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:

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Prisoners are still Persons: Solitary destroys the soul....

For those who missed it, an excellent and pointed editorial on solitary confinement by Colin Dayan, with links at the bottom to more the NY Times has done on the issue...

Here is also the link to the American Friends Service Committee 2007 project: "Buried Alive", about solitary confinement in Arizona.

And for those of you with loved ones in isolation/special management/control units, here's a manual to print up and send them: SURVIVAL IN SOLITARY

-----------from the New York Times------------

Opinions: Destroying the soul

New York Times (JULY 5, 2012)

Colin Dayan is Robert Penn Warren professor in the humanities at Vanderbilt University and the author of “The Law Is a White Dog: How Legal Rituals Make and Unmake Persons.”
We as a nation are guilty of the most horrific treatment of prisoners in the civilized world. In March, 400 prisoners in California’s Security Housing Units, as well as a number of prisoners’ rights organizations, petitioned the United Nations asking for help. Since then, the Center for Constitutional Rights has filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of prisoners at California’s Pelican Bay State Prison who have each spent between 10 and 28 years in solitary confinement . A class-action suit in Arizona challenges inadequate medical and mental health care that subjects prisoners to injury, amputation, disfigurement and death — especially in prolonged solitary confinement. 

Supermax detention is the harshest weapon in the U.S. punitive armory. Once, solitary confinement affected few prisoners for relatively short periods. Today, most prisoners can expect to face solitary, for longer periods and under conditions that make old-time solitary seem almost attractive. The contemporary state-of-the-art supermax is a clean, well-lighted place. There is no decay or dirt. And there is often no way out.

This is not the “hole” portrayed in movies. As a sign of professionalism and advanced technology, extreme isolation and sensory deprivation constitute the “treatment” in these units. Supermaxes modify inmates’ spatial and temporal framework, severely damaging their sense of themselves: a terrible violence against the spirit and a betrayal of our constitutional and moral responsibilities.

More than a decade ago, I began visiting the “Special Management Units” at the Arizona State Prison Complex-Eyman in Florence. I completed a series of interviews in an attempt to understand this new version of solitary confinement. Prisoners there are locked alone in their cells for 23 hours a day. Their food is delivered through a slot in the door of their 80-square-foot cell. They stare at unpainted concrete walls onto which nothing can be put. They look through doors of perforated steel, what one officer described to me as “irregular-shaped Swiss cheese.” Except for the occasional touch of a guard’s hand as they are handcuffed and chained when they leave their cells, they have no contact with another human being.

In this condition of enforced idleness, prisoners are not eligible for vocational programs. They have no educational opportunities; books and newspapers are severely limited; post and telephone communication virtually nonexistent. Locked in their cells for as many as 161 of the 168 hours in a week, they spend most of the brief time out of their cells in shackles, with perhaps as much as eight minutes to shower. An empty exercise room — a high-walled cage with a mesh screening overhead, also known as the “dog pen” — is available for “recreation.”

These are locales for perpetual incapacitation, where obligations to society, the duties of husband, father or lover are no longer recognized. An inmate wrote me, “People go crazy here in lockdown. People who weren’t violent become violent and do strange things. This is a city within a city, another world inside of a larger one where people could care less about what goes on in here. This is an alternate world of hate, pain, and mistreatment.”

Situated on 40 acres of desert, Special Management Unit 2 is surrounded by two rings of 20-foot-high fence topped with razor wire, like a nuclear-waste storage facility. During my visits, I learned that those who have not violated prison rules — often jailhouse lawyers or political activists — are placed apart from other prisoners, sometimes for what is claimed to be their own protection; sometimes for what is alleged to be the administrative convenience of prison officials; sometimes for baseless, unproven and generally unprovable claims of gang membership.

We citizens are proud of our history. We are a nation of laws. But what kind of laws? Laws that permit solitary confinement, with cell doors, unit doors and shower doors operated remotely from a control center, with severely limited and often abusive physical contact. Has society’s current attention to the death penalty allowed us to forget the gradual destruction of mind and loss of personal dignity in solitary confinement, including such symptoms as hallucinations, paranoia and delusions?

The philosopher Jeremy Bentham came to believe that solitude was “torture in effect.” Other 19th-century observers, including Charles Dickens and Alexis de Tocqueville, used images of premature burial, the tomb and the shroud to represent the death-in-life of solitary confinement. Some 25,000 inmates are languishing in long-term isolation in America’s supermax prisons, with as many as 80,000 more in solitary confinement in other facilities.

