This blog is intended to shine some light on Arizona's juvenile justice system, and to serve as a resource to individuals and groups concerned about the effect of the prison industrial complex on our children. It is edited by Margaret J. Plews (known to all but my father and law enforcement as "Peggy"). I also author and administer the Prison Abolitionist, Hard Time: Hep C, and Arizona Prison Watch blogs, and write at several other sites.
When I post my own commentary with articles written by others, I usually indicate so with voice, boundaries, and italics. I screen all comments as I try not to post vindictive, slanderous, or otherwise cruel statements: words alone, I believe, can be violent, and I won't have violence here.
Dissent, however, is fine - it compels me to re-think and articulate my own positions better. I have a prison abolitionist's bias; some find it radical and provocative. Others don't care what it's called: they tend to recognize my bias as their own because they've had enough of this, too. In short, I believe we can and must build our civilization around non-violence, which we can't without abolishing the prison industrial complex. "Criminal justice" as we know it is all too often violent and retaliatory, serving not to make us more safe, but to reinforce the misogynistic, homophobic, classist white supremacy that capitalism both nourishes and thrives on.
Often those we end up criminalizing, including children are victims from the lower and middle classes engaged in some form of survival or resistance - not sociopathic predators. Many are psychiatrically disabled or chemically dependent, not criminally-inclined. They are survivors already of physical abuse, rape, war, hate crimes, poverty, and other forms of violence, some at the level of genocidal attacks on their people. Prison in particular compounds such trauma; it certainly doesn't "correct" the effects.
While I realize there are many people who can't safely be returned to society from prison today, I believe that we need to plan for their return to society tomorrow, and prepare our children now to negotiate the world differently than we learned how to - beginning with the value of non-violence. That means not even giving the state exclusive permission to use violence...which means the state will have to justify and defend its existence to the people without soldiers and cops. If it can't, then maybe it shouldn't exist...
That's just a small sample of my radical bias. I also spent many years doing outreach to people who were homeless and mentally ill, building a supported housing program and transitioning people out of homelessness, negotiating at all levels of the criminal justice system for the freedom - and the "treatment" - of those I advocated for. I always had the best intentions, but I don't know that they were always in my clients' best interests. I didn't understand a lot of things that I understand now.
For those of you willing to engage with me on these ideas and stretch a little here: Please be creative and reach for what you believe the next generation needs and deserves - not just what is "realistic" for us to build or for them to settle for. The prison abolitionist's dream of social and economic justice is not one to belittle or diminish: the time has come to realize it, actually, as anything less is unsustainable. In any event, though, whether you agree or disagree with my occasional remarks or choice of articles, feel free to leave a comment - it'll probably go up once I see it.
Also, there's a lot of ground to cover here, and I'm no expert in juvenile justice, so beyond what feedback you have on specific blog posts, please think about how I can make this a better site for folks. Email me your suggestions, corrections, information, or links that you think might be helpful to kids and their families being chewed up by the system, policymakers trying to decide where to invest too few resources, YCO's and street cops thinking there's got to be a better way to do this than training these kids to be better prisoners (and criminals), and community members desperately trying to keep vulnerable children from falling through the cracks and landing in the laps of their local or state systems of justice.
Finally, if you're presently wrestling with the system and have some questions, all I have to offer is my opinion, really: I don't have legal training, money, power, or most of the answers. I'm not even really from around here (I moved here from Ann Arbor in 2004). I've been known to really piss people off, too, so I may not be the best friend to have fighting for you. But I'll do my best to help or refer you elsewhere if you have a pressing concern for someone in the system and need a hand.
My contact info is:
AZ Juvenile Prison Watch
PO Box 20494
Phoenix, AZ 85036
JULY 21, 2011: Peg's Blogs on Hiatus...
Until I'm able to get a grip on blogging regularly and thoughtfully again here (or until someone else steps in to anchor the site), I encourage people to check out Carl Toersbijns' blog (he's a former Deputy Warden for the AZ Department of Corrections, and while not an abolitionist, he's a strong advocate for the prisoners with mental illness, and for broad-based prison reform in AZ). You may also want to drop in on Middle Ground Prison Reform's site for news.