The 'Friends of Marcia Powell' are autonomous groups and individuals engaging in prisoner outreach, informal advocacy, and organized protest and direct actions in a sustained campaign to: promote prisoner rights and welfare in America; engage the Arizona public in a creative and thoughtful critique of our system of "justice;” deconstruct the prison industrial complex; and dismantle this racist, classist patriarchy...

Retiring "Free Marcia Powell"

As of December 2, 2010 (with occasional exceptions) I'm retiring this blog to direct more of my time and energy into prisoner rights and my other blogs; I just can't do anyone justice when spread so thin. I'll keep the site open so folks can search the archives and use the links, but won't be updating it with new posts. If you're looking for the latest, try Arizona Prison Watch. Most of the pieces posted here were cross-posted to one or both of those sites already.

Thanks for visiting. Peace out - Peg.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Lastest from the PHX New Times

Latest from the Phoenix New Times

Thank you, Stephen Lemons, for staying on top of the latest news about Marcia Powell - and for trying to get to the bottom of it. I've learned to check out the Phoenix New Times first for my news on the issues involved in Marcia's death.

In this column Lemons explains the significance of the county serving as fiduciary and guardian for Marcia. An interview with a cell mate also reveals the vibrant side of Marcia we didn't know.

Perhaps no one better exposes the many manifestations of the prison industrial complex than homeless mentally ill drug-addicted prostitutes, particularly those with developmental disabilities and HIV who are also pregnant. From inadequate access to prenatal care, income supports, intensive community-based treatment and case management, and affordable housing to frequent institutionalization in jails, psychiatric hospitals, and homeless shelters, they do the route, stopping in at emergency rooms and free clinics from time to time. They are adjudicated as abusive parents before they even give birth. Explicit agreements are reached between outpatient service providers and criminal justice officials - social workers, probation agents and judges - that such women might be better off in jail for awhile if no appropriate treatment settings existed that would help them "stay safe". I know, because I have been party to such discussions, not always coming down on the side of individual liberties.

I suspect that a map of Marcia Powell's life could likewise tell a lot about where our foster care, mental health, and criminal justice realities fall short of their promises. We pour just enough money into community mental health here to provide contract agencies like Magellan (and Value Options before them) with considerable profits, but never enough to filter down to keeping people like Marcia from ending up in prison for minor offenses.

Or perhaps its simply that our contracts with major mental health service providers don't prioritize reducing legal system involvement quite so much as they prioritize reducing psychiatric hospital days - a near-universal practice which simply pushes more people with serious mental illness out of treatment settings and into criminal courts where they don't eat up all the corporate profits - the cost of warehousing them comes out of someone else's budget instead. As a society we'll allocate billions to militarize our police and refine ways of legally torturing and punishing people, but we don't see public health care and programs addressing economic inequality as both economically sustainable and politically desirable.

I don't know how much longer we can afford to ignore the truth - that fighting poverty and hunger will do far more to bring down crime than will fighting the poor and the hungry. In the end it is not our public programs that are unsustainable, it is our banking system and the "free market" - and war on several fronts - that has been consuming public resources.

If we took those funds and invested them with a goal of building communities without cages, we'd see very different things prioritized. Education. Universal health care. Affordable, supported housing. Treatment programs for people who are dually diagnosed. Minimum income guarantees for the disabled, the unemployed, and the unemployable. Strong unions for workers so they can bring home a living wage. Adequate food for growing children and impoverished seniors. An emphasis on doing outreach to assure that people in the community are getting their needs met, rather than opening up an office and waiting for people to come in.

Deconstructing the prison industrial complex and interpreting its implications for the voting public isn't easy. Being "tough on crime" is a simple jingle which still sells (crime is still code for people of color - increasingly so for latino immigrants). Yet the evidence is overwhelming that the prison industrial complex sucks the life out of communities that feed it bodies as well as those that feed it guards and public resources. Just how this happens and what it has to do with globalization is explained most thoroughly by Dr. Ruth Wilson Gilmore in "Golden Gulag", and most concisely in editor Lois Ahrens' "The Real Cost of Prisons Comix".

Prison abolition, then, is central, not peripheral to the larger dialogue on global justice because it involves not just tearing down prison walls, but also building up the kinds of communities that can respond more directly and immediately to the needs of its citizens than can the state, seeking to prevent trauma where possible, rather than simply bracing for it as if this institutionalized cycle of violence will never be broken.