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Arizona DOC Raids Prisoner-Generated Funds to Pay for Lock Repairs; Whistleblower Says Records Being Falsified

After the Arizona Department of Corrections (DOC) received $17.7 million from the state legislature’s Joint Committee on Capital Review to repair defective cell locks at a maximum-security prison, a whistleblower revealed that paperwork showing the repairs had been made was falsified, The Arizona Republic reported in December 2019.

Now the DOC is planning to use $4.1 million in prisoner welfare funds to pay for the repairs. Those funds are generated by fees charged prisoners when they make phone calls or use a tablet computer or video kiosk. The DOC receives between $8 million and $9 million for the fund annually, of which $500,000 was already being transferred to a “building renewal” fund.

“We’re taking funds that are supposed to go towards furthering inmates’ opportunities and we’re fixing facilities problems with it,” said Joint Committee member Rep. Randy Friese.

As previously reported in PLN (September 2019, p. 24), the DOC has been under increasing pressure to repair faulty locks at the Lewis Prison in Buckeye since April 2019, when leaked surveillance videos showed prisoners who had opened their own cells ambushing guards.

The DOC initially took disciplinary action against Sgt. Gabriela Contreras and four other guards, whom it blamed for leaking the surveillance videos. On May 30, 2019, former-DOC director Charles Ryan rescinded their punishment and had the disciplinary action expunged from their records. The punishments included two 40-hour suspensions, two 16-hour suspensions and a letter of reprimand. The guards were also reimbursed for lost wages.

The leaks triggered media attention and resulted in the $17.7 million allocation to repair the locks. It did not result in the locks actually being repaired, according to a whistleblower complaint signed by Shaun Holland, the assistant deputy warden of the prison’s Bachmann Unit. The complaint alleges employees “go through the units, toy with broken doors, and then designate them as ‘repaired’ in official DOC records.”

In a December 5, 2019, press conference, Holland said Arizona Governor Doug Ducey had “not been told the truth” about the door repairs. Ducey told reporters that he trusted the information he was getting from DOC officials.

Holland has worked at the DOC for 14 years. He said subordinates had reported the issues with broken and damaged cell doors, and he had passed them up the chain of command to no avail. “Instead of identifying and repairing the doors, the prison administration is hiding the problems by ‘closing out’ hundreds of repair orders without completing any repairs,” Holland wrote. “I personally checked the records and confirmed by actually checking the cell doors myself. I raised these issues in my own chain of command, including the warden, several times with no action being taken to address the issue.”

“They were supposed to fix some doors,” said Carlos Garcia, head of the Arizona Correctional Peace Officers Association. “Did they do it? Absolutely not!”

“This situation is a litmus test,” said Donna Hamm of Middle Ground Prison Reform. “The governor says he wants to correct this problem. [New DOC] director [David Shinn] was hired to correct this problem. It’s a mess. It’s not working. It’s not being fixed. In fact, the subterfuge is disgusting.”

What happened to the $17.7 million if it was not spent on repairs? How can $4 million of prisoner welfare funds prompt the DOC to make the repairs when $17.7 million failed to do so?