Plenty of blame to share in Kingman prison riots

Management and Training Corporation has lost millions of dollars, a contract, and taken a public relations beating since four days of wholesale rioting virtually destroyed one of two units at Arizona State Prison-Kingman in early July.

The incidents gave foes of private prisons enough ammunition to attack the state Legislature and Gov. Doug Ducey, who remains bullish on private prisons and seems intent on keeping the Golden Valley facility under private management despite tons of evidence the private sector is not up to the task.

The Arizona Department of Corrections and a panel of experts handpicked by Ducey made sure the finger pointed at MTC - and only MTC - but the irrefutable fact of the matter is, ADOC must share at least half of the blame.

Here's why. The problems at the prison began a full 10 years before last summer's insurrection and five years before three men escaped, with remarkable ease, in 2010. The jailbreak would have been laughable if the ending weren't so tragic, since two of those men were involved in the killing of an Oklahoma couple in New Mexico.

While it's true MTC was woefully unqualified to handle a prison full of hardened inmates, the fact such men were there in the first place falls squarely on the DOC's shoulders.

Mohave County supervisors welcomed the prison when Golden Valley was chosen as a site to build one in 2002. Those arms were open for three reasons: The facility was supposed to house only low- to medium-risk DUI offenders, bring jobs to a poor county, and provide local government with cheap inmate labor.

Here's the kicker, one that hits every citizen in the region square in the teeth. Former DOC Director Dora Schriro, with absolutely no notice, changed the classification of the prison from strictly DUI to general population just seven months after it opened in 2004.

Schriro didn't tell lawmakers, county supervisors or the public of the change. This was a clear violation of department regulations. Charles Ryan, the current DOC director, admitted as much when he told supervisors of the change in inmate classification five years later - nearly 2,000 days later - following the deadly escape in 2010.

This was a move that can only be described as sneaky and dangerously risky. For five years, we all went to bed each night thinking alcoholics and nonviolent drug users were housed in Golden Valley. We were not aware that with them were sociopaths in prison for murder and other violent crimes. One can only guess what their influence did to the futures of the men who were there for a comparably minor mistake.

The state sent us 150 convicted criminals a week for six weeks, until every bed was filled. By November of 2006, MTC asked to "modify" its treatment program for DUI offenders to a more "generic" program. The idea was to accommodate the needs of the general population inmates. Ironically, MTC's innovative approach to treating inmates with substance abuse issues was one of the key reasons it won the contract in the first place.

One month later, DOC told a pair of key lawmakers that MTC was substantially noncompliant in the services it offered. That was an understatement. Of the roughly 1,500 inmates at the prison at the time, fewer than 450 received treatment of any kind.

How did the state punish MTC? By rewarding it with another 2,000-bed prison in 2007. The first murderers arrived at the minimum-security Cerbat Unit by December of that year and the state began pumping 140 general population inmates a week into the new medium-security Hualapai Unit in April of 2010. The buses kept coming until May 31, when a prison-wide race riot forced the shipments to halt for a couple of weeks.

MTC's construction of the prison was never meant to manage and control hardcore convicts, men who rely on violence to settle disputes, who use guns to rob people, who murder for money, revenge or the thrill of the kill. And MTC didn't have a say on what caliber of inmate it would take, but it also never made DOC aware that it was out of its league.

Why? Because there was money to be made, that's why. MTC certainly has to shoulder its share of the blame, but DOC brass, legislators and a governor or two have their own burden to carry as well.