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:

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

MSNBC: Halloran confronts AZ prison neglect, violence.

The feedback to this MSNBC blog post is important to understanding the scope of the problem with the AZ state prison system. The AZ prison suicide rate has doubled under Jan Brewer's governorship...assaults and homicides have skyrocketed. It's time for Chuck Ryan to step down.
-----------from MSNBC-------------

Did officers' inaction, lack of training contribute to inmate's death?

By M. Alex Johnson reporter
November 15, 2011

Investigators' interviews with correctional officers at a state prison in Tucson, Ariz., suggest that the officers' indifference and lack of basic first aid training allowed an inmate to bleed to death after his second suicide attempt.

The recorded interviews were obtained by KPNX-TV, the NBC affiliate in Phoenix, which has spent much of the past year digging into the suicide of Anthony Clayton Lester, 26, in July 2010.

The station reports that Lester, who was serving a 12-year sentence for aggravated assault, had a long history of mentally illness and had tried to kill himself the previous month. But he was taken off his medications and was removed from a suicide watch two days before his death.

When he was returned to the general prison population, he was issued a standard prison hygiene kit that included a razor — which he used to slit his throat, wrists and groin.

Investigators' interviews with responding officers, aired this week by KPNX, recorded one officer saying he held back from assisting Lester because he didn't want to have to "wallow" in the sheer amount of blood in the cell.

In another recording, an officer is asked about correctional staffers' first aid training. His response: "I had first aid, but I don't consider it as first aid training."

Watch the two-part report by Wendy Halloran of KPNX:

PART I Failure to Aid
PART II Failure to Aid


Donna Leone Hamm, Judge (Retired)
The actions of Arizona Dept. of Corrections administrators and prison guards all the way up and down the chain of command are inexcusable, as well as unconscionable, with respect to the suicide of Anthony Lester. This mentally ill prisoner was taken off his prescribed mental health medications and not housed in a mental health facility -- despite the clear and written recommendations of his sentencing judge -- by an uncaring and, apparently, completely unconcerned DOC chain of command. This story amply demonstrates the problem we have throughout our entire country with using prisons as places to house seriously mentally ill people who belong in licensed mental health facilities. Thanks for investigative reporter Wendy Halloran for bringing this tragic story to light. If this country continues to incarcerate its citizens at the rate/capita that we do (Arizona ranks 7th/capita), then we have to be committed to providing the resources and professional staff to take care of the medical, mental health and other human needs of our prisoners. Otherwise, we need to much more seriously explore community treatment options, which have been proven to work.
Reply#1 - Tue Nov 15, 2011 4:29 PM EST
Thank you Donna for breaking this down for us. A succinct explanation of the current and far reaching impact of current practises within our prison systems.
#1.1 - Wed Nov 16, 2011 1:20 PM EST
Takes less tax dollars to train and oversee prison staff so that they work with honest dedication of carrying out the mission of their jobs.Following is a direct quote taken from the Arizona Department Of Corrections website, "I am honored to serve more than 10,000 well-trained corrections professionals who are dedicated to public, staff and inmate safety by effectively employing sound correctional practices, efficient operational procedures and proven programming opportunities for inmates." End quote. Had this quote,- which is a promise, a promise to all of us, including our inmates,- been respected by the correction officers, Tony would be alive today. Tony's death is a horrific loss. Unnecessary. Preventable.
Reply#2 - Tue Nov 15, 2011 6:25 PM EST
Thank you MSNBC for helping us to bring to light one of America's greatest tragedies, our treatment of the seriously mentally ill. Arizona incarcerates the highest percentage of those with mental illness in the nation being second only to Nevada. In Arizona, if you have a serious mental illness, you are over nine times more likely to be in jail or prison than in a public mental health hospital bed. Anthony Lester's voice must be heard. Our non-profit agency, David's Hope, is dedicated to securing mental health treatment rather than incarceration for all those living with a mental illness. For help or just to share, you can find us at
Reply#3 - Tue Nov 15, 2011 7:23 PM EST
I want to thank you for for airing the 2 segmentson Tony Lester. I have 3 questions. Why didn't Director Ryan's office issue a statement about the over 8000 employees receiving suicide prevention training during the 1st segment? When did the trainings begin? What was the quality of those trainings? Thank you again so much. Our system cannot be changed without raising awareness first.
#3.1 - Wed Nov 16, 2011 11:14 AM EST
Patti Jones, Mesa Az
First and Foremost I would like to express my deepest gratitude to Wendy Halloran and Channel 12 KPNX News in Phoenix, Az for their excellence in journalistic skills in exposing this horrific tragedy that happened last July 11, 2010, when a severe mentally-ill inmate whose mental health needs were totally disregarded and he was regarded as a manipulator , gaimer of the system; even though his court appointed psychiatrists and sentencing judge highly recommended he be placed in menrtal health unit. Wendy Halloran and channel 12 KPNX news have worked tenaciously for a year to expose the deplorable treatment of the mentally-ill within the ADOC. It is through channel 12 KPNX and Wendy Halloran that these most vulnerable inmates now have a voice that is now heard. Her report exposed the sheer travesty that exists within the ADOC not only on ground level but throughout the whole system especially on the adminstrative level. It is not only alarming , but appalling how the Department itself has so little regard for human life with absolutely no respect for life what so ever. We captured the world's most inhumane individual Osama Bin Laden; then why is it then, that we have a department head that has so little regard for human decency; for so little regard for humanity. Perhaps now through MSNBC bringing such light to such a travesty; that such a change may erect out of such a horrific tragedy. Perhaps now our Department of Justice may become aware of such violations of civil rights that they may open an investigation into the ADOC. It is time that we stop living in the dark ages and start humanizing our mentally-ill prisoners and send a message that their lives matter!!!! If we can just save just one life than our Beloved Tony's Voice will have been heard and his death will not be in vain. Again Much Gratitude to MSNBC for taking Wendy Halloran's and Channel 12 KPNX MAGNIFICENT investigative report to a national level,perhaps now lives will be saved. May God Bless You MSNBC and Wendy Halloran, Channel 12 KPNX for their excellence in journalistic skills. Patti Jones
Reply#4 - Tue Nov 15, 2011 9:46 PM EST

