Guards Disciplined for the Death of Marcia Powell
Earlier this year, Renee, writing for Jon’s Jail Journal, revealed that her friend, Marcia Powell had died from heat exposure after being locked in an outdoor cage by the guards. Here’s today’s news story on what happened to the guards responsible.
PHOENIX (AP) - Sixteen Arizona corrections employees have been fired, suspended or otherwise disciplined for their roles in the death of an inmate left in an outdoor holding cell for four hours in triple-digit heat and for a "wait-them-out" practice at the prison where she died.
Three of those disciplined were fired, two stepped down in place of being fired, 10 received suspensions ranging from 40 to 80 hours, and one was demoted. Two others will be disciplined after they return from medical leave.
Arizona Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan announced the moves Tuesday, calling the death the "most significant example of abuse" of an inmate that he's aware of within the department.
Marcia Powell, who was serving a 27-month sentence for prostitution, died from heat-related complications hours after she collapsed May 19 in an uncovered outdoor cell at the Perryville prison in the west Phoenix suburb of Goodyear. She had been in the cell for nearly four hours, despite a policy that set a two-hour limit.
Powell, 48, was being held in the outdoor cell while being transferred from one section of the prison to an observation ward after seeing a psychologist. An autopsy report showed she had first- and second-degree burns on her face and body and a core body temperature of 108 degrees.
"That is an absolute failure," Ryan said Tuesday. "The inmate should not have been left in the enclosure that length of time."
The autopsy also found that Powell's death was an accident and that she had anti-psychotic drugs in her system. Such drugs are known to make people more susceptible to heat-related illnesses.
Ryan declined to provide the names of the corrections employees who were disciplined, saying it would be inappropriate considering they have the right to appeal their punishments. Those disciplined included a deputy warden, a prison psychologist, a chief of security and various officers.
A call to the union that represents Arizona corrections workers was not immediately returned Tuesday evening.
During the administrative investigation of Powell's death, Ryan said investigators with the Office of the Inspector General uncovered a so-called "wait-them-out" practice at the Perryville prison that went on for about a year. Inmates were placed in outdoor and indoor holdings cells for hours at a time as an alternative to using force, he said.
While Powell was not in a holding cell under that practice, Ryan said, an inmate was left in an outdoor cell for 20 hours three days before Powell's death; she did not require medical treatment. He said no one died under the "wait-them-out" practice.
The state prisons system ended its use of outdoor prison cells weeks after Powell's death. Arizona's 10 prisons had 233 outdoor cells for temporarily holding inmates awaiting transfer to punishment wards, medical units, other prisons or work assignments.
Ryan said the cells at Perryville are now used as exercise or short-term waiting areas. They are now shaded, and have misters and benches.
The criminal investigation into Powell's death is finished and at the Maricopa County attorney's office, which will decide if any corrections employees will be charged.
Donna Hamm, director of Tempe-based Middle Ground Prison Reform, said the employees' punishment helps show other prison workers that they will be held accountable for their actions.
"There was an established policy, and had it been followed, Marcia Powell would be alive today," Hamm said.
She said County Attorney Andrew Thomas should charge the employees involved in Powell's death.
"If that happens, the message is crystal clear to department employees about their responsibilities and the consequences of not following their own policy," Hamm said.
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Shaun P. Attwood