The Arizona Department of Corrections’ oversight of private prisons has improved since a deadly, July 2010 escape, but the Office of the Auditor General also found the state-run prisons have their own security problems.
Department Director Charles Ryan defended the agency by writing a response to a Sept. 23 report stating that while there is room for improvement, “over 93 percent of the time policies and procedures are followed and no violations are found.”
“This represents thousands of employees effectively and efficiently performing tens of thousands of tasks on a daily basis that contribute to safe and secure prisons,” Ryan wrote.
According to the report, the department had taken steps to improve the monitoring of private prisons before the July 30, 2010 escape, but it was too little and too late to prevent the breakout. One of the escapees, John McCluskey, stands accused of killing an Oklahoma couple during his 19 days on the lam.
The department has since added a new inspection program for assessing security, which not only meets standards recommended by the U.S. Government Accountability Office and Association of State Correctional Administrators, but also covers the problem areas of the Kingman prison such as the alarm system and patrolling the perimeter.
The department has also changed the way it conducts annual security audits. In years past, the department used a “peer review” system in which corrections officers from one prison would assess the security of another prison.
“This led to a ‘quid pro quo’ culture with regard to audit findings, as officers knew they would be reviewed in turn by those they were reviewing,” the audit read.
Ryan, who was appointed in January 2009, placed the job of conducting the annual reviews with the department’s Office of the Inspector General, the prison’s internal affairs investigators.
The annual review is also more comprehensive than before. The Auditor General’s Office also found that the department strengthened its monitoring and security requirements in revised requests for proposals for the construction of prisons to house 5,000 inmates.
Ryan cancelled the original requests for proposal after the escape and began the bidding process over with new a new one that included the new monitoring and security requirements.
The department, which is on the verge of awarding contracts, is also working on a biennial cost-benefits study to compare state-run prisons with private prisons. Ryan has said the study will completed by January.
A Quaker organization that opposes private prisons has filed suit to stop the procurement process until after the study is complete. The department could have begun awarding contracts beginning Sept. 16, but hasn’t done so yet.
Judge Arthur Anderson of Maricopa County Superior Court ordered the department to give the Quaker Group, American Friends Service Committee, notice before any contract is signed to allow the plaintiffs time to respond. Anderson also set an Oct. 7 oral argument to decide whether to dismiss the claim.
The auditor general also looked at state-run prisons and found that correctional officers don’t always follow policy and procedure, which can compromise security.
Auditors found that officers weren’t thoroughly searched when they reported for work and their food wasn’t passed through a metal detector.
Auditors noted that there have been instances where correctional officers smuggled cell phones hidden in their food to prisoners.
“Department inspectors found similar noncompliance with these requirements at 12 of the 17 units inspected during the January through March 2011 audits of the Eyman, Lewis and Yuma prisons, indicating this is a pervasive issue in the prison system and that the risk for undetected contraband may be significant,” the audit said.
The department also had problems keeping track of tools and keys, pat searching prisoners and consistently enforcing regulations.
To address the problems, the department plans to improve officer training, improve post orders, the written instructions for officers at their posts, and using statistical data to identify trends in lax security, Ryan said.