As the August 31st deadline for award of a new private prison contract draws near, there’s been a healthy public debate as to the justification (or lack thereof) of the state’s plan for up to 2,000 more medium security prison beds.
Last week, Tucson Citizen Editor Mark Evans asked the $17 million question: “Private prisons are not saving us money–so why do we still have them?”
Then, Craig Harris of the Arizona Republic put out an excellent and comprehensive analysis of the facts–prison population is down, private prisons cost more–contrasted with the bogus rationale touted by Department of Corrections Director Chuck Ryan to justify their plans to go ahead with the contracts anyway. All you Psychology Majors out there can use this for your term papers on “cognitive dissonance.”
Even Linda Ronstadt took a shot at the for-profit prison industry on CNN’s Situation Room Friday. In a scathing rebuke of Gov. Brewer’s stance on immigration, Ronstadt connected the dots for viewers on the influence of the for-profit prison industry, which manages immigrant detention centers as well as prisons. Ronstadt stated, “…let’s look at the money for a minute. What Arizona is spending an awful lot of money on is private prisons. And Chuck Coughlin and Paul [Senseman]…are two of her top advisers. They are both lobbyists for the Correction Corporation of America, which is the biggest — one of the prison giants, private prison giants in the country.” At this point she was cut off by the host. Go figure.
Finally, a broad coalition of over 50 state and national leaders and organizations sent a letter to Governor Brewer today asking her to halt plans for a new for-profit prison contract. The list of over 50 leaders and organizations includes several Arizona elected officials—both Democrat and Republican—from the state, county and city levels of government. Also signed on to the letter are Arizona groups such as the League of Women Voters, the NAACP, the National Organization for Women’s Phoenix/Scottsdale chapter, and the Center for Economic Integrity.
We are posting the letter in its entirety here, along with the full list of signatories:
State and National Groups Oppose Plan for 2,000 More For-Profit Prison Beds in Arizona
August 28, 2012
Dear Governor Brewer and Director Ryan,
We write as organizations and individuals, both in Arizona and nationally, to oppose Arizona’s planned expansion of its for-profit prison beds. We urge you to immediately cancel the 2,000-bed prison RFP and do not award a contract for this procurement. These beds are unnecessary and costly, and the corporations bidding for the contract all have histories of mismanagement, abuse, and safety problems—including several incidents in Arizona prisons already under contract.
Firstly, Arizona does not need more prison beds, private or otherwise. The state prison population is dropping, and this decrease is projected to continue. Furthermore, crime rates are down and thus investing $17 million in a new facility is a poor use of the state’s limited resources, particularly considering the crippling cuts to vital services of the last few years.
Years of study by the Arizona Department of Corrections reveal that for-profit prisons are a bad bargain for state taxpayers. These studies have shown that, even though the corporate vendors promised the facilities would save the state money, in fact Arizona is overpaying for its private prisons. A recent investigation showed that many private prisons are more expensive than their state-operated counterparts. This study estimates that Arizona taxpayers are wasting $3.5 million per year on for-profit beds.
All five of the prison corporations under consideration have spotty records of poor management, violence and disturbances, chronic understaffing of facilities, safety lapses, and other problems. Perhaps most notable is Management and Training Corporation (MTC), which manages the Kingman state prison where three prisoners escaped in 2010, leading authorities on a two-week, multi-state manhunt culminating in the murder of a couple vacationing in New Mexico. Investigations after the incident revealed that the alarms in the facility had been malfunctioning for over a year, but were never fixed.
After the escapes from Kingman, the Arizona Department of Corrections conducted security audits of its other private prisons. At the three GEO prisons – Florence West, Phoenix West and the Central Arizona Correctional Facility – inspectors found such issues as inmates having access to a control panel that could open emergency exits; an alarm system that did not ring properly when doors were opened or left ajar; and that staff didn’t carry out such basic security practices as searching commissary trucks and drivers. Similar problems were uncovered at MTC’s other Arizona facility in Marana, where inspectors also found that the swamp coolers were not working (in August), making it hotter inside the prison than outside.
Three additional corporations that do not currently have contracts with the state of Arizona have also submitted proposals: Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), Emerald Corrections, and LaSalle. Corrections Corporation of America operates 6 prisons located in Arizona that import prisoners from other states and the federal government, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). A national investigation revealed that the company’s Eloy Detention Center had the highest number of immigrant detainee deaths of any ICE facility. The Inspector General for the State of California (which houses prisoners in CCA’s Red Rock, La Palma, and Florence Correctional Center in Arizona) slammed CCA in 2010 for serious security flaws and improper treatment of inmates. Inspectors found faulty alarms and malfunctioning security cameras, prisoners evading metal detectors, and discovered that CCA was not checking the arrest records of employees or screening out those with gang affiliations.
Emerald’s only facility in Arizona is an immigrant detention center in San Luis. LaSalle currently operates prisons only in Texas and Louisiana. Both companies have had issues in other states where they operate. For a full accounting of the problems in all five corporations’ prisons, please see the attached “Rap Sheets,” drawn from published news accounts.
In their efforts to reduce operational costs, private prison managers often focus cost-containment strategies on personnel and training, the two most expensive aspects of incarceration. Privately managed prisons generally minimize costs by reducing labor expenditures, including providing a lower level of salaries, staff benefits, and professional training. Consequently, there are higher employee turnover rates in private prisons than in publicly operated facilities.
