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Maine corrections official to lead Ariz.'s troubled prison system

Security issues, low staffing and claims of civil rights violations marred the record of Ryan Thornell’s predecessors



By Dennis Hoey
Portland Press Herald

PHOENIX — Maine’s deputy corrections commissioner was named Tuesday to lead Arizona’s troubled prison system.

Ryan Thornell was chosen by Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs to become director of the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry.

“Along with Commissioner (Randall) Liberty, Deputy Commissioner Thornell has been a visionary leader for the Maine Department of Corrections, implementing national best practices like the widespread delivery of medication for substance use disorder, while balancing rehabilitation with public safety and respect for the rights of victims,” Maine Gov. Janet Mills said in a statement.

Liberty said that Thornell has had a positive impact on Maine’s prison system, serving as a trusted mentor to not only staff but to residents as well.

“His compass is centered in justice and in doing what’s right,” Liberty said. Thornell joined the Maine Department of Corrections in 2015. He was appointed deputy commissioner in 2018.

The Arizona Republic newspaper predicted that Thornell will have his work cut out for him when he takes over the post Jan. 30. A federal judge recently found Arizona’s prison health care system and conditions of confinement are unconstitutional. Security issues, low staffing and claims of civil rights violations marred the record of Thornell’s predecessors, the Republic reported.

He will also be inheriting a much large prison system than Maine’s. Five Arizona state prisons each have higher inmate populations than the total in Maine’s prison system, the newspaper reported.


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