updated 3/5/2004 12:04:49 AM ET 2004-03-05T05:04:49

A prison warden was demoted and eight other supervisors reassigned after an investigation into a 15-day hostage standoff in a watchtower found gaps in security compounded by “years worth of bad decisions” at all levels of Arizona’s prison system.

“The findings of this committee, to say the least, are disturbing,” Herb Guenther, co-chairman of the panel investigating the hostage situation, said Thursday. “This is a monster that is awry right now. It will be a monumental task to turn this agency around.”

The panel, appointed by Gov. Janet Napolitano, found that the hostage situation was the result of “a series of small but critical gaps in security” that were made worse by inattention and complacency across the prison system.

The panel was one facet of ongoing investigations into how two inmates were able to overpower two guards on Jan. 18 and hold them hostage in the tower at the Arizona State Prison Complex-Lewis in Buckeye, about 50 miles southwest of Phoenix.

One hostage, Jason Auch, was released Jan. 24. The other, a female guard who said she was raped, was released Feb. 1, the day inmates Ricky Wassenaar and Steven Coy surrendered. Wassenaar has said the standoff was the result of a failed escape attempt.

Investigators concluded that a crisis of some kind at a state prison was inevitable given what it called chronic underfunding by the Legislature, a lack of adequate training for officers, severe staffing shortages and poor morale.

“Many things went wrong,” the panel said. “Some spontaneous and isolated, others the result of long-term institutional neglect and decay.”

The panel found that one of the direct problems leading to the standoff was the fact that there was only one officer for 19 inmates in the kitchen, where the incident began. It also determined that of the 800-plus officers at the prison, half have two years or less of service.

At the time of the hostage situation, 14 of the 20 officers on duty had less than one year of experience.

The panel’s recommendations included more officer training, higher-resolution security cameras, and making drastic changes to the inmate classification and segregation system.

The report said there were numerous administrative errors in the months and years preceding the hostage situation. Specifically, it noted that in 2000 the department discontinued using operational audits of prison facilities.

The prison’s warden, William Gaspar, was demoted and eight other supervisors reassigned, said Grant Woods, a former state attorney general and co-chairman of the panel.

Corrections Director Dora Schriro said she will confer with the governor and her staff to “implement a full course of correction.”

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