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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AZ Prison Watch BLOG POSTS:

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Truth-in-Sentencing, Arizona: one in ten youth will be sexually abused the first year in juvenile prison.

This is profoundly tragic. This kid was in state prison for shoplifting and drug use - that's a real problem, given who the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections touts as their main customers: "the worst of the worst young criminals in the state." I have yet to see any of the real bad guys get abused in prison, but we shrug off reports like this one as if they're freak accidents and only the criminals we love to hate get hurt badly. Thank god the judge let the kid go home after all this.

Judges should be ordered to read aloud at sentencing the risks they expose each child to if they plan to lock them up - beginning with the one in every ten kids who will be sexually abused the first year they're in the system.
Then when a child is raped or suicides in custody, the judge should be held civilly liable for the risk they knowingly, explicitly subjected them to as part of their punishment.

The judiciary can't possibly think that juvenile detention centers are really therapeutic rehabilitation facilites to send children to - which is why the AzDJC calls places like Adobe Mountain "Safe Schools", instead of what they are: child prisons. It makes the prospect of committing a child there more palatable to the well-intended. They're really prison prep schools, though, and come complete with gangs, drugs, and sexual abuse - as well as child-size prison uniforms, stark cells, handcuffs and shackles.

We just pack a bunch of naive, emotionally impaired kids in with a few real disturbed thugs to justify keeping those places open at all, then indoctrinate them into a culture that leaves them few options for roles and self-image to choose from outside of the criminal justice paradigm populated by distinctly-defined "criminals", "victims", and cops.

Most children who have been criminalized and institutionalized are also survivors of abuse already, and grow up with unresolved trauma issues that lead to self-medicating with drugs - and then prison again. It is not uncommon for their involvement with the juvenile justice system to be the greater source of trauma than their adolescent participation in crime was, though.

This kid, for one, was hardly safe - and the truth is that when this kind of thing happens it hardly ever hits the press, so the public is lulled into thinking that violence in the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections is not the rule. Prisons RUN on violence and the threat of it to coerce compliance, though, people. They are authoritarian police institutions - do not send children there and expect them to come out healthy. If they do, they are the exception to the rule, not the other way around.

Sentencing practices should be closely monitored for all critical outcomes - not only recidivism, but suicide, homicide, further victimization, sexual exploitation: once we start treating kids like criminals, we seem to stop caring about all other aspects of their lives but whether or not they remain criminals...nurturing little but prison culture, stigmatization, and a negative self-image in the process.

Don't believe them for a minute when they tell you they have to be like that because of the serious pathology of their youth - the worst are still out getting away with it. The kids the AzDJC really have the most of are the ones who got caught and were too poor to swing their own attorneys - a good many of whom were low-level, non-violent drug offenders who just kept relapsing on probation, and everyone knows that a bunch of the kids we throw into juvie should have gone through mental health treatment, not the criminal justice system - and would have but for the lack of funds for public mental health services in this state. Those kids couldn't get into a residential treatment program unless they were first criminalized (that must be a violation of the Olmstead Act) - and then they ended up in prison instead.

So, this article is for those who still believe that "criminals deserve what they get in prison." Folks who really believe that do these kids the greatest harm through their deliberate indifference to their suffering - as do the bureaucrats who do damage control by distorting the gravity of their plight behind the best of bars.
When the AzDJC faced the threat of privatization last year, they and the officers' unions chose to appeal not to our collective sense of responsibility to help these kids, but to our fear of them instead, arguing that private companies can't safely handle the highly dangerous young criminals they have in their care. Public safety would be compromised, they argued - never mind how it would affect the welfare of our criminalized youth. I even heard one guy refer to the escape at Kingman (as if the lack of state oversight had no bearing on the outcome) - suggesting that young state prisoners would be busting out and killing everyone if they could.

But the murderers and sociopaths they have in custody aren't the ones getting screwed - it's the kids like this one below and Presley Austin who represent the incoming tide...
AzDJC Director Mike Branham should be the one out in front on this telling the public how bad these places are for such youth, that there's no way to make the prison system "work" for most of them, and that we should be directing our resources into other kinds of services for them before they hit the child prisons.