The Tony Lester Story is just the tip of the iceberg as an indicator how Arizona prisons marginalize human beings inside their prisons. The fact that Tony Lester was convicted as a mentally ill person is a tragedy in its own merits but what really criminalized his death was the total deliberate indifference shown for his civil rights, his humanity and all those other severely mentally ill prisoners that are filling our prisons up under the Governor's policy of mass incarceration. It is with much urgency the ACLU and the Department of Justice should proceed and investigate these prison policies related to suicide prevention, suicide watches, mentally ill treatment plans, and the housing of such disabled persons while incarcerated and left untreated, unprogrammed and certainly left unsupervised in their needs to be compliant with their medication and special needs. As a former corrections administrator, I have seen the toxic and harsh culture result in an attitude of apathy that is demonstrated by the fact that officers are ill prepared and trained to handle such emergencies and rely on raw supervisory skills to get through their shifts without leadership, instruction or direction from competent management rarely prepared for such critical tasks of life preservation and sound first aid rendered in the manner prescribed by established medical standards and mental health care. I have been made privy of this entire investigative packet and find it to contain alleged criminal conduct in content and context but will refrain from calling it criminal as the case is in litigation and hopefully result in changes how the ADOC practices its treatment of the severely mentally ill and others requiring closer supervision and special housing. The leadership culture within this prison system is that of Abu Ghraib and if you look at the specific individuals, you will find the dots connect to the horrific event in that Iraqi prison as Arizona is tainted with DNA of Abu Ghraib as it continues to stack up an unusual amount of "natural deaths", suicides and homicides since the current administration took over in January 2009.
Reply#5 - Tue Nov 15, 2011 10:59 PM EST
Thank you Wendy Halloran, KPNX, and MSNBC for bringing Tony's tragic and preventable suicide to light. This is more than just an isolated incident. One week before Tony died, Dana Seawright was brutally beaten at Lewis Prison in a gang hit and hate crime because he was black and became friends with a Mexican. The case was closed unsolved, despite... the culpability of guards who left his dorm unattended when the beat down took place - then watched him gag on blood and vomit without rendering aid. It was three hours before a helicopter got him to the hospital. He died five days later. The homicide and suicide rates in Arizona's state prisons have skyrocketed under the current administration, and mentally ill (Shannon Palmer, Jerry Kulp, James Jennings, Lasasha Cherry to name a few) and women prisoners in particular (Susan Lopez, Brenda Todd, Marcia Powell) have been dying of gross neglect, some begging for medical or psychiatric attention that comes too late, if at all... The ACLU and Prison Law Office are even poised to file suit over these conditions and seek an injunction to protect vulnerable prisoners. No one else's child, father, sister or friend need to die like these folks have. ADC Director Chuck Ryan needs to step down.
Reply#6 - Wed Nov 16, 2011 1:29 AM EST
Thank you Arizona Prison Watch for your comments.
#6.1 - Wed Nov 16, 2011 11:42 AM EST
Firstly, Wendy Halloran - thank you for an excellent investigative report. Very few reporters even bother about the prison population in this country so I commend you for your hard work and diligence in getting national attention brought to the issues of the mentally ill who are incarcerated in Arizona's Department of Corrections. Secondly, as a resident and tax payer in the State of Arizona I am disgusted at what is taking place in the Arizona Department of Corrections. If it is not blatantly obvious to everyone having seen this report then let me spell it out 'INCOMPETENT LEADERSHIP"!!! which starts with Charles Ryan, the Director of the Arizona Department of Corrections. If this report does not scare the heck out of the Governor's Office, who appointed Mr Ryan, then I am not quite sure what is going to do it! Perhaps a few more dead bodies and some more massive lawsuits will do the trick??? This is not the first case of a mentally ill person dying under Charles Ryan's watch and it will not be the last. If CHARLES RYAN was half the man he pretends to be he would admit he cannot do the job and step down before another person loses their life in his prison. With regards to the correctional officers lacking the very necessary training and resources they need I go back to my original point - incompetent leadership and the obvious failure to provide what is required to operate a safe prison lies with Mr. Charles Ryan.
Reply#7 - Wed Nov 16, 2011 8:36 AM EST

