Arizona Department of Corrections

Arizona State Prison Complex - LEWIS History

The construction of Arizona state prisons has come a long way since the building of Yuma Territorial Prison.  Operational just a mere 100 years ago, it was built out of stones, mortar and flat strap iron.  In 1906, construction of a territorial prison in Florence began due to the severe overcrowding in the Yuma Prison.  Time hasn’t changes the trend to build new prisons in order to meet overcrowding; however, the construction technology, and safety and security features of Arizona’s prisons most certainly have changed.

On a vast span of desert about 40 miles southwest of Phoenix, the State of Arizona is putting construction technology, safety and security designs to practical use in a massive prison construction project known as the Arizona State Prison Complex-Lewis.  Based on numerous comments by corrections officials from around the country who have toured the facility, the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) has been described as a leader in the field of prison construction.  Other states are interested in learning how ADC builds at such a reduced cost rate.  According to (then) Corrections Director Terry L. Stewart, the reason for its prison construction success is attributable to the continuing use of a prototypical concept.

 “The concept includes using a system of parts or designs which have proven effective in building a new facility.  This process, in turn, makes the planning process quicker and more efficient, and cost is significantly reduced by eliminating special building preferences,” Stewart says.

Other savings ideas included the careful selection of geographical location to maximize cost efficiency and enhance safety considerations.  Construction design included consolidating all prison units into a smaller land area, thereby reducing the need for additional utilities, site lighting, and roads.  All units are housed under one complex operation, but maintain the autonomy to respond to unit alarms.

The Arizona State Prison Complex – Lewis is one of the largest single correctional facility construction endeavors in the United States.  The behemoth of prison, costing $157 million, includes two 800-bed level 3 male units, two 800-bed level 4 male units, one 600-bed female unit, and one 350-bed maximum security minors unit, with a total inmate population of 4,150, making ASPC-Lewis larger than over 30,000 towns across the United States.  The complex contains 294 acres inside the perimeter patrol road.  This acreage supports 23 miles of road, 22 miles of fence, 44 acres of agriculture fields and six 24-acre stand alone prison facilities.

 “City” is an appropriate term for this self-sufficient complex.  The site supports its own wells, water and wastewater treatment plants.  Two 500,000-gallon water tanks tore the one million gallons of water that will be used by the site every 24 hours.  The sewage treatment plant was designed to process 750,000 gallons of raw sewage per day.  The brine pond alone is one-half mile long, holds 60 million gallons of liquid and took 2,400 man-hours to install its 800,000 square foot liner.

The complex maintains six kitchens that can produce 12,450 inmate meals per day and a laundry capable of washing 53,000 pounds of clothes and linen each week.  The estimated 1,500 visitors per week are shuttled from the main entrance by trams to the six prison sites.  ASPC-Lewis contains its own vehicle maintenance facility to maintain and fuel the shuttle buses, patrol vehicles, fire fighting equipment, and other support vehicles.

 New structural designs were implemented, allowing fewer staff to monitor more inmates than ever before.  The realized savings will be $2.7 million annually.

Another design feature of ASPC-Lewis was to integrate the entire medical and support service in one centralized area.  Building one consolidated medical unit and one mail and property building created savings of $3 million.  The health facility provides a pharmacy, hospital, laboratory, x-ray facility, nurses, dentists and psychologists.  A telemedicine program implemented by the ADC in 1997 is being utilized in the medical unit at Lewis.  This program has reduced the number of inmates moved from prison sites to health care service centers, thus reducing the possibility of escapes by inmates while being transported.  Importantly, it has also reduced the physical presence of inmates in the general civilian population served by hospital-based clinics.  In addition to these security measures, telemedicine has reduced transportation expenses and security staffing overtime.  A significant reduction in administrative and logistical efforts on the prison site for scheduling and moving inmates has been recognized.  The inmates also benefit from telemedicine as they receive medical intervention prior to conditions developing into possibly more serious situations.

Operational improvements at ASPC-Lewis include a new design for controlling the higher-level custody units.  Touch-screen computers are used to electronically open cell doors and record the movement of inmates within the facility, reducing the need for officers to do manual logging. Water control devices have been installed to prevent inmates from over flushing toilets and causing floor flooding.  The complex installed a highly sophisticated Electrodialysis Reversal (EDR) water purification system, which electronically charge particles and impurities, allowing them to be easily filtered out.  Additionally, this system provides a significant increase in the longevity and efficiency of all on-site equipment that utilizes or carries water, such as evaporative coolers, kitchen equipment and air conditioning units.

Staff security and accountability are of the utmost importance in every prison system.  ASPC-Lewis installed a HandNet Plus hand reader which provides them with the capability to network up to 120 hand readers into a controlled access system and alarm-monitoring system with distributed database.  The system provides proof-positive identification of people, not just cards or PIN codes.  The term “centrally controlled” means that from a single central location they can add and remove users from the system; assign the times that individual users are allowed access to any of the system readers; display and record to computer disk all transactions; lock and unlock doors from the central location, and so on.  It has the capacity for 62 time zones and 64 access levels.  In essence, the program ensures complete security is maintained even if communication with the central computer is lost.

With communication being the most important tool of any business or operation, Lewis Complex decided to install the state of the art Meridian 81C AC-powered telephone switch.  This is a dual-CPU stored program control system with standby processing capabilities, fully redundant memory, and up to five full-network groups offering 160 loops.  Option 81C is equipped with two redundant input/output processor and disk drive unit combination packs.  The system is equipped to supply voice mail, an automated attendant, conferencing calling, hospitality features, call accounting and call trafficking to name a few.  With advances in electronics technology and incorporation of modern computers into the control of telecommunication equipment, the Meridian 81C makes it possible to time-share equipment and still maintain efficient transmission of information.

Lewis Complex was also concerned with the environment, and what could be done to enhance the area surrounding the prison site.  The concept of a wetland on each side of the highway was suggested and later approved by the Bureau of Land Management for the restoration and ecological enhancement of the site.  Open water areas will constitute approximately 15 acres, and ideally have depths of 4 feet to preclude emergent vegetation.  These areas would provide sufficient landing and take off surface for waterfowl.  The wetland habitat will include emergent vegetable borders providing cover and habitat for a wide variety of wildlife and insects.  Cottonwood and willow trees will be planted to act as a buffer zone to adjacent wetlands and provide habitat diversity.  A water hole will also be created to benefit wildlife and to discourage the movement of larger animals in search of water to cross the highway.

Substantial savings in construction come from the use of inmate labor in construction of part of each facility.  An analysis by the Arizona Department of Administration has concluded that the Inmate Construction Program has saved taxpayers 20% of the cost of private contract labor.  Staff management is also improved by using inmate labor to tend to 22-acre vegetable and fruit gardens for prison consumption within the secure perimeter.

Construction statistics for ASPC-Lewis are intimidating.  The complex poured 50,000 cubic yards of concrete (enough to fill 35 Olympic sized swimming pools), enough masonry block laid en-to-end to reach from Phoenix to San Francisco; enough PVC conduit to create an electrical super highway between the site and Los Angeles, enough ceramic tile to place a path from Phoenix to the California border, and enough concrete reinforcing rebar to reach from Phoenix to Philadelphia.

Technology in correctional industry is rapidly growing; every year, technologies expand and improve and manufacturers produce better and less expensive products.  The State of Arizona and the Arizona Department of Corrections are maximizing benefits to Arizona citizens by continuing to implement the newest technology and prototypical construction.


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