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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Friday, February 24, 2012

Feds neglect sex/violent crime prosecutions in Indian Country.

Not that I approve of the way the DOJ intervenes in Indigenous affairs when it does, but this is unacceptable. The Director of the Office for Tribal Justice for the Justice Department on Indigenous affairs is Tracy Toulou. Complain about this to him. The contact info there is: 

 U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Tribal Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001

cc all copies of your correspondence with them to the reporter covering this at the New York Times, which just published the article below, so he can get a sense of how the public is responding to the DOJ's neglect. This guy Timothy Williams has done some good reporting - check him out here.

Here's the link to the Justice Department's data on crime and justice in indigenous communities. Keep in mind that's also an arm of the propaganda campaign about how great Eric Holder and the DOJ are - don't believe everything you read there as an objective "fact".

Not everything about the incidence of violence in Indian Country - or the rest of the nation, for that matter - can or should be addressed with police and prosecution - by then, someone else has already been hurt. INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence has a lot of excellent resources about alternative justice systems, prison abolition, and violent crime from the perspective of survivors of oppression. 

 We need to build a better library of resources and knowledge here on tribal justice, too. Folks with resources more specific to Indigenous communities and justice are encouraged to drop me a line so I can pass them on. I'm Peggy at


Higher Crime, Fewer Charges on Indian Land

Indian reservations across the United States have grappled for years with chronic rates of crime higher than all but a handful of the nation’s most violent cities. But the Justice Department, which is responsible for prosecuting the most serious crimes on reservations, files charges in only about half of Indian Country murder investigations and turns down nearly two-thirds of sexual assault cases, according to new federal data. 

The country’s 310 Indian reservations have violent crime rates that are more than two and a half times higher than the national average, according to data compiled by the Justice Department. American Indian women are 10 times as likely to be murdered than other Americans. They are raped or sexually assaulted at a rate four times the national average, with more than one in three having either been raped or experienced an attempted rape. 

The low rate of prosecutions for these crimes by United States attorneys, who along with agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation generally have jurisdiction for the most serious crimes on reservations, has been a longstanding point of contention for tribes, who say it amounts to a second-class system of justice that encourages law breaking. Prosecutors, however, say they turn down most reservation cases because of a lack of admissible evidence. 

Brendan Johnson, the United States attorney for South Dakota, said the government in recent years has deployed extra prosecutors and F.B.I. agents to Indian Country. And the Justice Department says it is seeking to make its decisions more transparent. Impatience on reservations is understandable, Mr. Johnson said. 

“If I had the rates of crime in my community that they do, I’d be mad, too,” he said.
But tribes say they are rarely told why reservation cases are not pursued by the government. 

“One of the basic problems is that not only are they declining to prosecute cases, but we are not getting the reason or notification for the declination,” said Jerry Gardner of the Tribal Law and Policy Institute in West Hollywood, Calif., which works with tribes to develop justice programs. “The federal system takes a long time to make a decision, and when it comes to something like a child sexual assault, the community gets the message that nothing is being done.” 

Under federal law, tribal courts have the authority to prosecute tribal members for crimes committed on reservations, but cannot sentence those convicted to more than three years in prison. As a result, tribes usually seek federal prosecution for serious crimes. 

Frustration has grown so acute that some tribal members have sued the government for declining prosecutions and for what they say is the related issue of sloppy police work. 

Last month, a federal court in Montana allowed the family of Steven Bearcrane of the Crow Reservation to sue an F.B.I. agent who Mr. Bearcrane’s parents say conducted a flawed homicide investigation into their son’s death at 23. The lawsuit also said the United States attorney’s office has a practice of rejecting criminal cases in which the victims are Native Americans. 

The Justice Department said it has made headway in resolving conflicts with tribes, pointing to a directive to United States attorneys to work more closely with tribal leaders and to the Tribal Law and Order Act, approved by Congress in 2010, which sought to strengthen tribal law enforcement systems. 

But Tao Etpison, former chief judge of the Tonto Apaches in Arizona, said federal prosecutors typically live, work and try cases hundreds of miles from Indian Country. And at times, according to federal data, the Justice Department declines to prosecute violent reservation crime because local United States attorneys have said they lack sufficient resources. “These crimes are very serious for the reservation, but the prosecutors really don’t see it from a reservation perspective,” Mr. Etpison said. 

Federal prosecutors in 2011 declined to file charges in 52 percent of cases involving the most serious crimes committed on Indian reservations, according to figures compiled by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, which uses the Freedom of Information Act to recover and examine federal data. 

The government did not pursue rape charges on reservations 65 percent of the time last year and rejected 61 percent of cases involving charges of sexual abuse of children, the federal data showed. In contrast, the Justice Department declined 20 percent of drug trafficking cases nationwide, according to the federal figures. 

Once federal prosecutors do decline a case, they seldom hand over evidence to tribal courts, according to the Government Accountability Office. An office report last year also found that federal prosecutors fail to tell tribes that they have declined cases until after the tribe’s statute of limitations has expired. 

Federal prosecutors, however, say they seek to provide as much information as possible to tribes about cases they decline, though they are often limited because the cases may be reopened later. 

Kerry J. Jacobson, an assistant United States attorney in Wyoming, said undertaking tribal prosecutions while the government decides whether it will file charges would create more problems than it would solve. 

“We can’t turn over our evidence while we are doing our investigation,” she said. “And I don’t want victims of sexual assault to have to testify twice.” 

Much of the time, however, victims do not testify at all. 

On the San Carlos Reservation in Arizona, Mr. Etpison, the former tribal judge, said federal prosecutors had declined to pursue at least 40 sexual assault cases in recent years, most of them involving children. 

Thomas W. Weissmuller, a former chief judge for several tribes, said he presided over a trial on the Swinomish Reservation in Washington State in which a 31-year-old man was accused of pouring root beer schnapps into the root beer of a girl who had recently turned 13. The girl, unaware of the alcohol, drank the soda and passed out. The man covered her face with her own clothes and raped her. 

Mr. Weissmuller said that in spite of a DNA match and statements from two relatives who interrupted the attack, federal prosecutors did not file charges. 

Though convicted of rape in tribal court, the man served only one year in jail — the maximum penalty in the tribal system at the time. The Justice Department declined to discuss the case. 

“I don’t know why it wasn’t prosecuted federally,” Mr. Weissmuller said. “I believe it was a very clear-cut case.”

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