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, March 18, 2011

Protect ALL American prisoners from rape.

From Prison Fellowship, a good summary of the damage that Holder's proposed Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) standards may do. This is really disappointing - especially the rule that exempts immigration facilities from having to comply with the law.

Why in the hell would the feds say it's okay for immigrants in detention facilities to be raped?! That's hideous! Most women in ICE prisons are pregnant by rape. The entire Latino community should be up in arms with us - where is Puente (you can help by asking them to look into this / (602) 314 – 5870)? Look at some of these articles:

Please follow the links below (and here) to submit your comments on the proposed PREA standards before the April 4 deadline.



Attorney General Weakens Prison Rape Standards


Dear friends,

Attorney General Eric Holder has significantly weakened the standards proposed by the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission to combat prison rapes. Without strong standards to hold prison officials accountable for ending prison rape, inmates will continue to be victimized by sexual predators. The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that 124 adult and juvenile inmates are sexually assaulted in US prisons every day.

There is still time to convince the AG to put teeth back in the standards, but you have to act quickly. Letters commenting on the AG's changes to the standards are due by April 4. I hope each of you will write the Attorney General and express your outrage that the process Congress established to enact tough standards has resulted in weak and ineffective protections. Go here to write the Attorney General today.

Here are just a few of the ways the Attorney General weakened the standards:

Allows Cross Gender Pat Downs

The Bureau of Justice Statistics has found that a significant number of sexual assaults begin with aggressive pat downs by officers of the opposite sex. This is such a major problem that most prison systems and jails prohibit pat downs by officers of the opposite sex absent exigent circumstances. The Commission banned them unless there is a bona fide emergency. Yet, the Attorney General’s standards allow cross gender pat downs.

No Prison Rape Standards for Immigration Prisons

The Attorney General ruled that immigration prisons (ICE) do not have to comply with any of the prison rape standards. Horrible rapes and assaults have occurred in ICE prisons. Yet, the AG has exempted them from the standards. If Mr. Holder felt that the DOJ did not have authority over the ICE prisons, he should have asked Congress to give him that authority, and Congress would have done it with no hesitation. Remember, the original Prison Rape Elimination Act was passed unanimously by both houses of Congress when the DOJ clearly had authority over immigration. Under the AG's rule, tens of thousands of foreign detainees are subject to sexual predators, and there are no standards to hold authorities accountable for protecting them.

Prison Systems May Audit Themselves

For standards to be effective, prisons' compliance should be audited by an outside organization. The Commission's standards required: that all facilities be audited; that audits must be conducted at least every three years by independent and qualified auditors; that the auditors have access to all parts of facilities and all documents; and, that the audits are made available to the legislature and the public.

The Attorney General allows agencies to audit themselves with no guarantee of access to facilities and documents. He suggests that random checks might be instituted in place of individual audits of every facility. He also suggests that audits might be required only if cause is shown. That is a recipe for disaster. "If it isn't counted, it isn't done" is a reality in every bureaucracy, and prisons are no exception. The AG’s revisions of the standards make an accurate monitoring of compliance with the standards very hard to accomplish, allows possibly biased auditors and allows the results to be hidden from the public.

No Need To Actually Protect Inmates - Having a Plan is Enough

The Commission's standards require a Zero Tolerance Policy, and that it be enforced in each facility to provide a basic level of safety for inmates. The AG also requires a Zero Tolerance Policy, but he removes the requirement that it be enforced and substitutes a requirement that the prisons outline its approach to prevention. There is no requirement that the plan be enforced; only that they have a plan. The AG does not require that inmates actually are protected, but only that there be a plan to do so. And what is the consequence if the plan is not implemented? Well, they have to develop another plan. This is not a standard at all, but merely a call for planning.

Estimated Costs Are Grossly Inflated

The Prison Rape Elimination Act wisely provided that the Attorney General shall not establish a national standard ‘‘that would impose substantial additional costs compared to the costs presently expended by Federal, State, and local prison authorities.’’ Congress didn’t want a “runaway” commission to impose absurdly expensive requirements on prisons such as mandating that all prisons be replaced with new construction. However, the AG has significantly exaggerated the costs of complying with the Commission’s standards.

