The Associated Press
The Associated Press
INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana’s prisons chief acknowledged Thursday that his agency moved too fast to transfer inmates from overcrowded prisons in Arizona to a privately run prison in New Castle where some later rioted.
“We could have done better, and I could have done better,” Department of Correction Commissioner J. David Donahue said in releasing a state report on the April 24 riot.
About 500 prisoners burned mattresses and broke windows at the New Castle Correctional Facility during a two-hour disturbance. Eight prisoners and two staff members were injured, none seriously.
Some 25 inmates from Arizona and one from Indiana could face criminal charges as a result of the riot, the report said. The recommendations were sent to Henry County Prosecutor Kit Crane, who said he did not expect to make a decision on charges until next week.
The report said responsibility for the uprising ultimately rests with offenders, but it noted a string of administrative or staff shortcomings as “secondary factors,” including inexperienced guards and too much idle time for Arizona inmates that was aggravated by imbalanced meal and recreation schedules for inmates from the two states.
A prison reform advocate said administrators should have recognized the problems before the riot.
A key criticism in the report was that the transfer was simply done too fast to give either prison staff or inmates time to adapt.
The disturbance occurred six weeks after the first of some 600 Arizona inmates began joining 1,050 Indiana prisoners at the New Castle prison, about 40 miles east of Indianapolis.
The two states agreed on March 9 to the transfer of 1,260 medium-security inmates. By April 17, 630 had been transferred, at a rate of 105 a week.
That transfer schedule was unrealistic because the side of the prison occupied by the Arizona inmates had never been used or staffed before, the report said. The transferred inmates also weren’t adequately informed of the differences between prisons in the two states, including that they wouldn’t be allowed to smoke in Indiana.
“We’ve got to do a better job of communicating in Arizona,” Donahue said.
However, Arizona Department of Corrections spokeswoman Katie Decker said prisoners were informed about what to expect when they moved.
Overall, she said, the Arizona department agreed with the report’s recommendations and did not dispute its findings.
“We’re glad that they took a look at the underlying issues and the areas that they need to improve,” Decker said.
Donna Leone Hamm, director of Tempe, Ariz.-based Middle Ground Prison Reform, said the report was crafted to avoid blaming administrators, including those at Florida-based GEO Group Inc., which is contracted to run the Indiana prison.
“You can’t be surprised by these kind of problems when you have too few staff and untrained staff and inmates with too much time on their hands,” Hamm said. “You could see this coming a mile away if you were interested in authentic correctional practice, and apparently nobody was, and that blame has to be shared among all the participants in the contract.”
The Associated Press left a phone message for GEO spokesman Pablo Paez, seeking comment.
The transfer of inmates from Arizona remains on hold until the report’s recommendations are in place, Donahue said.