Former Supreme Court Justices Finalize Third-Party Corrections Investigation, Report

News Release

August 15, 2019

PHOENIX — Former Arizona Supreme Court Justices Rebecca Berch and Ruth McGregor have finalized a report into the effectiveness of locks and other security issues at Lewis Prison. The justices were asked by Governor Ducey to conduct an independent, third-party investigation into lock issues, including their causes and actions taken by the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) to address them. The justices also were tasked with making recommendations including changes in policy, procedure or operation they deemed appropriate.

In addition to the third-party investigation, the governor established a task force of public safety and administrative personnel (“Public Safety Task Force”) to begin immediately implementing solutions to address these issues.

To view the report online, click HERE.

“I’m grateful to Justices McGregor and Berch for their work on this very thorough and comprehensive investigation,” said Governor Ducey. “Their report provides a detailed and clear assessment of the factors contributing to the lock issues at Lewis prison. When my office was made aware of these issues, we immediately established a task force of public safety and administrative personnel to ensure all actions were being taken to ensure the safety of all individuals at Lewis. Now, with this report complete, we intend to work with members of the Legislature to act on its recommendations. When it comes to public safety, inaction isn’t an option.”

The report includes 9 recommendations, including:

Recommendation 1: ADC should continue progress on identifying and installing an alternative locking system at Lewis prison.

  • The report identified long-standing issues with inmates at Lewis Prison gaining unauthorized access to their cell doors. 
  • In May 2019, members of the Public Safety Task Force initiated a review of state correctional systems to find best practices and solutions used by others that have experienced similar lock issues. This research helped identify potential options for replacement or alternative lock mechanisms to be procured. 
  • In June 2019, the Joint Committee on Capital Review approved a $17.7 million request from ADC to replace locks, fire alarm and suppression systems, and HVAC systems. Phase I of this project involves replacing locks and fire suppression systems at the Lewis Prison complex. 
  • ADC will develop a plan to ensure continued progress to address this critical issue.

Recommendation 2: ADC should take action to address staff shortages, including increasing compensation for correctional officers.

  • Reversing the trend of correctional officer shortages remains a top priority. 
  • In January 2019, the governor proposed a public safety personnel pay package to provide raises to public safety personnel including Correctional Officer pay increases. 
  • In May 2019, the governor signed the Fiscal Year 2020 budget including $74.7 million to fund the salary increases. 
  • Still, there is much more work to do. We remain focused on ensuring the Department of Corrections is implementing effective recruitment and retention strategies, including developing a staff retention action plan.

Recommendation 3: ADC should continue to refine its process for developing a budget with clearly defined priorities. 

  • The report identifies clear deficiencies within the budget development process. 
  • The governor’s office has directed ADC to convene subject matter experts within their agency, the Department of Administration, and the Strategic Office of Planning and Budgeting to develop solutions to these findings.

Recommendation 4: ADC should continue revamping training for correctional officers and all levels of personnel.

  • In May 2019, the Public Safety Task Force in conjunction with the State Fire Marshal began work with ADC to implement new security and life-safety training and security check training for officers as part of an ongoing focus on ensuring a safe environment for all individuals. 
  • New measures require that all officers receive both pre-service and annual in-service fire-safety training, meaning they receive fire-safety training prior to becoming officers and annually thereafter.
  • The ability for correction officers to perform their jobs with the necessary tools, training, and expertise is vital. ADC has been instructed to continue their work to improve and enhance their training protocols. 

Recommendation 5: Supervisory personnel must ensure that required door checks are timely and properly completed. 

  • ADC has engaged staff regarding the need to conduct quality checks of the cell doors and locks to identify and rectify inmate tampering with the locking mechanisms before the inmates are secured in their cells. This includes continued discussions with staff as well as active observation of door inspections and securing procedures, with feedback and redirection given to improve these practices as needed.
  • ADC will define clear goals for ensuring these important and necessary security checks are completed as standard procedure.

Recommendation 6: ADC should revamp and modernize the ADC reporting system in a way that eliminates redundancy and improves access to important documents.

  • ADC will engage in a comprehensive review of their reporting system, operations for improvement and/or development of a modern reporting system to improve efficiency, eliminate waste, and allow correction officers more time to focus on administering the critical elements of their job responsibilities.

Recommendation 7: ADC should continue to take steps to emphasize the importance of communicating accurate information and develop an electronic system that facilitates more immediate contact when necessary. 

  • The report identifies the need for improvement in the communication of accurate information related to security incidents to ensure accountability and resolution. 
  • The Public Safety Task Force will work with ADC to develop communication protocols that prioritize and ensure the communication of accurate and complete security incident reporting.

Recommendation 8: ADC leadership should adopt modern prison administration techniques and make more frequent, unannounced visits to prisons. 

  • Strong leadership, oversight and accountability are necessary to any organization and ADC must continue to adopt practices that reflect this priority.
  • The state is engaged in identifying a new leader for the department with a commitment to public safety, recidivism, and strong staff engagement and morale.

Recommendation 9: Additional funding to implement discussed “fixes” should be addressed. 

  • This is about public safety, and investments must continue to be a priority.
  • ADC has engaged in the development of a multi-phase plan to address lock and life-safety issues in prisons. 
  • Recent investments illustrate the commitment to addressing these important issues, including:
    • $17.7 million invested to replace locks and fire suppression systems at Lewis Prison complex. 
    • $74.7 million to fund critical correctional officer salary increases. 
  • There is more work to do, and investments to address these issues are an ongoing and urgent priority.