A Senate Judiciary Committee panel heard testimony last month on solitary confinement. I hope that someone reminded lawmakers of Justice William Douglas’s words nearly 40 years ago: “Prisoners are still ‘persons.’ ” 
More on this debate:
Anita Kumar: House kills study to reduce solitary confinement in prisons

High-risk Horizons: Coconino's Children of the Imprisoned.

Glad to see that Coconino County is working creatively with the children of incarcerated parents, and trying to help them keep their family units connected. Here's a good New York Times article giving some background on why it's so important to attend to these kids' needs - and why we must decarcerate our nation as rapidly as possible...

The STARS Mentoring Program in AZ has some excellent resources for caregivers here.

There's also a manual for caregivers of children with incarcerated parents: 
"Mother's prison"
ASPC-Perryville; Goodyear, AZ 
November 2011

Keeping Kids Connected With Their Jailed Parents

North Country Public Radio
Jul 18, 2012 (Morning Edition / Arizona Public Radio) —
With one of the highest incarceration rates in the country, Arizona also has one of the highest percentages of children with a parent in prison. In rural Coconino County, 1 of every 28 minors has an incarcerated parent, and that county is helping families stay in touch without bringing kids inside prison walls.
Arizona has one of the highest incarceration rates in the country, and that means it also has one of the highest percentages of children with one or both parents in jail. One rural county there is trying to help families stay connected.

On a recent day, 45-year-old Liz Minor sits in the shade outside a coffeehouse in Flagstaff, enjoying icy drinks with her two sons. She relishes this ordinary moment, considering that just a few years ago, their time together was limited to a prison visiting room, separated by shatterproof glass.

"I wore lipstick because it leaves marks," Minor says. "So when your kids are there and they're telling you it's over ... you see windows just marked up with lips because you want to kiss your babies goodbye and you can't."

Minor's youngest son, A.J., was only 7 years old when his mom began serving a sentence for manslaughter. Now 18, A.J. recalls a very different memory of visits with his mom.

"They always used to make us ... take off our shoes and open up shirts and stuff," A.J. says. "They would pat us down, and our pockets had to be turned out."

During his mom's absence, A.J. was raised by several family members because his father was also in prison, serving a life sentence. It was tough for A.J.

"I did have a lot of suicidal tendencies," he says. "It really sucked to have to go through that when you're 8, 9, 10 years old, and you're thinking about going into your room and killing yourself. It's not a cool deal at all."

Instead of taking his life, however, A.J. took action. At 15, he joined a fledgling task force in Coconino County, Ariz. The group's goal was to keep kids connected with their parents in prison. That's where he met Beth Tucker, one of the group's organizers.

"Our population of children and families is different than the state as a whole in that we have such great distances for our rural areas," Tucker says. "They're traveling hundreds and hundreds of miles to visit a parent."

Tucker says 1 of every 28 children in Coconino County has a parent in prison. Some kids, like A.J., experience the trauma of being present during their parent's arrest. Others, Tucker says, can end up on the street, fearful they'll land in foster care or in the custody of Child Protective Services.

"We know that oftentimes when a parent is arrested, they will not reveal that they have children," she says. "They're afraid they're going to lose that child."

That's why law enforcement officers are now being trained to look for signs of children at the time of a person's arrest: toys, car seats and backpacks, for instance. Another major step is that the county is installing a Skype-like video visitation system. Lt. Matt Figueroa with the Coconino County Sheriff's Office is helping set it up.

"They can do it from a coffeehouse, they can do it from their iPhone or iPad," Figueroa says. "People throw out the word Skype, but it's basically a secure video connection to conduct that visit."

Figueroa says it will also cut down on the trauma that many children experience having to go inside prison to visit a parent. That's heartening to kids like A.J. Minor, who says he would've liked something like this when his mom was in prison.

"A visit like that would actually keep a kid from running away, because they know that they can have a visit with their parent every couple of days. It's so much more nourishing," he says. "So for someone who's going through it right now, just hang on. You will be able to see them."

A.J. himself is trying to hang on, when it comes to seeing his own father. They haven't met face to face in 16 years. 

Copyright 2012 Arizona Public Radio. To see more, visit

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

2008 Deaths in Custody: The Drowning of Jesse Garcia

 Amnesty International
(circa 1980's)

I received the following letter from a former AZ DOC officer this spring, who I also spoke to at some length. I have since verified that Jesse Garcia (43305), a prisoner from ASPC-Tucson/Manzanita, died on 12/31/08 at Kino Hospital . The cause of death was ultimately documented by the AZ DOC as being due to complications of emphysema, with a contributing factor of lung cancer.

