Kingman Private Prison Report

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The state has cut ties with a company that operates a state prison in Kingman after several days of rioting at the facility. Arizona Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan will discuss the situation.

TED SIMONS: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon," the director of the department of corrections discusses an investigation into a troubled for-profit prison in Kingman.

Also tonight, Congressman Raul Grijalva will join us in studio.

And we'll check out a first-of-its-kind 3D printed car developed locally. Those stories next on "Arizona Horizon."

"Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the Friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

TED SIMONS: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon," I'm Ted Simons. The state yesterday cut ties with the operator of a private prison near Kingman, this after the department of corrections released a scathing report on prison operations. The report was ordered after a riot early last month that injured 16 people and caused major damage to the facility. Joining us now is the Arizona department of corrections director Charles Ryan. Good to have you on the program, thanks for joining us.

CHARLES RYAN: You're welcome.

TED SIMONS: The report, what did it look at, what did it find?

CHARLES RYAN: It looked at the leadership of the prison, how that prison responded to the riots, it looked at pre-service and in-service training, it looked at communication between management supervisors and line staff of the population. It was I believe a very complete and overall assessment of that prison.

TED SIMONS: And what did you find?

CHARLES RYAN: We found many deficiencies, particularly in the area of communication, trying to resolve issues within a population. Staff was not communicative with the population. We found that information was withheld from the department. As an example, in the area of training, we have a 280-hour preservice training academy that they are required to put their officers through. One major deficiency that frankly was very startling, crisis intervention is a two-day block of instruction. It's 16 hours. It basically is intended to teach people how to deal with conflict and how to defuse situations. MTC reduced that to 90 minutes.

TED SIMONS: Was this disorganization, these curiosities, if you will, were these something -- was MTC trying to cut corners here? Could you figure out why these things were done?

CHARLES RYAN: I don't know that I can respond to why they were doing it but it, in fact, had occurred. There were many shortcomings and failures on the part of this company, and it's very disheartening to learn that.

TED SIMONS: The company management and training corporation or MTC as we'll refer to it, what kind of oversight did this prison have?

CHARLES RYAN: The department has a monitoring team to oversee contract compliance and to try and verify that they are complying with the department's policy. Now, many of the functions of the monitoring teams are statutory in nature. For example, the classification of inmates, inmate discipline, grievance, time computations, release packets, background checks, the privates are precluded from doing that. It begs I think the question that has been asked why didn't they detect that this might be forthcoming? Well, I think part of that is information was withheld. And that's very disappointing. For another example, the working of overtime. In the department, our policy is three shifts per week can be worked on overtime and we do that in some prisons based on need. There appeared to be unlimited and inconsistent overtime being worked at this particular prison. The other thing that we found was that the two units operated independently of each other instead of being part of a complex and serving the greater good of that prison as a whole.

TED SIMONS: You mentioned information was withheld and I know a lot of folks were wondering with your department having oversight over the facility, why was this not found and it sounds like you think MTC deceived the DOC to a certain extent, the department of corrections, how was the department deceived to such an extent?

CHARLES RYAN: The information relative to the training frankly was not detected. The monitors had to sign off and approve the fact that they would conduct training but they were not sitting in the classrooms, observing the instruction being delivered. Is that something that we will consider as we conduct the assessments of all the other private prisons? The answer is yes.

TED SIMONS: As far as those other private prisons, what about them? What condition are they in and what is the oversight finding there? Because they could be hiding things, as well.

CHARLES RYAN: We started the review process, the assessment process of the other private prisons last week. The first was the dui facility here in Phoenix, the Morana private prison is under review as we speak this week. In the next two or three weeks, the remaining private prisons will also be evaluated. Then we're going to look at those assessments and then determine what steps do we need to take to further modify our approach to monitoring?

TED SIMONS: Critics and I'm sure you've heard this now, you've been at the helm, this major riot, also at the helm when there was an escape of three prisoners who committed a double murder while they were out there. But you were at the helm for both of these and they say that you have responsibility here, that there should be some sort of punishment, reprimand, firing, what have you. How do you respond to that?

CHARLES RYAN: I serve at the pleasure of the governor. The governor has the report. He has been briefed. I believe Governor Ducey is satisfied with the quality and the thoroughness of our investigation and if there are other issues, I'm certain that the governor would share those with me and maybe give me additional direction.

TED SIMONS; For those who say the department has oversight over this facility and this was just mayhem there earlier last month, if not you, someone in the department needs to be held responsible or accountable for this. It doesn't sound like anyone is going to be punished or reprimanded.

CHARLES RYAN: At this point in time, I don't see that there's a need to hold anybody accountable in terms of discipline or punishment. Five years ago, there were employees of the department that were dismissed and fired for their shortcomings relevant to that escape. I have not found evidence that our staff is derelict. Is it concerning that they were not able to detect it? It is. And so it's causing us as a department to take a much closer look at how we monitor and what modifications will be made to the contracts, compelling the operators to be more forthcoming with information and reporting requirements that we can then verify. And one of those, for example, is the training I just described.

TED SIMONS: As far as for-profit prisoners in general, what are your thoughts? It sounds like the governor is going to replace MTC in Kingman with another for-profit enterprise. What are you thoughts on private prisons?

CHARLES RYAN: Private prisons serve a purpose in the department of corrections in Arizona for medium and minimum-security populations. Probably if you will, the biggest benefit, from my vantage point, is they go ahead and build the facility and through a per diem, the department over time will end up owning the facility.

TED SIMONS: But for those who are uncomfortable with the justice system being involved with a for-profit enterprise, they don't see the correlation there, the balance there, justice system, for-profit. How do you address those concerns?

CHARLES RYAN: I don't see that the taxpayers can foot the bill to build our way out of the prison system. We have, if you will, just under 43,000 inmates statewide in all the prisons. We have just a little over 42,000 beds. About 6,000 of those beds are what's called temporary. In other words, bunk beds that we placed in dormitories and that has been the department's answer to dealing with overcrowding. It would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to go ahead and replace all these private prisons with state-funded facilities.

TED SIMONS: Last question. Are you confident that public safety is being served right now by the state prison system?


TED SIMONS: Even after what we saw up in Kingman?

CHARLES RYAN: Nobody escaped. Nobody got killed. The inmates were retained inside the perimeter and the department's employees helped regain control. The 120 people that responded from throughout the state.

TED SIMONS: And I'll follow that up because MTC has come out and said the reaction by the state in their minds delayed getting that thing quelled. They're saying that they could have done a good job if they had been left alone to do their job. They called your report flawed. How do you respond?

CHARLES RYAN: That may be their opinion. We don't agree.

TED SIMONS: It's good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.

CHARLES RYAN: You're welcome.

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