Governor Doug Ducey held a news conference in Phoenix Wednesday afternoon shortly after a 116 page report was released that detailed the findings of an investigation into four days of unrest and rioting that injured at least a dozen people at the 3,400 inmate facility in Golden Valley July 1-4.
Ducey said what happened at the prison operated under state contract by the Utah-based Management @ Training Corporation (MTC) is “frightening, disturbing and completely unacceptable.” The Governor said he has instructed Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) Charles Ryan to sever ties with MTC and negotiate for the transfer of the contract to a new prison operator.
Ducey said the investigation revealed a “culture of disorganization, disengagement and disregard for state policies by MTC, failure by MTC to conduct staff training and withholding these failures from the Department of Corrections and their monitors, failure by MTC to prompty and effectively quell the riots that allowed inmates to rampage and property destruction potentially putting Arizona citizens at risk.”
The investigative report, based on interviews with more than 300 MTC employees and more than 400 inmates, identified a laundry list of violations of agency policy and breaches of the Arizona-MTC contract. One conclusion is that problems identified five years ago continue at the facility.
ADC issued a cure notice to MTC to correct security and operations deficiencies noted when a 2010 escape of inmates from the same prison led to the murders of an Oklahoma couple in New Mexico. The new report concludes that there are ongoing contract compliance failures in eleven of 31 areas identified for corrective action in 2010.
The report said that MTC corrections officers and staff are undertrained and overworked. It said that the workforce is “burned-out and exhausted” because many employees work overtime five days a week due to high turnover and position vacancies at the prison.
“A lack of training was a significant factor in both the events leading up to and the management of the riots,” the report said. It said that administrators failed to act in a timely manner and failed to establish a proper command center during the prolonged disturbance, and that the emergency response plan did not contain adequate contact information for local officials in surrounding communities.
The report noted failures to recognize inmate concerns that required attention and it concluded resentment and inability for for MTC administrators and line staff to work together. “The overall failure to instill in the workforce an understanding of fundamental prison practices and security principles has resulted in a culture of apathy and indifference,” the report said.
It also noted that the investigation pinpointed misconduct on the part of a corrections officer who killed himself at his apartment in Bullhead City on July 15. Police said Jon Kemp, 30, shot himself as officers responded to his wife’s 911 call that her husband was suicidal.
The report said that Kemp used excessive force when he pepper sprayed one prisoner in front of other inmates at the point the unrest escalated into a riot. State officials have declined comment regarding whether Kemp’s suicide involved him being a focal point of the post-riot investigation.
Reporters at the press conference repeatedly peppered the Governor with questions about why Director Ryan and ADC is not beind held accountable while fingers of blame are pointed solely at MTC. The press corp noted that ADC has monitors on site at the prison and that Ryan promised better monitoring and contract compliance efforts in the aftermath of the 2010 escape.
Ducey said that MTC encouraged its administrators to be less than forthright with ADC monitors, interfering with their ability to accurately observe and report. He said ending the MTC contract sends a message.
“Our action should send a loud warning shot to all prison operators–‘fail in your job and we will hold you accountable, risk public safety and we will end your relationship with the state of Arizona,'” Ducey said. He said the state has initiated contract compliance reviews at its other privately run prison facilities.
MTC issued its own statement Wednesday.
“While we take full responsibility for the initial incident, we have significant issues with ADC’s involvement in the management of the disturbances,” an MTC news release said. “We take significant issue with the conclusions in this report. ADC took staff and inmate allegations as facts and drew conclusions from them without giving us an opportunity to respond.”
The January death of an inmate fatally injured during an assault at the prison was recently labeled a homicide, though no suspect has been identified. The victim’s family is contemplating litigation after previously filing a multi-million dollar claim alleging negligence.
Litigation over the 2010 murders in New Mexico prompted an out-of-court settlement, terms of which were not disclosed.
Ducey said Arizona is determined to make certain that MTC, not taxpayers, bears the full burden of all costs associated with the July disturbances, the expense of extensive facility repairs and pays the tab for the relocation and housing of some 1,200 inmates incarcerated at other facilities because portions of the prison were rendered uninhabitable.