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Departing AZ Prisons Chief Faulted on Failing Locks

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Locks failed for years at an Arizona prison and allowed for serious beatings of prisoners and guards, but Corrections Director Charles Ryan failed to appreciate the seriousness of the problem until he saw video of an assault that was broadcast on television, says a report released Thursday, reports the Associated Press. Whether Ryan was misled or disregarded information reported to him, he bears responsibility for the problem continuing at the Lewis prison, wrote retired Arizona Supreme Court Justices Rebecca White Berch and Ruth McGregor in a report commissioned by Gov. Doug Ducey. “We conclude that the Director, for too long, remained surprisingly uninformed about the poor functioning of the locks and scope and seriousness of the danger,” they wrote. “That is not acceptable.” The justices also blamed understaffing, complacency by correctional officers, budget requests that were ignored and poor management at the prison. Ryan replaced the warden and his deputies at the beginning of the year. Ryan announced his retirement last week, the day after he sat for his final interview with the justices.

Problems with locks at Lewis shocked lawmakers and the public when ABC 15 (KNXV-TV) aired video in April of an assault on a corrections officer from 2018. The station reported that inmates used objects to prevent their cell locks from engaging completely, even though they appeared secure on control panels. The justices found five incidents where corrections officers were assaulted and seriously injured that could be attributed to inmates leaving their cells without permission, and another assault on an inmate. Four other beatings of seriously injured inmates may have been related to lock problems. The report said it was clear that inmates leaving their cells without authorization was “an accepted part of prison life at Lewis.”

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