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, September 1, 2010

Free Marcia Powell...

This is sickening. Arizona "justice" at work again. My own comments (left on the PHX New Times site) are at the end.

Marcia Powell's Death Unavenged: County Attorney Passes on Prosecuting Prison Staff

Categories: Feathered Bastard

The Maricopa County Attorney's Office has chosen not to prosecute Arizona Department of Corrections staff in the death of inmate Marcia Powell.

Powell, 48, died May 20, 2009, after being kept in a human cage in Goodyear's Perryville Prison for at least four hours in the blazing Arizona sun. This, despite a prison policy limiting such outside confinement to a maximum of two hours.

The county medical examiner found the cause of death to be due to complications from heat exposure. Her core body temperature upon examination was 108 degrees Fahrenheit. She suffered burns and blisters all over her body.

Witnesses say she was repeatedly denied water by corrections officers, though the c.o.'s deny this. The weather the day she collapsed from the heat (May 19 -- she died in the early morning hours of May 20) arched just above a 107 degree high.

According to a 3,000 page report released by the ADC, she pleaded to be taken back inside, but was ignored. Similarly, she was not allowed to use the restroom. When she was found unconscious, her body was covered with excrement from soiling herself.

Powell, who was serving a 27-month sentence for prostitution, actually expired after being transported to West Valley Hospital, where acting ADC Director Charles Ryan made the decision to have her life support suspended.

(Ryan lacked the authority to do this, but that's another story, which you can read about, here.)

ADC conducted its own criminal investigation into Powell's agonizing demise. The information I have indicates that ADC submitted its conclusions to the county attorney earlier this year. (Please see update below.) ADC was seeking charges of negligent homicide against at least seven c.o.'s, as well as related charges against other prison staff.

Why didn't the county attorney's office pursue those charges? Apparently, they didn't think they could prevail in court.

County attorney spokesman Bill Fitzgerald issued the following terse statement.

"There is insufficient evidence to go forward with a prosecution against any of the named individuals," he e-mailed me, declining to elaborate further.

Donna Hamm of the advocacy group Middle Ground Prison Reform wasn't buying it.

"Having read the bulk of those 3,000 pages of reports," she told me, "if someone in a prosecutorial position can't find a crime in those pages, they have absolutely no credibility in my opinion."

Hamm noted that guards passed Powell several times throughout her stay in the cage, and that some mocked her pleas for water. As for c.o. claims that Powell was given water, Hamm countered that Powell's eyes "were as dry as parchment," and that the autopsy results show there was no sign of hydration.

Hamm was incredulous that the county attorney couldn't find enough evidence to bring charges.

"It's just beyond comprehension," she stated. "This is the same office that has prosecuted mothers who left their babies in a couple of inches of water to go outside and take a cell phone call or look in the mail."

She also cited the case of "Buffalo Soldier" Charles Long, who was prosecuted by the MCAO for negligent homicide in the 2001 death of a kid who had enrolled in his program for troubled teens and died after being exposed to the heat and put in a bath, where he inhaled water.

The ADC did make some reforms in the wake of Powell's death. It was discovered that the cages were being used to control unruly prisoners, and the ADC claims this practice has stopped. However, Hamm says she has uncovered a case of a man in a Tucson facility who, earlier this year, was held all day and overnight in an outside cage.

Some 16 prison employees were sanctioned in one way or another as a result of the Powell incident, and some were fired. But Hamm says she believes some of those sanctioned have been reinstated.

The outdoor cages are still in use, but have been retrofitted to provide shade, misters, water stations, and benches, which, ironically, Hamm says are metal, and would thus soak up the heat. She's toured ADC facilities to see the redone cages, and admits that changes are positive, but too late to save Powell's life, obviously.

"All the retrofitting in the world is worthless if the staff doesn't follow the policy," she insisted.

Powell had been diagnosed as mentally ill, and was on more than one psychotropic drug, drugs that increased her sensitivity to heat, sunlight and lack of water. All the more reason, according to Hamm, that prison staff should be held accountable.

The only next of kin that was located for Powell was an aged, adoptive mother in California, who had not had contact with Powell for years, and did not want to take possession of the remains.

So, with the help of Hamm and others, Powell's ashes were interred last year at Phoenix's Shadow Rock Church of Christ.

Brophy College Preparatory School also dedicated a plaque to Powell on school grounds this year.

But with no one with standing to bring a federal lawsuit (Hamm says the deadline for a state lawsuit has expired), and with the MCAO unwilling to bring a case against those responsible for Powell's well-being, there looks to be no justice for the schizophrenic deceased woman.

I asked Hamm what this means for the case.

"It means they've gotten away with the most colossal example of brutality I have seen against a female prisoner in the history of the Arizona Department of Corrections," remarked Hamm, adding, "And they got off scot-free."

Update, 9/1/10 2:29 PM: ADC spokesman Barrett Marson told me today that the ADC submitted its criminal investigation to the MCAO back on August 20, 2009. He said he did not know if the ADC asked for charges on certain employees.


So, the county attorney can put a mentally ill, incapacitated woman in prison for 27 months for a blow job, but can't even come up with a single misdemeanor out of the 16 people who killed her?

