KOLD Investigates: Arizona Department of Corrections allocates $2.8 million to upgrade door-locking systems at Tucson prison

Published: Jul. 16, 2021 at 8:06 AM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - We have an update on a problem the KOLD Investigates Team has watched for months.

The Tucson prison is slated to receive new door-locking systems as part of the Arizona Department of Corrections Rehabilitation & Reentry’s $1.3 billion budget.

The department broke down how it plans to spend the money before the Joint Committee on Capital Review.

The department set aside $18.7 million for security projects in FY 2022. $2.8 million of that will go to a new locking system at the Cimarron Unit in Tucson.

“I would presume these are the most vulnerable is where we are at first,” said Senator David Gowan, Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee (R, District 4).

“Absolutely. We prioritize things by security level,” said ADCRR Director David Shinn.

“The reason we are doing this is because we have seen inmates who have been able to defeat the sliding door and the electronic door-locking systems,” said Fred Moreno, Assistant Director of Facilities Management, ADCRR.

Moreno said they are installing new manual locks at Lewis and Yuma and plan to use the same ones in Tucson.

You may remember the security video from the Lewis Prison in Buckeye where a corrections officer blew the whistle on malfunctioning and tampered door locks, which allowed inmates to get out of their cells and move freely about the prison.

An investigation found the problem had been reported to superiors, but they did nothing about it.

Similar lock issues were found at other facilities as well.

“It essentially looks like your front door lock on steroids,” Shinn said told the committee.

“Those can be opened electronically in the case of fire and all of that stuff?” asked Representative Aaron Lieberman (D, District 28).

“They are manually opened,” replied Shinn.

Shinn said there are 25 cell doors that would take an officer about 90 to 120 seconds to manually open.

We spoke to Lieberman after Thursday’s meeting.

“It would definitely be nerve-wracking if you were sitting in one of those cells and a fire is raging to know that someone has to come and physically unlock your door. I thought there would be a higher-tech solution at this point for sure,” Lieberman said.

The Tucson complex will also receive upgrades to the perimeter fencing as well as a new alarm system.

Representative Lieberman did try to ask a question about current inmate population and the $1.3 billion budget the department received.

Chairman Gowan stopped Shinn from answering and told Lieberman the question was off topic.

“It’s directly related to how we fund the capitol,” Lieberman told Gowan.

“You can ask him offline,” Gowan said.

We asked Lieberman about that exchange.

Lieberman said he wanted to use the opportunity to talk about fundamental issues.

“I was definitely frustrated to get shut down and cut off. I will definitely be reaching out to Director Shinn. I will say he’s been very accessible in our previous conversations,” Lieberman said.

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