GOODYEAR, Ariz. — The hottest temperature recorded in cells in Perryville women’s prison so far this month was 102 degrees on July 17, according to Arizona Department of Corrections Rehabilitation and Reentry records the I-Team obtained through a public records request.
The department provided logs from July 1-17.
The records show that in six “wings” in the Lumley Unit, temperatures were 100 degrees or higher at 3 p.m. on Monday, July 17.
The department has not yet clarified how many inmate cells were impacted in those six wings but said that 576 inmates were living in Lumley that day.
July 17 was unique compared to the first 16 days in the month in that it was the only day with temperatures higher than 90 degrees in those cells.
It was also the same day that the I-Team asked how hot the buildings were at Perryville prison and how many staff and inmates were impacted.
The I-Team first requested temperature logs at the prison on July 17, after hearing a complaint from a viewer concerned that temperatures in the prison could be “94-100 degrees.”
That day, the corrections department media team told the I-Team that two units in the prison, Lumley and Santa Cruz, do not have air conditioning and are cooled by “evaporative” or “swamp” coolers.
“Temperature checks are conducted two times per day,” a spokesperson said in an email. “The evaporative coolers are functioning as expected given current weather conditions. Since we have been experiencing this extreme heatwave, the average temperature has been 85 degrees in these impacted units.”
On July 19, the newly appointed department director, Ryan Thornell, sat down with the I-Team to answer questions and complaints about the conditions inside the prison.
At that time, he said that he had not heard about temperatures higher than 100 degrees in cells.
“I have not had a report of any cell hitting the hundreds or feeling like the hundreds again, and I had staff in there today, because I wanted firsthand accounts from them of what it was feeling and it's in the mid -80s in the highest of temperature areas,” Thornell said that day.
So far, the department has not clarified whether he was aware of the temperature log for July 17.
At that time, he said he had not visited Perryville during the historic heatwave.
By July 21, inmates, their relatives and friends were contacting 12News to raise additional concerns about the temperatures inside the prisons, saying that guards were pointing thermometers into vents to get the coolest reading possible, or otherwise altering the temperatures.
The director said that this was not protocol.
Inmates and the former Perryville Prison Warden also tell the I-Team that Director Thornell made a trip to the prison to see conditions for himself.
The department of corrections media team told the I-Team that Thornell visited Perryville prison multiple times after our interview.
Over the weekend, new heat mitigation measures were put in place, including misters outdoors and increased availability of ice.
The department announced the warden of Perryville prison, Laura Pyle, was retiring.
In a statement on its website, the department of corrections said:
"Laura Pyle, Warden of ASPC Perryville, has announced her retirement from the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation, and Reentry (ADCRR). Ms. Pyle has served as the Warden at the Perryville complex for 15 months, capping off a 23-year career with ADCRR. Her retirement is effective July 28, 2023.
Director Thornell thanks Warden Pyle for her years of service to the Department and to the State of Arizona, and wishes her well in her retirement."
State Sen. Brian Fernandez sat down with the I-Team to discuss conditions inside the prison. He is one member of the newly created Prison Oversight Commission.
Fernandez told the I-Team that he did not know specific temperatures recorded in the prison, but that over the weekend Thornell entered cells to see what the temperatures were for himself, and that they were “too hot.”
Pyle spoke to the I-Team to voice her frustration that she feels that she has taken the blame for the heat conditions inside the prison.
She told the I-Team that the prison already had a heat mitigation plan and that she was following it.
She said that she did learn that some staff were recording cooler temperatures by taking the temp in the vent where cool air was blowing.
“One of the things that we did find out was that some staff or temping where the air comes out rather than inside the cell,” Pyle said.
However, she did not believe that the logs were altered.
“I honestly, I don't think so,” Pyle said. “I trust my staff.”
The corrections department media team said Thornell would not be available for interviews on Friday or at all next week.
The I-Team received the temperature logs Friday afternoon, after the interview with Pyle.
Gov. Katie Hobbs has not agreed to an interview with the I-Team, but did provide a statement through a spokesperson saying in part that she is “working aggressively with Thornell and the Prison Oversight Commission to make prisons safe and humane.”
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