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716 inmates moved from Phoenix-area prison with broken locks

(YouTube Screenshot)

PHOENIX – The Arizona Department of Corrections said Thursday it has finished moving hundreds of inmates out of a West Valley prison unit where broken locks led to violent assaults on staff and prisoners.

In a press release, the department said the transfer of 716 inmates from Lewis Prison in Buckeye, which started earlier this month, was completed Wednesday.

The inmates who had been housed in 400 cells at the prison’s Morey Unit were relocated to prisons in Winslow, Florence, Tucson, Yuma and Douglas.

The move gives the department a chance to plan and implement a long-term solution for the lock issue.

It will also allow for correctional officers to be reassigned within Lewis Prison, increasing staffing at the complex’s seven other units.

Corrections Director Charles Ryan addressed the move in an email to all department employees that was also sent to the media.

“I want to make clear: These are only short-term measures,” he said in the email.

“The department continues to work diligently to identify a long-term solution that provides a permanent lock replacement and increases staffing levels.”

He also told employees that their input was encouraged and appreciated.

“We are listening and want to hear from you,” he said. “It is my expectation that leaders at all levels make themselves available, listen, take any reports seriously and elevate all issues in a timely manner.”

“Retaliation will not be tolerated. If you feel that you have been retaliated against, I encourage you to report such incidents.”

The problems at Lewis Prison came to light last month after an ABC15 report, which included leaked surveillance videos, revealed that some prisoners had been carrying out attacks on correctional officers and other inmates.

The videos from between June and December of 2018 showed inmates letting themselves out of cells and initiating violent beatings. One inmate died in the hospital four days after being attacked in his cell.

The department said inmates had tampered with locking mechanisms to keep the cells from being properly secured.

Doors were padlocked in response, a violation of state fire codes, but the state fire marshal temporarily allowed the padlocks.

Ryan reportedly has known about the broken locks since May 2018, but millions of dollars targeted for repairs had been diverted to other projects.

Gov. Doug Ducey authorized a third-party, independent investigation of the Department of Corrections as well as a state probe by a team of law enforcement officials.

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