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, January 12, 2014

Build communities: NOT prisons OR jails!

We could just stop throwing people in prison for BS like prostitution, addiction, and mental illness, and we wouldn't need new prisons OR fatter jails. In fact, we could even start tearing some down - it's really astonishing how many people are in prison for smoking pot and selling blow jobs. Consider the waste of resources that represents, at over $20,000/year per prisoner - not to mention the violence we are doing to those people's lives for such petty crimes.

Unfortunately, the AZ DOC wouldn't be guaranteeing 90% occupancy if it wasn't for Arizona's mandatory minimums and "truth in sentencing" laws. The DOC director also has a lot of discretion to release people early that he seldom exercises - plenty of minimum security prisoners could be safely monitored in the community who he just won't facilitate more early release for.

It appears that the AZ DOC definitely prefers incarceration over correction, too, as only 4% of their prisoners are able to access any substance abuse treatment while in custody. That's problematic, given that the yards are flooded with heroin these days (devastating in light of the Hep C epidemic). For the most part, the state prisons are being pretty violently run by racialized politics and gangs. 

Even though 25% of their prisonrs are receiving some kind of mental health "treatment" (most often subtherapeutic levels of psychotropic drugs, by all appearances), treatment of the seriously mentally ill is being neglected, and many turn to street drugs to self-medicate When they get caught, they aren't placed in a dual diagnosis treatment program - they're thrown in the hole and lose their vistiation and phone calls with those who would otherwise help them stay sane. There they often begin to self-destruct...some guys actually set themselves on fire after too long in solitary, which is where most suicides occur.

All that's to say that if the AZ Judiciary really wants anyone to  stop using drugs or "get well", they'd better do everything they can to keep from sending them to our state prisons. And if the AZ public wants to save money on incarceration, its time we drop the mandatory minimums and truth-in-sentencing laws.


Arizona sheriffs assail costs of private prisons
Officials: County jails cheaper option
The Republic |  
Sat Jan 11, 2014 10:30 PM
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and other Arizona sheriffs’ offices say the state is needlessly spending money to move inmates to a new private prison when they could be held in county facilities for millions of dollars less per year.

Arpaio and sheriffs’ offices in Apache, Pinal, Cochise, Navajo and Santa Cruz counties said they would be willing to take Department of Corrections prisoners after The Arizona Republic reported that the state this month would begin housing inmates at the privately held Red Rock Correctional Center near Eloy. The state guarantees owner Corrections Corporation of America a profit with an occupancy rate of at least 90 percent at the new facility.

CCA has become the third private-prison operator for Corrections, which has received direction from the Republican-controlled Legislature and Gov. Jan Brewer to use private facilities to ease prison overcrowding.
But in the continuing debate over private prisons, critics — including Arpaio and other sheriffs — say those facilities are a waste of state resources and funnel tax dollars into the bottom line of companies that pay their top executives seven figures.

“The state should be supporting the counties and not try competing against them,” said Brannon Eager, the Apache County sheriff’s chief deputy. “It’s obvious the existing sheriffs’ jails could house inmates cheaper than private prisons.”

Arpaio says he has plenty of room in Tent City, but he wouldn’t make available individual TVs for inmates, which is one of the state’s requirements.

“I’m totally against private prisons. Private prisons want to make money. If they could get more people in by giving them ice cream and cake, they would do it,” Arpaio said.

The six sheriffs said they could provide at least 1,750 beds, which exceeds the number of beds the state has contracted with CCA in Eloy. But the Department of Corrections said it’s not interested in spreading its inmates in county jails around Arizona.

Corrections spokesman Doug Nick said it’s unlikely jails can provide the same kind of education and rehabilitation programs. He also said all able- bodied inmates have work opportunities in state and private prisons.

“Our job is to incarcerate prisoners. If we can work with the counties, we will, but we need to manage our inmate population with our programs,” Nick said. “A county sheriff’s office is not designed to be a mini Department of Corrections. They have mostly people who have not been convicted of a crime as they are going through a trial process.”

A spokesman for Nashville-based CCA agreed.

“Long-term felons have much different needs than those in a jail,” said Steve Owen. “They are talking about three hots (meals) and a cot. ... But those offenders are not going to get the same level of rehabilitation.”

But Navajo County Sheriff K.C. Clark said Corrections wasn’t providing jobs for 50 state inmates before they were housed in Holbrook for about seven months. Clark said he put the inmates to work. He also complied with the Corrections mandate that state inmates be offered individual TVs in their cells with cable access.

