by AFSC-AZ Staff |
A recent exposé by ABC15 reveals that the cell door locks at the Lewis State Prison in Buckeye have been broken for more than five years, allowing for horrifying assaults against both incarcerated people and guards. At least one man has died as a result.
This is the latest in a consistent pattern of mismanagement, abuse, and neglect in Arizona state prisons that has been tolerated for far too long. We implore Gov. Doug Ducey to take immediate action to remove Charles “Chuck” Ryan as Director of Arizona’s Department of Corrections (ADC) and initiate a public search for a new Director, incorporating feedback and participation from key stakeholders, including those directly impacted by the prison system.
THE CASE AGAINST CHUCK RYAN
Deaths: There have been numerous reports of deaths in ADC custody linked to mistreatment and neglect. Here are just a few of the tragic stories that have occurred under Director Ryan’s watch:
- Marcia Powell: On May 19, 2009, Marcia Powell collapsed after being left in an unshaded outdoor chain-link cage for four hours in 107-degree heat. She later died.
- Tony Lester: On July 11, 2010, Tony Lester slashed his own throat and wrists with razor blades given to him by guards. Video footage shows prison staff who arrived on the scene did not attempt to render him aid, instead they filmed him slowly bleeding to death on his bunk.
- Neil Early: On January 16, 2015, Neil Early was assaulted by numerous other prisoners, who appeared to take shifts beating him over the course of 20 minutes. After repeated delays in care, he died in the hospital.
- Miriam Abdullah: On July 16, 2016, Miriam Abdullah was found unresponsive with a bed sheet wrapped around her neck in a solitary confinement cell. She died the following afternoon, just weeks after her 18th birthday. ADC and the Attorney General had been warned that her mental health was deteriorating, but did nothing.
Medical Class Action Lawsuit: Arizona has contracted out medical care of incarcerated people to three separate for-profit corporations with the same disastrous results. A class-action lawsuit, Parsons v. Ryan, was brought in 2012 alleging the department was denying and delaying medical care in order to save money. The suit provides ample evidence that incarcerated people are suffering and dying from preventable or treatable conditions and routinely denied medications and referrals to specialists or procedures.
Parties in the case reached a settlement in 2014, and the court continued to monitor compliance with the settlement. In July 2018, the judge imposed sanctions of more than $1.4 million and found ADC Director Ryan and the department’s medical director, Richard Pratt, in contempt of court.
Most recently, a new judge assigned to the case charged that ADC “manipulated the monitoring process so that the … reports showed compliance even when the goals of providing sufficient and appropriate care had not been met.” The state of Arizona has spent more than $5.5 million on attorney’s fees in the case, mostly over the past three years.
Failure to Monitor Private Prisons: During Chuck Ryan’s tenure, there have been riots and escapes at several for-profit prison facilities, resulting in lawsuits and more costly settlements for the state.
In 2010, three people escaped from the Kingman prison, leading authorities on a multi-state manhunt, culminating in the murder of a couple in New Mexico.
In 2011, the state Auditor General called out ADC’s need for better monitoring of private prison contracts.
In 2015, a series of riots erupted at the Kingman prison, primarily in response to excessive use of force from staff.
Riots: In February 2018, 12 incarcerated people and one guard were injured at a riot at the Red Rock facility operated by for-profit prison corporation CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America or CCA).
On March 1, 2018, a huge riot broke out at the Yuma prison, resulting in major damage to the facility, at least one death, and injuries to 11 staff and 26 incarcerated men. Guards say that they were told that the incident was being planned, and reported it to the ADC Administration, but no action was taken to prevent the uprising.
Staffing Problems: Many of the above-mentioned problems are the result of employing improperly trained staff. Staff vacancies and turnover rates remain dangerously high, meaning that the existing staff is being asked to work longer shifts.
To say that Mr. Ryan is not beloved by his staff is an understatement. In the Lumley Vampire, an underground online newsletter purportedly run by current and former ADC employees, he is referred to as “Darth Vader.”
When Ryan was appointed Interim Director in 2010, the largest correctional officers’ union in the state sent a “no confidence” letter to the Governor.
“‘The department of corrections has been mismanaged by this man,’” said Tixoc Munoz, president of AZCPOA. ‘We have more than 3,200 e-mails back already within 4 days saying they have no confidence in the director.’
Munoz went on to say that union members hesitated with their ‘no confidence’ vote realizing they could pay a high price for it, but in the end, it is the right thing for the state of Arizona.’”
The leaked video of the cell doors at Lewis is evidence that SDC staff are fed up with Director Ryan’s do-nothing administration.
ADC has the third largest state agency budget, totaling over $1.1 billion annually. In spite of this huge investment, it is clear that ADC is failing in its most critical duties—protecting its staff, the incarcerated population, and the public. Arizona’s recidivism rate is around 50%. Despite the fact that ADC has identified 78% of its population as needing drug treatment, only 2% are receiving it at any given time.
Chuck Ryan is one of the last vestiges of an outdated culture of prison management. In order to achieve Gov. Ducey’s stated goal of recidivism reduction, ADC needs a new vision and leadership that is focused on the future, not mired in the failed approaches of the past.
We implore Gov. Ducey to take immediate action to remove Chuck Ryan as ADC Director and initiate a public search for a new Director, incorporating feedback and participation from key stakeholders, including those directly impacted by the prison system.