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Internal Report Shows Arizona Prison Is Critically Understaffed

An internal staffing report from the Arizona Department of Corrections shows a vacancy rate of more than 54% for correctional officers at the Eyman State Prison.

Eyman houses more than 5,500 inmates, and it is one of five facilities statewide with COVID-19 positive inmates. As of Wednesday, the Department of Corrections confirmed  five inmates at Eyman were positive for coronavirus.

The report shows the numbers for one shift at the Eyman prison on April 25. During that shift, just 68 correctional officers oversaw 5,602 inmates, a ratio of 82 inmates per one officer. Eyman was down 80 officers throughout the entire facility during the shift. One of the units had a staff vacancy rate of 66%.

As of 2019,  the inmate to correctional officer ratio in the Federal Bureau of Prisons was 9.3 to 1.

Arizona Correctional Peace Officer Association spokesperson Carlos Garcia says many of the state prisons in Arizona are critically understaffed, and the COVID-19 pandemic is only making things worse.

“We have staff that are running six control rooms,” Garcia said. “Anyone that knows how prisons work would be horrified to hear that.”

Garcia says each control room should be staffed by at least one correctional officer.

“The control room officer’s job is to assist the officer that is physically out of the room dealing with inmates,” Garcia said. “The control room officer has a control panel and it is he who opens the cell doors by pushing the correct button.”

Garcia says the control room operator also logs activity like inmate movement, showers and recreation that happens in the units.

“If there was a disturbance or an uprising at a unit, we would never know,” Garcia said. “By the time we get back to that control room from running around, the inmates could be out, and the situation could become very dangerous.”

Garcia says low staffing numbers at one prison affect other facilities because the Department of Corrections is forced to shift officers to cover the shortfall.

The department refuses to disclose staff testing numbers, but Garcia says at least 30 correctional officers have tested positive for COVID-19, and hundreds more have been sent home because they presented COVID-19-like symptoms.

Garcia says if demands for more testing and PPE for correctional officers are not met,  he will organize a staff walkout.

→  Read The Latest News On The Coronavirus Disease 

Jimmy Jenkins is a senior field correspondent at KJZZ and a contributor to NPR’s Election 2020 and Criminal Justice station collaborations. His work has been featured on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Marketplace, Here and Now, The Takeaway and NPR Newscasts.Originally from Terre Haute, Indiana, Jenkins has a B.S. in criminology from Indiana State University and a master’s degree in journalism from Indiana University.Much of his reporting has focused on the criminal justice system. Jenkins has reported on Tasers, body cameras, use of force, jail privatization, prison health care and the criminal contempt trial of former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.