“They have more rights than a county inmate,” Clark said.

Clark said he was especially upset when those state inmates were transferred from his jail late last month, just days before the new Red Rock facility opened, taking away a revenue source. Nick confirmed that the state inmates were taken from Navajo County because Red Rock opened, freeing space for hundreds of prisoners within Corrections’ facilities.

“Now that we have capacity at Red Rock, we no longer needed the temporary contract,” Nick said.

The sheriff said the state is paying CCA 32 percent more than the $49.44 daily per-inmate rate that Navajo County received.

“The bottom line is when the state says it needs more money, then why is it paying more?” Clark said. “It’s wrong.”

Nick countered that the cost at Red Rock is higher because of the education, work and substance-abuse programs being offered there.

But Arpaio said counties can provide those programs at less cost.

“I have the best drug-prevention program in the United States, and I have a high school. My rehabilitation program I will stack with DOC or anyone around the country,” Arpaio said.

Easing overcrowding

The Legislature expanded the state’s reliance on private prisons in August 2012, when Corrections awarded a contract to CCA to house up to 1,000 medium-security inmates at Red Rock.

At the end of last year, Corrections said there were about 5,000 inmates sleeping in temporary beds in state facilities.

The state, within six weeks, plans to have at least 500 prisoners at Red Rock. Corrections Director Charles Ryan said he will seek legislative approval to fill the remaining 500 beds in 2014 instead of next year, as previously planned, to alleviate overcrowding elsewhere in the system.

CCA is the third private-prison operator for Arizona, which has about one-sixth of its 40,938-inmate population in private prisons across the state. The other operators are the GEO Group Inc. and Management & Training Corp.

CCA and GEO are publicly traded companies, required by law to disclose the compensation of executives. Management & Training Corp. is privately held and does not release such information.

Damon Hininger, chief executive of CCA, has a total annual compensation of $2.7 million, while George Zoley, chairman and chief executive of GEO, has a total annual compensation of $5.9 million.

Corrections guarantees occupancy rates of 90 to 100 percent for all private prisons, meaning it will transfer inmates out of state-operated facilities and into the private prisons until the minimum occupancy is met.

Arizona taxpayers, for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2013, spent $133.8 million on five private minimum-security prison facilities and two medium-security prisons. Taxpayers spent $816.9 million on nine public- prison complexes and three specialized units that house minimum- to maximum-security inmates.

Cost savings claimed

Gov. Brewer’s office and some lawmakers say private prisons save taxpayers money by having lower operating costs. They add that the companies cover the up-front construction costs for the facilities, which are turned over to the state after 20 years.

“It’s not exactly breaking news that the private sector can provide public services in a faster and less-expensive way than a government bureaucracy,” said Andrew Wilder, Brewer’s spokesman. “A private correctional facility provides a good option for the state. The state can quickly obtain long-term (private) correctional beds, programming and security that the jails don’t have.”

But private prisons house only minimum- and medium-security inmates who typically are healthy and don’t have mental-health problems, which lowers their health-care costs. The state, meanwhile, has higher health-care costs because it houses some inmates with serious and chronic health-care problems.

When the health costs are equitably factored, the state’s costs at medium- security prisons are lower than private prisons, according to a Corrections analysis.

Clark questioned how valuable a private prison will be for the state after 20 years of operation.

“Those facilities are running 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The infrastructure will break down and the technology will change,” the sheriff said.

A Corrections study found it was less expensive in 2008, 2009 and 2010 to house inmates in state-run, medium- security facilities compared with similar in-state private facilities.

As critics of private prisons used those statistics to show it was less costly for the state to house inmates, the Republican-controlled Legislature and Brewer in 2012 repealed the law that required the Corrections Department to conduct such a study.

Rep. John Kavanagh, an influential Republican legislator from Fountain Hills, said the studies were stopped because they were misleading.

Clark and sheriffs from four other counties said they could provide similar services to the state for less than the $65.43 daily rate per inmate being paid to CCA for prisoners at Red Rock. Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu said his county’s cost would be higher because of additional programming requirements for state inmates.

Sheriffs from Coconino, Graham, Gila, Greenlee, Pima, Yavapai and Yuma counties either do not have space or are not interested in housing state inmates. The La Paz and Mohave County sheriffs could not be reached.

“It’s a whole different beast when you are dealing with people who come from prison,” said Yuma County Sheriff Leon Wilmot. “We don’t have the programs the DOC does nor do we have the resources and time to do that.”

Reach the reporter at or 602-444-8478.