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)


ANTICOLONIAL zines, stickers, actions, power

Taala Hooghan Infoshop

Kinlani/Flagstaff Mutual AID


The group for direct action against the prison state!

Black Lives Matter PHOENIX METRO

Black Lives Matter PHOENIX METRO
(accept no substitutions)



PHOENIX: Trans Queer Pueblo


AZ Prison Watch BLOG POSTS:

Monday, April 2, 2012

Nutriloaf: Cruel and Unusual?

If nothing else, it sure is abusive...

photo credit: Andy Duback/AP

Can Food Be Cruel and Unusual Punishment?

If you've never heard of nutriloaf, consider yourself lucky. It's a prison meal that just might violate the 8th amendment

If you’ve led a law-abiding life, chances are you have never encountered “nutriloaf,” a foul-tasting brick served to prisoners who get out of line. How foul-tasting? Depending on the recipe, somewhere on the spectrum from unpleasant to vomit inducing. A Milwaukee inmate who threw up violently for days after eating nutriloaf asked a federal appeals court to consider whether nutriloaf could be so bad that it is unconstitutional. Last week, that court became the first federal appeals court to say yes.
Despite occasional claims by the tough-on-crime crowd, prison food is generally lousy – or worse. There have long been reports of prisons that serve roadkill – “meat so fresh you can still see the tire marks,” as one news story put it. Joe Arpaio, the sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, has boasted of serving meals that cost between 15 and 40 cents each.
Nutriloaf may not be made from skid-marked meat – as far as we know – but the reviews are not good. Chicago Magazine’s food critic sampled the Cook County Jail version and wrote that it resembled “the thick, pulpy aftermath of something you dissected in high school: so intrinsically disagreeable that my throat nearly closed up reflexively.”
Inmate Terrance Prude had an even worse reaction to the nutriloaf in the Milwaukee County Jail. After two days of it, he had stomach pain and began vomiting. His weight fell 8.3 percent, from 168 pounds to 154, a decline that a prison nurse called “alarming.” He had other disturbing symptoms, including an anal fissure. Other inmates were also reported to have vomited up their nutriloaf meals.
Prude’s subsequent lawsuit against his jailers was initially thrown out, but last week the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit said that the nutriloaf he was served could violate the 8th Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. The decision – written by conservative, Reagan-appointee Richard Posner, for a three-judge panel – said Prude should have a lawyer appointed to help him make his case.
Inmates do not have a right to gourmet cuisine, but the 8th Amendment does prevent prisons and jails from serving food without sufficient nutritional value to keep people healthy – or food that will affirmatively make people sick. But courts do not interpret the right to decent prison food expansively. Many have rejected previous constitutional challenges to nutriloaf — including the St. Louis-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit and the San Francisco-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, and many lower courts.
Terrance Prude’s case in Milwaukee, however, was unusually strong. The court was troubled by the extreme reaction Prude and other inmates had to the nutriloaf. As Judge Posner observed, “healthy, sober adults do not vomit a meal just because it doesn’t taste good.” It was also disturbed by the jail’s refusal to reveal its recipe. It would only offer an unsupported claim that its nutriloaf “has been determined to be a nutritious substance for regular meals.”
The ruling does not mean that Prude will ultimately prevail. But it opens the door for him to learn more about what happened and, if the facts support it, to win on his constitutional claim. If Prude can show that jail officials knew the nutriloaf was sickening him and decided to do nothing about it, it would constitute deliberate indifference to a serious health problem – and violate the 8th Amendment.
Judges are far less sympathetic to prison conditions claims today than they were in the 1960s and 1970s, when courts overhauled many of the nation’s worst prisons and jails. They are quicker to throw cases like this out of court – with a boost from Congress, which in 1996 raised the bar on prison lawsuits with the Prison Litigation Reform Act. In a particularly chilly ruling in 2005, the Supreme Court unanimously rejected an inmate challenge to conditions in Ohio’s ultraharsh “supermax” prison.
But this judicial cold shoulder may be getting a bit less cold. The public is not as focused on crime these days, with nationwide crime rates at decades-long lows. And prisons are hugely overcrowded – and corrections budgets are strapped – as a result of tough sentencing laws. Last year, surprisingly, the conservative-leaning Supreme Court upheld, by a 5-4 vote, an order requiring California to reduce its exploding prison population. And now a three-judge panel that included a Reagan appointee and a George W. Bush appointee has said that nutriloaf can be unconstitutional.
The courts will not return any time soon to 1960s-style judicial supervision of prisons conditions. But the California and Milwaukee decisions suggest that judges are still willing to stand up for a more modest principle: that prisons — and prison food — cannot be seriously dangerous.
Cohen, the author of Nothing to Fear, teaches at Yale Law School. The views expressed are solely his own.

No comments: