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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Sunday, April 14, 2013

Fascist Architecture: NAACP files AZ Supermax complaint.

Hooray for the Maricopa County NAACP!!!! I encourage every prisoner's family out there to thank them and (if you can swing it) join them - they're always on this prison business, out at public hearings, legislative committees, everywhere they can head these people off. 

From their site: "If you need to speak with a member of the Executive Committee in person, to ensure that a representative is available to address your concern, please call 602-252-4064 to schedule an appointment before visiting our Branch Office." 
1818 S. 16th Street
Phoenix, AZ  85034

Both the Rev. Oscar Tillman, Board President, and Dianne Post know a lot themselves about what's going on with the AZ DOC, if you need to target your correspondence there.

As a talking point, folks, remember my friend "C", sitting in Supermax as we speak - though being threatened now with being returned to general population despite multiple requests for protective segregation, which they continue to punish him for. *** 

***(JUNE 7, 2013 UPDATE:  My friend "C" was re-classed back down to a 4/4 and moved to a level 4 GP yard from the Supermax, apparently as of 5/20/13. For his safety, in light of that, I'm removing identifying infomration about him. His request for protective custody has clearly once again been denied. I think he was probbly happier -or at least felt safer - in the Supermax than where he is now, which is an especially scary place. Think good things for my friend, people. I think he's being set up to be hurt by the AZ DOC for being so outspoken...)***

 The legislature and governor are really being made fools of by the AZ Department of Corrections these days - they're packing that place full of medium security prisoners like C just to justify building a new one: our next Supermax will be based on a Superlie.

If any of that distrubs you, PLEASE contact your legislators!  Find them here, and reach them here, along with the House minority leader, Rep.Chad Campbell:

AZ State Legislature
1700 W. Washington St.
Phoenix, AZ 85007

Finally, hit this petition at You don't need to be an architect to object to the design of places for torture. From the petition site:

Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility (ADPSR) is asking the American Institute of Architects to amend its Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct to prohibit the design of spaces for torture and killing. In the United States, this comprises the design of execution chambers and super-maximum security prisons (“supermax”), which inflict torture through long-term solitary isolation. As people of conscience and as a profession dedicated to improving the built environment for all people, we cannot participate in the design of spaces that violate human life and dignity. Participating in the development of buildings designed for torture and killing is fundamentally incompatible with professional practice that respects standards of decency and human rights. AIA has the opportunity to lead our profession in upholding human rights....

The petition itself reads: 

To: American Institute of Architects (AIA) 

Prohibit the design of spaces for torture or killing in the Ethics Code.

As people of conscience, we believe that architects should not participate in the design of spaces that violate human life and dignity. The profession of architecture is dedicated to improving the built environment and protecting the health, safety, and welfare of all people. Participating in or allowing the development of buildings designed for torture and killing is fundamentally incompatible with professional practice that respects standards of decency and human rights. We urge AIA to amend the Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct to prohibit the design of spaces intended for execution or for torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, including prolonged solitary confinement.

-------------------from the AZ Community Press---------

 Arizona NAACP Branch Files SuperMax Prison Construction Complaint
Arizona Community Press
April 14, 2013

Photo taken by  Christoph Gielen.
Photo taken by Christoph Gielen.

The Maricopa County Branch of the NAACP filed a complaint on Friday, April 12th with the Arizona State Board of Technical Registration requesting that the Board conduct an investigation of the architectural firm that has been awarded the proposal pursuant to State of Arizona Bid Solicitation: ADSPO13-00002006 for professional design services for design and construction administration of a 500 bed maximum security prison.

The maximum security prison, also known as a “supermax” (short for “super-maximum security”) prison, is a “control-unit” prison or section which house inmates who are  considered high security risks.  According to the National Institute of Corrections, “A supermax is a stand-alone unit or part of another facility and is designated for violent or disruptive inmates. It typically involves up to 23-hour-per-day, single-cell confinement for an indefinite period of time. Inmates in supermax housing have minimal contact with staff and other inmates.”  Here in Arizona there are currently “supermax” prisons in Florence and Tucson.

The NAACP argues that the proposal violates the Administrative Code and Rules of Professional Conduct of architects because the duty to the client (Arizona Department of Corrections) conflicts with the duty to the public and presents a serious threat to public health, safety or welfare. The proposal violates the Rules of Professional Conduct because it violates human rights, is discriminatory, shows disregard of the rights of others, endangers public safety, is not environmentally sustainable, and ignores the responsibilities of architects to others including the public and prisoners.

The prison discipline study, a mass national survey assessing formal and informal punitive practices in U.S. prisons, concluded that “solitary confinement, loss of privileges, physical beatings” and other forms of deprivation and harassment were “common disciplinary practices” that were “rendered routinely, capriciously and brutally” in maximum-security U.S. prisons. The study also noted receiving “hundreds of comments from prisoners” explaining that jailhouse lawyers who file grievances and lawsuits about abuse and poor conditions were the most frequently targeted. Black prisoners and the mentally ill were also targeted for especially harsh treatment.

The National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) recently began describing supermax conditions as torture. Many studies have documented the detrimental psychological effects of solitary confinement, such as hallucinations, paranoia, and panic attacks. For NRCAT, the term ‘prolonged solitary confinement’ is equated to torture – the point when the use of solitary confinement results in severe mental or physical pain or suffering.

American judges have recognized solitary confinement of the mentally ill as equivalent to torture in the Madrid v. Gomez case because supermax prisons produce a syndrome characterized by “agitation, self-destructive behavior, and overt psychotic disorganization. … “primitive aggressive fantasies,” paranoia, and hallucinations. The U.S. has been criticized by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, American Civil Liberties Union and the U.N. Committee Against Torture for our use of supermaximum prisons and in particular isolation that may be cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

On April 3rd Arizona ACLU and American Friends Service Committee sent a letter to Governor Jan Brewer opposing the building of new supermax prison beds.  The letter begins by saying “We write on behalf of all Arizonans who oppose the state’s plans to build 500 additional maximum security prison beds, using $50 million from mortgage settlement funds. We are convinced that this is the wrong direction for Arizona.”

Maricopa County Branch NAACP stated in recent press release, “Many states are closing their supermaximum prisons because they realize how ineffective and inefficient they are. Only Arizona is moving to build more of this 1900 century technology. To do so violates the principles of the architects code of ethics and professional responsibility and should be stopped.”