I don't know why there is no record of Jesse Garcia's existence in the AZ DOC on-line database, but I obtained the record at the bottom of this post directly from the AZ DOC myself. In any case, this is the story of just how Jesse died. If anyone out there knows how to contact his family, please get this post to them and have them contact me (Peggy Plews) at or 480-580-6807.

----------from former AZ DOC officer N. Duran--------

May 2, 2012

Peggy Plews:

Here’s my story, I pray that God will intervene where the justice system failed or just didn’t care about another dead inmate.

On 12-31-08 at 9:45 pm, Sgt R. Lopez briefed graveyard staff at ASPC-T-Manzanita Unit that an Inmate was in need of a breathing treatment.  He said that the inmate was a problem and just wanted attention.

When I arrived in Housing Unit 6 (Terminally Ill) Facility, I noticed inmate Jesse Garcia 43305 was sitting in a wheelchair in an awkward twisted position, struggling to breathe.  It appeared he had a blueish discoloration to his skin & tongue.  He was propped next to the officer’s desk, gasping for air and grabbing his chest.

I heard the Swingshift Officer trying to get inmate Garcia medical attention.  To no avail, Swingshift Officer informed me that Sgt. Lopez refused to transport Inmate Garcia to Rincon 9 for Medical attention.  He told me that Sgt. R. Lopez said that he has enough medication and that he was probably faking, besides it’s New Years Eve and he didn’t want to deal with the paperwork.

The Swingshift Officer also informed me that Inmate Garcia had four breathing treatments throughout the day and recently he ran out of albuterol.  With medical a no show, (we) myself & SPA-Porter assisted Inmate Garcia to his bed with aid of an oxygen machine.  Throughout the night Inmate Garcia was having difficulty breathing.

At approximately 1:30am I witnessed Inmate Garcia wheel himself down the hallway to the medical doors.  He appeared panicking and was in distress.  His wheelchair was pinned up against the medical doors.  He was twisting back & forth with his eyes bulging and his tongue protruding out of his mouth.  He was desperately clawing at the doors trying to pry them open.  He appeared he was unable to breathe.  He was desperately clawing at the doors, his finger tips appeared to have blood coming from them due to his desperate attempt to claw the doors open.

ICS was initiated and Inmate Garcia was violently twisting gasping for air while his head was banging against the medical door attempting to breathe.  Inmate Garcia then turned towards me violently grabbing at my uniform shirt with fear and desperation.  I asked Inmate Garcia what he needed.  He tried to say medicine in Spanish.

Myself & SPA Porter attempted to remove Inmate Garcia from his wheelchair and place him on the floor.  We placed a laundry bag under his head so he would not suffer any head trauma.  The video operator was on site and Sgt. Lopez arrived later.  He was contacting Rincon Medical to advise them of a transport.  I told Sgt. Lopez that the inmate needed to go to St. Mary’s Hospital.  With lack of empathy he sarcastically refused and said he was going to Rincon 9.

At that instant Inmate Garcia managed to sit up and violently vomit blood & tissue.  Sgt. Lopez then requested an ambulance to transport Inmate Garcia to the hospital.  What seemed like a lifetime of vomiting blood, it appeared Inmate Garcia stopped breathing.  I guided his head to the floor where Inmate Garcia laid unresponsive his eyes appeared glazed with blood coming out of his nose and mouth he appeared not breathing.

Myself, the video operator & Sgt. Lopez appeared to be the only security in the unit with also 15 inmates.  I turned to Sgt. Lopez and I asked him to help me with CPR.  He yelled at me and stated, “I’m on the phone.”  I told him the inmate stopped breathing and I needed help with CPR.  Again he yelled “I’m on the F______ phone.”  I then turned to the video operator and asked her for assistance with CPR, noticing she was still video taping.  She refused.

I asked her for a mouth piece, at that moment another officer arrived on unit to assist me with CPR.  The officer was administering chest compressions I was trying to attempt rescue breathing. Due to the large amount of blood on the mouth shield I was provided with extra one and I continued to conduct rescue breathing until the Tucson Fire department arrived and relieved us with the CPR attempt and they continued until they were able to get a pulse.

A request was made by me for a blood sample & test of any HIV-AIDS-Hep viruses.  Due to the bodily fluid exposure I was provided medication to fight any viruses that entered the system.  The medication made me violently ill and I was out of work for over a week.  When I returned to work I was informed that Sgt. Lopez never requested a blood test.  I spoke with the Nurse Supervisor at Kino.  He stated there was never a request from any supervisor to get a blood test from deceased Inmate Garcia.

