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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Monday, July 18, 2011

Middle Ground challenges new ADC "fees".

The following press release just arrived in my box, and speaks for itself. Middle Ground Prison Reform has a considerable amount of information on their website on ADC and other prisoner-related issues, so check them out if you haven't already. I'm just a blogger who makes a lot of noise; the Hamms have the legal resources and knowledge to help people sue the ADC on matters like this that I don't.



On Monday, July 18th, with Middle Ground Prison Reform's assistance, David Arner, a prisoner in the Arizona Department of Corrections/Eyman/Meadows Unit, filed a Pro Se Complaint for Special Action and Declaratory Judgment against Charles Ryan, Director of the Arizona Department of Corrections, challenging a new law that will go into effect on July 20, 2011.

The law, which was part of SB 1621, authorizes the DOC to deduct a fee from each deposit made into a state prisoner's bank account (known as a "spendable" account), but requires that 100% of the deductions be placed into a newly-established Building Renewal Fund for the Department of Corrections. None of the "fee" is used at all to defray the cost of managing inmate bank accounts. Hence, under existing case law, it is a tax, not a fee, and constitutes an unconstitutional "special law."

A copy of the Complaint is attached in Pdf. format to this email AND if you have trouble with the attachment, it is also posted on the website for Middle Ground at:

Arizona prisoners do not earn interest, dividends or any monies at all on any monies on deposit in their spendable accounts (or in any other accounts), no matter how long the money is on deposit nor how much money is in the account. Instead, interest earned on these monies is diverted to the DOC's "special services fund." This fund was originally established to provide for purchases that related to the "welfare and benefit of inmates." However, in recent years, the legislatutre has permitted that fund to be used to provide incentive salary increases to prison guards, and for other uses that are wholly unrelated to the welfare and benefit of inmates.

"Now, not only does the state continue its long-term practice of declining to pay interest on prisoners' monies on deposit, but it also wants to tax prisoners' funds by charging a so-called banking deposit fee. None of the monies from the tax are used to defray the cost of actually maintaining the prisoners' spendable accounts, however. Instead, 100% of the illegal tax will be diverted to a Building Renewal Fund for exclusive use by the DOC," said Donna Leone Hamm, Director of Middle Ground Prison Reform.

"Ironically, legislators don't tax themselves, lobbyists or their employees or visitors for leaky roofs or clogged plumbing at the state capitol, but they are perfectly willing to tax prisoners -- and by default their families who make deposits to prisoner's accounts -- for such routine maintenance obligations," said Hamm.
"This so-called "fee", which is actually a tax, is nothing but a pretext to raise money for the building renewal fund of the ADOC. It's an illegal tax -- pure and simple -- imposed on a select group of people -- for a purpose that is legally the responsibility of all taxpayers who benefit from the public safety provided by the prison system," added Hamm.

SB 1621 also authorized the DOC to charge a background check fee for potential visitors who apply for visitation to a prisoner on or after July 20, 2011, and Middle Ground will soon be challenging that fee for the same reasons as above. The fee, set by the ADOC, is $25 for each applicant for visitation over the age of 18. It does not apply to lawyers or their agents. Per the statute, none of the monies collected by the DOC for the "fee" are used to defray the cost of processing background checks. Instead, 100% of the fee is required to be placed in the DOC Building Renewal Fund for building maintenance and renewal projects. This, too, is an illegal special tax. Visitors are not the only persons who use prison buildings. They are used by law enforcement personnel performing interviews of prisoners, lawyers and their agents, prison guards and other prison staff, victim's groups who visit the prison for reconcilation activities, volunteers, and others. All taxpayers have an obligation to pay for general maintenance and renewal of state agency infrastructure.
The separate lawsuit challenging the visitor background check fee will be filed shortly after July 20, 2011, when the fee goes into effect. Donna Leone Hamm and James J. Hamm, principals in Middle Ground, will be the named Plaintiffs in that litigation, representing themselves.

Donna Leone (Hamm)
Criminal Justice Consultant
Executive Director - Middle Ground Prison Reform

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