PHOENIX — Members of Arizona's corrections officers union and a whistleblower who came forward this week on Thursday said door locks are still broken at a major prison west of Phoenix and the Department of Corrections is allowing records showing they are being fixed to be falsified.
Carlos Garcia, executive director of the Arizona Correctional Peace Officers Association, said at a news conference that high-level department administrators are allowing the cover-up of faulty locks at the Lewis Prison in Buckeye and need to be ousted. He said new prisons director David Shinn needs to clean house so inmates, staff and the public can be ensured of safety.
"The public is in absolute danger. Staff are in even worse danger," Garcia said. "It's unacceptable. They were supposed to fix the doors. Have they done it? Absolutely not."
The whistleblower, Shaun Holland, is an associate deputy warden at the prison. He said only a small percentage of work orders for broken cell door locking mechanisms are actually completed.
"When the door crews are going out and looking at the doors, yes they are working on some of them, but the vast majority of them they are not working on," Holland said.
Ducey told reporters at an unrelated event Thursday that Shinn is off to a solid start and disputed that fixing the problems with broken cell locks that triggered a major investigation this spring isn't at the top of his list.
"Of course these locks are a top priority," Ducey said. "We want our prisons to be safe, not only for our correctional officers but for our inmates. We realize that we have an issue around these locks and we're addressing it, not only with new doors but with additional resources."
But Holland and Garcia disputed that and Ducey's statement that he trusts the information he's getting from Shinn despite the whistleblower's complaint.
"He's supposed to be given the truth. And the agency heads are supposed to convey to him exactly what is going on," Holland said. "It's unfortunate he's not getting the truth."
Holland urged Ducey to come to the prison and see the problems for himself.
Prison reform activist Donna Hamm also attended the news conference and called for an independent monitor with authority to conduct unannounced prison inspections and report directly to the governor. She said videos showing prisoners getting out of their cells that were obtained by ABC15 earlier this year had made the state a "laughing stock."
""Here we are again on a situation involving locks, which should be fundamental to any prison system," Hamm said.
The TV report prompted Ducey to launch an investigation. Longtime Corrections Department Director Charles Ryan retired a month after a report by two retired state Supreme Court justices was released in August.
That report found locks failed for years at the Lewis prison, leading to beatings of prisoners and guards and that Ryan failed to appreciate the seriousness of the problem until he saw broadcast video of an assault. One prisoner was killed in an assault and two guards severely beaten in incidents related to the faulty door locks.