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Broken locks lead to attacks on officers, inmates at Arizona prison

(AP Photo/Matt York)

PHOENIX — Arizona prison officials said they have implemented countermeasures to thwart cell door tampering by inmates at the state prison in Buckeye.

The Thursday statement was issued after ABC15 reported surveillance videos that showed violent assaults on officers by prisoners who escaped from cells that do not have proper locking mechanisms.

The station had surveillance video from six assaults inside Lewis Prison in Buckeye that occurred between June and December 2018.

Some of the incidents led to serious physical injuries on officers. One inmate was beaten to death.

The Arizona Department of Corrections said in the statement that the inmates actively devise new ways to tamper with the doors.

But the station reported that Director Charles Ryan has been aware of the broken locks since May 2018, but instead spent millions meant to repair them and security on other projects.

“There’s a building renewal funding process to repair the locks,” Ryan told ABC15 after a recent public event.

“It costs money, and it takes time. We receive about $5 million a year in building renewal, and there are other projects that also had to be evaluated.”

The department said in a statement that inmates tampered with the doors by inserting “small objects in a way that allowed doors to close and show a positive lock on the control board.

“The object would leave just enough tolerance that an inmate could jar the door open.”

In an effort to thwart the attempts, the department installed external locking pins on the doors, but inmates continued to tamper with those by breaking them, stealing them or having other inmates remove them.

The department then put padlocks on some doors to “ensure the door remains secure.” Any inmate who is caught tampering with a door or locking pin is rehoused in a pod that has a padlock on the door.

The department said in a statement that pin tampering has continued, but has “drastically subsided as a result of the countermeasures put in place.”

Department leaders met in January and shared plans to implement door upgrades to replace those temporary security measures early next fiscal year.

“ADC understands that until such time as the current locking system can be replaced and/or upgraded, the agency has no choice but to take steps to ensure staff, inmate and public safety,” the statement read.

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