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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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Legislative courage and felon disenfranchisement: Quezada introduces HB 2132.

Another brave legislator steps up to confront the disenfranchisemant of too many citizens, whose input into the political process might help mitigate some of the brutality in our criminal justice system. This bill in particular would deal with the disparities between the kind of "criminal" who can afford to pay off fines and restitution quickly, and those who can't - one's poverty alone isn't supposed to prevent participation in a democracy, after all. 

Unfortunately, because the heteropatriarchal white supremacy in this state would be threatened by the participation of more poor people in the electoral process, I don't expect this bill to survive any committees this year - this legislature is all about depriving people of their right to vote. But good for Quezada for putting it out there.


Bill would make it easier for felons to get back right to vote

About HB 2132:
• Author: Rep. Martín J. Quezada
• Key Provision: To automatically restore voting rights to felons by making requirements less stringent.
• For two or more felony convictions: Automatic restoration after completing probation or receiving an absolute discharge.
• For first-time felons: Automatic restoration after completing a term of probation or receives an absolute discharge.
PHOENIX – Saying that voting can help former felons reintegrate into everyday life, a state lawmaker wants to make it easier for them to get back that right.

“I think that people that have served their time and paid their debt to society that it’s important for them to get their most fundamental right – constitutional right – the right to vote, to get it back,” said Rep. Martín J. Quezada, D-Phoenix.

He authored HB 2132, which would restore the right to vote to a person who has been convicted of two or more felonies after completing probation or receiving an absolute discharge from the Arizona Department of Corrections. The latter requires completing a prison term and parole and paying restitution in full.

At present, members of that group must apply to vote again, a process that varies by county.

“The right to vote being so fundamental … it seems automatic restoration of that right in particular is critical to making us a better-functioning society,” Quezada said.

First-time felons currently get back the right to vote automatically after completing probation or receiving an absolute discharge and paying fines and restitution. The bill would allow restoration before full payment of fines and restitution.

“A lot of time, the payment of fines is also prohibitive, especially with people who are of limited resources, which they’re going to be after being released from prison,” Quezada said.

Donna Leone Hamm, a retired lower court judge and founder of the nonprofit organization Middle Ground Prison Reform, also sees voting as a bridge for felons to rejoin society.

“I can’t think of a better way for people to learn how to appropriately change the world and change what you don’t like than to vote and to know that your vote counts,” she said.

Hamm said she understands that voting may not be the top priority for a newly released prisoner.

“Still, being allowed to register to vote and to participate in democracy is a way of demonstrating to an inmate that you have paid your debt and we accept you back into the process,” she said.

Her husband, James J. Hamm, who served time in Arizona for a drug-related homicide, received his absolute discharge in 2001. He registered to vote the same day.

“For me, personally, participation is significant,” he said. “It just keeps putting little pillars in that bridge between the past and the future.”

But Roger Clegg, president and general counsel of the Falls Church, Va.-based Center for Equal Opportunity, a right-leaning think tank, said voting restrictions are put in place for a reason.

“We have a minimum objective standard of responsibility, trustworthiness and commitment to our laws before we trust people with a role in self-governance,” he said.

Clegg said any kind of voting restoration should be on a case-by-case basis that involves a formal and “more meaningful” process similar to naturalization.

“I think the way you welcome people back into society is not giving them their right vote automatically. It’s something earned,” he said.

Alessandra Soler, executive director of American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, said felon disenfranchisement is the “antithesis to rehabilitation.”

“We need to change the law so (voting restoration) can be automatic so once people complete their probation, once they’re no longer in the custody of the Department of Corrections, their voting rights should be automatically restored,” she said.

Soler said voting restoration shouldn’t be contingent on the complete payment of fines and restitution.

“We’re not saying people shouldn’t pay their obligations. All we’re saying is it shouldn’t be tied to the restoration of their voting rights,” she said. “I think it’s important once people served their time it should be automatic.”

HB 2132 was assigned to the House Judiciary Committee but had yet to receive a hearing.

Quezada sponsored a similar bill last year. He noted that it doesn’t tackle the restoration of any other rights, such as owning firearms.

“I’ve moved forward with this bill and other bills dealing with past felons because I believe it’s important for us as a society that these people become successful in their lives post their criminal sentences,” he said.

“After they are released back into society, we need to do whatever we can to help them be successful.”