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, November 6, 2014

California Dreaming: Major sentencing reform Prop 47 passes!

The AZ CJ system is growing even more draconian, as expected, but the folks in California finally did something right. Maybe we will someday learn from their success...

---from the LA TIMES---

Prop. 47 jolts landscape of California justice system


Prosecutors and jailers scramble to deal with the effects of the law that reduces penalties for some crimes
California is the first state to downgrade certain drug possession cases from felonies to misdemeanors
Thousands of felons are now eligible for immediate release from prisons and jails after Prop 47's passage
Los Angeles County Public Defender Ron Brown walked into a Pomona court Wednesday and saw first-hand the impact of Proposition 47 — the voter-approved initiative that reduces penalties for drug possession and other nonviolent crimes.

His office had deliberately postponed sentencing for a defendant facing more than a year behind bars for possessing heroin and methamphetamine to the day after Tuesday's election, waiting to see what voters would do.

The gambit worked. The man was sentenced and released from custody with no further jail time.

"They were felonies yesterday. They're misdemeanors today," Brown said. "This is the law now."

The day after California voted to reduce punishments, police agencies, defense attorneys, prosecutors and even some advocates were scrambling to figure out exactly how it was going to work.
The greatest effect, experts said, would be in drug possession cases, noting that California is now the first state in the nation to downgrade those cases from felonies to misdemeanors. Thousands of felons are now eligible for immediate release from prisons and jails.

City attorneys accustomed to handling traffic tickets and zoning violations are now responsible for prosecuting crimes that used to be felonies, including forgeries, theft and shoplifting. District attorneys who used to threaten drug offenders with felony convictions to force them into rehabilitation programs no longer have that as an option. Social workers said they worried that offenders who voluntarily seek treatment will have trouble finding services.
"It's going to take a little while to figure out," said Molly Rysman, who operates a housing program for the destitute who sleep on sidewalks in L.A.'s skid row. She is glad that drug users now face only brief stays in jail, if any time at all, but said options for someplace else to go in L.A. are "dismal." Rysman said caseworkers now spend weeks trying to find an opening for clients who need a detox bed or room in a treatment program.

Proposition 47 sets aside funding for such programs, but the money may not materialize for another year, advocates said.

"I can't say I agree with Proposition 47. It should have mandated treatment," said Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey. "Most of the money from the initiative will go to mental health and substance abuse treatment, but how we will get people to accept that treatment is the question."

Lacey said her office would reevaluate the more serious cases downgraded by Proposition 47 to determine whether there were other felony charges that could be filed. Under the measure, thefts, bad check writing and forgery charges are downgraded to misdemeanors if the stolen value is $950 or less. Lacey said she was particularly concerned about cases involving the theft of guns. Prosecutors, she said, "will be looking at alternative charges for some of those cases, because we should all be a little nervous when a firearm is involved."

Los Angeles City Atty. Mike Feuer on Wednesday asked the City Council for $510,000 to hire 15 lawyers and assistants to handle the anticipated influx of misdemeanor prosecutions, which previously would have been prosecuted as felonies by the district attorney's office. He said his office expected to handle 13,500 new cases a year, most involving drug offenses.

Meanwhile, jailers in Los Angeles County made preparations to deal with an unknown number of inmates charged with felonies that are now misdemeanors.

Because of severe overcrowding and court-ordered population caps, the Los Angeles County jails do not typically hold those charged with misdemeanors.
"It is going to take time to evaluate that, but we're not conducting a mass release, today or tomorrow," said Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Nicole Nishida.

Legislative analysts predict that about 40,000 California offenders each year will now draw misdemeanor convictions instead of felonies. Prison officials said they have identified 4,770 felons in custody who are eligible to seek resentencing. And L.A. prosecutors have identified almost 4,000 offenders in the pipeline between arrest and sentencing who might qualify for more lenient treatment under the new law.

To get released, current inmates must prove that they are not a threat to the public.

Proposition 47 will also give a fresh chance to some three-strikes prisoners serving life terms who have recently failed to obtain reduced sentences.
Under a 2012 ballot measure, Proposition 36, most inmates serving three-strikes sentences for relatively minor crimes can receive shorter sentences unless a judge decides that they pose an "unreasonable risk of danger to public safety." Michael Romano, an attorney who helped write the measure, said the initiative did not define that risk for judges, many of whom used their own criteria to decide whether someone was too risky to release. The vast majority of three-strikers who have asked for reduced sentences have been successful, but about 118 inmates have been declared a risk to public safety, said Romano, who directs the Stanford Law School Three Strikes Project.

Proposition 47 gives inmates in that small group another opportunity to ask for shorter sentences if their third strikes were for one of the minor felonies downgraded under Proposition 47, Romano said.

Inmates whose strikes don't fall into that category, he said, can also return to court and cite Proposition 47's new definition of an "unreasonable risk of danger," which Tuesday's ballot measure defined as likely to commit serious or violent crimes that include homicide, sexual assault and child molestation.

"It's a clear message from voters that our law enforcement resources should not be spent on three-strikes sentences or long felony sentences for these types of crimes," Romano said.

The new law also derails drug court, where felony charges were set aside for offenders who completed treatment regimens. Those who succeed have a high success in staying sober, but without the threat of jail, there is little incentive to participate, said Mark Delgado, executive director of the Countywide Criminal Justice Coordination Committee, which runs those programs. Delgado said county officials are seeking a substitute.

"Regardless of what the laws are on the books, we're asking, 'How do we best engage the individuals who need treatment?'" he said.

Brown, L.A. County's chief public defender, acknowledged that the proposition will change the "carrot and stick" approach used to entice people into rehabilitation with the promise of a lighter sentence. But he thinks that can be managed.

"We're going to have to work a lot harder to convince people it's the best thing for you," Brown said.