Chuck Ryan, director of the Arizona Department of Corrections, announced his retirement today following months of criticism and calls for Governor Doug Ducey to fire the embattled head of Arizona's prisons.
News of Ryan's retirement was first reported by ABC15.
Ryan submitted a letter to Governor Doug Ducey's office stating that he will retire September 13.
A spokesperson for the Arizona Department of Corrections shared an email Ryan sent to staff members at 2 p.m.
Last week, a crowded town hall on prison conditions reignited calls to fire Ryan. At least five people who spoke that evening said their son, nephew, brother, or friend had died in Arizona's prisons.
Calls for Ducey to fire Ryan have mounted in recent months following a series of high-profile stories of grave mismanagement and inhumane treatment in Arizona's prisons.
"AFSC-Arizona renews its call to Gov. Doug Ducey to implement the remaining nine recommendations that came out of the July 31st town hall at First Church UCC in Phoenix," AFSC-Arizona, a criminal-justice advocacy group that works to reduce mass incarceration and improve prison conditions, said in a press release following the announcement of Ryan's retirement. "Chief among them being our request that the Governor convene an advisory committee made up of key stakeholders and experts, including those directly impacted by incarceration, to select a new Director."
In April, an investigation by ABC15 News found that faulty doors at the Lewis state prison complex in Buckeye had endangered guards and led to the death of at least one incarcerated person. In May, KJZZ reported that pregnant women in Perryville prison have been forced to give birth and suffer miscarriages alone in their cells. In June, problems with Douglas prison's water system — which Cochise County officials were long aware of — left 2,000 people in the state prison complex without running water for more than four days.
"Corrections has the third largest state agency budget, totaling over $1.1 billion annually. But the serious problems in our prison system present an additional burden on taxpayers," the website states, noting that the state of Arizona has spent millions settling wrongful death lawsuits and a class-action lawsuit against negligent medical care in prisons.
Arizona has the fourth-highest incarceration rate in the country and some of the strictest sentencing laws, with over 42,000 people currently incarcerated in state prisons. Drug possession and distribution are some of the leading causes of incarceration in the state.
The lack of basic medical care in Arizona's prisons also has brought Ryan under fire. Last year, a federal judge fined the Department of Corrections $1.4 million for failing to meet the terms of a settlement agreement that resulted from the 2012 Parsons v. Ryan lawsuit over prison health care. Earlier this year, ADC cut ties with Corizon, its private contractor for prison health care, after a KJZZ investigation found Corizon had instructed its employees to deliberately mislead government auditors.
"It is disappointing if not unsurprising that none of the serious problems in the state’s prison system were acknowledged in Ryan’s retirement announcement or the Governor’s statement on the matter," said AFSC. "However, this moment provides a crucial opportunity to correct the serious, systemic issues in ADC and heal the wounds in our community. We look to Gov. Ducey to ensure that the next Director is someone who will lead the Department with integrity and take us in a bold new direction in which Corrections actually lives up to its name."