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:

Monday, March 12, 2012

Fathi: Solitary Confinement in Arizona's state prisons

----------From the ACLU Blog of Rights---------

Solitary Confinement in Arizona: Cruel and Unusual

Posted by David Fathi
ACLU-National Prison Project 
March 6, 2012 at 1:09pm 
A class action lawsuit filed today by the ACLU, along with the Prison Law Office, the Arizona Center for Disability Law, and the law firms Jones Day and Perkins Coie, alleges that the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) houses thousands of prisoners in solitary confinement conditions so harsh they violate the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment. While other states also use solitary confinement, Arizona has added features that seem designed to gratuitously increase suffering. The cells in that state's supermax Special Management Units (SMUs) were deliberately constructed with no windows to the outside, so prisoners — many of whom have no means of telling the time — become disoriented and confused, not knowing the whether it is day or night. The cells are often illuminated 24 hours a day, making sleep difficult and further contributing to prisoners' disorientation and mental deterioration.

Some prisoners in solitary spend all but six hours a week alone in their cells. Their only respite occurs when they are taken to a slightly larger windowless cell, with no equipment, for "exercise." Many prisoners refuse to go, because the cell is so small that it doesn't allow meaningful exercise, and because prisoners are placed in restraints and strip-searched when going to and returning from the cell. And in a final cruelty, ADC reasons that because prisoners in solitary don't get much exercise, they don't need much food — some receive only two meals a day.

It's long been known that solitary confinement is extraordinarily damaging to mental health, often inducing mental illness in previously healthy prisoners. But it's particularly damaging to those with pre-existing mental illness. For these prisoners, solitary poses a grave risk of psychiatric injury, self-harm, and even suicide. Deprived of the social interaction that is essential to keep them grounded in reality, many prisoners with mental illness experience catastrophic and often irreversible psychiatric deterioration.

Courts have ruled that prisoners with mental illness suffer such grievous harm in solitary confinement that it violates the Eighth Amendment to house them there. One court compared putting a person with mental illness in solitary to "putting an asthmatic in a place with little air to breathe." As a result, many states that use solitary confinement exclude the mentally ill. But not Arizona — even prisoners whom ADC itself has classified as "seriously mentally ill" are held in solitary.

In recent years, states as diverse as Mississippi, Colorado, and Maine have reduced their use of solitary confinement, generating substantial cost savings and experiencing no adverse effects on public safety. But Arizona remains an enthusiastic practitioner, with four large prisons devoted chiefly or exclusively to holding prisoners in solitary.

Last month Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn announced plans to close Tamms Correctional Center, that state's supermax prison. Tamms has long been criticized for its harsh conditions of solitary confinement — a federal judge found that it inflicts "lasting psychological and emotional harm" on prisoners — and the per-prisoner cost of Tamms is three times the state average. Arizona should follow Illinois' example. It would be a victory for fiscal prudence as well as human rights.

Take action today: go here to sign our pledge against solitary.

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