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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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Thiopental controversy: Shame on the FDA; Tough luck to the dead.

Good for the AZ Republic for staying on top of this..


Judge: FDA allowed state to illegally gain execution drug

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration violated the law by allowing Arizona and other states to bypass regulations and import unapproved drugs to carry out executions, a U.S. District Court judge ruled Tuesday.

The ruling came in a lawsuit filed on behalf of three Arizona death-row inmates -- two of whom have already been executed -- and inmates in Tennessee and California.

• E-mails detail FDA's efforts to avoid responsibility regarding execution drug
• Arizona Supreme Court puts off date for execution
• State Supreme Court weighs killer's execution as FDA exits dispute over drug
Judge Richard Leon of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ordered the FDA to notify state corrections departments, including Arizona's, that they must surrender the drug, sodium thiopental, to the FDA. He also barred any future shipments from entering the country.

Leon called the FDA's decision to allow such shipments "contrary to law, arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of discretion."

However, his ruling established no penalties for the FDA's conduct and will not affect Arizona's execution schedule or procedures.

His ruling comes 18 months after The Arizona Republic disclosed that the Arizona Department of Corrections had obtained the drug from a supplier in Great Britain.

That discovery set off an international furor in which Britain and Italy shut down exports of thiopental.

The Corrections Department fought to conceal how it obtained the drug, but the FDA ultimately was identified as the agency that allowed -- even assisted -- the illegal importation.

Eventually, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration confiscated the drug from several states and informed Arizona that it could not be used in subsequent executions.

The state has since altered its execution protocol to include a different drug.

In his ruling, Leon wrote, "In the final analysis, the FDA appears to be simply wrapping itself in the flag of law-enforcement discretion to justify its authority and masquerade an otherwise seemingly callous indifference to the health consequences of those imminently facing the executioner's needle. How utterly disappointing!"

Neither the FDA nor the Arizona Attorney General's Office responded to requests for comment Tuesday.

Dale Baich of the Federal Public Defender's Office in Phoenix, one of the principal attorneys on the case, said he was not surprised by the ruling.

"The law is quite clear that unapproved drugs cannot be imported. The FDA went above the law in allowing these drugs into the country," Baich said. "We brought the illegal-importation issue to the attention of the Arizona Department of Corrections and the FDA almost two years ago, but we were ignored."

Corrections officials said Tuesday that they are no longer in possession of the thiopental, which is still listed as an option in its execution protocol.

Thiopental is a short-acting barbiturate that was used as part of a three-drug, lethal-injection cocktail. It served as anesthesia before a paralyzing drug and a heart-stopping drug were administered. But the sole U.S. supplier of thiopental stopped producing it in 2009 because it had largely been replaced in hospitals by more modern drugs.

The thiopental shortage became apparent in May 2010, when Ohio had to scramble to obtain enough to carry out an execution. That September, the Arizona Department of Corrections, following the lead of other states, obtained the drug from a supplier in London that was not authorized to export it to the U.S.

The Republic first reported the questionable import in October 2010, the day before it was used to execute Jeffrey Landrigan. That information caused the British and Italian governments to stop exports of thiopental to the U.S. for use in executions. It is illegal for anyone in the European Economic Community to assist in capital punishment in other countries.

The FDA initially told The Republic that there was no legal mechanism to import the drug. The state Corrections Department repeatedly denied that it had gone outside legal channels to obtain it. Then, in December 2010, an FDA spokeswoman told The Republic that it would exercise "enforcement discretion" on the matter.

But e-mails obtained by The Republic under the federal Freedom of Information Act showed that FDA officials had allowed the shipments. Many of the e-mails had been redacted, but the encryption had failed, revealing that the FDA, with the approval of unnamed people at the White House, shifted responsibility for allowing the drug's import to U.S. customs officials.

That was done to avoid legal liability and to shield the FDA from any appearance of involvement with the death penalty. The FDA asked The Republic to return the unredacted e-mails. The newspaper declined.
One high-placed FDA official wrote in November 2010 that even if the agency issued a statement that it had not reviewed the drugs for "safety, efficacy or quality ... it will insert FDA into the death-penalty cases because attorneys will try to use the statement as a means to open proceedings on the safety of the imported drugs."

In a separate court proceeding in U.S. District Court in Phoenix last December, a former state Corrections official testified that a local FDA employee counseled him on how to lessen scrutiny of the foreign shipments and ease them past U.S. customs officials. In a videotaped deposition, the FDA official denied giving such advice. But his assistance in obtaining the drugs was interpreted as FDA "approval."

In April 2011, the drug was seized from some states by the DEA, and in June 2011, Arizona was told it could not use its supply. That came one day before the execution of Donald Beaty, the lead defendant in the lawsuit against the FDA.

Beaty was executed using a different drug, pentobarbital, which most states have adopted. Arizona's two most recent executions were carried out using only pentobarbital because the state Corrections Department had inadvertently let one of the other drugs in its three-drug protocol pass its expiration date.

In his ruling Tuesday, Judge Leon noted that the imported thiopental was a "misbranded and unapproved new drug," which by law cannot be distributed in the U.S. without FDA approval.

"No one is above the law -- not the Arizona Department of Corrections, not the FDA," Baich said. "The federal court, relying on the judgment of Congress, has sent a clear message that it is illegal to import drugs that have not been approved by the FDA. The states that have imported non-FDA approved drugs are now on notice that those drugs are illegal."

The Associated Press contributed to this article

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