Arizona's Morey Unit Prevention and Mitigation Analysis Essay

Morey Unit Prevention and Mitigation Analysis Riots and disturbances in prisons are not a new phenomenon in the United States and in the past decades there has been a continuation of these destructive and violent events. The prison riot at a phenomenon can be used in a number of ways. The term riot can be defined as the act of inmates taking control of a significant portion of a prison or correctional center for a significant period of time (American Correctional Association, 2010).

Also, the term disturbance is considered a step down from riot because there are fewer inmates involved and there is no control or minimal control of a small portion of the correctional facility by inmates (American Correctional Association, 2010). One of the longest prisoner riots in the history of the United States occurred at the Arizona State Prison Lewis Complex in the Morey Unit. Located in Buckeye, Arizona the Morey Unit is designed to hold 800 prisoners of various security levels from low, medium, too high.

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This situation in the Morey Unit started in the early morning of January 18, 2004 in the kitchen where two inmates overtook civilian kitchen staff and correctional officers with prison made knives and shanks. The inmates who initiated this hostage situation was Steven Coy and Ricky Wassenaar, during this 15 day standoff two correctional officers were taken hostage, one female and one male. During the standoff the correctional officers were assaulted physically and sexually, but were eventually released alive.

This riot and disturbance in the Morey Unit started as an escape attempt inmates Coy and Wassenaar, and when that plan got skewed it then turned into a long hostage situation, during which they were able to gain access to a guard tower with rifles and ammunition. The Morey Unit hostage situation could have been mitigated with four major methods of improved security measures, proper amount of staff and training, more experienced officers, and reduced overcrowding. The Morey Unit hostage situation could have been mitigated with improved security measures.

Apparently, security measures at the Arizona Department of Corrections Lewis complex were a little relaxed. At any correctional facility the name and goal should be the security, custody, and control of inmates. If this fundamental method is not employed at a correctional facility houses situations like the one that occurred in the Morey unit can certainly occur more often. All areas within the prison premises should be guarded properly at all times. The hostage incident was staged in less than one hour and therefore if the place was adequately guarded with proper security procedures this could not have happened.

Efficient and clear instructions should be in place to assist staff in proper safety procedures to follow. At each work location or post there should be a detail post description outlining important safety procedures to follow at that particular work location. The post description should also a detail which doors and gates need to be secured at all times how also how and where inmates should be secured. These security measures should be reviewed with all staff and all work location on a regular basis.

This information should always be kept in a secure location, never an area where inmates have access to the information. In addition to the increased security measures each correctional institution has to make sure that there are plans readily available and in place for emergency riots and disturbances. The nature and detail of the plan will be determined by the complexity and size of the correctional facility (Topham, 2003). The plans have to be easy to follow and written so that correctional staff can quickly and properly adhere to them (Topham, 2003).

For example, simple security measures like frequent pat down searches of inmates to ensure no weapons are present can significantly reduce the chances of inmates having weapons and being able to use them on officers. Ideas like these should be implemented to reduce the chances of hostage situations, trauma, and even death to correctional staff and inmates. With improved security measures the Morey Unit hostage situation could have been avoided. Proper amount of staff and training could have also helped to mitigate the incident in the Morey Unit hostage situation.

Whenever there are staffs shortages at correctional facilities this can always cause dangerous conditions for inmates and staff. To mitigate situations like this one in Arizona, correctional facilities have to maintain proper staffing levels and ensure staff is properly trained for riot and disturbance incidents. With 946 vacant correctional officer positions, the Arizona Department of Correction has a staff vacancy rate of 15. 2 percent. In the Lewis complex where the Morey hostage situation occurred the vacancy rate is 19 percent, with over 200 positions left unfilled (Garrett, 2004).

To avoid hostage situations all staff must be properly trained on disturbances and riots, this training should include drills and scenario-based training to better prepare staff for real life situations. Practical training exercises should be reviewed with staff on a quarterly basis, and should be reiterated also during annual training (Topham, 2003). As a result, the situation could have been mitigated with proper staff training and if more security officers were employed in the prison to reinforce security effectiveness in Arizona’s Lewis complex.

The Morey Unit hostage could have been avoided by in increased use of experienced correctional staff. Inexperienced officers were among the key factors that allow the two inmates to take control of the prison guard tower for 15 days (Corrections Digest, 2004). The correctional panel reviewed the incident and discovered that many officers assigned at the Morey Unit that less one year of experience on the job. During the morning of January 18, 2004 14 of the 20 officers assigned to the unit had one year or less experience (Garrett, 2004).

By ensuring that experienced correctional staff are assigned to each unit this can greatly reduce the chances of situations like this from occurring. Shift commanders should ensure that each unit staff we 50 percent of experienced staff and 50 percent or less of inexperienced staff. In a correctional setting experienced staff is invaluable. Another factor that could have mitigated the Morey Unit hostage incident was for the Arizona Department of Corrections to reduce overcrowding in its facilities.

With an increased prison population Arizona has struggled to keep with the demands of housing more and more inmates. The Morey unit of the Lewis prison complex was designed to house only 800 inmates, however, because of overcrowding the unit regularly houses 840 to 850 inmates at one time (Garrett, 2004). Increased prison population creates overcrowding, and with a shortage in staff situations and work conditions can become quite dangerous. In some Arizona prisons the officer to prisoner ratio often reaches 1 to 120, which is a disaster waiting to happen.

In an effort to reduce the chances of situations like this from occurring administrative officials have to ensure that the only house the number of inmates allowed for each unit to insure safety procedures are met. Overcrowding prisons is a huge problem for many states however; overcrowding issues can be costly and can lead to unsafe conditions in correctional facilities. On February 1, 2004 the hostage situation really came to an end when Wassenaar surrendered himself to authorities. At which time Inmate Coy also surrendered and exited the tower without further incident.

No other prison in the United States has had a hostage situation to last for a long as this one did. In conclusion, the Arizona Department of Corrections Lewis complex-Morey Unit hostage situation was an unfortunate event that could’ve been mitigated with improved security measures, proper amount of staff, increased staff training, the use of experienced officers, and by reducing overcrowding situations in the facility. By ensuring detailed security measures are in place along with comprehensive planning, prison officials can avoid situations like this from occurring.

Also by ensuring staff is properly trained on riot and prison disturbances can significantly reduce the chances of incidents like this expanding to hostage situations. Correctional facilities can significantly mitigate the chances of situations like these by ensuring prison facilities are fully staffed and by attempting to reduce the overcrowding situations that many facilities face. References Breakdowns, Complacency Are Key Problems in 15 Day Arizona Takeover. (2004, March 10). Corrections Digest. Retrieved from http://www. llbusiness. com/public-administration/justice-public-order/1137791-1. html Garrett, M. (2004, June 17). In Need of Correction: Arizona’s prison system is overloaded and its staff is overwhelmed. Tucson Weekly. Retrieved from http://www. tucsonweekly. com/tucson/in-need-of-correction/Content? oid=1076508 Ranzau, S. (2009, June 24). Prison Life: Longest Prison Hostage Situation in U. S. History. Associated Content. Retrieved from http://www. associatedcontent. com/article/1846775/prison_life_longest_prison_h


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