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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AZ Prison Watch BLOG POSTS:

Monday, July 7, 2014

AZ DOC's Chuck Ryan takes rape seriously. Seriously?

Most readers are aware by now that a teacher at AZ DOC's supermax complex, ASPC-Eyman, was stabbed and raped in January after being left alone in a classroom with one of the sex offenders she was educating, on a sex offender unit, where teachers have routinely been left alone with students. Here's the more complete account of the incident by the AP just last month.

One might expect this to have happened sooner or with greater frequency, given the poor security measures taken at the state's "most secure" facility. Despite their charges, however, I suspect that most of the students would have come to this teacher's defense if they had been present when it happened - they not only value their educational opportunities and appreciate the people who offer them, they also know this whole incident will keep educators and other civilians away for years to come, now.  

Seems like any dummy in the Governor's office can take one good look and advise the AZ DOC director that Warden Credio is putting female staff and volunteers at risk by leaving them alone in classrooms full of sex offenders with no surveillance (or even pepper spray, until now), but in the aftermath of this rape report going national in June, the Arizona Occupational Safety and Health Administration has decided to conduct an investigation into staff safety at Eyman. I guess Arizona wants the nation to know that we take rape seriously here - we do if it happens to anyone other than a prisoner, at least. We refuse to abide by the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act, which should tell you something about how else we treat our prisoners.

Unfortunately, OSHA never investigates when prisoners are assaulted or injured on the job because prisoners are technically slaves of the state, or this might have been prevented. If ANYONE other than the DOC investigated prisoner assaults and deaths (and had authority to change things there), they would have most certainly required additional safety measures to be taken at Eyman and elsewhere. 

In fact, the whole system would be safer to work and be confined in than it is now if someone from outside of it - like the legislature or auditor general's office -took a good close look at how it's being run.  Makes you wonder where that billion dollar budget is being spent, since it clearly isn't going into facility repairs, surveillance cameras, security personnel, health care, psychiatric treatment, or substance abuse programs. (Hmm. I'd love to see DOC administrator's expense accounts and departmental credit cards...)

Needless to say, mainstream media has been rather critical of the AZ DOC over this, to which the director felt compelled to respond last week. It was such classic bureaucratic BS that I'm posting it below - along with the comment I left at the end of the article. Go to the source for the other remarks, including those by former Eyman Deputy Warden Carl Toersbijns...


Prisons director: Actually, we do take rape seriously

Charles L. Ryan, AZ I See It 5:50 p.m. MST July 2, 2014

Regarding what I believe to be a misrepresentation of the Arizona Department of Corrections' response to an assault on one of its own employees, ("Is rape an acceptable risk for teachers? We think not," Editorial, Saturday):

On Jan. 30, a staff member at the Eyman corrections complex in Florence was brutally assaulted by an inmate. As the Department of Corrections reported in news releases that day and the following, a criminal investigation was immediately launched with the goal of pursuing prosecution of the inmate suspect to the fullest extent. In May, the inmate was indicted by a grand jury on charges including sexual assault, kidnapping and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

Contrary to The Republic editorial board's assertion of indifference, every assault against staff and inmates is reviewed extensively and thoroughly investigated. In fact, when I returned as director in January of 2009, I changed the previous policy and ordered that all physical actions taken by inmates against staff or other inmates be reported and investigated, whether an injury occurred or not. This sends the strong message that every assault is intolerable.

Obviously, this incident at Eyman was a despicable and cowardly act — a fact clearly stated by this department when the documents from the criminal investigation were released to the news media.

But an Associated Press story published June 22 in The Arizona Republic indicated, "Prison officials dismissed the concerns. They say assault is a risk that comes with the job of overseeing violent inmates." This is not a department quote. It's the description by the AP reporter.

Department practice is quite the opposite. Staff and inmate safety is our highest priority — a fact reflected and borne out by ongoing training and assessment of security protocols. Significant focus is given to ensuring that all staff remain vigilant that any inmate, regardless of custody level or prior criminal history, can turn violent.

Such self-examination is ingrained in the daily work of the Department of Corrections. It results in decisions to create sector officers who conduct security checks on staff working in isolated areas; random physical, visual, radio and phone checks of such sectors; implementation of chemical-agent and hand-held radio training; addition of cameras where appropriate; and numerous other security measures that are constantly being reviewed.

Reporting on corrections can be tainted by sensationalism. Each assault in prison is thoroughly reviewed and investigated, and those responsible are held accountable administratively or criminally for their actions.

The safety of our staff and inmates has been, and always will be, my commitment and first priority.

Charles L. Ryan is director of the Arizona Department of Corrections.

Join the Conversation...

Peggy Plews · Top Commenter · Editor at Arizona Prison Watch

Violence against the staff at the AZ DOC - as well as a jump in the viciousness of attacks on more vulnerable prisoners such as transgender women and those with mental illness, has increased under this man's leadership, causing such concern among officers that one of the employee associations has asked Judicial Watch to investigate and local advocates have called on the US department of Justice. Those pleas for outside intervention were preceded in November 2010 with an open letter to Jan Brewer by the Arizona Correctional Peace Officers Association urging her to sack Chuck Ryan because, among other things:

"There exists, within ADOC administration, a well-known pattern of obstructing the disclosure of hazards in time to prevent accidents, injury, illness, and deaths. Tragically, in these instances, danger is not "imminent" - it is past, and too late to respond. Employees are routinely ordered to falsify documents and when they proactively seek to report identified hazards, they face punishment and retaliation. Obtaining an accurate account of the range and extent of violations will be difficult from records alone. It is unlikely that ADOC will disclose information without well-planned intervention by authorities. There is no evidence of any health and safety program existing, even on paper. There is no identifiable health and safety officer or other person bearing that responsibility and essential training is lacking to assure staff can perform certain assigned tasks safely and equipped with appropriate equipment e.g. cell extractions, transports, etc.

The entire department is devoid of any active programs for: Fire Prevention, Hazard Communication, Respiratory Protection, Medical Surveillance, Record keeping, Ventilation, Emergency Evacuation Procedures, Disaster Preparedness, Emergency Response, Training, or Education. Failure of ADOC administration to respond has resulted in secondary risks and complications - now endangering, not just the prison population and employees, but the public at large. Appropriate identification of risk requires your immediate intervention. Another day must not go by without initiating an investigation.

We as institutional line staff are expected to hold a very high standard within the institutions and community, we expect that our Director and his administrators to be held to the same standard of conduct and the same standard of punishment if those standards are violated..."

The Minority Leader for the Arizona House of Representatives, Chad Campbell, has called for Ryan's termination more than once, and the media has feasted on the tragedies generated by the privatization of prison health care under this director. Of course, I've been calling for him to go for some time now, having heard from hundreds of prisoners and their loved ones about highly racialized gang violence, the heroin epidemic, pervasive despair and hunger, and gross medical neglect behind bars these days. Arizona should be ashamed of itself for rivaling the horrendous conditions attributed to prisons in far more impoverished countries run by dictators.

I hope some of you out there who know what I'm talking about have the courage to speak out and demand a new director. If you bother to call the governor's office about that, be sure to call your legislators as well - they are as much to blame for all this as Brewer, for simply refusing to oversee the prisons and giving them a blank check to do as they please.

Please ask that the Governor re-visit the AZ DOC's determined non-compliance with the Prison Rape Elimination Act, too - I just received a letter from a gay prisoner who was raped and denied protective custody yet again, and the AZ DOC thinks they dont have a problem.