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Prison director Charles Ryan faces ABC15’s questions over broken cell doors

Posted at 9:45 PM, Apr 25, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-26 11:28:14-04

Arizona Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan said broken door locks in multiple units of Lewis Prison have not been fixed because other security projects needed to be evaluated first.

ABC15 asked Director Ryan about the broken doors after a recent public event. He said his department has received millions to repair locks and security at prisons, but other projects have taken precedence over the units at Lewis.

The ABC15 Investigators expose leaked surveillance videos and documents from inside Lewis Prison. Experts call it one of the most chaotic and dangerous environments they've ever seen. Click here to read the full investigation.

“Well, there’s a building renewal funding process to repair the locks, and it costs money, and it takes time,” he said. “We receive about $5 million a year, in building renewal, and there are other projects that also have to be evaluated.”

After the event, a spokesperson sent ABC15 a lengthy statement. See the full statement below.

Officials have not yet identified the projects that took priority over the doors at Lewis Prison.

Since fiscal year 2012, the department said it “completed locking projects at prison complexes across the state at the cost of $8.81 million,” according to official budget documents and requests.

By interviewing multiple DOC officers and reviewing internal investigations, lawsuits, months of security inspection logs, and administrative records, an ABC15 investigation has found there are dozens of cells doors that don’t lock inside three units at Lewis Prison.

Those units -- Morey, Rast, and Buckley – house inmates with a level four classification. That’s their risk-level on a one-to-five scale.

The doors have been broken for at least five years, according to records and multiple officers.

But in DOC's statement, officials said this has only become a problem in the past two years. The department also disputes that the door locks are broken. Instead, a spokesperson said inmates insert small objects in a way that allowed doors to close and show a positive lock in the control room.

Multiple officers and union leaders said that's not true.

With stop-gap measures, Director Ryan told ABC15 that the situation inside the prison is under control.

Those measure include using metal pins or padlocks on welded slots on the doors.

“We have re-pinned the doors, and we have directed staff to secure the inmates who have managed to tamper with the locks, and they have been placed in pods that are tamper-proof,” he said. “That has slowed down, or greatly reduced, the tampering and removal of the pins.”

When asked he was certain about that statement. Ryan said, “I am sure about that.”

When ABC15 tried showing Ryan pictures depicting a chaotic ambush assault from December, a department spokesperson stepped in and stopped the interview.

ABC15 has obtained months of security inspection logs covering extended periods between August 2018 to April 2019.

Missing pins and broken cell doors often aren’t documented as critical issues. The inspection logs show they’re routinely treated as issues requiring, “moderate” or “minimal” attention.

The records also show door problems are routinely documented, but rarely fixed.

Pins repeatedly break and go missing, which means 8-inch pieces of steel are likely in the possession of high-risk inmates. In a mid-April inspection log, it shows many padlocks are also missing.

For the pins that do remain, the surveillance videos expose how ineffective the measure can be. Inmates can be seen routinely walking around pods and lifting pins inserted in other cell doors.

After ABC15 asked a follow-up question regarding the assault numbers listed in the statement, a spokesman clarified that those numbers were incorrectly calculated. Instead, the spokesman claims that the assaults are down over the past three years.