Our View: Can someone please order locking cell doors for state prisons?

May 11, 2019

In an era of rampant disagreement, here’s a topic upon which most everyone will agree: Locks on prison cells are a good idea if the prison is to keep prisoners locked away.

There are two separate, high-level, state investigations looking at prison cell locks, most particularly why they were not used or working at the Lewis Prison in Buckeye. This allowed prisoners to get out and assault guards and each other.

Some prisoners from Lewis were moved to other prisons this week, apparently to keep them from opening the unlocked cells again.

The state investigations should not take long and should conclude that:

A. Prison cells should be locked, and;

B. When money is budgeted to repair and upgrade prison locks, it should be spent on the locks or else guards, prisoners and the public will be exposed to injury or death;

C. The people in charge of prison security should be replaced, and;

D. Arizona’s prisons can’t be run like the jail in the old “Andy Griffith Show” sitcom, in which the town drunk Otis let himself in and out of the cell when he pleased.

The lock debacle is the latest in a long series of jaw-dropping security lapses that rightfully send shivers and outrage through the state. Remember the easy 2010 breakout from the Kingman prison, aided by unlocked doors, that led to at least two murders? Or the 2015 riots there?

The public has every right to expect that those sent to prison will be kept there without posing a threat to the safety of the population. Arizonans have no right to feel that way.

So far, state corrections chief Charles Ryan has been the Teflon leader, holding his job through a decade of travesties. A lot of people, especially Democrats, want him gone.

Whether he stays or goes, it’s clear the problem is much deeper than just the top leadership. When security decisions such as diverting money meant for bad locks are made, it’s a sign of an organization seriously off kilter.

The state needs to finish its investigations and quickly get to work fixing the obvious security problems at Lewis and maybe elsewhere.

Gov. Doug Ducey shouldn’t normally be the guy ordering locking cell doors for the prisons, but if no one else in the state’s employ is up to that task, the governor himself better get on it.

— Today’s News-Herald