State audit paints dire picture for Arizona's prisons

Arizona's prison system already receives well over $1 billion every year in the budget, but a new audit claims the system needs over $100 million more in order to make potentially life-saving upgrades.

The well-documented faulty locks at Lewis Prison are just a small part of what needs to be overhauled, according to the Arizona Auditor General report. The audit finds deferred maintenance across the state's prisons has cost taxpayers $125 million.

According to the audit, for the past five years, the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry has requested at least $260 million in capital projects, but has only received $6.9 million at most.

The report says the prisons now need $69 million to upgrade locks across all the prisons, not just at Lewis. In addition, the prisons now need $24 million to fix security issues like fencing, and $98 million to upgrade fire systems.

The audit claims most of the state prison's fire alarm systems do not function, and firefighters can be more than an hour away.

Prison officials, rights group officials speak out

In a statement, officials with the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry say:

"ADCRR continues to push toward a future where our professional men and women work in safe, modern complexes, and earn comparable pay and benefits to other detention/corrections officers across the southwest."

Officials with the Governor's Office say they tried to fully fund ADCRR this year, but the pandemic changed plans.

"Where there have been urgent needs, such as locks at Lewis prison, we have put forward dollars to prioritize safety and will continue to do so," read a response.

"They need to reallocate the money they have," said Khalil Rushdan with the ACLU of Arizona.

The ACLU of Arizona argues the prison's yearly billion-dollar budget is already too much.

I believe our prison population is artificially overpopulated, and I think there’s better measures where we can reallocate those funds into the community," said Rushdan.

Meanwhile, the locks at Lewis Prison will not only cost more money, but the project won’t be completed until August 2022 because of a change in door style.