By Jamar Younger
The state prison on
The conversion will require the transfer of thousands of inmates from the prison to other prisons around the state to make room for inmates with health issues.
The change to a medical facility for prisoners was accelerated after two fights resulted in lockdowns at the prison in June, Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan said.
At least 400 inmates from the facility's Rincon Unit already have been transferred to other prisons in the state in anticipation of the conversion, Ryan said.
Those inmates will be replaced with prisoners who have mental health and medical issues, Ryan said.
Officials had developed a plan within the last four months to move inmates with medical and mental health problems to the prison, he said.
Prison officials are still calculating how much money will be saved, he said.
However, Ryan said he expects the conversion to save money because prison officials will not have to transport inmates from multiple prison sites around the state to get them to doctors or hospitals.
Inmates usually receive basic medical care at their prisons, but they're sent to specialized clinics and hospitals for emergencies, specialty care and injuries, he said. Most of those hospitals and clinics are in bigger cities such as
Having the prisoners in one facility will make it easier to provide care for inmates and transport them to a specialist if needed, Ryan said. The department will monitor the cost to see how much money has been saved.
Donna Leone Hamm, executive director of Middle Ground Prison Reform, a prisoner-advocacy group, said moving ill prisoners to one location should improve medical care for inmates.
"It seems to me the Department of Corrections is constitutionally required to take care of inmates, no matter how ill they are,"
Inmates who require more than just basic medical care will not have to endure traveling from their prison to another part of the state when they have an emergency, she said.
The traveling can take a toll on sick prisoners, she said.
"It's very difficult for the well-being of the patient," she said.
The Arizona Department of Corrections will add 1,000 new beds to the Wilmot facility, bringing the total to 5,756, Ryan said. The facility will keep 270 minimum-security inmates to meet labor force requirements, he said. These prisoners will perform maintenance duties, such as cooking and cleaning.
The department has been authorized to fill 115 clinical positions for its medical staff, he said. More than 80 positions have been filled.
The complete conversion may take several months, but prison officials anticipate having 1,000 new inmates by February 2010, Ryan said.
The complex currently has 4,756 beds and 4,276 general-population inmates.
Prison officials decided to begin the conversion after two fights within the same week in June injured numerous inmates and prison staff members.
The first fight occurred on June 23, when three prisoners and nine corrections officers were injured in a fight between Mexican-American and Mexican national inmates.
That fight took place in the prison's Rincon Unit, one of nine units at the prison.
Another fight between Mexican-Americans and Mexican nationals broke out in a different unit on June 26, injuring 20 inmates, including five who were hospitalized.
Ryan said the inmates were not moved because of their race.
"The general population, regardless of race, have been moved," he said.
The conversion will not cause a hardship for healthy prisoners because it is not uncommon for inmates to be transferred to different facilities during their prison terms,
"There is no constitutional right for prisoners to be at the location of their choosing," she said.
By the numbers
• 4,276 inmates currently at the state prison on
• 1,000 beds will be added to the prison to accommodate inmates with medical and mental health issues from throughout the state.
• 5,756 beds for prisoners with medical and mental health issues once the conversion is completed.
• 270 minimum-security prisoners will stay at the facility and perform maintenance duties.
Contact reporter Jamar Younger at 573-4115 or email@example.com