18 y.o. Hernan Cuevas (10/10/09) ASPC-Phoenix, Baker Unit

32 y.o. William Englebert (8/22/09) ASPC-Tucson

30 y.o. Erick Cervantes (8/14/09) ASPC-Eyman/Special Management Unit

33 y.o. Dung Ung (6/25/09) ASPC-Lewis

37 y.o. Caesar Bojorquez (6/28/09) ASPC-Eyman/Browning

Another tragic loss this year was the life of 17-year old Presley Austin, who killed himself at the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections' Adobe Mountain School in Phoenix in May. By accounts of other kids there, Presley was bullied to death within a week of being placed in a unit with more violent youth after he was in a fight on the mental health unit. His was the first suicide at the AzDJC in seven years.

My condolences to all those loved ones left behind in the wake of these tragedies.

Prior to Marcia Powell's death in May, 2009, notices of inmate deaths were seldom posted at the ADC news site. Now they seem to be pretty consistently updated, regardless of cause of death, which I give Director Charles Ryan some credit for - as far as I know, they don't have to do that.

The high number of prisoner suicides is disturbing, however, and should be investigated more closely, if the ADC hasn't already done so - especially those in the Special Management Unit, where I believe there is a higher concentration of prisoners with mental illness held in solitary confinement. At Perryville, both of the women who suicided were on the maximum security unit, where prisoners with serious mental illness are also frequently held. Theoretically, while it may be a higher-risk population, the environments should be better controlled and the staff should have some specialized training.

The national average for suicides in prisons is 14/100,000. The Arizona Department of Corrections warehouses about 40,000 prisoners at any given time, with about 20,000 new ones replacing those departing each year.

There are several good resources on suicide in jails/prisons in the side column of Arizona Prison Watch. I'd also recommend the following posts/articles, for those interested:
Mentally Ill Offenders Strain Juvenile System

Man's Death in Private Immigration Jail Bares Difficulty of Detention Overhaul

Suicide Among Incarcerated Veterans

The other way we tend to die in custody

Top Ten Places to Suicide: Arizona.

(this post includes a link to a moving slide show of quilt panels made to memorialize suicide victims in Arizona)

Real Lives Loved and Lost: "Criminals" and Suicide.

SOS: Suicide in Massachusetts state prisons.

Teen Kills Himself After Being Put in Solitary for…Trying to Kill Himself

Illinois Youth Prisons See More Suicide Attempts

I should also note that corrections officers themselves are also at increased risk for suicide - far higher than that of prisoners. Two that I know of occurred over the course of the past 15 months. The first was an officer at Perryville prison for women, who shot himself on the prison grounds - along the perimeter - not long after Marcia Powell was killed. The second was a youth corrections officer at Adobe Mountain School in May, the same week Presley died. I'm sure there were more, however, and that all left heartbreak in their wake.

I know far less about the above officer's suicides than I do about the prisoners I've covered, but my condolences go out to their families, friends and colleagues as well. I have also survived the suicide of a loved one - my ex-partner, who was also my friend and colleague through the many years I worked with people who were homeless in Michigan. He sat down in front of a train. Losing him - particularly that way - was devastating to our entire community. I imagine the officers' deaths hit their respective communities hard as well.

This post is for those still here and struggling to survive. Don't give up hope, no matter where you are or where you're heading. Even in prison there is always a role you can play to make this a better world - and we need all the help we can get these days.

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