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, January 21, 2011

Deaths in Custody: Smoke, Fire and Ronald Richie.

Soon after the Arizona Department of Corrections informed the media of the December 29, 2010 death of Ronald Richie at ASPC-Lewis/Buckley, I received information from two sources that it was a suspected homicide and posted it as such. 

I've since received conflicting information that Ronald took his own life - though I can't yet get the ADC to confirm or deny that (they dryly told me to check back when the investigation is done in 4 months). Therefore, I took my initial post on the matter down this week. My apologies to Ronald Richie's family and friends for any confusion or distress that post may have caused, and condolences for your loss.

I was reluctant to remove that post largely because of the evidence I've seen that the ADC has treated at least two probable homicides in the past two years as something else - and because they wouldn't come out and deny that they were looking at Richie's death as a possible homicide. In the current context of skyrocketing suicides and homicides at the ADC, how that fellow died means something to more than just his family. Whether it was due to negligent staff, ineffective or damaging departmental policy, the shoddy state of mental health care in our prisons, the inability of prison leadership to get a grip on the violence, or all of the above, it was not an isolated incident. 

The conditions resulting in the escalating lethal violence and suicides in our state prisons under Director Ryan affects everyone inside (including officers), as well as all those who love them. There's something to be said for allowing the ADC time to do their job right, but once they put out the initial death notices on someone, they never follow it up with another public release. They pretty much count on no one but the victim's family caring about their demise. Read the vicious comments in the media following articles about prisoner deaths and you'll see why. The ADC fans the flames of vindictiveness and ignorance by the way they manipulate data and mis-represent  just who they're holding prisoner and how those folks are dying in their care.

By obscuring the realities of the conditions of our prisons today, the ADC also condemns many more to be sent there not for punishment, but for "care". Many judges, prosecutors, and even public defenders seem to think that the more vulnerable public nuisances we no longer hospitalize or treat in the community for mental illness (Marcia Powell and Shannon Palmer come quickly to mind) will at least be "safe" and get the medical and mental health "treatment" they need in prison. The ADC Criminal Investigation Unit reports I've read recently on prisoner deaths since 2006 are evidence that the courts' - and the public's - trust has been misplaced, even betrayed. No one is safe in AZ state prisons (or our county jails) - especially not the seriously mentally ill.

Someone with more resources and investigative skills than myself needs to expose what the ADC is maintaining under a veil of secrecy. We desperately need the DOJ and ACLU National Prisons Project to step up now, as prisoners are still dying and our mainstream media has no apparent interest in taking this monster on. Please contact them.

As for Ronald Richie's death:

Carl Toersbijns, a former Deputy Warden at ASPC-Eyman for the ADC, has much better sources than I do, however, and identified Richie's death as a suicide in his own blog. He had some very worthwhile comments to go with his report, which I'm posting below. He's been working diligently to try to get the ADC to reform their policies and practices around the treatment of prisoners with serious mental illness and those at risk for both suicide and homicide, and has a number of interesting posts both at Associated Content and the Arizona Republic - they're all worth reading. 

Carl's analyses of the problems at the ADC are particularly useful because of his intimate knowledge of not only institutional policies and practices, but also the ADC's culture. Anyone investigating the dramatic rise in prisoner suicides and homicides at the ADC since Governor Brewer took office should track him down. Here are some of his recent thoughts in the wake of the death of prisoner Ronald Richie...


There's No Smoke Without Fire

High Suicide Rates Inside of Prison Draws Smoke Plums in Arizona Skies

By Carl ToersBijns
Associated Content
December 30, 2010

Reading the newspaper yesterday, it was posted that another inmate committed suicide at the Lewis prison facility making this a very common event within the last two years. The Arizona Republic wrote "An inmate died Wednesday while in the custody at a Buckeye prison, the Arizona Department of Corrections said Ronald Richie, 42, was serving a life sentence and was being held at the Buckley Unit of the Arizona State Prison Complex-Lewis in Buckeye, authorities said." One must ask the question, is this death an accomplice of the many fires [deaths] burning within the prisons or is it an isolated burn. According to the agency's own record, there have been 10 inmate deaths recorded within a 60 day period. Reflecting at the entire list, there are over 100 inmate deaths recorded in the past 2 years.

Realizing that during the holidays, depression is common and often the main reason for someone taking their own life, it has also come to mind that perhaps not all deaths inside the Arizona prison system can be simple explained as a suicide caused by depression. Recent studies show that Arizona prisons appear incarcerated mentally disabled persons at a much higher than other systems on a national average. In fact, it is very probable that these overcrowded and understaffed prison conditions are contributing to the high rate without any specific intervention or prevention by staff trained for such crisis management. Looking at the agency's death list creates an impression of uncontrolled burning within the system. So as we notice the plumes of smoke coming from the different prisons around the state, we must wonder where the fire is and what is causing this plume of smoke rise so high into the sky. What is starting the fire that is creating all this smoke?

Metaphorically speaking, a fire needs three things to exist. The first being a supply of oxygen, the second being an igniter and the third is fuel. Putting this in simple terms the creation of combustion of creating a fire [death] inside a prison is very simple and very easily accessible by many who choose to make a fire. In prison, the igniter is the negligence or lack of the appropriate level of services related to mental health programs available to these general population inmates. The fuel is the overcrowding and neglect of treatment for mentally disabled inmates and the fact that many are not compliant with their medication, if indeed, they have been diagnosed and treated with medicine. Third the oxygen is the environment that breeds contempt and inciting of violence and disorder eliminating any hopes of recovery for such depressed individuals for their disorder or illness.

One of the solutions to this problem is to remove one of those three elements to douse the fire and eliminate the continued rising of smoke. The ignition tool can be removed by implementing sound mental health treatment programs at all custody levels for the mentally disabled. The fuel can be controlled ensuring they are compliant with their medication. The oxygen can be removed changing the living environment thus changing the social culture and training of staff to address these mentally disabled inmates' needs so they can intervene, prevent and detect these critical masses before someone takes their own life. It has been established the peer pressure by other inmates not mentally disabled [and perhaps sociopaths by behavior] can create or cause an enormous amount of pressure on a mentally ill inmate and requires them to be moved to another location to avoid injury or harm that is imminent if he remains.

A Roman author said "A rolling stone can gather no moss" and the message is clear. The agency must continue to move ahead with more mental health intervention methods to address this crisis. The recent establishment of the behavioral management unit inside the maximum custody unit at Browning is the beginning of a trend that will allow the agency to address mental illness within their custodial responsibilities as prescribed by law. This will address the negative impacts of "solitary confinement" factors. Today, the prison administration needs to make a commitment to expand those services to all mentally disabled inmates at all the prison complexes incarcerated and allow them the treatment they deserve under their constitutional rights to be treated humanely and appropriately. A timely effort will prevent more work later.

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