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

Ariz. halts use of uncovered outdoor prison holding cells (temporarily)

Ariz. halts use of uncovered outdoor prison holding cells

The Arizona Department of Corrections has halted the practice of holding Arizona state prison inmates in outdoor cages so workers can retrofit the cages to provide shade and water.

Charles L. Ryan, the department's director, ordered the temporary suspension last week after the death of Marcia Powell at Arizona State Prison Complex-Perryville. Powell, 48, died of heat-related causes after spending four hours in temperatures that reached 107.5 degrees.

Powell's death has led to the suspension of three prison officials and a criminal investigation into their conduct.

The state prison system includes 233 outdoor enclosures at 10 prisons. Ryan suspended their use at Perryville within 24 hours of Powell's death and at the rest of the prison system shortly thereafter.

Prison officials did not have an estimate of the cost of retrofitting the structures or how long it would take to complete construction.

Powell, who had a history of mental illness, was scheduled to be transferred to a psychiatric unit May 19 for observation. While she waited to be transferred, she was placed in an outdoor chain-link holding cell.

Although prisoners in the cage are in plain view of a staffed control room, guidelines call for them to be confined outdoors for no more than two hours. Powell had been in the cell for almost twice that long when she collapsed.

She was taken to West Valley Hospital. A search for her next of kin was fruitless, and Ryan made the decision to take her off life support. She died shortly thereafter.

The Maricopa County Public Fiduciary, which has served as Powell's guardian since July 2008, is trying to find Powell's next of kin.

"There are a couple of things they are working on as we speak," said Deputy Maricopa County Attorney Gary Strickland, who represents the fiduciary's office. "In terms of what quality the leads are, that is hard to say. But they do have a couple of possibilities that they are working on. They want to do a thorough search."

In the meantime, the fiduciary intervened to prevent Powell's burial before a next of kin can be found.

Middle Ground, a prison-reform group, is organizing a public memorial service for Powell at noon today at Encanto Community Church, 2710 N. Seventh Ave., in Phoenix.

Republic writer E.J. Montini contributed to this article.