For example, they interpreted standard PP7 to require electronic surveillance. That is not what the Commission’s standard requires, and it is clear from the record that our standards did not mandate that. The proposed standard merely says that electronic surveillance should be considered as one method of protecting inmates. By misinterpreting the standard, DOJ inflated the upfront costs to 24x the actual costs. Take out the amount caused by their erroneous interpretation (which they admit is 96% of the upfront costs) and the total upfront cost is reduced to a $260 million, out of a total of $70 billion spent on prisons this year. That is, to start complying with the Commission’s standards it will cost prisons and jails a mere .00371 of total spending on prisons – or less than 4/10ths of 1%. For the AG to say that this amounts to “a substantial cost” compared to the costs of all prisons is laughable.

Why Would the AG Weaken the Standards?

It is difficult to imagine that an Attorney General with so much experience in the justice system would not understand the magnitude of rape in our prisons, and would underestimate the damage in human terms caused by our prisons’ failure to protect inmates from sexual aggression. So, why would Eric Holder propose to weaken the standards? The explanation I have been told by people close to the professional staff at DOJ is that the career employees were planning to recommend only minor changes to the Commission’s standards. However, the “political people” took it out of their hands and caved in to pressure from the unions that represent prison employees. It appears that with an eye toward 2012, the unions held sway. If that is true, it is a sad day for the Department of Justice and a very sad day for inmates who will continue to be prey to sexual predators.

A telling comment on the AG’s proposed standards came from a question by a renowned expert on prisons, “On the day after the new standards go into effect, what will the Federal Bureau of Prisons have to do that is different than what it does now?” Shockingly, the DOJ employees could not think of a single thing.

The former members of the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission will hold a press conference on March 23 to express their strong opposition to the changes the Attorney General has made to their recommended standards. These diverse commissioners, who spent several years studying the scandal of prison rape and learning the best ways to prevent it, are united in urging the public to join them in opposing the weakening of the standards.

There is still time to press the Attorney General to change course and adopt stronger standards. Federal law allows the public to submit comments until April 4. Please go to our website where you can send a letter to the Attorney General immediately.

No prison sentence, no matter how heinous the crime, includes being raped. It is our responsibility to protect those who cannot speak for themselves.

In His service,

Pat Nolan
Vice-President, Prison Fellowship


Justice Fellowship Prison Rape Page

Justice Department’s proposed rules

National Prison Rape Elimination Commission Standards

National Prison Rape Elimination Act law


Spread the Word

Talk with your family and friends about why we must combat rape in our prisons and jails.

  • Correctional facilities across the country struggle to protect the men, women, and children confined within their walls. Approximately 60,500 sexual assaults occur in our state and federal prisons each year. This is roughly 4.5 percent of the U.S. prison and jail population. More inmates report sexual abuse from prison staff than from fellow inmates. (Sexual Victimization in State and Federal Prisons Reported by Inmates, 2007, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2007)

  • No matter how bad the crime, just punishment never includes rape.

  • Because the government removes offenders’ every means of self-defense when they enter prison, the government has an obligation to protect these vulnerable people.

  • Corrections administrators are responsible to create prison cultures with zero tolerance for prison rape. Administrators must clearly communicate with their staff that all rape is unacceptable. Staff must be trained on how to prevent inmate-on-inmate rape and inmates must be trained to know their rights under the law to report and prosecute sexual assault. (Strategies to Prevent Prison Rape by Changing the Correctional Culture, National Institute of Justice, 2008)

  • Far too many prison staff who rape inmates are not prosecuted because inmates are too scared to report the assault or prison officers do not care. Prisons must create effective processes for inmates to report assault and must investigate and prosecute all incidents. (National Prison Rape Elimination Commission Report, 2009)

  • The damage done by prison rape does not stay behind bars. The disease, the psychological damage, and the desire for revenge caused by prison rape come back to plague our communities when prisoners are released. (Addressing Sexual Violence in Prisons, The Urban Institute, 2006

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