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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Thursday, April 25, 2013

POSTCARD-only policy in jails unconstitutional!

YAY for Prison Legal News - which is well worth the subscription, by the way.

 Hopefully this means the beginning of the end of the crummy postcard-only policy in the Maricopa County jail system. It really is unduly oppressive and drastically restricts freedom of speech both ways. It being thrown out in one jail doesn't mean that Joe Arpaio will change his policy without a fight, though. It means the prisoners in his jails need to file grievances about the mail policy violating your 1st Amendment rights - appealing them all the way to the top so you are in a position to sue when the last denial comes down - that's called "exhausting administrative remedies" - it shows you're trying to work things out in-house, by policy, before asking the court to settle your prisoner issues. 

I know the MCSO is worried about massive quantities of drugs being hidden in children's homemade birthday cards and the like, but I think they should start strip-searcing the guards (who are the biggest source of contraband in most jails/prisons) instead of strip-searching all the prisoner's  mail...they'd find a whole hell of a lot more contraband that way.

Besides, nothing beats a real letter...


PLN prevails in challenge to postcard-only policy at Columbia County, OR jail

Prison Legal News, Jan. 1, 2013. Press release - PLN prevails in challenge to postcard-only policy at Columbia County, OR jail 2013


Human Rights Defense Center
For Immediate Release

April 25, 2013

Federal Court Strikes Down Postcard-only Policy at Columbia County Jail

Portland, OR – On April 24, the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, Portland Division, held that a postcard-only policy at the Columbia County Jail, which restricted mail sent to and from detainees at the facility to postcards, is unconstitutional. The court therefore has prohibited enforcement of the policy permanently – the first time in the United States that a jail’s postcard-only policy has been struck down following a trial on the merits.

The ruling, by federal judge Michael H. Simon, was entered in a lawsuit against Columbia County and Sheriff Jeff Dickerson filed by Prison Legal News (PLN), a non-profit monthly publication that covers criminal justice-related issues. PLN, a project of the Human Rights Defense Center, sued in January 2012 after Columbia County jail employees rejected PLN’s monthly news publication and letters mailed to detainees. Further, the jail had failed to provide PLN with notice or an opportunity to appeal the jail’s censorship of PLN’s materials.

The rejection of PLN’s publications and letters was attributed to the jail’s postcard-only policy and a policy and practice that prohibited detainees from receiving magazines. PLN contended that such policies violated its rights under the First Amendment, and that the lack of notice and opportunity to appeal was a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.

During the litigation, the defendants admitted “that inmates have a First Amendment right to receive magazines and inmates and their correspondents have a Fourteenth Amendment right to procedural due process.” However, the jail defended its postcard-only policy and claimed there was no official policy banning magazines at the jail.

On May 29, 2012, Judge Simon entered a preliminary injunction prohibiting the defendants from enforcing their postcard-only policy. He ruled that the policy "drastically restricts an inmate’s ability to communicate with the outside world," and "prevents an inmate’s family from sending items such as photographs, children’s report cards and drawings, and copies of bills, doctor reports, and spiritual and religious tracts." The court also observed that the jail’s postcard-only policy "inhibits rehabilitation," citing a U.S. Supreme Court decision that found "inmate freedom to correspond with outsiders advances rather than retards the goal of rehabilitation." Undeterred, the defendants continued to defend their policy at trial, held from February 5 to 8, 2013.

Following the trial, the district court found in its April 24 ruling that the defendants’ rationales for adopting the postcard-only policy at the jail – preventing the introduction of contraband and saving time during mail inspection – were not supported by the evidence.

The court also determined that jail employees “did not in fact allow magazines to enter the Jail,” and that a ban on magazines was specifically declared in the jail’s inmate handbook, in a jail memorandum and on the jail’s website. Further, "Sheriff Dickerson credibly testified that he did not know that the First Amendment required the Jail to allow inmates to receive magazines when he took office in 2009." The district court therefore concluded that the defendants had a policy and custom of prohibiting magazines, in violation of the First Amendment.

Accordingly, Judge Simon entered a permanent injunction that enjoins the defendants from restricting incoming and outgoing mail to postcards only. "[T]he postcard-only policy creates a hurdle to thoughtful, personal, and constructive written communications between an inmate and his or her unincarcerated family and friends," he wrote. He also declared "that inmates have a First Amendment right to receive magazines and that it would be unconstitutional for Defendants to refuse to deliver magazines to inmates solely because they are magazines," and that detainees and their correspondents have a right to procedural due process when mail is rejected, including notice of the rejection and the ability to appeal same.

"This lawsuit could have been avoided had Sheriff Dickerson not enacted an unconstitutional, harmful policy that limited correspondence to and from detainees to postcards, and had he ensured that jail employees were properly trained as to the First Amendment and due process rights of both detainees and those who correspond with them," stated PLN editor Paul Wright. "Unfortunately he failed in both of these respects, and the court’s ruling is the result."

"The court’s well-reasoned and thoughtful opinion is notice to other jails that a postcard-only policy does not serve a legitimate purpose, and indeed harms the public interest. Jails would do well to steer clear of adopting ineffective policies that violate the Constitutional right of free speech," added attorney Jesse Wing, who represented PLN at trial.

PLN was represented by Marc D. Blackman with the Portland law firm of Ransom Blackman, LLP; Jesse Wing and Katie Chamberlain with the Seattle law firm of MacDonald Hoague and Bayless; and Human Rights Defense Center general counsel Lance Weber and staff attorney Alissa Hull. The case is Prison Legal News v. Columbia County, U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, Case No. 3:12-cv-00071-SI.


The Human Rights Defense Center, founded in 1990 and based in Brattleboro, Vermont, is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting human rights in U.S. detention facilities. HRDC publishes Prison Legal News (PLN), a monthly magazine that includes reports, reviews and analysis of court rulings and news related to prisoners’ rights and criminal justice issues. PLN has around 7,000 subscribers nationwide and operates a website ( that includes a comprehensive database of prison and jail-related articles, news reports, court rulings, verdicts, settlements and related documents.

For further information, please contact:

Paul Wright, Editor
Prison Legal News
(802) 257-1342 (office)
(802) 275-8594 (cell)

Jesse Wing, Attorney
MacDonald Hoague & Bayless
705 Second Avenue, Suite 1500
Seattle, WA 98104
(206) 622-1604 (office)