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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Thursday, February 2, 2012

AZ Prosecutors' "Truth-in-Sentencing" Propaganda

I didn't post the press release below when it first came out because it's propaganda of the highest order. The state's prosecutors are all just trying to justify their mandatory minimums and derail any efforts at sentencing and prison reform this year. The AZ Department of Corrections own data shows that there's been a decrease, not an increase, in the violent criminals they've been committing in the past two years - it's not an inherently more violent population of prisoners - it's a more abusive and neglectful administration.

Az Department of Corrections:
decrease in committed violent offenders 2009-2011, from their annual report

Fischer's last report for the state prosecutors association (Prisoners in Arizona: A Profile of the Inmate Population) was a huge distortion to manipulate the public's fears, too (here's the PR campaign that went with that one, and the excellent, detailed report put out by AZ Attorneys for Criminal Justice disputing it). Deception seems to be the only way the state prosecutors association can make it's case, which means they don't have much of one to begin with. Here are minutes to the 2010 AZ House Committee on Sentencing Reform where Professor Mona Lynch - also an "expert" on criminal justice in Arizona - takes that report apart.

This interview on KJZZ about the more recent report - with criminologist Franklin Zimring, Bill Montgomery and Sheila Polk - is pretty interesting. Zimring's done a lot of research on the claims the prosecutors assert himself, and dispels many of the myths this kind of thing perpetuates.
For a look at what else may be behind the escalating violence in AZ state prisons, check out my blog post on it here...

Speaking of truth-in-sentencing and our tough state prosecutors, check out how seriously Barbara LaWall's office (Pima County Attorney) takes sexual abuse of children when perpetrated by corrections' officers...How is it "truth-in-sentencing" when double standards for law enforcement officers remain?

----------from the Maricopa County Attorney's Office-----

Landmark Study Underscores Success of Arizona’s Sentencing Laws

PHOENIX, AZ (January 5, 2012)
– Arizona has prevented more than a million crimes since 1994 by incarcerating its most dangerous criminals, according to a major research study released today. Titled Prisoners in Arizona: Truth-in-Sentencing, Time Served and Recidivism, the study concludes that Arizona’s Truth-in-Sentencing (TIS) laws, which ensure that convicted criminals serve at least 85% of their sentence, led to a 17.7% drop in reported crime over a fifteen year period after TIS laws were enacted in 1994.

“This study provides the crucial element that has been missing from the public policy discussion about our criminal justice system, namely, facts,” said Maricopa County Bill Montgomery. “What this research shows is that our current sentencing laws are putting the right people in prison for the right reasons and keeping us all safer as a result,” he added.

Commissioned by the Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys Advisory Council, the study notes that Arizona’s crime rate fell by 38.5% from 2002 to 2010, more than twice the national rate. At the same time, Arizona’s prison population has become increasingly violent. According to the study, more than 95% of inmates are violent and/or repeat felony offenders.

The study also found that, contrary to popular belief, Arizona’s prison population has been on a steady downward trend since 2009, dropping by an average of 31 inmates per month after growing by more than 100 inmates per month for 38 years. These numbers reflect the success of diversion programs, substance abuse treatment, probation and other prison alternatives that have prevented low-level offenders from transitioning to full time criminal careers.

“These are precisely the outcomes that proponents of sentencing reform predicted nearly two decades ago,” said Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, who serves as Chairman of the Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys Advisory Council. “The very clear, documented benefits we are seeing in Arizona should serve as an important guide to other states that are looking at making similar reforms to their sentencing systems,” Polk added.

Prisoners in Arizona is authored by Daryl R. Fischer, Ph.D., a widely respected expert on criminal justice statistical analysis and former Research Manager for the Arizona Department of Corrections. The study builds on a foundation of information presented in an earlier study Dr. Fischer conducted in 2010. Prisoners in Arizona is available for download at

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