Yesterday, AFSC representatives gathered at the Capitol to deliver testimonies, along with pages and pages of independent research and published works that make the incontrovertible case against the practice of for-profit incarceration. The event was covered by KPHO’s crack reporter, Morgan Loew. Loew has long been a thorn in the side of for-profit prisons, exposing their influence-peddling in Arizona state government.
That same day, the Arizona Republic announced that several bills to impose oversight and reporting requirements on private prisons were effectively dead because the Chair of Judiciary refuses to allow them a hearing.
The Arizona Auditor General reports that Arizona is set to add 6,500 private beds at an estimated cost of $640 million through 2017. This year, our corrections budget is over $1 billion, consuming 11% of the state general fund.
In the midst of a crippling budget crisis, as devastating cuts are continuing in the areas of health care and K-12 education, Arizona is poised to award more multi-million dollar contracts to these corporations with absolutely no guarantee that they save money or are safe for our communities.
In fact, a review of the available research data, from Arizona and nationally, presents compelling evidence to the contrary.
FACT: Private prisons in Arizona are not cheaper than public prisons. In fact, they cost more on average. The Arizona Department of Corrections has done a cost comparison analysis every year since 2005, and the results are consistent. The most recent of these, from 2009, shows that the State paid private prisons $55.89 for each medium-custody inmate per day compared to a daily cost of $48.13 per medium-custody inmate in state facilities. The State also paid private prisons slightly more for each minimum-custody prisoner.
FACT: Private Prisons are less safe. If the Kingman escapes did not prove this point sufficiently, there is a host of federal research data and published media accounts to verify it. Private prison operators make their money through securing contracts with governments (county, state, federal) to house their prisoners. These contracts go to the lowest bidder, so in order to make a profit, these corporations cut corners, most often in the areas of staff pay and training and Research and Development (R&D). This results in facilities that are short staffed, with high turnover rates, and inexperienced staff. This combination is a recipe for unsafe facilities.
FACT: For-profit prison corporations are not accountable to the taxpayers of Arizona. While it can be very difficult to obtain information from state-run prisons, it is ultimately possible to do so because these are government institutions and thus are subject to laws requiring disclosure of public information. However, private prison companies are not currently subject to the same laws, and therefore are immune to the normal checks and balances that protect people from abuse by such institutions.
This is particularly true in the case of prisons that do not contract with the state. These prisons are accepting prisoners from other states and the federal government, yet are not required to report to local law enforcement or state entities who they are holding, what crimes they were convicted of, what their population numbers are, what their staffing levels are, or what programs they offer to prisoners. They do not have to disclose their budgets or other financial matters. They are not required to report disturbances or assaults.
This is precisely the problem that Representative Campbell is addressing in his bills. These bills are perfectly in line with our recommendations for increased oversight and monitoring of private prisons, and we thank Rep. Campbell for his efforts. To read the text of each bill, click on the number:
HB2298 General, Private Prison Monitoring
HB2299 Private Prisons; Regulation
HB2300 Private Prison Contractors; Public Records
HB2589 Legislative Hearings; Private Prison Escape
HB2590 Prisons; Security Monitoring Systems; Notification
Unfortunately, Senator Gould, Chair of Judiciary Committee was quoted as saying that he “did not believe these bills are necessary.”
So, just to be clear, Sen. Gould believes it is not necessary for you to know if a private prison is importing murderers or sex offenders into Arizona from other states. Sen. Gould also believes it is not necessary for you to know if those inmates escape. And, Sen. Gould believes it is not necessary for you to know whether or not the alarms work in a prison.
Sen. Gould represents a district that includes Kingman, site of the infamous prison operated by MTC from which three murders escaped last summer. Of all people, you’d think he would understand the risks inherent in for-profit incarceration. How on earth could he want to block legislation that simply holds these facilities to the same standards as other prisons?
We are left with two possible conclusions:
1. That Se. Gould is so ideologically wedded to the idea of privatization that he is unable or unwilling to face reality, or;
2. That, like Governor Brewer, he has been bought by the for-profit prison industry.
Recent media reports have revealed the influence of the for-profit prison industry in the Governor’s office and have suggested that these corporations were behind SB1070, Arizona’s controversial immigration bill, which, if fully implemented, would likely have led to an increase in the number of immigrants held in ICE detention facilities in Arizona, the majority of which are operated by Corrections Corporation of America.
For decades, for-profit prison interests (usually lobbyists) have contributed heavily to Arizona politicians. Lobbyists and former employees of prison corporations have moved on to positions of power in Arizona where they have influence over decisions impacting the growth of prison populations, awarding of contracts, and other policy matters. For example:
- Paul Senseman, Gov. Brewer’s Chief of Staff is a former lobbyist for CCA and his wife is currently lobbying for them
- Chuck Coughlin, the Governor’s campaign manager, runs a public relations firm that lobbies for CCA
- Mark Brnovich, Chair of the Governor’s Commission on Privatization and Efficiency, served as a Senior Director of State and Customer Relations for Corrections Corporation of America from 2005-2006 and was a lobbyist for them in 2007
Dem blog AZ Blue Meanie has suggested that perhaps Sen. Gould has taken such a strident position because he, like the Governor, has been bought by the for-profit prison industry. His district includes the city of Kingman, home of the infamous MTC prison. You’d think of all people, he would know the risks involved in privatization by now. Then again, maybe he’s been talking to MTC’s high-powered lobbyists.
AFSC has made all their research on the issue available via their webpage. This includes the testimonies received for the public hearing on prison privatization held in Tucson on October 27, 2010. There are links to national coverage, published reports, and government studies all showing that private prisons are more costly, less safe, and less accountable to taxpayers.
AFSC is making all of this public in an effort to encourage voters to do the due diligence on prison privatization that our lawmakers, like Sen. Gould, refuse to do.
If you are outraged by the actions of Sen. Gould, AFSC has also put out an action alert, encouraging people to contact the Senate President and Speaker of the house. If you are interested in making your voice heard, please do so IMMEDIATELY. The deadline for bills to be heard in committee is this FRIDAY, 2/18.