I was told by the COII (sp?) from our unit that Inmate Garcia was cremated because he had no family.  I was later informed by a Wardens assistant that Inmate Garcia did have family because they authorized the cremation.  I asked her what he died of, she informed me the death certificate stated cancer.

I would like the expose the truth.

Jesse Garcia 43305 suffocated and drowned in his own blood.  The incident was videotaped and his death was negligent and covered up.  His family needs to know the truth.  I’ve exhausted every option to reveal the truth.

Like all officers we swore an oath to protect the public, staff and inmates.  The cause of death was falsified.  In the yard office hung a ridiculous sign, “Inmates are students of our behavior!”  If that’s the case the inmate population has not chance of rehabilitation.

Former officer of 15 ½ years -

N. Duran


arizona department of corrections

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

ACLU-AZ: SB1070 and the fight over Section 2B

No one will comply...

Independence Day, 2012 
Central Phoenix, Arizona 

-----from the ACLU of Arizona------

July 17, 2012


Alessandra Soler, ACLU of Arizona, (602) 773-6006 (office) or (602) 301-3705 (cell)
Adela de la Torre, NILC: 213-674-2832;
Steven Gosset, ACLU: 212-549-2666;
Laura Rodriguez, MALDEF: 310-956-2425;

PHOENIX — A coalition of civil rights organizations today asked a federal district court to block implementation of the “show me your papers” provision of SB 1070, Arizona’s racial profiling law, until the court has had time to consider additional legal claims that the law is unconstitutional.

The civil rights organizations’ lawsuit includes evidence and claims that are not present in the federal government’s separate challenge to SB 1070, on which the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision last month. In its decision, the Supreme Court struck down three other provisions of SB 1070. The Court noted potential constitutional problems with section 2(B), the “show me your papers” provision, but did not strike it down based on the evidence and claims that the federal government brought in its case. The Court noted, however, that other challenges could be brought against the section.

In their motion today, the civil rights groups contend that section 2(B) unlawfully discriminates against Latinos and individuals of Mexican origin. The groups present evidence that legislators who supported the law routinely used false “facts” and discriminatory language and that they intended section 2(B) to impose statewide the racial profiling tactics used by Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County. The groups also introduced new evidence demonstrating that, if it is allowed to go into effect, section 2(B) will violate the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment and the well established principle, which the Supreme Court reaffirmed in last month’s decision, that federal immigration law preempts state immigration enforcement laws. Finally, the groups ask the district court to block a separate provision of SB 1070 that creates a state crime for “harboring” undocumented individuals, which the Supreme Court’s recent decision makes clear is unconstitutional.

“Assertions from politicians and law enforcement officials in Arizona that nothing will change once section 2(b) goes into effect are simply false,” said Alessandra Soler, executive director of the ACLU of Arizona.  “‘This provision requires that local agencies shift priorities to aggressively seek federal immigration violators, sending a clear message to Latinos that they are not welcome in Arizona. “ 

The request was made on behalf of plaintiffs in Valle del Sol v. Whiting, et al. (formerly known as Friendly House v. Whiting, et al.), a class action lawsuit challenging SB 1070, which was filed in May 2010.

“Our Constitution protects us from state laws that intend to discriminate based on on the color of a person’s skin or her or his nationality,” said Karen Tumlin, managing attorney with the National Immigration Law Center. “The district court should block this hateful provision that threatens countless Arizonans’ basic right to live free from fear of harassment or prolonged detention.”

Police chiefs across the country have long concluded that section 2B could not be implemented in a race-neutral manner. Immigration experts agree that there is no way to determine immigration status based on external or physical characteristics and that police will end up using race and ethnicity to decide who could be in the country without authorization.

“In a state that’s more than 30 percent Latino, requiring police to act as immigration agents is an invitation to racial profiling on a massive scale” said Omar Jadwat, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project. “Police chiefs and communities know these laws don’t work, and we hope that the courts will continue to block them from going forward.”

“The ‘papers provision’ is unconstitutional and the people of Arizona should not be subject to this law for even a single day,” said Victor Viramontes, MALDEF National Senior Counsel. “This law would result in Latinos being illegally arrested and detained across Arizona.”

