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, December 13, 2010

Does CCA have the Strength to Love? Do We?

This is an amazing woman. Marian is the president of the Children's Defense Fund, where you can find a breakdown of the "Cradle-to-prison-pipeline" as well as other very useful data on the health and welfare of Arizona youth.


Commodification of Offenders: The Prison Industrial Complex
Black Star News
Marian Wright Edelman
December 10,2010

A few months ago a group of earnest and determined stockholders traveled together by bus from Washington, D.C. to Nashville, Tennessee to attend a shareholders’ meeting.

On the surface, it sounded like a fairly ordinary trip, but this was an unusual group on an extraordinary mission. The shareholders’ meeting was for the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the largest private prison company in the country; and the group of shareholders included ex-offenders who now each hold one share of stock in CCA to get an ownership stake in some of the same prisons that once held them captive.

They attended the meeting in hopes of sharing their perspective on how the privatized prison industry can better serve society by rehabilitating inmates rather than just serving its own profits by perpetuating the prison cycle.

The group, part of Washington, D.C.’s Church of the Saviour, is named Strength to Love, after the title of one of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s sermon collections.

Its members, who include ex-offenders, their families, and members of the wider community who are concerned about incarceration and reentry, explain their mission this way:

“The privatized, for-profit prison industry is particularly plagued by a conflict of interest at its core: On the one hand, the industry is responsible to its shareholders to make money, and its income is determined by how many beds are filled. On the other hand, its civil responsibility to the inmates and to the whole of society is to help incarcerated people become their intended selves, and to prepare them to succeed upon release. It is well established that services and programs like job training and education serve to lower the occurrence of re-offense. But it is better for the company’s bottom line to minimize staff and services, let the inmates succeed or fail on their own terms, and reap the financial benefits of strict sentencing laws and high rates of recidivism. It is this experience of exploitation, frequently referred to as a modern day form of slavery, that many members of Strength to Love have personally experienced, and which we have been called to dismantle.”

The trip—or as they called it, mission—to Nashville for a CCA meeting was their first test of participating in a shareholders’ meeting. It is a creative approach to dismantling an industry that is the endpoint of America’s Cradle to Prison Pipeline crisis that is threatening the social and racial progress of the past 50 years.

Reliance on punishment and incarceration too often as a first rather than last resort has given the U.S. the largest prison population in the world. In 2009, the United States’ inmate population of 2.3 million prisoners exceeded China’s whose population is more than four times larger.

John Jay College of Criminal Justice President Jeremy Travis, one of the nation’s leading scholars on prisoner reentry, documented in his book But They All Come Back: Facing the Challenges of Prisoner Reentry that preparing ex-offenders for a successful transition benefits not just ex-offenders but society as a whole.

But most often ex-offenders who have served their sentences get little help as they return to their communities. For the estimated 650,000 federal and state ex-offenders who have gone to prison and are released each year, he says, “the odds against successful reentry are daunting. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, two-thirds of released [state] prisoners will be rearrested for one or more crimes, including felonies and serious misdemeanors, within three years after they get out of prison. Nearly half will be convicted of a new crime.”

Ineffective prisoner rehabilitation and unsuccessful reentry have dire consequences for children. A recent report by the Pew Charitable Trusts estimated that 2.7 million minor children have a mother or father behind bars. That is approximately 1.8 percent of White, 3.5 percent of Latino, and 11 percent of Black children. Pew reports that on average, incarceration is associated with a 40 percent decline in family earnings. Before finding themselves behind bars, two-thirds of male inmates were employed, and more than half were the primary source of income for their children. Improving the outcomes of ex-offenders will enable them to provide the stability that is so critical for their children.

As Travis and others have noted, there are public policies that can improve the chances of successful reentry. Most start by preparing people for a positive, productive life after prison while they are still incarcerated. Producing fewer ex-offenders who become “churners” by returning to prison for committing new crimes seems to benefit all of us—except, perhaps, those who profit from the prison industry.

The private prison industry is already a powerful, fast-growing threat. NPR and other news organizations recently documented how prison lobbyists quietly helped write and pass Arizona’s strict immigration law, SB 1070, and are now trying to help with copycat bills across the country. Specifically, the Corrections Corporation of America saw an opportunity to profit from building prisons for undocumented immigrants in Arizona, and drafted the bill with State Senator Russell Pearce at a convening of legislators, businesses, and associations in Washington D.C. in December, 2009. Five months later, SB 1070 was signed into law. A billion-dollar corporation like CCA has its own priorities—but we must stand for ours.

We must reverse the trend that has created an America with less than five percent of the world’s population but over a quarter of the world’s prisoners. And we must dismantle the pipeline to prison that places one in three Black and one in six Hispanic boys born in 2001 at risk of incarceration in their lifetime. It is completely unacceptable that in our rich nation the only thing we will guarantee every child is a jail or detention cell after she or he gets into trouble. It’s time to guarantee all of them health care, a fair chance to get ready for and achieve in school, and safe and stimulating summer and after school programs with quality caring teacher-mentors.

We need to end the galloping poverty that leaves them hungry and homeless and hopeless. We need jobs in their future so they can see that school leads somewhere. It’s time for a critical mass of Americans to demand and work for a fundamental paradigm shift which prevents and breaks up the Cradle to Prison Pipeline and makes successful prisoner reentry a more likely by-product.

Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children's Defense Fund "Speaking Truth To Empower."

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