Governor Doug Ducey Severs Private Prison Contract Following Riots

Governor Doug Ducey fired the company that manages a private prison near Kingman, saying the group did not “promptly and effectively” quell a three-day riot in July that injured 13 people.

“Our action should send a loud warning shot to all prison operators,” Ducey said. “Fail in your job, we will hold you accountable. Risk public safety, we will end your relationship with Arizona.”

Ducey made the announcement Wednesday after the Arizona Department of Corrections released the results of an investigation into the Management and Training Corporation’s handling of the incident.

According to the report, which the governor described as “scathing,” MTC has failed to address more than one-third of the performance problems the state identified in 2010 after three inmates escaped from Arizona State Prison-Kingman and went on a killing spree. The ADOC accused the private prison operator of hiding the issues from the state for years. 

Investigators also determined that the Utah-based company failed to properly train staff, so corrections officers have a “very limited understanding” of prison culture and fundamental inmate management and security principles. MTC’s correctional officers were “exhausted and emotionally burned out” because they were frequently forced to work overtime to compensate for a 17 percent staffing shortage. As a result, inmates described staff as “apathetic” and “badge heavy.”

“This is not the first time we’ve had problems there,” Ducey said. “But it is my intention that it be the last time we see problems there.”

Preceding the first riot in Kingman’s Cerbat unit, MTC had put an African-American inmate who had been accused of stealing cell phones and drugs from inmates of other races into investigative detention, the ADOC reported. Numerous inmates warned correctional officers that the inmate “would be in danger” if returned to the yard too soon because his victims would think he hadn’t been sufficiently punished. But MTC released the prisoner into the general population anyway. He was jumped by a mob of inmates, and five officers were assaulted.

The ADOC concluded that MTC could have prevented the incident if officials had responded to intelligence gathered from inmates. Furthermore, MTC did not follow protocol when the inmates started grouping by race, allowing “an otherwise potentially controllable situation to escalate into a full-scale riot.”

The next day, an MTC staff member at the Hualapai Unit used “excessive and unjustified force” on an inmate, angering nearby inmates.

According to the report, MTC responded to the rioting with “inadequate weapons and munitions” and did not comply with “repeated directives” from ADOC leadership to retake control of the inmates and buildings, which opened the door for inmates to continue ripping sinks off the walls and breaking windows for another 6 to 10 hours.

MTC accepted “full responsibility” for the incidents that sparked the riots in a statement released Wednesday, noting that a lack of “effective communication” from leadership contributed to the spread of unrest. 

But the company took “serious issue” with the ADOC’s criticism of its response to the crisis, alleging that the ADOC, which brought in a number of tactical support teams, should carry some of the blame for the chaos.

“After MTC established an incident command structure to manage the crisis, ADOC staff took control and began giving orders to tactical support units without communication with the MTC incident commanders,” MTC wrote. “This caused major confusion with staff which may have impeded our ability to properly manage and minimize the subsequent disturbance.”

MTC also contested the ADOC’s accounts of staffing shortages and poor compliance with state training policies.

MTC met with five ADOC employees assigned to monitor its compliance with state policies daily. Over the past six months, these monitors deemed MTC to be 96.8 percent compliant with ADOC standards.

Kingman’s staffing “compares favorably” to other ADOC facilities with similar demographics, MTC argued. Arizona State Prison-Globe, for example, has a 27.5 percent vacancy rate.

“We made annual request to ADOC to provide pay increases for correctional officers, all of which were denied over the last 10 years,” MTC wrote.

A number of inmate-rights activists have expressed concern about ADOC’s ability to conduct an unbiased investigation.

“If you are truly conducting contract monitoring, then you can’t be ‘lied to’ by the people you are monitoring because you are doing your own independent investigation and oversight,” said Donna Hamm, director of Middle Ground Prison Reform.

She accused the governor of “attempting to appear managerial” and called the ADOC’s contract monitoring system a “sham.”

“It is absurd to claim that the entire riot incident and its aftermath is on the back of the private prison operator,” she said. “We knew that the blame would not fall on the ADOC for anything.”
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Elizabeth Stuart
Contact: Elizabeth Stuart