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10:59 AM Sun, Sept. 23rd

State: Kingman prison still not in compliance, according to officials

KINGMAN - Some Arizona officials say changes still need to be made at the Kingman prison, six months after the escape of three inmates reignited a debate about the role of private lockups in the state.

More work was needed at the prison, Arizona House Minority Leader Chad Campbell said after Department of Corrections director Charles Ryan appeared at a legislative committee hearing last week.

"It sounded like they're still pretty far away from meeting their obligation, and they're still not sending any prisoners to that facility," Campbell said. "If we haven't gotten all these problems addressed, then obviously their response has been inadequate."

Officials allege inmates John McCluskey, Tracy Province and Daniel Renwick cut their way through a prison fence July 30 after accomplice Casslyn Welch threw tools into the prison yard. The escape sparked a nationwide hunt, and all four were captured within three weeks.

Province, McCluskey and Welch face capital murder and carjacking charges stemming from the deaths of an Oklahoma couple in New Mexico days after the escape.

A report released after the July escape found deficiencies such as poor staff training and a faulty alarm system that gave false signals so frequently that staff members ignored it, which contributed to the inmates' escape from the prison. After the breakout, Ryan detailed the shortcomings and provided a plan for the prison's operator, Utah-based Management & Training Corp. to correct them - and said canceling MTC's contract was a possibility if it did not comply.

Mohave County Supervisor Buster Johnson, a former Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy who worked in jails, has criticized the way the escape was handled and the way the prison was operated.

"When I read the investigative report, it looked like the only positive thing that was done with the prison up there was that it was clean," Johnson said.

Since then, a new alarm system has been installed, staff training and testing have increased and more state employees are monitoring MTC's staff, state corrections officials said.

Ryan's discussion with county officials about the faults at the prison has since restored some of Johnson's trust in the facility.

"With the contract, they have a state employee who is out there every day monitoring what is going on," Johnson said.

But Campbell said he's not happy with using state employees to shore up the private prison's operations.

"What's the point of a private prison if we have to put (state corrections) personnel up there to make sure MTC is living up to their obligations?" he said.

Gov. Jan Brewer, who has been a supporter of private prisons, told Ryan in a letter in late August that her support "has limits," and expressed concerns with conditions in Kingman.

Ryan replied in September, saying that a perimeter alarm system had not been replaced during his visit there one month after the escape, according to documents obtained by The Arizona Republic through a public records request. He said the system was not installed correctly in 2004 and hadn't worked properly.

Brewer spokesman Matthew Benson said Friday that the governor was staying abreast of changes made after the breakout.

"Following the prison escape six months ago at the Management and Training Corporation facility in Kingman, (the governor) met with leadership of MTC and the Arizona Department of Corrections to detail her expectations for improved performance," Benson said in a statement.

An MTC spokesman said the company was happy to continue its relationship with Arizona.

Last week, Arizona officials issued a revised proposal for 5,000 more private prison beds, with bids due in late February.

State officials pulled their original request after the Kingman escape. The new proposal includes numerous security requirements for perimeter fencing and sensor systems not included in the original request.

Johnson said he still believes private prisons bring economic opportunity to the area.

"I would not support another MTC facility, but I would support bringing in another private prison," he said.