The women out at Perryville are still getting neglected and abused as if nothing ever happened - and some of those staff got their fucking jobs back. Here's the people responsible for those appeals - Marcia's life was worth less than this woman's job security, apparently. I think we should all converge on the next meeting these people have - if they'd post it. They just had one yesterday and the minutes or next meeting aren't up, so here's their phone # (602) 542-3888.

From the AZ State Personnel Board, June 15, 2010:

The Arizona State Personnel Board meeting was called to order by Chair Jim Thompson at 1:36 p.m. The meeting was held at 1400 West Washington Street, Suite 280, Phoenix, Arizona. Board members present were Jim Thompson, Stella Galaviz, Patrick Quinn, and Joseph Smith. Board member Mark Ziska was present telephonically. Staff members in attendance were Jeff Bernick, Counsel for the Board; Judy Henkel, Executive Director for the Board; and Laurie Barcelona, Administrative Assistant for the Board.

Mr. Thompson called for public comments. There being no comments, the board proceeded to consider the approval of the minutes from the May 19, 2010 open public meeting. Patrick Quinn moved the minutes be adopted as written. Mark Ziska and Joseph Smith simultaneously seconded the motion which carried unanimously.

The board next considered the dismissal appeal of Electra Allen versus Department of Corrections.

Martin Bihn, Attorney at Law representing Electra Allen, stated the hearing officer recommended the dismissal be reduced to an 80 hour suspension without pay. He stated there were three contacts for which Ms. Allen was allegedly dismissed. Mr. Bihn stated the first contact was when Ms. Allen was told by a CO III that Inmate Powell was on medication and should not be in the sun. He stated the hearing officer found the CO III was the responsible officer who should have taken some action. Mr. Bihn stated the second issue was when Inmate Powell yelled she wanted to talk to Dr. Kaz, Ms. Allen asked the inmate why, Inmate Powell stated she wanted to know when she was going to be transferred, Ms. Allen called on her radio, found out the transfer would occur shortly, and that was the end of the conversation. He stated the hearing officer found Ms. Allen’s version of events to be accurate and the allegation was not a basis for discipline. Mr. Bihn stated the third basis for discipline was that Ms. Allen just prior to shift change stopped by and saw Inmate Powell had defecated on herself. He stated instead of staying overtime, Ms. Allen informed the oncoming shift of what had occurred and she left for the day. Mr. Bihn stated the hearing officer felt that action warranted discipline but not termination. He stated there were many players involved in the death of the inmate, but Electra Allen was not directly responsible as the agency was attempting to make her out to be. Mr. Bihn urged the board to adopt the Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law and sustain the hearing officer’s recommendation of an 80 hour suspension without pay.

Dennis Carpenter, Assistant Attorney General representing the Department of Corrections, stated Electra Allen had three opportunities to intervene in Inmate Powell’s situation and possibly save her life. He stated at approximately 12:00 p.m. Ms. Allen was told by the counselor that Inmate Powell was on medication and should not be left out in the sun, yet Ms. Allen did nothing with that information. Mr. Carpenter stated a short time later Inmate Powell asked Ms. Allen if she could speak with Dr. Kaz but Ms. Allen just told Inmate Powell that she would be moved soon. Ms. Allen did not notify medical that there had been a request for the doctor to speak with the inmate. He stated at 1:50 p.m. Ms. Allen went to an area near the enclosure where Inmate Powell was being held and she noticed that Inmate Powell had defecated on herself. Mr. Carpenter stated Ms. Allen just left for the day, did nothing to clean up Inmate Powell, nor did she tell anyone Inmate Powell needed to be cleaned up. He stated the hearing officer found this action did not lead directly to the inmate’s death but the agency disagrees. Mr. Carpenter stated if Ms. Allen had at 1:50 p.m. taken Inmate Powell into the bathroom and cleaned her up, Inmate Powell probably would not have collapsed 40 minutes later and died. He stated the agency believed Ms. Allen’s actions led directly to the death of Inmate Powell and warranted termination.

There being no discussion, Joseph Smith proposed the following motion:

"I would move that we adopt the hearing officer’s Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law as our own. I would then move that the appellant’s appeal be upheld to the extent the agency action of dismissal be modified to a suspension of 160 hours without pay, and that all back pay and benefits be restored to her save and except those during the above suspension, those equal to any unemployment benefits received since dismissal, and those received at the time of dismissal. I would further move that the appellant be returned to the same exact position she held prior to her dismissal, including the same work location, duties, job title, salary, and benefits if said position is currently available. In the event the appellant’s former position is not available, the agency shall return the appellant to substantially equivalent a position as is currently available with equivalent benefits, pay, and other terms and conditions of employment.”

The motion was seconded by Patrick Quinn and carried with aye votes from Joseph Smith, Patrick Quinn, and Jim Thompson. Mark Ziska and Stella Galaviz voted nay.

One more comment: Those officers - agents of the law - who killed Marcia are the violent criminals, not the Arpaio 5 who they're trying to prosecute as such. The county attorney's office seems to be as screwed up as it was under Thomas. So much for protecting the People - they just protect their own. Here's their phone number too: (602) 506-3411. Please call tomorrow - don't just vent here.

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