Sam Lewis, who served under four governors during his ten year tenure as head of the Arizona Department of Corrections, died Saturday of natural causes in Scottsdale. He was 83.
From early 1985 to late 1995, Lewis steered the department through an era of growth that saw the opening of three prisons across the state.
During that time he also worked with the state Legislature to pass a number of high profile laws including the “Truth in Sentencing” statutes that require prisoners to serve out a majority of their sentences.
The former U.S. Army colonel, who served in WWII, and the Korean and Vietnam wars, instituted a number of changes to the system aimed at getting tough on prisoners.
Among them, he put an end to privileges then given to inmates such as unescorted furloughs, weight training programs and prison rodeos.
Sam Lewis Jr. said his father wanted to take weights out of the prisons because he felt the prisoners were “getting bigger and badder than the guards.”
Lewis also sought to reduce overcrowding by double bunking the inmates. During his first eight years, Arizona’s prison population grew by nearly 9,000 inmates.
But his reforms were not limited to just prisoners. He was also known for imposing a strict code for state prison guards, a move that was well received at the time.
For the decade he ran the department, Lewis served under Governors Bruce Babbit, Evan Mecham, Rose Mofford and Fife Symington.
The Lewis Prison Complex was named after him. After leaving the office, Lewis worked as a consultant for private prison companies.
Lewis was born Feb. 14, 1925 and grew up near Miami, Ariz. After high school he enrolled in Northern Arizona University but left in 1943 to join the Army where he served in Europe as part of the 101st Airborne Division. After the war, he attended Arizona State University where he played half back on the football team.
Lewis returned to the military in 1949 where he remained until 1971 when he retired as an Army colonel.
Lewis died Saturday at the Minnie and Armond Sherman Hospice Home on the campus of the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale. Services, which are open to the public, will be held at 10 a.m. at the Community Church of Joy, 21000 N. 75th Ave, Glendale.
He is survived by his wife of 61 years, Wynell Lewis; his sons Sam and Stan and his grandchildren Adam, Alex and Matt.