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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PHOENIX: Trans Queer Pueblo


AZ Prison Watch BLOG POSTS:

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Queer Prisoner Safety: AZ Prisons and Jails.

This article actually came out last June, but I missed it at the time - though I did get the ACLU's 2011 detention report put up: In their Own Words. That's a worthwhile read. Pretty heavy, though.

I'm actually posting the article below now because I've recently heard a lot from queer prisoners in danger at the Arizona Department of Corrections, and would like some help organizing my correspondence with and support to them a little better. I'm especially concerned about the undocumented prisoners - the queer "criminal aliens" - because I think they would be the least likely to get any protection from violence from this state.

 image from 

Anyway, the issues raised below aren't unique to the Pinal County Jail. Please contact me if you're into queer prisoner support for folks in either AZ prisons or jails: 

Peggy at (480) 580-6807 /

-------------from the AZ Republic--------------

ACLU decries danger for gay migrants in Pinal County jails

Daniel González
Jun. 24, 2011 12:20 PM
The Arizona Republic

The assault took place while Ramon Catalan, an illegal immigrant from Mexico, was detained by federal immigration authorities in a Pinal County jail.

Catalan, a transgender man who lives as a woman, was in a cell when four other immigration detainees began insulting her in Spanish.

"One guy said he didn't want to be around a (homosexual)," said Catalan, who prefers to be called Monica and wears her hair long and plucks her eyebrows.

Then, the beating started. While one man stood lookout, the others threw her onto the floor, then repeatedly punched and kicked her. The attack lasted four or five minutes. By the time it was over, Catalan's face was covered in blood.

The assault was not an isolated incident, immigrant advocates and lawyers say.

Reports of similar attacks and other abuses against gay and transgender detainees are on the rise around the nation as the number of undocumented immigrants in custody has skyrocketed as part of the federal government's crackdown on illegal immigration.

In Arizona alone, the ACLU found five cases of transgender or gay detainees who were sexually assaulted or abused over a two-year period, according to a study released Thursday. Catalan was not among them.

The 36-page report, "In Their Own Words: Enduring Abuse in Arizona Immigration Detention Centers," is based on 115 interviews with detainees in facilities in Eloy and Florence from March 2009 through March 2011. ACLU attorney Victoria Lopez also reviewed hundreds of reports and records, including 500 grievances, some of which were filed by gay and transgender detainees like Catalan who were abused while in detention.

"While (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) does not systemically track the number of sexual assaults in detention facilities across the country, these and other reported cases very likely represent only a fraction of the actual cases of sexual abuse of immigrants in detention," Lopez wrote.

In April of this year, the Heartland Alliance National Immigration Justice Center, an advocacy group in Chicago, filed a civil-rights complaint with the Department of Homeland Security on behalf of 13 more immigrants.

Catalan, 27, is not named in that complaint. She filed a separate complaint in September 2009 with the Department of Homeland Security's Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties documenting his March 2009 assault.

Margo Schlanger, officer for civil rights and civil liberties at Homeland Security, said in a written statement that her office is investigating complaints regarding LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) detainees, including the ones submitted by the National Immigrant Justice Center.

She said her office "takes these matters very seriously."

The National Immigration Justice Center complaint alleges that LGBT immigrants have suffered "systemic and severe abuses" while being held at facilities in Arizona and eight other states run by Homeland Security, including the facilities in Florence and Eloy. The reputed abuses include sexual assault, denial of adequate medical care, including HIV drugs and hormone therapy, discrimination, and an ineffective process for filing complaints, the complaint says.

It also alleges that one of the 13 immigrants was segregated for 14 months in Florence. The immigrant, a transgender man living as a woman, said she was told she was isolated for her protection. The ACLU report echoed many of the same concerns.

The complaint asks the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties in Washington, D.C., to investigate the complaints and implement a new policy to address any violations. The ACLU report also calls for new policies and practices.

"These abuses are happening across the country. And this is really just the tip of the iceberg," said Jane Zurnamer, associate director of policy at the National Immigration Justice Center.

ICE, the Homeland Security agency that oversees detention and removal of immigration violators, is also reviewing the complaints, said Vincent Picard, an ICE spokesman in Phoenix.

"U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement takes any allegations of mistreatment or abuse very seriously," he said.

Ensuring 'health and welfare'

He said ICE has issued formal guidance to address care and housing of vulnerable and special-needs detainees based on discussions with advocacy groups, including the National Immigrant Justice Center.
He would not elaborate on the guidance but did say, "ICE remains firmly committed to ensuring the health and welfare of all those in our custody and to providing the highest-quality medical and mental-health care available."

Immigrants are often held in detention centers while awaiting hearings in immigration courts to determine whether they will be removed from the country or allowed to stay. In recent years, the number of immigrants detained by ICE has soared as part of efforts by Homeland Security to crack down on immigration violators.

Through April 4 of this fiscal year, the average number of immigrants being detained daily by ICE was 33,390, up from 19,718 in 2005, according to Homeland Security statistics.

ICE uses more than 300 local and state jails and contracts with seven private facilities to house immigration detainees. In addition, it runs eight detention facilities of its own.

The agency deported 392,862 people in the past fiscal year, up from 291,060 in fiscal 2007, according to Homeland Security.

Zurnamer said abuse of LGBT people is a problem in criminal jails and prisons, as well. Although laws protecting them from abuse also apply to immigration detention facilities, LGBT detainees are more vulnerable to abuse because, unlike people charged with crimes, they are not legally entitled to court-appointed lawyers who can advocate on their behalf.

As a result, their complaints are often ignored, or they are deported before they can file a complaint, Zurnamer said.

"It's not whether (abuse) happens more or less (in immigration detention)," Zurnamer said. "It's that there is less accountability if it does happen."

Zurnamer said that abuse of LGBT detainees is on the rise because the government is detaining many more immigrants and that oversight is limited because the government contracts with many local and state facilities to house detainees.

Rejected by family

Catalan came to the U.S. illegally in 1996 when she was 13 to live with her mother and stepfather in Santa Ana, Calif. Around age 15, Catalan wanted to begin living as a woman but was rejected by her stepfather, so she moved out and began living on the street.

In 2007, she moved to Arizona. A year later, she was arrested by Phoenix police for prostitution. After serving a 30-day jail sentence, she said, she was turned over to ICE because she was in the country illegally.
Catalan was detained by ICE from October 2008 to April 2009, according to her complaint.

Before her detention, Catalan was taking steps to transition from male to female by taking hormone injections, growing her hair and plucking her eyebrows, the complaint says.

The complaint says she was awaiting an asylum hearing in immigration court when she was attacked at the Pinal County jail. The jail houses immigration detainees under a contract with ICE.

Medical records released on Catalan's behalf by Regina Jefferies, a Phoenix immigration lawyer, show Catalan was treated at Casa Grande Medical Center for cuts, bruises, a facial-bone fracture and a concussion.

"One punched me in the face. One was kicking me," Catalan said in an interview. "They tried to cut off my hair with a razor, but I grabbed the razor with my hand and wouldn't let go."

Catalan said the men who beat her threatened to find her and kill her if she reported the assault.

Tim Gaffney, a spokesman for the Pinal County Sheriff's Office, provided copies of jail records showing that three detainees were disciplined and several others removed from the housing unit where the assault took place. The detainees were not charged, records show, because Catalan declined to pursue the case.

An immigration judge denied Catalan's request for asylum but ordered that she not be deported out of concern she could be persecuted in Mexico for being transgender, Jefferies said. Catalan is currently appealing the asylum ruling.

More than two years later, Catalan said she still suffers from the beating.

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