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, July 13, 2011

Chuck Ryan and prison insecurity...

Maybe I missed this, but was there no mention of ASPC-Tucson's Christmas Day escape attempt in this article about state prison security? Nor any mention of the skyrocketing homicide rates in the state prisons under Chuck Ryan's management? Nor any reference to the vote of no confidence in ADC leadership by the correctional officer's union in November due in part to their safety concerns?

Hmm. Wonder where the Republic gets all their information from...looks like the PR wing of the ADC itself is their main source of insight. No wonder.

-------------Arizona Republic----------------

Security lapses found at all of Arizona's prisons

Bob Ortega
Arizona Republic
June 26, 2011

The same kinds of serious security lapses that led to the escape last July of three prisoners from the Kingman state prison have been and continue to be found at the 14 other Arizona state and private prisons, according to interviews, audits, correspondence and other documents obtained by The Arizona Republic.

The failures include faulty alarm systems, holes under fences big enough to crawl through, broken perimeter lights and cameras, and scores of poor security practices across the board by state and private corrections officers and managers.

While Corrections Director Charles Ryan says the department is correcting these problems, it seems to be doing so on a piecemeal basis as they're found; and there is no evidence that wardens or senior managers, aside from those at Kingman itself, are being held accountable to address or prevent security issues.

Though he didn't say so publicly, within days of the Kingman escapes on July 30, 2010, Ryan ordered a security review of every state facility: the two run by Utah-based Management & Training Corp., including Kingman; the three run by Florida-based Geo Group; and the 10 operated directly by his department. Those reviews, obtained by The Republic through public-records requests, show security problems run across the entire system.

Among the more damning findings were large holes under the razor-wire fencing and blind spots at the Florence, Eyman and Douglas state prisons; constant false alarms going unchecked at Perryville; alarms at Yuma's Cibola unit that often were missed or went unchecked because they sounded the same as the call buttons that officers pushed to get in and out of buildings. There were long gaps between patrols of the perimeter fence at Yuma. At all of the state prisons, officers up to the deputy-warden level admitted they didn't understand their perimeter-security systems well, according to an Aug. 20, 2010, internal memorandum by Ivan Bartos, regional operations director.

At the three Geo prisons - Florence West, Phoenix West and the Central Arizona Correctional Facility - Corrections Department inspectors found such issues as inmates having access to a control panel that could open emergency exits; an alarm system that didn't ring properly when doors were opened or left ajar; and that staff didn't carry out such basic security practices as searching commissary trucks and drivers, among many other failures.

At MTC's Marana prison, there were broken monitors, a control-room panel that didn't work, missing perimeter lights, missing razor wire, missing visitor passes. Marana's swamp coolers - in August, in Arizona - weren't working, making it hotter inside the prison buildings than outside.

The inspectors made a slew of recommendations, focused on repairing or replacing broken equipment and on training staff. Ryan sent these to Geo and MTC, and to wardens at the state-run prisons.

Geo declined comment on how it responded, saying in writing only that its facilities "adhere to contractual requirements and standards set by our clients."

In a written reply, MTC listed 16 changes it made or says it is making to improve security, including replacing the control panel and enforcing medium-security standards even though Marana holds only minimum-security inmates. It also fixed the swamp coolers.

Corrections spokesman Barrett Marson, said reinspections show Geo and MTC have addressed these issues.

After the August reviews, Ryan ordered new, tougher audits. And the more they looked, the more problems inspectors discovered.

At the Lewis state prison, in January 2011 - five months after the Kingman escapes and the August security review - auditors found holes under the fence "big enough for a person to crawl through unimpeded."

They also found areas where someone could cross the perimeter without activating the alarms; one captain said he had tried to report the problem and had been told to keep quiet. Some zone lights along the perimeter had been out for months. "Count boards," used to identify prisoners, were missing 137 photos; most inmates weren't wearing IDs, and there were dozens of fundamental security failures, including such basics as properly searching visitors and staff.

In February 2011, auditors found equally worrisome issues at the Yuma prison: problems with the alarm and control systems; lights randomly shutting off; monitoring cameras that had been broken for five months; staff uniforms and tools stored in rooms accessible to unsupervised inmates; areas where visitors could approach the fence and throw things over unseen; and the same litany of failures to properly search people or carry out other basic security practices.

Corrections spokesman Marson said equipment issues identified in these two audits have been fixed, and that, as necessary, staffers at those two prisons have been retrained. Asked whether such flaws should have been apparent to wardens and senior officers and addressed sooner, Marson replied that "it was determined that the findings did not relate to 'top-down administrative failings.' "

Corrections critics say it shouldn't be surprising that security has been lax systemwide.

"They know about these problems; they've known about them for years," said Caroline Isaacs, who monitors prisons for the American Friends Service Committee, in Tucson, which advocates for alternatives to incarceration. Especially at private prisons, department officials have tended to avoid delving into problems they come across because they don't want to deal with it, Isaacs said.

"These kinds of issues go on in both private and state prisons - lack of training, sometimes poor leadership, alarms that go off constantly. People become complacent, and that's when problems happen," says Tom Jones, a Florida attorney and former quality-assurance manager at Corrections Corporation of America, the country's largest private-prison operator. "You need a very active, very good monitoring plan, and you must carry it out. With private prisons, you have to have a contract that allows you to fix things when they're broken. . . . You need to do unannounced inspections."

Ryan said, "That was the most telling thing at Kingman, the complacency of the staff."

But Ryan also concedes that the problems go well beyond Kingman. He says he noted a change in the culture of the Department of Corrections when he returned as acting director in January 2009.

He had retired in 2003 after more than 25 years in the department. Then he served in Baghdad as part of a team overseeing the Iraqi prison system - including Abu Ghraib - for nearly four years. Ryan played no part in and appears not to have known about the abuses in the separate section of Abu Ghraib run by the U.S. military, according to a 2005 report by the Department of Justice's inspector general.

"One thing I recognized after I came back" to Arizona, said Ryan, "were major incidents occurring that I'd ascribe to complacency." These included an escape attempt, assaults on staff and the death of Marsha Powell. A Perryville prison inmate, Powell died May 20, 2009, after being left for four hours the day before in an 107-degree outdoor cage without shade, food or water.

To combat that complacency, even before the Kingman escapes, Ryan instituted a policy requiring officers to rotate to different units every three years. That move continues to draw bitter complaints from staff posting anonymously on Corrections blogs.

As the department's audits of other prisons continue, Marson said, one other state monitor has been reassigned and replaced with a more seasoned deputy warden. He did not identify any structural changes other than at Kingman.

Ryan says he sees two defining moments in the history of the department. The first was the 1978 escape of two murderers from a lower-custody unit at Florence. They killed six people. That incident led to sweeping changes in how inmates were classified, and reduced the autonomy of wardens.

The second moment was the murder of correctional Officer Brent Lumley on March 7, 1997, at a unit in the Perryville prison. According to Ryan, that incident led to changes meant to place more priority on protecting prison staff and controlling inmate movement.

As in those two "defining moments," the Kingman escapes and murders of Gary and Linda Haas revealed systemwide issues that Corrections continues to address nearly a year later.

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