Arizona corrections chief: Private prison where escape occurred had unstaffed perimeter post

By Paul Davenport, AP
Thursday, August 19, 2010

Arizona official: State didn’t detect prison flaws

PHOENIX — A report released Thursday by Arizona officials outlined a series of embarrassing security breakdowns that allowed three violent criminals to escape from a prison last month, including a badly defective alarm system and an unstaffed perimeter post.

An outside dormitory door that had been propped open with a rock also allowed John McCluskey, Tracy Province and Daniel Renwick to flee from the privately operated prison in Kingman on July 30, setting off a massive multistate search, the report said.

The alarms went off so often that prison personnel often just ignored them, Arizona Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan said at a news conference held to discuss the report.

Also, operational practices often led to a gap of 15 minutes or longer during shift changes along the perimeter fence, he said.

Renwick was recaptured in Rifle, Colo., on Aug. 1, and Province was found in Meeteetse, Wyo., on Aug. 9. The last confirmed sighting of McCluskey and suspected accomplice Casslyn Welch — two of the most wanted fugitives in America — was in Billings, Mont., on Aug. 6.

Province, McCluskey and Welch have been linked to the deaths of an Oklahoma couple whose burned bodies were found in a travel trailer Aug. 4 on a remote eastern New Mexico ranch.

“This is a terrible tragedy, and the department and the contractor have a lot of work to do,” Ryan said, referring to the Oklahoma couple’s killing.

Prison staff told a review team that the dormitory door was left open because of the heavy amount of foot traffic.

But the open door allowed the inmates to reach a 10-foot chain-linked fence that hadn’t been topped with razor wire. They scaled that fence and hid out for a time behind a building in an area that isn’t visible to staff from the yard.

Using the wire cutters, which Welch tossed into the prison yard shortly before the 9 p.m. shift change, the inmates cut a 30-inch by 22-inch hole and held the fence back with a dog leash.

Welch’s getaway vehicle was parked less than a mile away, the report said.

The hole wasn’t discovered during a check of the perimeter fence at 9:17 p.m. Meanwhile, two of the inmates were discovered missing during a count inside the facility at 9:40 p.m, and the third at 9:43 p.m., Ryan said.

A patrol of the perimeter just after 10 p.m. found the hole, along with the wire cutters and footprints leading out of the prison. Prison staff then notified the local sheriff’s office.

On the day of the escape, 89 false alarms went off, Ryan said. An alarm also went off after the inmates cut through the perimeter fence.

The alarm system hadn’t been properly maintained for almost two years, Ryan said. The system doesn’t produce an audible warning when security is breached, and visible alerts often go unnoticed by staff who are busy answering phones and monitoring gates, the report said.

The report also said prison staff aren’t properly trained and have a high turnover rate. Prison warden Lori Leider, who resigned following the escape, told the security review team that 80 percent of staff is new or newly promoted.

Ryan said the department’s own audits failed to detect the prison’s numerous security flaws.

Previous routine audits gave the Kingman prison high marks and revealed few issues with security or staff training, The Associated Press reported after obtaining copies of audits done in 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010.

Ryan said his department has accepted a security improvement plan by the facility’s operator, Centerville, Utah-based Management & Training Corp..

Odie Washington, the company’s senior vice president, said Thursday the company takes full responsibility for the escape and would ensure the alarm system is functioning properly by Sept. 1. Perimeter patrols at the prison also have increased.

Ryan said 148 inmates were being transferred to other prisons because of new restrictions on which inmates can be assigned to the Kingman facility, which has both minimum- and medium-security units.

Renwick and Province were serving time for murder. McCluskey was serving a 15-year prison term for attempted second-degree murder, aggravated assault and discharge of a firearm.

will not be displayed