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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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Juvenile justice: kids for cash judge Ciavarella convicted.

This "kids for cash" scandal is what happens when communities turn a blind eye to the tragedy and deaf ear to the protests of those caught up in the criminal justice system. I don't know why people think this kind of thing doesn't happen in America to adults and kids alike, and that no one is in prison here who doesn't really "belong" there. The extraordinary thing is that this guy was finally busted. Look at all the lives he trashed in the people's name in the meantime, though - with taxpayer dollars, confidence and blessings. When will we finally get it that donning robes alone don't make men just, and the discretion of judges can't always be trusted?

So, what is it about prison privatization that economic developers think is so good for us again?


Juvenile Law Center (Philadelphia)

Ciavarella found guilty on 12 of 39 charges: Juvenile Law Center responds to guilty verdict

In 2007, a frantic call from an alarmed parent prompted Juvenile Law Center to investigate irregularities in the Luzerne County Pennsylvania juvenile court. Juvenile Law Center discovered that hundreds of children were appearing without attorneys before juvenile court judge Mark Ciavarella, and were then quickly adjudicated delinquent (found guilty) and sent to out-of-home placements for very minor offenses. In 2008, after further investigation, Juvenile Law Center petitioned the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to identify those children and vacate and expunge their records. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court initially denied that request.

The U.S. Attorney later filed federal criminal charges against Ciavarella and another Luzerne County judge for accepting nearly $2.9 million in alleged kickbacks from the developer and former owner of two private for-profit juvenile facilities in exchange for placing children in these facilities through the Luzerne County juvenile court process.

The conspiracy lasted from 2003 to 2008, involving as many as 6,500 juvenile cases and as many as 4,000 individual children. Over 50% of the children who appeared before Ciavarella did not have an attorney and 50 to 60% of these unrepresented children were placed outside their homes. Many of these children were sent to one or both of the two facilities involved in the alleged kickback scheme. The vast majority of children were charged with low-level misdemeanor offenses.

This clip, taken from a 2009 episode of ABC's "20/20," features the stories of some of these children and their families:


In 2009, after learning of the illegal kickback scandal, Juvenile Law Center returned to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and asked the Court to vacate and clear the records of all of the youth who appeared in tainted juvenile proceedings before Ciavarella. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted Juvenile Law Center's request and issued an order to vacate and expunge the juvenile adjudications and records of all of the thousands of youth who appeared before Ciavarella between 2003 and 2008. [Visit our State Supreme Court Litigation page for more information.]

Recognizing that the children and families experienced significant emotional and financial harm as a result of their unlawful adjudications and placements, Juvenile Law Center, along with pro bono co-counsel Hangley Aronchick Segal and Pudlin, filed a federal class action lawsuit on behalf of children who were adjudicated or placed by Ciavarella, as well as on behalf of their parents. The lawsuit seeks monetary damages from the former judges, private facilities, and the developer under federal civil rights laws and the federal Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. [Visit our Federal Civil Class Action Lawsuit page for more information].

Juvenile Law Center is also working to reform Pennsylvania’s juvenile justice system to ensure that tragedies like those that occurred in Luzerne County’s juvenile courts are never repeated. [Visit our State Legislation and Reform page for more information.]

As a result of their involvement in the corrupt “kids-for-cash” conspiracy, Michael Conahan, Robert Powell (the owner of the facilities), and Robert Mericle (the developer) pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges; former judge Mark Ciavarella is scheduled to go to trial in February 2011. [Visit our Federal Criminal Charges page for more information.]

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