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Remarks to media on the Governor's Blue Ribbon Panel preliminary report on events leading to the Lewis Prison standoff

By:
Date:
Location: Phoenix, AZ

Tuesday, March 8, 2004
10:00 a.m.
Governor's 8th Floor Conference Room

Good morning.

Last Thursday I received the preliminary report of my Blue Ribbon Panel on Corrections. Since then I have had the opportunity to review its contents and determine next steps necessary to correct deficiencies that exist in that department.

Overall, the findings confirm what many of us have known for sometime - the Department of Corrections is suffering from long-term neglect and wholesale breakdowns in management responsibilities. The hostage situation at the Lewis Complex was one manifestation of that long term neglect.

To be sure, the responsibility for that standoff will always lie at the feet of the inmates took two correctional officers hostage for 15 days. But their attempts were helped by a complete procedural breakdown on January 18.

The findings of the panel are outrageous, and I am determined to fix the long-term problems in the Department of Corrections as soon as possible. In fact, I am encouraged by the steps that Corrections Director Dora Schriro has taken, some of which she initiated well before the panel issued its report.

I hired Director Schriro to bring long-term, top-to-bottom change to the department, and she is doing this. However, this report illustrates that the pace of reform at the Department of Corrections must be quickened significantly.

The panel forwarded 69 recommendations for change, and I intend to accept all of them. Some, including sweeping improvements in security protocol, are directed specifically at the Lewis Complex, which appears to need the most comprehensive changes.

Others, including a system-wide reclassification of inmate status, will benefit all 10 of Arizona's prison complexes.

Many of the recommendations have been implemented already at the Lewis Complex, including:

Video surveillance cameras are on order to be installed in the kitchen.

Security posts in the kitchen have been increased immediately from one correctional officer to the temporary level of three officers. Once surveillance cameras are operational, the kitchen will be secured by two officers.

Reviewing inmates' work assignments to ensure that no other inmates as potentially violent as Wassenaar and Coy are allowed to perform kitchen duty.

Basic security upgrades have been completed, like installing better locks on the kitchen doors and tool room, reducing the number of kitchen tools used to prepare meals, and securing all kitchen tools with cables. These measures will reduce inmates' opportunities to convert these utensils into shanks.

In the towers, all non-security activities have been discontinued, and movement into and out of the tower is being extremely restricted. Guard towers are absolutely off limits to inmates, and all pharmaceutical drugs are now located elsewhere. In addition, any prison personnel seeking to gain entry to the tower must have his or her identify verified through visually matching the person's face with his or her picture I.D.

In housing units, all Level 4 prisoners in protective segregation will soon be housed separately from the lower-risk prisoners given levels 2 and 3 status.

And new leadership has been put in place at the Lewis complex. The warden, who had been promoted shortly before the hostage taking, was temporarily reassigned afterward. With the administrative review completed, his promotion has been rescinded, and he has been permanently removed as warden of the Lewis complex. He has been demoted to correctional administrator in the agency's Program Services unit.

Major John French has been dismissed for flagrant violation of department procedures.

And Deputy Warden for Operations Wade Woolsey, who supervised Major French at the Lewis Complex, is on two-week suspension without pay.

Six other Corrections personnel remain on temporary transfer, pending the completion of administrative reviews.

Other activities in the department are ongoing, including a thorough review of core security policies and staff's ability to carry them out. Top-to-bottom inspections are underway for such security protocols as tool and key control, radio communication, security hardware inspections, and secure post management.

And corrections personnel are being inspected to gauge their ability to perform such security functions as conducting inmate counts, tracking their movements, completing pat and strip searches, and executing cell extractions.

All of this activity is a good start - but it is just a start of sweeping reforms that must be undertaken as soon as possible. Therefore, I have directed Dora Schriro to complete the following:

In the next 14 days, to establish an implementation plan for each recommendation, using the working group she has already established within the Department of Corrections.

In the next 30 days, provide the Blue Ribbon Panel with a progress report on implementing the panel's recommendations and identifying any necessary modifications to the recommendations and whether any of them require reconsideration.

In the next 60 days, work with the National Institute of Corrections and correctional experts from other states to establish a plan for completely revamping our inmate classification system. Our current classification system has not been changed since 1991. It is outdated and unsafe, and it must be scrapped.

I commend Director Schriro for instituting a comprehensive assessment of the Lewis Prison Complex, and I have ordered the reinstituted operational audits to continue permanently. These are internal checks on the system to ensure that security protocol are being followed and personnel are properly trained and evaluated on their performance.

Prior Department of Corrections leadership scuttled these audits in 2000, leaving no mechanism to verify whether our prisons were being properly operated. Amazingly, the reason prior leadership gave for eliminating these audits was complaints from managerial employees who didn't like being checked up on.

As we learn the underlying problems that plague the department, correcting some of them will require system-wide training. I have directed Dora to immediately implement a "back to basics" training program for all correctional employees, to re-acquaint them with basic security procedures, and ensure that they master the changes that are currently being made.

She is also to convene a summit on professionalism for Department of Corrections management and labor representatives. It is unacceptable in any work place to witness employees playing games, sleeping, ignoring basic procedure and disrespecting their superiors. To see this in a correctional setting is outrageous, given the hazardous environment. I will attend the summit.

Beyond training, other long-term fixes to the department will require additional funding. I have instructed Director Schriro to work with my Office of Strategic Planning and Budgeting, as well as the Department of Administration, to develop a pay package for DOC employees, including merit-based increases, inverse pay for supervisors, longevity pay and new promotion incentives.

Before determining whether it will be necessary to approach the Legislature for supplemental funding, Director Schriro will search her budget for funds that can be redeployed within the department.

One problem that has contributed to safety hazards within the Lewis complex is overcrowding, and the Blue Ribbon Panel has recommended reviewing sentencing guidelines. My administration will continue to work with Rep. Bill Knopnicki on this issue.

Finally, I want to announce Phase 2 of the reviews I am seeking following the hostage standoff. Now that the Blue Ribbon Panel has brought to light the Department Corrections weaknesses that pre-dated the crisis, it is time to review how the crisis was managed and ultimately resolved.

I have asked Thomas Zlaket, former chief justice of the Arizona Supreme Court, to conduct an independent review of the negotiations, tactical and intelligence responses to the hostage situation from the time the two inmates entered the tower.

Like the work of the Blue Ribbon Panel, I have asked that Justice Zlaket's inquiry be conducted in the open, so the public can see and hear first-hand all of the workings of the inquiry.

With that, I will be happy to take any questions you might have.

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