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, August 21, 2014

Nordstrom v Ryan's prying eyes: 9th Circuit rules "LEGAL MAIL" is protected.

good news! And good coverage from Cronkite News - this seems to be the best article on the case in the mainstream.


Court revives death-row inmate’s complaint that prison read his mail

WASHINGTON – A federal appeals court Monday ordered a new hearing for an Arizona death-row inmate who said prison officials violated his constitutional right to counsel by reading a letter he sent to his attorney.

Arizona Department of Corrections policy allows officers to inspect inmate mail for contraband and for what the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals called “such suspicious features as maps of the prison yard, the times of the guards’ shift changes and the like.”

But death-row inmate Scott Nordstrom said a guard went beyond scanning his letter to his attorney, which was clearly marked “legal mail,” and read the letter. That forced him “to cease conveying critically sensitive information … to his attorney,” violating his Sixth Amendment right to counsel, he said.

A divided three-judge panel of the appeals court agreed. Even though prison is “a tough place” and officials have good reason to inspect prisoners’ mail, they said, “inspecting letters and reading them are two different things.”

“What prison officials don’t have the right to do is read a confidential letter from an inmate to his lawyer,” the court said.

It reversed a U.S. District Court judge’s decision to throw out the case, and ordered the lower court to consider Nordstrom’s complaint.

But in a dissenting opinion that was longer than the majority opinion, Circuit Judge Jay S. Bybee said prison officials are not prohibited from reading legal letters “with an eye toward discovering illegal conduct.” He also said Nordstrom had not shown any injury from the fact that a guard “on one occasion during his 17-year incarceration … read a single letter” to the inmate’s attorney.

“To protect individuals in and outside the prison, prison officials must be allowed to read legal letters to the extent necessary to detect illegal conduct,” Bybee wrote. “By preventing reading in this limited sense, the majority has hamstrung prison officials’ ability to do their job.”

The Arizona Attorney General’s Office did not respond to requests for comment Monday.

But an attorney who was working on Nordstrom’s case welcomed the majority opinion.

“He (Nordstrom) just wants to prevent this from happening again,” said Gregory Sisk, a professor at University of St. Thomas School of Law who supervised two law students who argued on behalf of Nordstrom.

Several organizations submitted friend of the court briefs, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Arizona Capital Representation Project and the Equal Justice Initiative, among others. Sisk said he was “very thankful for that support.”

Nordstrom and Robert Jones were convicted in connection with a string of murder-robberies in the Tucson area in 1996. Nordstrom was convicted in 1997 and sentenced to death.

His co-defendant, Jones, was also convicted and was executed on Oct. 23, 2013.

Sisk said there is a short period during which the state can challenge Monday’s ruling, but once the ruling is finalized the case will be sent back to district court with a mandate to hear it.

He noted that the appeals court only ruled on the lower court’s dismissal and did not address the merits of Nordstrom’s claims.

“He would have to establish that the correctional officers actually did read his letter,” Sisk said, once the case goes back to district court.