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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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Advocacy tips for AZ DOC BUDGET HEARINGS this week!

Dave Wells is an Economics professor at ASU, and a damn good thinker, as liberals go. Here's his take on the budget hearings for the AZDOC this week. If you have loved ones in state prison, pay attention. The Grand Canyon Institute identifies itself as a "centrist" thinktank, and is totally not connected to Arizona Prison Watch, nor did they issue the AJA bulletin below.

For my part, I'd suggest that folks with loved ones at stake contact the Governor, who just re-appointed DOC Director Chuck Ryan, here. Register your concerns about the direction of the AZ DOC these past five years. Ask for a new audit of the department by the Inspector General to determine the actual impacts of prisons and health care privatization. Tell your own story.

Find your legislators here, and lobby them hard to de-privatize the prisons, call Chuck Ryan on the carpet, and conduct an investigation into the growing violence and neglect on his watch, as well as the actual impacts of privatization (death rates, average age of death, re-incarceration rates, etc).

The Arizona Justice Alliance's recommendations for impacting the budget hearings this week follow the GCI post below.

from the grand canyon institute

Press Release
CONTACT: Dave Wells, Ph.D.
Research Director, Grand Canyon Institute
(602) 595-1025 ext 3

Ducey’s Private Prison Proposal would cost $1.5 billion—alternative options save the state more than $500 million over two decades.
PHOENIX —Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Apario is right; Arizona does not need 3,000 more medium security beds through a private prison contractor. Arizona has the sixth highest incarceration rate in the country-and the highest in the Pacific and Mountain West region.  High incarceration rates cost taxpayers and don’t necessarily bring added public safety, but do bring added costs.

On Tuesday and Wednesday this week key committees in the House and Senate will hear the Department of Corrections Budget proposal, including $5.3 million to begin funding toward 3,000 new medium-security beds.  Says Dave Wells, research director of the Grand Canyon Institute, “The $5.3 million is a down payment on $100 million in planned expenditures on those through fiscal year 2018, and their annual cost will be in excess of $70 million.  The nature of contracts with private prisons will require that the state spend that amount each year for the next 20 years, regardless of whether or not those beds are filled. In other words, this is a $1.5 billion proposal, not $5.3 million.”

The Ducey administration argues we have a current short-fall in medium security-beds, except unnecessary state policies drive up our prison population.

In March 2012, The Grand Canyon Institute released its report “Reducing Incarceration While Maintaining Public Safety: From Truth in Sentencing to Earned Release for Nonviolent Offenders.”   Report author, Dave Wells, Research Director for the Institute, noted “Arizonan is the only state in the country that requires nonviolent offenders, regardless of risk or programs they complete while in custody, to serve at least 85 percent of their sentence behind bars.  That’s neither cost effective nor best practice.  Arizona can learn from other states that have moved toward earned release with appropriate community supervision and drug treatment and save between $30 and $73 million annually while maintaining public safety. Over 20 years that’s more than $500 million and possibly in excess of $1 billion in savings.”

The report gave three ways to approach reducing sentences which could impact up to one-fourth of those currently incarcerated by enabling them to more quickly earn release to supervised probation with in many cases needed drug treatment at far lower costs.  Such actions would free up space, if more medium-security beds were needed.

Arizona would be wise to follow the concerns of the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice which in November 2014 released 18 proposals designed to “avert 98 percent of the anticipated growth in the prison population, avoid the need for 2,551 prison beds, and save taxpayers at least $542 million over the next two decades.”
The Grand Canyon Institute is a centrist think-tank founded in 2011 which works to elevate economic analysis of public policy in Arizona.

Links to Resources:
Copy of the 2012 Grand Canyon Institute Report:
Response to County Attorney Objections to an op-ed based on the 2012 Report:
Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice Report:
                                                 -----------------from the AJA---------------


Gov. Ducey's budget for FY2016 proposes 3,000 new medium-security for-profit prison beds—beds we don’t need. The Governor’s budget estimates that these new beds will cost taxpayers over $100 million over the next three years.

Corrections is already the third largest state agency budget, absorbing 11% of General Funds. Corrections’ total budget for FY2015 is over $1 billion. Yet Arizona’s recidivism rate is between 40-50%. Since recidivism means future crime, our prisons are clearly failing in their mission to preserve public safety.

Arizona’s budget priorities are completely misaligned. Historic underfunding of K-12 and deep cuts to higher education shortchange our kids and make Arizona less attractive to businesses. The state’s failure to care for the poor or treat substance abuse and mental illnesses only serve to undermine public safety.

Fortunately, new prison beds are totally unnecessary. The Department of Corrections has the authority to release thousands more prisoners every year into a Transition Program. This program saved Arizona Taxpayers over $1 million in 2014 alone.

And changes in Arizona’s criminal justice policies, such as Truth In Sentencing, could allow the state to potentially save over $200 million per year. These types of reforms have been undertaken in most other US states—including very conservative ones—and these states have seen greater drops in crime than Arizona has.
The Arizona Department of Corrections will present its budget to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees next week. They need to hear from YOU today!

Take Action!


Tell them NOT to approve the new prison beds and instead invest $100 million in the things that truly make us safer!

Governor Doug Ducey:
(602) 542-4331 (Maricopa County and Phoenix)
(520) 628-6850 Tucson
(602) 542-1381 Fax

Senate Appropriations Chair: Sen. Don Shooter, (602) 926-4139,

House Appropriations Chair: Rep. Justin Olson, (602) 926-5288,

Suggested Talking Points:

1. 3,000 more medium security prison beds are overly expensive and unnecessary:
a. These new beds would cost Arizona over $100 million in just the first few years.
b. The Arizona Department of Corrections claims it needs the best due to population growth. But ADC’s own records show that the increase in prison population may be due not just to more people entering the system, but also to prisoners staying longer. The number of people being released decreased by 7.5% between 2009 and 2014, while at the same time the average length of a stay in prison has increased by 19%.

2. The Department of Corrections’ funding should be tied to realistic performance standards similar to those expected of other state agencies.
a. The Arizona Department of Corrections reports that its recidivism rate is 42%. However, ADC also reports that 48.8% of inmates have served time in the Arizona prison system before.
b. Recidivism is basically future crime. If the purpose of Corrections is to preserve public safety, Arizona prisons have a 40-50% failure rate.

3. There are effective alternatives either currently in place or being proposed that would make the new prison beds unnecessary.
a. The Transition Program allows all non-violent prisoners to be released after serving 85% of their sentence. In 2012, the program saved taxpayers $1,038,224. Yet even after statutory changes expanding eligibility and an ADC review of its criteria and procedures, the program is being underutilized.
b. A modest adjustment of Truth in Sentencing laws would potentially allow for the release of 9,500 people, with a potential cost savings of $207,493,375 per year.