Safety concerns at Arizona prisons arise after reports of cells locked with padlocks

PHOENIX (FOX 10) - Concerns have been brought to light at Arizona prisons after reports have surfaced of safety issues at Lewis Prison in Buckeye.

These reports say cell doors are not locking or closing properly and as a result, the prison has been putting padlocks on the doors, which could be a safety hazard for the inmates in the case of a fire or other emergency.

"Inmates are going to absolutely die if there's a fire, and I don't want to hear them say the possibility of that is very remote," said Carlos Garcia with the Arizona Correctional Peace Officers Association.

At a news conference Tuesday, the prison staff union and an inmate advocacy group came together for the rare occasion to demand answers and accountability.

"These are not new problems," said Donna Hamm with Middle Ground Prison Reform. "The director has known about these problems. The department has a sorted history of protecting inmates and staff, and this is just one example."

The group stopped short of demanding the resignation of Charles Ryan, the Director of Corrections. That, however, didn't stop Arizona Democrats from releasing a letter, calling for the DOC leader to step down in the wake of the latest problem.

"It should be obvious that the primary issue in the secure and orderly operation of a prison is safety," said Hamm. "Public safety, staff safety, inmate safety. There is no higher priority."

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey agreed on Tuesday, calling the solution "unacceptable".

The Arizona Department of Corrections says they have taken steps to address the issues, but some groups are calling for bigger action, saying the problems are more widespread and are not just happing at Lewis Prison.

"We are absolutely under siege in the department of corrections," said Garcia. "This administration has inundated us, they are smothering us. It's seriously an avalanche of neglect that we've had to put up with until now. We've had one inmate killed because of doors not being fixed by this administration, two staff severely beaten and countless more that simply went under the tables."

The Middle Ground Prison Reform Group is calling for Gov. Ducey to appoint a panel of independent experts on prison security who would evaluate every safety device at Arizona Prisons and then make recommendations on changes that would be immediately implemented.

The group is also calling for Arizona lawmakers to provide more funding to prisons as needed.