The coalition includes NILC, ACLU, MALDEF, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, the ACLU of Arizona, the Asian Pacific American Legal Center and the Asian American Justice Center, both members of the Asian American Center for Advancing Justice, as well as the NAACP. The law firms of Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP, Altshuler Berzon LLP, and Roush, McCracken, Guerrero, Miller & Ortega are also acting as co-counsel in the case.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

2012 Elections: Countering the private prison lobby

Below are a couple of fliers about the Bird-dogging Campaign to challenge 2012 candidates on their attitudes and intentions about privatization in the AZ prison system, and engage them in dialogue about alternatives. Click below to download, and please pass them on to other interested parties. We need folks to go to this training and learn to fight where and how it really matters.


Friday, July 6, 2012

political corruption, the "free" market, and the incarceration of our nation...

The Arizona State legislature and Governor Brewer sold prison privatization to the people here on the same premise that conservatives everywhere base their arguments: it's good for the free market and it will save money - which we all know now is BS. Arizona has insisted on proceeding with prison privatization plans despite the AZ Department of Corrections' own studies showing that incarcerating people in private prisons actually costs more than in state-run facilities. Why, then, would our beloved, selfless leaders orchestrate a plan that may actually cost taxpayers more and put prisoners at greater risk for severe trauma or premature death? Paul Krugman explains that in the most simple terms below.

Not that it's any secret that state politicians are playing these games with our people and communities to their own advantage - the media here has been trying to tell folks about the private prison fiasco in AZ for awhile now, but people don't seem to listen or care. It scares me sometimes to think how much more stupid Arizona voters can still get about crime and punishment. If a politician says something will save taxpayer money and protect us from all the bad guys, our electorate will buy it even if it starves our own schools and poisons our own wells...which makes us look awfully cheap, vindictive, and just plain foolish.


Prisons, Privatization, Patronage

Over the past few days, The New York Times has published several terrifying reports about New Jersey’s system of halfway houses — privately run adjuncts to the regular system of prisons. The series is a model of investigative reporting, which everyone should read. But it should also be seen in context. The horrors described are part of a broader pattern in which essential functions of government are being both privatized and degraded. 

First of all, about those halfway houses: In 2010, Chris Christie, the state’s governor — who has close personal ties to Community Education Centers, the largest operator of these facilities, and who once worked as a lobbyist for the firm — described the company’s operations as “representing the very best of the human spirit.” But The Times’s reports instead portray something closer to hell on earth — an understaffed, poorly run system, with a demoralized work force, from which the most dangerous individuals often escape to wreak havoc, while relatively mild offenders face terror and abuse at the hands of other inmates. 

It’s a terrible story. But, as I said, you really need to see it in the broader context of a nationwide drive on the part of America’s right to privatize government functions, very much including the operation of prisons. What’s behind this drive? 

You might be tempted to say that it reflects conservative belief in the magic of the marketplace, in the superiority of free-market competition over government planning. And that’s certainly the way right-wing politicians like to frame the issue. 

But if you think about it even for a minute, you realize that the one thing the companies that make up the prison-industrial complex — companies like Community Education or the private-prison giant Corrections Corporation of America — are definitely not doing is competing in a free market. They are, instead, living off government contracts. There isn’t any market here, and there is, therefore, no reason to expect any magical gains in efficiency. 

And, sure enough, despite many promises that prison privatization will lead to big cost savings, such savings — as a comprehensive study by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, part of the U.S. Department of Justice, concluded — “have simply not materialized.” To the extent that private prison operators do manage to save money, they do so through “reductions in staffing patterns, fringe benefits, and other labor-related costs.” 

So let’s see: Privatized prisons save money by employing fewer guards and other workers, and by paying them badly. And then we get horror stories about how these prisons are run. What a surprise! 

So what’s really behind the drive to privatize prisons, and just about everything else? 

One answer is that privatization can serve as a stealth form of government borrowing, in which governments avoid recording upfront expenses (or even raise money by selling existing facilities) while raising their long-run costs in ways taxpayers can’t see. We hear a lot about the hidden debts that states have incurred in the form of pension liabilities; we don’t hear much about the hidden debts now being accumulated in the form of long-term contracts with private companies hired to operate prisons, schools and more. 

Another answer is that privatization is a way of getting rid of public employees, who do have a habit of unionizing and tend to lean Democratic in any case. 

But the main answer, surely, is to follow the money. Never mind what privatization does or doesn’t do to state budgets; think instead of what it does for both the campaign coffers and the personal finances of politicians and their friends. As more and more government functions get privatized, states become pay-to-play paradises, in which both political contributions and contracts for friends and relatives become a quid pro quo for getting government business. Are the corporations capturing the politicians, or the politicians capturing the corporations? Does it matter? 

