UPDATED: Kingman prison contract canceled in wake of unrest; new operator sought

A photo of some of the damage at the Arizona State Prison-Kingman during July's unrest.

A photo of some of the damage at the Arizona State Prison-Kingman during July's unrest.

KINGMAN - The state has canceled its contract with private prison operator Management and Training Corporation and is moving to find another contractor to take over Arizona State Prison-Kingman following a riot and other disturbances at the Golden Valley institution in early July.

"I just got off the phone with Director Ryan ... and the recommendation is to cancel the contract with MTC," said state Sen. Kelli Ward on Wednesday.

Charles Ryan heads the Arizona Department of Corrections.

At a press conference Wednesday afternoon, Gov. Doug Ducey said what happened at the prison was "frightening, disturbing and completely unacceptable," according to the Associated Press.

In a statement, he also ordered the Arizona Department of Corrections to review the operations of all private prisons in Arizona.

Ward told the Miner that the state and MTC came to an "amicable" agreement to end the contract.

Ward also said the intent is to reassign the contract and all beds at the Cerbat and Hualapai units will remain in place. The agreement also calls on MTC to finish repairs to the prison, which sustained severe damage during three days of unrest beginning July 1.

"The good news is the current employees will remain employed. The only thing we don't know at this point is who will be their new employers," said Ward.

MTC spokesman Issa Arnita said the company takes "full responsibility" for the disturbances, but he also said MTC takes "serious issue" with many of the criticisms regarding the way the disturbances were handled at the Hualapai Unit.

"The failure of effective communication by the [MTC] command structure contributed to the spread of disturbances," he said in a statement released Wednesday after Ducey announced the state's contract with the private prison operator was canceled.

However, Arnita alleges the corrections department was dishonest in a scathing report it wrote on the riot following a nearly two-month long investigation.

"ADC completely misrepresented their role in the management and subsequent escalation of the incidents. While we take full responsibility for the initial incident, we have significant issues with ADC's involvement in the management of the disturbances," he wrote.

Arnita said that after MTC established a command structure to manage the crisis, "ADC staff took control and began giving orders to tactical support units without communication with the MTC incident commanders," he wrote. "This caused major confusion with staff, which may have impeded our ability to properly manage and minimize the subsequent disturbance."

Arnita also accused the state corrections department of misrepresenting MTC's performance regarding management of the prison. He said state audits and monitoring reports indicate MTC had a 90.6 percent compliance rating in an annual report issued last November, and from January through June of this year, the percentage increased to nearly 97 percent compliance in overall operations.

On Tuesday, the American Friends Service Committee, a nonprofit organization, released its findings regarding the disturbances.

The most significant and persistent problem at the prison, which has been plagued by riots and one deadly escape over the past several years, is understaffing, according to the report. Correctional officers and other employees are underpaid, under-trained, have low morale - and are unwilling or unable to properly manage a prison, especially during inmate disturbances. More than a dozen prison employees and inmates were injured in three incidents that were not related.

The group, which was founded by Quakers more than 90 years ago, focuses on criminal justice reform. The report said members of the corrections department's Tactical Support Unit were "unnecessarily violent and disrespectful" to prisoners when they responded to a riot and two other disturbances in July.

Members of the unit reportedly injured several prisoners - after the riot was over.

Correctional officers also mistreated inmates by relying on pepper spray and other heavy-handed approaches to behavior management, according to the report.

"We based our report on letters from inmates, interviews with family members and former staff members," said Caroline Isaacs of the Arizona chapter of American Friends Service Committee in Tucson.

Isaacs also said that while officers used overly aggressive tactics to control inmates and caused high levels of resentment by doing so, the guards also were accused of bringing in some of the "readily available" illicit drugs.

The report criticized the department of corrections for failing in its responsibility to "properly manage its contractor, detect and correct problems and hold MTC accountable for persistent problems."

Those include a high rate of assaults and frequent lockdowns at the facility.

Ward said she had mixed feelings about contracting management of prisons to for-profit businesses.

"There are always pros and cons," she said. "Privatizing generally is better for taxpayers. The government can't manage anything. Look at the VA and Obamacare, so I think privatizing is always better, but only as long as they do it well."