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Main Water Supply Out Indefinitely At Douglas Prison

Arizona Department of Corrections building
Arizona Department of Corrections
Arizona Department of Corrections building in Phoenix.

As temperatures approach 100 degrees, the water system is not working at an Arizona state prison housing more than 2,000 people.

The Douglas prison is located next to the Bisbee-Douglas International Airport, which is owned by Cochise County. A well on that property, which is about 10 miles north of the border with Mexico, supplies water to the prison.

Cochise County Public Information Officer Amanda Baillie said on late Friday afternoon that the Arizona Department of Corrections notified the county that the water supply had stopped.

“Our facility department crews were out there, and they dug deeper into the well to find a new water supply,” Baillie said. “We also worked with a local construction company to come up with a temporary solution to get water to the prison.”

Baillie said after water was temporarily restored on Saturday, the county detected a leak in the system.

“We’ve currently shut the system down so we can locate that leak and repair it,” Ballie said.

She said it was too early to say when the water supply would be working again.

“Between the county and the Department of Corrections, we’ve been able to supply the prison with bottled water,” Baillie said. “We also have emergency water tankers on site.”

Cochise County is also working with ADEQ to bring a second well online. "The county is coordinating with the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality to expedite that process," Baillie said. "ADEQ must test the water supply over a 24-hour period before approving the new well."

Department of Corrections spokesman Andrew Wilder said there are contingency measures in place to “ensure there is continuous access to drinking water and sanitation for all inmates, visitors and employees.”

“While some of the inmate housing units have running drinking water for use, each inmate housing area is equipped with water coolers that are continuously filled with clean drinking water from a certified source and transportation truck,” Wilder said.

The department said the water stoppage also required the use of portable sanitation stations and toilets. Wilder said areas with “evaporative cooling” or swamp coolers are being manually refilled by work crews.

Wilder said from Friday through Sunday, the prison distributed more than 20,800 bottles of water.

“Going into today, there were more than 23,000 bottles on site, with more on the way,” he said.

Wilder said meal services have continued normally during the outage.

“Inmates have been cooperative and in good spirits, and without incident,” Wilder said, but relatives of the inmates said conditions are much worse.

Margaret White’s son told her on a phone call Sunday there was no access to water for Thursday and most of Friday. She said the correctional officers, and not the inmates, are getting bottled water.

“He said when the water came in, he said it was in a truck, and it comes in 30-gallon plastic trash cans,” White said. “And the water is warm. So he says they take it from the trash cans and put it in igloo coolers.”

White said her son told her he hasn’t been able to shower since Thursday, and that the portable toilets are overflowing with feces. She said her son believed close to 400 people were sharing one portable toilet.

“These are human beings,” White said. “The very least you can do is give them water to drink. I think they’re being treated worse than animals.”

Jimmy Jenkins was a producer and senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2014 to 2021.