Embattled Arizona corrections chief Charles Ryan retires
PHOENIX (AP) — Charles Ryan, the embattled director of the Arizona Department of Corrections, announced Friday that he will retire next month, capping a tumultuous decade atop the state’s prison system.
Ryan has faced growing pressure from civil rights advocates who started a “Fire Chuck Ryan” campaign over alleged inhumane conditions in prisons. A judge last year found Ryan in contempt of court for failing to follow through on promises to improve inmate health care, and the state was fined $1.4 million. The judge has threatened further fines. An appeal is pending.
Ryan did not address the controversies in his resignation letter to Ducey or an email to corrections staff.
“Though there is more to be done, now is the time for me to pursue new opportunities and rededicate myself to my family which has served and sacrificed in support of me throughout my public service career,” he wrote in the email.
Neither Ducey nor any of his aides asked Ryan to step down, said Patrick Ptak, the governor’s spokesman.
“Director Ryan has committed his life to serving in the corrections field for more than 40 years,” Ducey said in a statement. “His dedication to ensuring public safety and providing inmates a real second chance, has made him a nationally-recognized leader.”
Ryan has worked for nearly four decades at the Arizona Department of Corrections. He was appointed director in 2009 and was quickly enmeshed in controversy when Marcia Powell, a 48-year-old mentally ill inmate at a women’s prison outside Phoenix, died from heat exposure after she was left for hours in an outdoor cage.
Earlier this year, the department was rocked by revelations that inmates at the Lewis prison complex west of Phoenix were able to open their locked cell doors and attack corrections officers and other prisoners. Ducey hired two retired Supreme Court justices to look into it.
Several prisons have faced water support shortages, including one in Douglas that went without running water for days after a well ran dry.
The American Friends Service Committee-Arizona — a Quaker organization that played a key role in the movement to fire Ryan — called on Ducey to ensure the next director “will lead the department with integrity” and take it “in a bold new direction.”
“This moment provides a crucial opportunity to correct the serious, systemic issues in ADC and heal the wounds in our community,” the group said in a statement.