Gov. Doug Ducey has selected a new head of the Arizona Department of Corrections, and David Shinn certainly seems to have the right qualifications. He is a veteran of federal prisons and most recently has been a senior official in the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. He faces challenges in Arizona but has many good people already doing that, including a large number in Pinal County.
Arizona DOC has 8,500 employees in all, with a budget of $1 billion a year and almost 34,000 inmates and another 8,200 overseen in private prisons. Meanwhile, there have been problems with locks, complaints about medical care and a chronic shortage of corrections officers.
Being head of corrections means dealing with audits. In his current job as assistant director of BOP’s Program Review Division, Shinn has overseen 575 audits annually, more than Arizona will have certainly. His official biography says he oversees a wide variety of areas, including guiding managers in the assessment of operations, assisting management in the strategic planning process and coordinating and monitoring oversight activities of auditors.
He previously was a warden and worked at prison complexes in Victorville, California, Los Angeles and Honolulu. The former Marine was at one time a corrections officer.
In Victorville he implemented a controversial program under which books could not be mailed to inmates; they instead had to purchase them at full price with a surcharge. The policy was later changed after public pressure, but it points out a key challenge that prisons face — stopping contraband from flowing to inmates.
Perhaps Shinn will make some progress in the effort to increase staffing by filling vacant positions. That has been a goal of Ducey and other officials for a long time. He also will need to resolve the ongoing legal issue over inmate health care.
Ducey apparently has made a good choice by going outside the system in an attempt to resolve lingering problems. That is encouraging.