Perhaps if everyone who has family or friends in the penitentiary will speak out or write their congressman, congresswoman, legislator or even their district reps telling them enough is enough.. human lives are at stake and nobody cares?? what's wrong with that picture. Desensitived administrators working overtime to fill prison beds with victims rather than prison management according to rules of law and civility. The might $$$ has taken control of our minds and hearts and treats prisoners as assets rather than human beings. One dies and another is incarcerated regardless whether they are mentally ill or not.. a body is $$$ to Arizona prison management teams nothing else. This must be addressed and someone must be held accountable at the top. These correctional officers deserve leadership and are not getting it..
Reply#8 - Wed Nov 16, 2011 12:48 PM EST

Sadly yes. Deliberate indifference is more than not responding to an ICS, it also includes not taking action during the response itself. I agree though, correctional officers lack the needed training to handle massive critical lacerations to ones neck. I also understand the fear these officers must have felt when facing such vast amounts of blood given the amount of Hepatitis, HIV and other communicable diseases running rapid like a plague in our prisons. But the incident commander has every single resource at their disposal available to them. Did they call for towels to cover the blood so attempts to control bleeding could be made? Did they apply direct pressure to the wound the absolute most basic blood loss control method? Did they call for a PPE cart equipped with blood gel, jump suits, squeegee, mop, goggles and masks? I know they are trained in at least these skills. How long was it before the on call nurse arrived? I feel the answers to these questions will lead us back to square one, deliberate indifference occurred.
In this case there was more deliberate indifference. Classification allowed this mentally unstable man to become a General Population inmate. The judge even made clear in the trial he was concerned for the mental instability of the individual. The inmate cried out to staff over and over for help with his mental health. Accountability need not just be on the staff who responded but on the psychology department, classification officer, warden and State Prison Director.
What happened here was a sad travesty and the only light that can come of it is the education our correctional system can gain from it. But such a thing can only happen as long as we never forget and never back off fighting to change the status quo.
Reply#10 - Wed Nov 16, 2011 3:35 PM EST
There are lots of bad politicians, appointees and to be sure lobbyists in the Arizona government. But one man stands out as having the singular largest track record of failures, mistakes and down right atrocities under their failing leadership. That man is Arizona Department of Corrections Director Charles L Ryan.
Director Ryan has been plagued by his own inability to lead and oversee his administration. Under his authority he has repeatedly surprised the citizens of this state with his failure. After Dora Schrirro left with former Governor Napolitano Director Ryan inherited the administration. During the early days of his Administration under his interim, an inmate by the name of Marcia Powell died while being held in an out door enclosure awaiting transportation to a mental health watch. This was quickly followed up by two more men who died in Tucson of the same cause of death from exposure. Fourteen staff were promptly terminated to lay blame, appease the public and media. Of those staff, twelve have returned to their jobs after proving they were not to blame. But the majority of them lost their retirements and seniority. The DOC quickly installed shade, water fountains and rewrote policies regarding holding inmates outdoors. This is a clear display of reactive over proactive, but it also showed the coming pattern of Director Ryan's leadership, to point the finger down hill and always be reactive and never proactive.
Later Director Ryan was appointed by Governor Brewer to become the actual Director and his status as an interim had been lifted. It was after this period of his term, the most publicized escape in modern history took place. The Management Training Corp, Kingman Complex Escape. There has never been such a massive breakdown in security practices, documented so well, as there was during this escape. First, the cousin / girlfriend of one of the inmates was caught attempting to smuggle in drugs to the facility, her visitation was not revoked for any time other than that visit and she was not arrested. Second, the inmate was using the drugs to negotiate cell phone usage with other inmates who smuggled one in earlier. Third, recorded institutional phone calls clearly detected a code for escape plots by the word "camping." Nothing was done other than to keep an eye out. Fourth, correctional staff at the facility were propping open a door to the inner perimeter because they were hot. Fifth, the outer zone alarms to the facility were activating falsely and staff had become desensitized to the alarm sounds. This had gone on for months