PHOENIX (AP) - A report shows five senior Arizona Department of Corrections officials assigned to monitor operations at a private prison in Kingman were apparently unaware of brewing discontent among inmates or massive guard overtime and understaffing before riots broke out in July.
The officers apparently spent little time interacting with prison staff or prisoners, and when the officers did, they didn’t pick up on the problems. Instead, they spent the majority of their time inspecting the facility, dealing with inmate classification and discipline and doing paperwork, jobs required by law that kept them from picking up on operational issues, according to the report.
Corrections Director Charles Ryan had boosted oversight of the prison in 2010 after three prisoners escaped, assigning more state staff to oversee operations. He said the department will now assess the role its monitors play in overseeing its six private prisons.
But Ryan - and Gov. Doug Ducey - said the monitors bear no blame for missing problems that led to the riots that heavily damaged the prison. Instead, they pointed to the prison operator, Management and Training Corp., saying they hid problems from the monitors.
“When you take into consideration what they are to be doing primarily statutorily, and if information is being withheld from them, I don’t know how you can expect the monitors to read the crystal ball that they’re supposed to know if people are non-communicative,” Ryan told reporters when a report on the riots was released Wednesday.
The Centerville, Utah-based company disputes many of the findings in the report that led Ducey to order its contract cancelled. It also blasted Ryan’s assessment of the company, pointing to highly favorable yearly audits and monthly reports by monitors.
“The idea that the ADC monitor reports were positive over the last five years because we were not ‘forthright’ is not true,” MTC spokesman Issa Arnita said Friday. “They had five monitors there daily. They had access to all documentation, meetings, and training activities, and could freely move throughout the facility to inspect compliance and conditions of confinement. The audit results were overwhelmingly positive. The monitors were fully aware of the conditions of confinement.”
Ducey on Wednesday said the state would sever its long-term contract with the operator of the Kingman prison, which can house about 3,500 minimum and medium security inmates. MTC said it will not contest that contract cancellation and “takes responsibility” for the riots.
The unrest began July 1 in a minimum-security unit when private corrections officers tried to stop an inmate-on-inmate assault. A full-blown riot broke out the next day in the prison’s medium-security unit. It left some housing units so badly damaged that more than 1,100 prisoners had to be moved to other facilities. Nine corrections officers suffered minor injuries, and four inmates were also hurt.
The report painted a picture of a violent riot over the July 4th weekend prompted by a confrontation between a private prison guard and an inmate where the guard used “excessive and unjustified force.”
Over the next 10 hours, inmates rampaged through several housing units, trashing the facilities. Efforts to use pepper spray and non-lethal crowd-control projectiles failed, and order wasn’t restored until past dawn the next day.
The report concluded that inmates rioted because they were upset with how they were being treated by guards and about conditions at the prison.
“ADC’s conclusion that inmates rioted and damaged property (windows and doors) as a way to get back at MTC is not supported by the facts,” Arnita said.
According to a July 24 memo from MTC to Ryan included in the report, estimates for repairing broken windows, electrical systems, plumbing and security equipment top $1.9 million and could take four months.
But Ryan said it now appears the facility won’t be ready before December.
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