Now, someone will surely point out that nonprivatized government has its own problems of undue influence, that prison guards and teachers’ unions also have political clout, and this clout sometimes distorts public policy. Fair enough. But such influence tends to be relatively transparent. Everyone knows about those arguably excessive public pensions; it took an investigation by The Times over several months to bring the account of New Jersey’s halfway-house-hell to light. 

The point, then, is that you shouldn’t imagine that what The Times discovered about prison privatization in New Jersey is an isolated instance of bad behavior. It is, instead, almost surely a glimpse of a pervasive and growing reality, of a corrupt nexus of privatization and patronage that is undermining government across much of our nation.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

ASPC Florence Deaths in Custody: Nelson Douglas Johnson III, 31

UPDATE July 4, 2012:  

Since originally placing the following post 24 hours ago, I've spoken to several members of Nelson's family. All have asked me to emphasize that the investigation into his death is still on-going; it hasn't yet been ruled a suicide, and they aren't inclined to believe that's what happened without more evidence than a press release. It's always hard to accept when a loved one takes their own life, but given the history of incompetence and cover-ups at the AZ Department of Corrections - I think some skepticism is always in order. 

Nelson's family will let us know when they've been given the state's official narrative of his death. If anyone has pictures, artwork, stories, etc about his life, please email and share them with me - I'd like to put more out there about him than just his criminal record and a mug shot. Here, for example, is some of Nelson's work from prison...

Nelson Douglas Johnson III:
2002 Award winner in Lowrider Mag

---------------July 3, 2010 (8:20am)---------------

I spent some time this morning trying to learn a little more about this fellows life than the AZ Department of Corrections wants to share with us. All I could draw from were his criminal records though, and some of what comes from them is just my inference...

Nelson Douglas Johnson had a history of having problems with the law dating back to adolescence. At the age of 17 he was charged as an adult for a hit-and-run accident that apparently resulted in someone's death...that's a hell of a thing to live with. Nelson pled guilty to an aggravated assault charge out of that case (eventually agreeing to a $2million restitution order), then picked up a separate weapons misconduct charge around the same time and went to prison young. 

I can't access the sentencing minutes, but by all appearances Nelson did at least eight or nine years in state prison - growing up there, basically - before being released in 2008. He was back in prison in 2010, pleading guilty to resisting arrest in exchange for having a number of burglary charges dropped. That was what he was doing time for when he killed himself this week, just two months short of freedom.

Nelson should have been paroled on September 7 of this year, which is troubling. Whenever I see guys do this I can't help but wonder if there was some more fearsome death they were trying to avoid by taking their own lives. As noted below, Nelson was at ASPC-Florence/Kasson - and according to his AZ DOC record, he had a number of disciplinary actions this past year for what appear to be "refusals to house" - which is usually what someone does when they're afraid they'll be hurt or killed on a GP yard, so they get a ticket and get sent to detention, Like Nelson did.

The only letters I get from Nelson's yard, by the way, are from guys who are begging for help getting protective custody. I hope his family hires an attorney to find out if he had been threatened and was seeking protection at the time he died - too many guys have done themselves in upon being told they were denied protection and would be returned to general population; the terror of what might happen to them there was too much to face. If there wasn't such a huge jump in the violence in our state prisons under Chuck Ryan, the protective segregation program wouldn't be so swamped with applicants right now.

Families, please tell your loved ones to hang on. If they're having trouble getting PS or if you fear they aren't getting the mental health treatment they need, have them write to me (PO Box 20494, PHX 85036). I can't promise to deliver anything, but I'll do what I can to help and encourage them through whatever they're facing in there. Let them know about the class action suit over the neglect and suicides, and that we're working on getting the feds in to assess the skyrocketing assault and homicide rates under Chuck Ryan - tell them that help is on the way, they just need to hold out and hang in there.

Finally, condolences to Nelson's family, who must be devastated. If I can be a support through this or you want to organize with other survivors to prevent this bloodshed from continuing, let me know. 

If anyone knows more about Nelson Johnson's life or death, I'd appreciate it if you'd contact me ( or 480-580-6807), so I can tell his story more completely. 

Art by Nelson Douglas Johnson III
featured in Lowrider Magazine (2001) 

-------------from the Arizona Republic-------------

Florence prison inmate kills himself in his cell

Bob Ortega - Arizona Republic

July 2, 2012

An inmate serving 21 months for resisting arrest was found dead from an apparent suicide in his cell Sunday at Arizona's Florence state prison, Arizona Department of Corrections officials said.

