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Prison officials increasing staffing, considering transfer of inmates after ABC15 report

Posted: 5:18 PM, May 03, 2019
Updated: 2019-05-07 13:12:57-04
UnlockedLewisPrisonSign

After an ABC15 investigation exposed many cells inside Lewis Prison don’t properly lock and secure, the Arizona Department of Corrections has reached out to dozens of states to learn about their locking systems.

FULL SECTION: Unlocked and Unsafe: Videos expose AZ prison's broken doors

Officials are also bringing in outside companies to review the locks, increasing staffing resources, and considering transferring some inmates to other facilities.

The moves were outlined by the department in an email sent to ABC15 on Friday afternoon.

“ADC continues to take urgent action to bring swift resolution to this issue and ensure the safety of all officers, non-uniformed personnel and inmates,” according to the email.

Last week, ABC15 broadcast leaked videos from inside the Lewis prison showing free-roaming inmates ambushing corrections officers.

Routine inspection logs, internal investigations, incident reports, and surveillance videos show there was overwhelming evidence – often reaching the executive staff – that documented a serious and ongoing problem with cell locks.

Since ABC15’s reports, ADC Director Charles Ryan ordered the emergency padlocking of 1,000 cells inside Lewis Prison. The padlocking was in violation of state fire codes but temporarily OK’d because of the serious nature of the situation, records show.

Sources report multiple problems with the padlocks already.

On Friday, prison officials said they’ve “experienced some padlock vandalism, which required repair or replacement.”

The padlocking has raised tensions inside the prison, leading to some inmates threatening violence to officers. Sources also said some inmates have started temporary fires inside their cells to prove a point about the padlocks.

Some correctional officers have also refused to “post,” or take the floor on some pods of cells, in recent shifts due to inadequate staffing concerns, according to internal records reviewed by ABC15.

On Friday afternoon, 20 inmates popped open 15 doors in one of the prison’s units and refused to lock down, according to information reviewed by ABC15. No use of force was needed.

The inmates' display was to “get attention and make a point,” according to a source.

The department’s email states that it’s taking steps to address those issues by increasing staffing resources, overtime availability, and considering transferring some inmates to alleviate pressure on staffing.

Earlier this week, Governor Doug Ducey ordered an outside investigation to be conducted by two retired Arizona Supreme Court chief justices.

The governor also deployed a team of administrators and law enforcement officers from DPS and Homeland Security to assist ADC and evaluate the situation.

Contact ABC15 Investigator Dave Biscobing at dave@abc15.com .