The problem with committing our children so readily to the care of the state, is that it tends to place its own survival over the best interests of the people its machinery was constructed to serve in the first place. Mike could have embraced an abolitionist vision and steered the entire agency towards dissolution, redirecting resources back to their prisoners' home communities to decide how best to teach their youth the nuances of justice, and to cultivate a better sense of social responsibility than our current reliance on these archaic institutions has done thus far.

Thank you, Judge
Aragón, for exercising compassion and taking responsibility for correcting your orders. Someone should fire that prosecutor - especially if he's the one who coaxed the judge to send that kid up river in the first place. He was some kind of dangerous, alright...

Why can't these places keep their prisoners safe?


Release is ordered for boy, 16, after attacks in custody
Kim Smith / Arizona Daily Star
March 5, 2011

A Pima County Juvenile Court judge who sent a 16-year-old boy to the Catalina Mountain School last December ordered his release Friday after learning the boy may have been repeatedly stabbed with a pen one week last month and sodomized the next.

Judge Gus Aragón ordered the boy placed on probation until his 18th birthday in March 2012, said Assistant Pima County Public Defender Terri Pones.

"I am ecstatic," Pones said following the hearing.

According to court documents filed by Pones, Aragón sent the boy to the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections in December after the drug-addicted boy repeatedly violated probation.

The boy had been adjudicated delinquent for stealing candy and soft drinks from a Marana park concession stand, Pones said. He also has drug convictions.

On Feb. 3, a teacher overheard the teenager's roommate tell another roommate the teenager had been stabbed in the throat, arm and rib cage with a pen two days prior, according to the documents. The teenager told his mother and corrections officials he was afraid of retaliation and he'd overheard other teens talking about assaulting him again.

The boy and his mother were assured he would be housed by himself, staff would supervise him on a more individual basis and someone would always be "shadowing him," Pones said in the court documents.

On Feb. 15, the teenager was taken to Northwest Medical Center after being sodomized by a roommate and forced to perform a sexual act, Pones said.

After being discharged from the hospital, the teenager was sent to Adobe Mountain in Phoenix for his safety, making it difficult for his family to visit him, Pones said.

Because of the assault, Pones said the boy's "treatment needs have now far exceeded" those he had in December and he ought to be released so he can receive treatment in the community.

David Berkman, Pima County's chief criminal deputy attorney, said prosecutors asked Aragón to schedule a hearing on the allegations once the corrections department completed its investigation, but he declined to do so.

"It appears he accepted what they said," Berkman said.

Prosecutors objected to the boy's release, Berkman said, and may ask for another hearing on the matter, depending upon the results of the investigation.

Laura E. Dillingham, director of communications for the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections, said the investigation is ongoing.

Contact reporter Kim Smith at 573-4241 or


Mark said...

It would make sense that you would monitor and proof posts to your blog since you are all for "freedom of the Press" and "Freedom to expression" so long as it doesn't conflict with your own beliefs. I am curious if you allow this to be posted. The penal system and what happens in it is not the issue. The issue is that the punishments for lesser crimes are not sufficient to deter the committing of them! I'm sure "spare the staff spoil the child" gives you to cries of outrage yet consider if a young offender was subjected to corporal punishment while being raised they wouldn't have committed the crime that gets them sodomized in jail! Consider what would happen to a pedophile 50 years ago, did they have it wrong? Those deviants would have kept it in their pants because the consequences were sufficient to deter them, after all, isn't death and torture the strongest deterrent there is? I agree, get rid of the penal system, we can deal with it, after all, "Gun Control is being able to hit your target." Consider if you were raped one evening, would you want liberalism and compassion for your assailant? There are more than a few of us who would be more than willing to, at the least, turn the attacker into a gelding.

Margaret Jean Plews said...

You're a real vindictive SOB to rationalize violence to a child just to get in a few jabs at "liberalism." That's pretty sick - and characteristic of lovers of "law and order", oddly. You're the last character I would want to be my protector; people like you are what's wrong with the world. Let's talk after you've been imprisoned and raped, though - or seen it happen to your child. Then you might have something worthwhile to say.

I've studied crime and punishment pretty thoroughly; I'm way past being a "liberal," frankly. I happen to be a survivor of childhood abuse and sexual assault, myself; that's a big reason why I want nothing more than to reduce crime and victimization. There's more to crime prevention than punishing people after the fact, though, or than brutalizing them just to scare everyone else into submission. There are so many people in prison who were beaten when they were kids, in fact, that your kind of prevention is far more likely the cause of much of our violence in society today.