At the time of his death, Nelson Johnson, 31, was being held in maximum security in the prison's Kasson unit, which includes mental-health and disciplinary detention cells. Officials couldn't immediately confirm that Johnson was being held in isolation, but all the cells in Kasson are isolation cells.

Johnson is the fifth acknowledged suicide in the state prison system since Jan. 1. All but one of the suicides have been by inmates being held in isolation in maximum security at Florence or Eyman state prisons. There have been four other deaths since the beginning of March in which the department has not released a cause of death and that officials said remain under investigation.

Johnson had been imprisoned since May 11, 2011.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Wexford arrives in AZ: Welcome to Gamez v. Ryan.

 Welcoming Wexford Health Services - AZ
1850 N. Central Avenue, Phoenix
(July 2, 2012)

For some reason I didn't post this piece in April when it first came out in the Arizona Republic, so am doing so now, as July 1 was Wexford's first day on the job in Arizona's state prisons. Be sure to let them know, folks, that we'll be watching them...

This lawsuit is known as "PARSONS v RYAN" now


Critics cast doubt on new Ariz. prison health-care contractor

Arizona Republic

Bob Ortega
April 6, 2012

The private contractor taking over health care in Arizona's prisons promises significant improvements in care while saving money, in effect saying it will do more with less. But critics charge that Wexford Health Sources' record elsewhere suggests that sometimes it fails to live up to its promises and may do less with less.

Arizona's Department of Corrections, fighting a federal lawsuit that accuses it of providing grossly inadequate health care, issued a contract to Wexford this week as part of the state Legislature's attempts to save money by privatizing prison health care.

• See the Wexford contract 
Wexford, which is due to take control of operations by June 1, said in its contract with the state that it will:
• Hire the equivalent of at least 781 full-time health-care workers, a number that is a 30 percent increase from Corrections' current health-care-staffing level.

• Offer the 600 current correctional health-care employees first crack at the jobs and won't cut the salaries of any of those workers it hires.

• Have nursing staff on hand at every state prison 24 hours a day, seven days a week, which is not currently the case.

• Provide every correctional officer in the system 40 hours of training on dealing with mentally ill inmates.
• Have its medical staff monitor inmates in isolation daily and have mental-health staff see those inmates at least weekly, representing a significant increase in frequency.

The company promises to do all this for $116.3 million a year, which is more than the $111.3 million the Department of Corrections spent on health care last fiscal year. In that year, 20 to 25 percent of health-care positions were unfilled, with the department slow to replace employees who left before the pending privatization.

But Wexford's budget would be less than the roughly $120 million the department projected spending this fiscal year. Wexford plans to keep $5.4 million as profit and spend $2.7 million on out-of-state administrative expenses. It is headquartered in Pittsburgh.

Some prison-system observers are raising questions about whether the company can provide the savings the state hopes for while providing significant improvements in service.

"There are reasons for great skepticism" that Wexford can deliver what it promises, said Caroline Isaacs, director of the Tucson office of the American Friends Service Committee, a prison-watchdog group. "One is that Wexford has a clear pattern of not living up to its commitments in other contracts," and another, she said, is that the Department of Corrections has a history of failing to hold other contractors, such as private-prison operators, accountable when they haven't lived up to the terms of their contracts.

Lowering expenses

Wexford spokeswoman Wendelyn Pekich said the company is still identifying, in cooperation with Corrections, where it can cut costs and improve efficiencies while providing what she termed "an industry-standard quality of care." As possible areas for improvement, she cited more efficient staffing patterns, improved training and record keeping, and use of telemedicine -- diagnosing patients remotely via video.

Rep. John Kavanagh, House Appropriations Committee chairman, who led the push in the Legislature for privatizing correctional health care, said he expects the company will cut costs and save the state money by, for example, bringing into the prisons some services for which inmates are now transported.

The switch to privatization comes at a time when the state is fighting a lawsuit over allegations of inadequate prisoner care and defending itself against accusations by Amnesty International of inhumane treatment of prisoners.

A federal lawsuit, filed against the Department of Corrections last month by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Prison Law Office of San Quentin, Calif., alleges that inmates have died, been disfigured or permanently harmed by poor medical care in state-run prisons and that mentally ill inmates held in isolation often go months without seeing a psychologist or getting counseling.

If privatization improves care, that's a bonus for Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills. "The caliber of service wasn't an issue" in the state prison system at the time lawmakers voted to privatize prison health care, he said. Lawmakers weren't aware of the allegations -- which he stressed are not yet proved -- in the ACLU lawsuit.
The impetus for privatization, Kavanagh said, "was always to save money in tough economic times."

