Mon, Jan. 20

Corrections chief announces enhanced secruity measures

PHOENIX -- State Corrections Director Charles Ryan said he is instituting an entirely new system for monitoring private prisons -- one he said should prevent the kind of escape that resulted in the death of two people.

Ryan said Monday the old system was flawed, with months going by between inspections. And even when they were done, he said, they didn't necessarily spot problems.

He also said state oversight of private prisons has often been left to inexperienced personnel.

"That was not a good decision,' he said.

Ryan said that includes the Kingman facility run by Management and Training Corp., where David Lee, an associate deputy warden, was the top state official on site. "The employee has been replaced,' Ryan said, with monitoring now being done by a "seasoned deputy warden.'

And Wade Woolsey, who was the department's operations director for private prisons and Lee's supervisor, has since quit.

Ryan also said Monday he is tossing out the bids that already have been submitted to contract for another 5,000 privately run prison beds. The director said he wants to start over again, but this time with some new -- and he said more stringent -- requirements for the private companies that want state funds to house inmates.

Ryan's comments came as his agency released the results of its own internal investigation on how three violent criminals, two serving time for murder, managed to break out of the facility with the help of an accomplice who provided wire cutters. They all were eventually captured, but not before the murder of a couple at a New Mexico campground which has been linked to some of those involved.

He also said that several of the 50 deficiencies his staff first found after visiting the facility following the July 30 escape still exist. He said it is "certainly a possibility' that the state will cancel its contract with MTC.

"The jury is still out,' Ryan said.

As expected, the report finds various failures with the operation of the facility by MTC. Most of those, including a perimeter alarm system that malfunctioned so often that corrections officers routinely ignored it, had been detailed in an earlier review.

What is new are the details of how the state's own monitoring of the 1,508-bed facility fell short and allowed the problems to develop.

One central problem, Ryan said, has been having reviews done annually, with private prisons graded on how well they carried out various policies.

"Frankly, I think that is very misleading,' he said. In fact, that program gave the Kingman facility high marks despite the problems found only after the escape.

Ryan said the new system, still being tested, will allow for ongoing evaluation rather than an annual review.

"We want to know what's going on daily,' he said, and for that information to reach those in his agency who need to know. That was not happening.

According to the report, Lee told investigators he was unaware of issues with the alarm system and "never walked the entire perimeter to check if the alarm system was working correctly.' And Lee, who had been in the position for 14 months, said he wasn't even sure that was part of his job.

"I'm telling you right now, I'm not making excuses,' the report quotes Lee as saying. "I had one day with my predecessor, Deputy Warden Mary Clark, and she didn't tell me squat.'

Woolsey, however, said he was "surprised' Lee did not know there was an issue with the alarms.

The report paraphrases Woolsey as saying "it doesn't take a 20-year veteran to look out and see all the light turning on, and the lights don't just turn on unless something sets them off.'

Woolsey said the sensors, which detect ground disturbance, could be set off by something other than an escape, whether an animal, weather conditions or even poor maintenance.

Lee, in his interview, said he never read the contract between the state and MTC. And when asked how he could determine if MTC was fulfilling its obligations, he responded, "I guess I can't.'

He also said in that interview that, only as a result of the escape, he was required to "walk the zones' and check the alarm system. Lee also said he never actually tried to set off the alarms to see how it works, and that if there were "issues' with the system someone would have mentioned something to him.

Ryan said that he has ordered armed patrols on the perimeter of the prison until he is convinced that the problems with the alarm system are fixed.

The director said he remains convinced that privately run prisons are appropriate for inmates classified as minimum or medium security risks. Inmates of higher classifications remain housed in state-run facilities.

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