At least seven Arizona inmates have been murdered over the past two years, a prison-homicide rate more than double the national average, reports the Arizona Republic in a series on problems in the state’s prison system. Thee killings have occurred amid rising violence behind bars. Between fiscal 2009 and 2011, as the state’s prison population rose by less than 6 percent, inmate-on-inmate assaults jumped 90 percent, to 1,478, and assaults on corrections staff rose 18 percent, to 362.
The Republic’s investigation found two common threads in a majority of the killings: inmates housed with violent cellmates and inmates targeted by groups or gangs. Corrections Director Charles Ryan denies the rising murder and assault rates indicate there’s a problem with violence in the prison system. He attributes the increase in assaults, in part, to staffing cuts before he became director in 2009 and to a change in how the department defines them. Ryan says his predecessor recorded assaults only that resulted in injury. The department now records a range of incidents as assaults, from inmates flinging urine or feces at officers through their cell’s food slots, to attacks with crude weapons in which inmates or officers are badly injured.