This trend is reflected in Arizona’s existing private prisons. The Department of Corrections’ Biennial Comparison Review found that, across the board, all five of the state’s privately managed facilities had higher staff turnover and vacancy rates than publicly managed facilities, and guards frequently scored lower on core competency tests. GEO Group’s Phoenix West facility had a 61% turnover rate in 2011 and MTC’s Marana prison had a turnover rate of 56.8% that same year. Deficiencies in personnel and programming among private prison facilities can compromise correctional operations, including basic safety and security. Undertrained and inexperienced guards may not be prepared to handle serious incidents. Security audits revealed that at the time of the escapes from MTC’s Kingman prison, 80% of the staff were new or newly promoted.
There is ample evidence to suggest that for-profit prison corporations are not accountable to the citizens and taxpayers of Arizona. As private companies, they are not subject to the same transparency requirements or checks and balances as the Department of Corrections, despite the fact that they are performing the same functions and are paid with taxpayer dollars. The public has very little information about these facilities, or a voice in how they are run.
And as a result of the corrections budget bill passed last session, the Department of Corrections is no longer required to conduct a biennial comparison review of the cost and quality of these facilities, removing the last shred of public oversight over for-profit prisons and leaving lawmakers with little information on which to base budgetary decisions.
This action recently prompted Arizona State Legislator Chad Campbell to call on Arizona’s Attorney General to initiate an investigation into possible violations of state law and/or contract provisions requiring private prisons to save money and provide the same or better quality of service as the Department of Corrections. Given the Department’s own cost studies showing that for-profit prisons are more expensive and recent investigations into safety lapses, staff vacancies, and poor quality of service, there is substantial basis for such an investigation. It would be unwise for Arizona to award a contract to a corporation that may later be found to be violating state law and/or the terms of its existing contracts.
If containing costs is a goal, changes to sentencing and community supervision can help to further stabilize Arizona’s prison population and avoid unnecessary expenditures on prison expansion. The significant decline of Arizona’s prison population is attributed in part to legislative and probation policy changes enacted in the past few years that have effectively reduced revocations to prison for technical violations. A bill passed in the 2012 legislative session expanding eligibility for diversion programs has the potential to contribute to a further decline in prison populations. Continuing this trend with additional policy reforms in the upcoming session could render new beds completely unnecessary, while saving taxpayers millions and doing more to protect public safety.
The evidence is clear: For-profit prisons are costly, ineffective, and are not accountable to the citizens and taxpayers of Arizona. To invest millions more in this failed enterprise is throwing good money after bad. We urge you to show strong leadership and stewardship of public funds. Immediately cancel the 2,000-bed prison RFP and do not award a contract for this procurement.
We appreciate your consideration and would be pleased to provide further information.
American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona
American Friends Service Committee, Arizona Office
Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice
Arizona Ecumenical Council
Arizona Prison Watch
Center for Economic Integrity
Citizens to Protect Globe’s Resources
Justice 4 All
League of Women Voters of Arizona
NAACP, Arizona State Conference
NAACP of Maricopa County
National Organization for Women, Phoenix/Scottsdale
State Representative Cecil Ash
House Minority Leader Chad Campbell
State Representative Tom Chabin
State Representative Debbie McCune Davis
Pima County Supervisor Richard Elias
State Representative Ruben Gallego
State Representative SallyAnn Gonzales
State Representative Katie Hobbs
Tucson City Council Member Steve Kozachik
Former Arizona State Representative Phil Lopes
State Senator David Lujan
State Representative Catherine Miranda
State Representative Macario Saldate
Tucson City Council Member Regina Romero
Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild
Senate Minority Leader David Schapira
State Representative Bruce Wheeler
Bishop Minerva Carcaño, Resident Bishop of the Phoenix Episcopal Area of the United Methodist Church
Billie K. Fidlin, Chair, Public Policy Commission, Arizona Ecumenical Council
Anne Morgan-Roettger, Parish Secretary, The Community of Blessed Sacrament
The Rt. Reverend Kirk Stevan Smith, The Episcopal Diocese of Arizona
Bishop Stephen Talmage, Grand Canyon Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Mark Homan, Pima Community College Professor (Ret.)
Susan Maurer, New Jersey Department of Corrections Commissioner, Ret.
Dr. Doris Marie Provine, ASU Professor
David Wells, ASU Professor
Citizens for Criminal Justice Reform
Criminon New Life, DC
Human Rights Defense Center
In the Public Interest
Private Corrections Working Group
The Sentencing Project
Church of Scientology
The Disciples Justice Action Network
National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd
Presbyterian Criminal Justice Network
Samuel Dewitt Proctor Conference
Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations
United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society
 Janice K. Brewer, Executive Budget Summary, Fiscal Year 2013. January 2012: http://www.azospb.gov/documents/2012/FY2013-ExecutiveBudget-Summary.pdf
 Isaacs, Caroline, Private Prisons: The Public’s Problem. American Friends Service Committee, February, 2012
 (“Prison chief says that state didn’t detect prison flaws,” Arizona Republic, 8/19/10
 “Security lapses found at all of Arizona’s prisons,” Arizona Republic, 6/26/11
 Sonberg, Shelly. Memo to Robert Patton, “Security Assessment—MTC: Marana and GEO: Phoenix West, Florence West, and CACF.” September 22, 2011
 ‘Lost and Ignored’ Tucson Weekly 2/11/10.
 “Prison firm optimistic about Arizona bid despite incidents,” The Arizona Republic, 8/8/11
 Arizona Department of Corrections, Biennial Comparison of “Private versus Public Provision of Services Required per ARS §41-1609.01,” December 21, 2011
 Charles Ryan, “Cure Notice” memo to MTC, December 29, 2010