and months and was well documented. Sixth, those very alarms had not received servicing in over two years. Seventh, prison inspections or audits had been skipped at the facility due to time and budget keeping oversight at a minimum. Eighth, there was only one staff member from the DOC working at the facility reporting to the Director about the goings on at the private prison. Ninth, inmates were often running about without identification for face to ID checks, thus making counts more about paper than actual accountability. Tenth, when the private prison changed custodial housing from level two inmates to level three inmates, Kingman Police were never notified of the change so they could increase patrols in the area. Eleventh, the perimeter officer was supposed to be posted with a partner, but under staffing had him working alone. In fact the lack of staff was so bad the perimeter officer was doubling as an escort. It was at this time he was escorting, that a woman drove onto the perimeter tossed wire cutters over the fence to three awaiting inmates who simply walked out the door propped open by a rock to meet her. They cut the fence, staff ignored the alarm and they drove off into the sunset. Later, on their lamb, they shot at Colorado Police, robbed a trucker and killed two tourists in New Mexico. Director Ryan blames the facility, his liaison / monitor in charge of oversight, he blames staff complacency and he blames Schrirros classification system. Director Ryan does not accept any blame for himself. But here is how things really are, one or two mistakes is an officers fault, two or three mistakes is the fault of a staff supervisor, three or four mistakes is the fault of the Warden and Monitor. A complete totality of mistakes is the fault of the Director and no-one else's, for it is he that is truly in charge. Ryan appointed the monitor, Ryan reviewed the audits and alarm maintenance records, Ryan failed to make the notifications to the local authorities that custody levels had changed. Ryan was again reactive and not proactive and made changes to policy. Ryan is also an Adviser to Management Training Corp and they kept the contract they had, even though they failed so horribly.
Next was a turn of events that was not very shocking, but none the less true. Ryan had slowly been changing they way administrators interacted with staff. The conditions of the working relationship between staff and administrators had become toxic, to the point of a Department wide hostile working environment. The union Arizona Correctional Peace Officers Association stepped in and had members and non members (still DOC staff) alike sign a petition of No Confidence in Director Ryan's leadership. It was so serious local news channel five stepped up to cover the story. The letter was submitted to Governor Brewer and no action was taken of any kind.
During the years of 2010 and 2011 there was a shortage of a drug needed to execute inmates by lethal injection. But Ryan and Brewer had a need and desire to keep the truck rolling and make sure that executions continued. Some how the unavailable drug manifested (one of three required) in Director Ryan's hands. Lawyers of inmates to be executed were fighting to verify they legality of the drugs acquisition. Eventually even the press became concerned over where Ryan had got the drug. For weeks legal services and media alike were utilizing the Freedom of Information Act to learn how Ryan had obtained the drug. Eventually it had came about that he got it not through medical supply but from veterinary supply. It was ruled safe for human use in executions but did cause much embarrassment to the state.
There have been many more injustices from inmates not being properly triaged and diagnosed, to off site work crew inmates escaping custody, like a female working at the auto auction who simply started a car and drove away. Her behavior was unchecked, because the lowest custody inmates are allowed to work under the supervision of the employees contracting their labor and an officer who drives from sight to sight counting them. Ryan stated after her apprehension that the revenue generated from unsupervised off site crews out weighs the risk to the public for these rare escapes that occur. Tell that to the bank teller she robbed and set the tellers desk of on fire.
Privatizing prisons has been an ongoing affair and no state is deeper and faster in this process than Arizona. Director Ryan has been going along with this either because he supports the idea or he is going along with his superiors authority. (Governor Brewer) The private prison lobby in Arizona is incredibly powerful with men like Chuck Coughlin, a lobbyist for several private prison contractors and also being the policy adviser to Governor Brewer. Ryan had a responsibility to the legislators, to provide an in depth cost analysis between private and public prisons to determine which has more savings. Numbers from various studies have reflected both sides being winners in other research. But those numbers can be fudged based on who is taking them and their end goal. Ryan never generated this cost comparison and submitted it to the state.

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