‘Unlocked and Unsafe’: Broken Cell Doors at Arizona Prisons

Print More

Photo by Pierre via Flickr.

This week, Shaun Holland, an associate deputy warden inside the Lewis Arizona prison complex, filed a whistleblower disclosure  alleging that prison authorities have continued to ignore the fact that nearly 2,000 cell doors are broken in his facility.

The problem appears to affect a number of Arizona prisons. In April, state records put a $36 million price tag on the overall cell door problem, noting that the issue spans prisons across Arizona.

However, those state records fail to say which facility has the biggest problem, making it difficult to assess priority, AZ Central reported in May.

Holland said the Lewis prison is relying heavily on padlocks to “secure many dysfunctional and untrustworthy cell doors,” ABC15 reports.

Holland is the most senior-level official to go public since ABC15 launched an investigation this year into the broken cell doors.

In a recent video interview with ABC15 locally in Pheonix, Holland showed the reporters the locks used in the prison: they fit in the palm of someone’s hand, and are evidently easily broken.

On camera with ABC15, Holland demonstrated unlocking the padlock with a standard key, and as he got it open, the metal loop detached, leaving the lock useless.

“It comes apart,” Holland said in the video, holding the two parts up with one in each hand, “Who knows what could happen? This is a big problem.”

Replacing the more than 1,800 doors will require lengthy repairs that can last through next year if not longer. That, said Holland, is also a serious concern, noting that people have already gotten hurt during inmates’ escape attempts.

In April, ABC15 revealed leaked surveillance videos depicting hundreds of Lewis prison’s cell doors not locking properly, which lead to ambush assaults on officers and likely contributed to multiple inmate deaths, according to the station.

Records show the problem was ignored for years by top officials, according to the station.

In April, state records put a $36 million price tag on the overall cell door problem noting that the issue spans prisons across Arizona. However, those state records fail to say which facility has the biggest problem, making it difficult to assess priority, AZ Central reported in May.

Gov. Doug Ducey responded to the whistleblower’s allegations in a written statement, saying that they’re reviewing the complaint while gathering facts. The statement concluded that they’ve appointed a new prison director and that, “Additional resources were allocated over the summer to fix doors and this will continue to be a focus in next year’s budget.”

Holland isn’t fully convinced that change is forthcoming.

“We’re going back to exactly where we were before. Before you guys broke the news,” Holland said during an interview with ABC15.

“Things aren’t getting fixed… It’s only a matter of time before these doors get kicked open by inmates and other inmates get hurt, assaulted, killed; and staff get hurt, assaulted, killed.”

This summary was prepared by TCR staff writer Andrea Cipriano.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *