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Report details security flaws at Arizona private prison

Questions were raised after three inmates escaped, including one suspected in a couple's killing days later.

August 20, 2010|By Ashley Powers, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Las Vegas — Just after sunset on July 30, three inmates in a remote Arizona prison skulked out of their dormitories and commenced a brazen getaway. They scooped up wire cutters one inmate's fiancee had tossed over a barrier, snipped through a chain-link fence and fled into the desert.

One prisoner and his fiancee — who authorities have said fancy themselves as a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde — remain on the lam and are suspected of killing an elderly Oklahoma couple during a multistate manhunt.

Expressing remorse for the deaths, Arizona's corrections chief said Thursday that more than 100 killers and inmates who had previously tried to escape would be transferred from the medium-security private prison to state-run facilities.

"This tragedy was avoidable and should never have happened," Charles L. Ryan said in a statement.

Ryan also released a report detailing lax policies at the prison in Kingman, near the Nevada border. Officials said the contractor has committed to fixing the problems.

Management & Training Corp., the report said, ran the prison so poorly that, on the night of the escape, a perimeter post was briefly unmanned and the staff reacted sluggishly to alarms. A spokesman for the Utah company could not be reached for comment.

"I have made it clear to all officials responsible for housing these inmates that their lapse in security is completely unacceptable, and that they will be held strictly accountable," said Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, in a statement.

The escape has raised questions about prison security in Arizona, where violent inmates are housed and the role of private lockups in the cash-strapped state, which once considered sending death row inmates to private facilities. State officials had sounded no alarms about the level of security at the Kingman prison in previous reviews.

Atty. Gen. Terry Goddard, a Democrat running against Brewer, has seized on the outrage in hopes of chipping away at her double-digit lead in polls. A representative for Goddard, who has blamed the security breaches on budget-cutting, could not be reached Thursday.

Authorities have tracked down two of the inmates, convicted murderers Tracy Province and Daniel Renwick. The third prisoner, John McCluskey, has eluded capture with his fiancee and cousin, Casslyn Welch.

Welch and McCluskey, who was incarcerated for attempted second-degree murder, are suspected of killing a couple whose burned bodies were found on a New Mexico ranch. The fugitives were last spotted Aug. 6 in Montana, but authorities think they are still driving a grayish 1997 Nissan Sentra and possibly showering at truck stops.

On Thursday, the U.S. Marshals Service released new details about the fugitives, who've likely altered their appearances: McCluskey might have grown a beard, and Welch might have lightened her dark hair. He is missing a tooth and she is missing much of her right index finger.

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