Report on broken locks finds widespread problems in state’s prison system

PHOENIX — The head of the Department of Corrections remained “surprisingly uninformed” about nonfunctioning locks at one of the state’s largest prisons and the resultant security risks and assaults on guards, according to a new report issued Thursday.

The analysis, performed by two former chief justices of the Arizona Supreme Court, found that there was a “casual attitude of the inmates who leave their cells, wander the unit, and enter other cells.” More significant were the assaults on corrections officers that resulted.

But the report by Rebecca White Berch and Ruth McGregor, went beyond the issues with the locks at the Lewis Prison in Buckeye, finding deeper problems within the Department of Corrections, ranging from low salaries that keep the agency from retaining employees to what some people interviewed told them how Corrections Director Chuck Ryan “cultivates a culture in which employees fear to tell him negative information.

And the justices said that some corrections officers had been instructed not to report security incidents “or told that information should be filtered to make a supervisor or unit ‘look good.’ ”

The report comes nearly two months after the Joint Legislative Budget Committee approved $16.5 million for the repair of locks in three units of Lewis prison. And that came only after ABC-15 aired videos proving that inmates could freely open and close their own cell doors.

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