MTC may pay for escape of inmates in Arizona

Aug 5 2010 - 12:07am

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- The three inmates didn't seem to arouse the least bit of suspicion when they sneaked out of their dorm rooms and rushed to the perimeter of the medium-security prison.

Alarms that were supposed to go off didn't. No officers noticed anything amiss. And no one was apparently paying attention when the violent criminals in their orange jumpsuits sliced open fences with wire cutters and vanished into the Arizona desert.

The series of blunders surrounding the escape and the state's practice of housing hardened murderers and other violent criminals in private, medium-security prisons have placed Arizona corrections officials under intense scrutiny in recent days.

Two of the fugitives remained at large Wednesday as the manhunt entered its fifth day. Authorities believe the inmates have left Arizona and were heading east with a girlfriend who allegedly threw the wire cutters over a fence and fled with two of them.

The head of the Arizona Corrections Department also planned to meet Wednesday with representatives of Management & Training Corp, the Centerville, Utah, company that runs the prison to discuss how the system failed so miserably.

Investigators are focusing on how the inmates managed to go undetected for several hours around the time of the escape and why violent criminals were allowed in a medium-security prison in the first place.

An Arizona lawmaker says the state needs to overhaul its inmate classification system, which allowed the prisoners in the medium-security lockup despite their violent pasts.

Corrections officials said the inmates' prison behavior was good enough that they downgraded their threat risk, clearing the way for placement in the facility.

"One thing we might have to look at is saying, if you're convicted of a crime that is as serious as murder, that you are always considered a high risk," said David Lujan, a state lawmaker who unsuccessfully sought to regulate the types of inmates held in private prisons.

"They may be a moderate risk to the staff when they're inside. But when you see what happens outside afterward, obviously, they're more than a moderate risk to the public."

The Arizona State Prison in Kingman sits amid nothing but a dusty field, three miles from a major east-west interstate.

It opened in 2004 and was designed to house repeat drug and alcohol offenders and set them on a path to rehabilitation, but eventually grew to include more serious offenders in a separate unit.

That is where Daniel Renwick, 36, Tracy Province, 42, and John McCluskey, 45, plotted their escape.

Province was serving a life sentence for murder and robbery. Renwick was serving two 22-year sentences for two counts of second- degree murder, and McCluskey was doing 15 years for attempted murder, aggravated assault and discharge of a firearm. Authorities first said McCluskey was convicted of murder when it was in fact attempted murder.

Province has a dozen prison disciplinary infractions since 1996 -- many related to drugs. He worked in the prison kitchen; Province and McCluskey worked in the dog kennel, where they trained the animals for adoption.

The trio last was accounted for at 4 p.m. Friday, said Department of Corrections spokesman Barrett Marson. Staff noticed the men missing in a head count and after sensors along the perimeter fence sounded around 9 p.m.

The local sheriff's office wasn't notified of the escape until 10:19 p.m., and state corrections officials weren't called until 11:37 p.m.

"I think there was a concern by everyone that it was after the fact," said Trish Carter, a spokeswoman for the Mohave County Sheriff's Office. "Time is of the essence during this type of incident."

The three hopped a fence in the area of the dog kennel and used wire cutters that McCluskey's fiancee, who also is his cousin, had thrown over a fence to cut through two perimeter fences and flee.

MTC spokesman Carl Stuart indicated the dog program may have to be suspended because of the incident. He declined to comment further on security at the 3,508-bed prison.

MTC was incorporated in 1980. However, it was first conceived in the 1960s through the Education and Training Division of Thiokol Corporation. Since 1966, it has operated centers for Job Corps -- a U.S. Department of Labor job-training program for young people.

According to its website, MTC entered the corrections industry in 1987 when it opened one of the first privately-operated corrections facilities in the U.S. The company employs around 7,000.

Province, McCluskey and his fiance, 44-year-old Casslyn Mae Welch, of Mesa, kidnapped two semi-truck drivers at gunpoint in Kingman and used the big rig to flee to Flagstaff, police said. Renwick was captured Sunday after an early morning shootout with an officer in Colorado.

Arizona Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan has said "lax" security may have created an opportunity for the men to escape, and authorities are looking into whether prison staff members might have aided the inmates.

Ryan also has said the prison contractor will "be on the hook" for costs associated with finding the fugitives.

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