An article published today in the New York Times has revealed to the world what you heard here first: Private prisons are not saving us money. The article cites Arizona research that shows that, overall, we’re losing money on our private prisons.
Yet, the Department of Corrections is preparing to award lucrative contracts to for-profit prison companies to build and run 5,000 new private prison beds.
Arizona’s Auditor General estimates this expansion will cost us over $640 million by 2017. Yet our prison population only grew by only 65 inmates in 2010.
This year, our corrections budget is over $1 billion, consuming 11% of the state general fund. In these difficult economic times, when the Governor and Legislature are making devastating cuts to health care, education, and social services, it is absolutely outrageous that we would waste scarce tax dollars on private prisons that generate no savings.
Other states, which formerly had sentencing laws similar to those now in effect in Arizona, enacted sentencing reforms between 1999 and 2010. States saw reductions in prison populations while violent and other crime rates fell significantly. Annual savings in these states are estimated at as much as $80 million annually.
If the Governor really wants to make us safer and balance the budget, she should support the efforts of Representative Ash and others to reform Arizona’s harsh sentencing laws.