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, December 22, 2010

"Sentencing in Arizona" Report from ASU College of Law

The following article comes straight from the ASU Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law News at ASU...

Thank you Camille Tilley for the tip, and thank you ASU and Professor Hessick for this extremely intelligent report (I'd like to study with you if I ever make it to law school).


Public Policy Incubator Program releases report: ‘Sentencing in Arizona’

Carissa Byrne Hessick
The Public Policy Incubator Program at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University, tackling the issue of the state’s skyrocketing prison costs and a high crime rate, has released a report, “Sentencing in Arizona: Recommendations to Reduce Costs and Crime.”

The report proposes several changes, including increasing pretrial diversion programs, expanding mandatory probation for drug possession, requiring drug treatment programs to use practices proven to reduce repeat offenses, establishing a statewide system of mental health courts with specialized public defenders to deal with mentally ill defendants, and encouraging plea bargaining. It also suggests creation of a Sentencing Commission to collect data, study successful sentencing reform in other states and suggest further changes to the Legislature.

“Adopting these proposals will not only reduce the costs of incarceration,” the report states. “In reducing recidivism, they will also reduce the other costs associated with crime, such as the costs of court, law enforcement, and the damage suffered by crime victims.”

Read the report here.

The report was prepared by Carissa Byrne Hessick, Associate Professor of Law, and six College of Law students: Chaz Ball, Matthew Binford, Kevin Brady, Adam Reich, Jason David Swenson, Henry Edward Whitmer.

“While working on this project, our students discovered that, although many states have spent years developing programs designed to reduce the costs of imprisonment and the occurrence of crime, Arizona is essentially in a political deadlock that has stymied multiple efforts at sentencing reform,” Hessick said. “In contrast, Texas, for example, engaged in serious reform beginning in 2005, which not only allowed the state to avoid building new prisons, but also reduced its crime rates.”

The Public Policy Incubator Program is a new initiative by the College of Law in which students and faculty work with not-for-profits, governments, and the private sector, on major local, regional, national, and international public policy problems.

“Part of the obligation of a public law school is to engage in useful, practical research on the key challenges facing our region and our world,” said Dean Paul Schiff Berman. “Already students from the College of Law are working on such challenges in many settings and with many collaborators. This work both contributes to the world and trains future lawyers in how to engage with public policy issues.”

The Incubator Program chose to research the issue of sentencing reform because the Arizona Legislature is working on the issue. The report was cited by Cecil Ash, R-Mesa, chairman of the House Study Committee on Sentencing at a hearing today (Dec. 14).

“Because the state legislature was also considering the topic of sentencing reform, it seemed like a good problem to ask our students to tackle,” Hessick said. “Arizona State University graduates a significant number of students who go on to work in the criminal justice system. The Public Policy Incubator Program allowed those students to spend a semester researching the system they are about to become a part of, to identify some of the system’s shortcomings, and to propose some serious practical reforms.”

Statistics cited in the report note that, over the past 30 years, while Arizona’ population increased by 150 percent, the state’s prison population grew by more than 1,000 percent, and is projected to continue to increase. In 1979, less than 5 percent of the state’s general fund expenditures went to the Department of Corrections, but in 2011, that figure will be more than 11 percent, or $949 million. New prison facilities will cost an additional $975 million.

The report also notes that, while prisons are very expensive, they are not very effective, and Arizona has one of the highest rates of serious crime in the country.

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