In the contract, Wexford offered some specific examples of ways it may save money: for example, hiring an oral surgeon who will travel a circuit of the prisons to extract teeth and perform other procedures for which inmates currently must be taken to outside providers, escorted and transported by correctional officers.

Wexford noted in the contract that it and the state also will save money beginning in 2014, when the majority of inmates will become Medicaid-eligible and reimbursement rates for Medicaid will increase by half because of changes related to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

However, the contract and bid documents provided to Corrections by Wexford raise questions about how fully the company disclosed performance issues elsewhere. Wexford lists 20 contracts it said ended either because the company lost a rebid or didn't rebid, among other reasons.

Some problems

In one example, Wexford said it opted not to renew a contract with Clark County, Wash., that expired at the beginning of 2010. Wexford noted that an independent audit "cited several instances of poor operations, which were already in effect when Wexford Health took over the contract" in 2007.

Although there were pre-existing problems, that audit, by the Institute for Law and Policy Planning, was more critical than Wexford admitted. It concluded that "Wexford has systematically failed to comply" with its contract and had failed to provide adequate staffing, properly licensed staff, and adequate and timely medical service.

The auditors, who said they examined Wexford's record elsewhere, wrote that "past experience in other counties reveals that jail administrators typically put up with Wexford's cost cutting and substandard level of care until the problems become too egregious to be borne."

Wexford disputed the allegations.

In Mississippi, Wexford said that a 2007 audit by a state legislative committee made "recommendations related to documentation and record keeping."

Wexford didn't disclose that the audit was harshly critical of both the company and state corrections officials for failing to provide timely, adequate medical care. Nor did it disclose that the audit said Mississippi's Department of Corrections failed to collect $931,310 in fines its chief medical officer recommended against Wexford after the company charged the state for more staff members than it actually provided.

Mississippi's Department of Corrections didn't respond to requests for comment. In its bid documents, Wexford said that it addressed the audit's concerns and that Mississippi renewed its contract. Wexford said that, in Mississippi, it collaborated with the American Civil Liberties Union to get a consent decree lifted last year that had been imposed by a federal court, requiring that state to improve its correctional medical care.
ACLU officials in Mississippi did not respond to requests for comment.

Wexford's bid noted a $12,500 fine by New Mexico's Department of Corrections in 2006 "for infirmary rounds/physicals not conducted within contracted time frames," an issue it said it corrected. Wexford didn't mention that a 2007 audit by a state legislative finance committee reported extensive medical-staff shortages and long delays in reporting inmate deaths, among other problems.

Wexford disclosed that it was fined $106,000 by Ohio's Correction Department in 2009 for contract violations for what it described as "non-critical incidents," such as failing to fill a vacancy or comply with procedures for disposing of used "sharps." In its bid document, Wexford said it addressed the problems and has been in compliance with its Ohio contract ever since.

Wexford listed other fines, including $50,000 by Chesapeake, Va., in 2006 for staffing shortages; three fines totaling $273,000 by Florida's Department of Corrections in 2005 for what it described as "service-delivery issues that were resolved" before the contract's end; and a $68,000 fine by the Broward Sheriff's Office in Florida in 2003 for delays in providing medical services.

The company also noted in its bid document that, over the five years ending Sept. 1, 2011, it received 794 formal or informal legal claims, including many that it termed "frivolous 'alleged deliberate indifference' " suits. The company said it settled 18 claims confidentially for a total of $252,425 and won six claims in court.

Arizona's contract

Arizona's contract with Wexford took effect Tuesday and goes into full operation June 1. It gives the Department of Corrections authority to impose fines or suspend or terminate the contract for violations of its terms. The fine amounts vary according to the severity and extent of the violation, from $10,000 for an act of deliberate indifference that risks an inmate's health or safety to those of $25,000 a day or more. Corrections also will have on-site monitors at every prison and will conduct quarterly audits, according to the contract.

One state health-care employee, who asked not to be identified, said that whatever happens with Wexford, "the only way to go is up." According to allegations in the ACLU/Prison Law Office suit, Corrections systematically and unconstitutionally fails to provide adequate care to inmates and has done so for years. The department has not filed a legal response to the allegations.


Wexford's Phoenix HQ. 

Approximately 40% of AZ state prisoners are infected with Hepatitis C, 
an epidemic spilling over into or communities unchecked as well, 
since most of those infected are being denied treatment...