More than 130 people packed the Public Hearing at Pima Community College’s Downtown Campus last night for the first ever hearings on prison privatization in Arizona. Exceeding all expectations for this event, the crowd listened intently throughout the two hour hearing to both presenters and the public comment. Sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) and Private Corrections Working Group, this public hearing was the first of a series of three planned throughout the state. Not surprisingly, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), Management and Training Corporation (MTC), and the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) sent no official representatives to the hearing though they were repeatedly invited.
Stephen Nathan, the Editor of Prison Privatisation Report International and all the way from London, England for this public hearing, started the evening off with his expert testimony on the failure of private prisons throughout the world. Representative Nancy Young-Wright reminded the standing room only crowd that Arizona had recently accomplished some very dubious distinctions – specifically that “Arizona is now second in the US for poverty, 50th in spending on education for public school students, and fourth in the nation on our prison costs,” and thus placed the focus on the (in)ability of private prisons to educate and rehabilitate prisoners while incarcerated. Later, Tucson City Councilman Steve Kovachik raised the question as to whether incarceration – public or private – is the best way to respond to crime in the first place, citing alternatives to prison that have been used in other states.
The conveners of the hearing were Representative Phil Lopes, Pima County Supervisor Richard Elias, Assistant Tucson City Manager Richard Miranda, Tucson City Councilman Steve Kovachik, Representative Nancy Young-Wright, and former Tucson Citizen Editor Mark Kimble. Other speakers of note were Victoria Lopez from the ACLU of Arizona, Susan Maurer formerly of the New Jersey Corrections Department, and Jim Sanders. Soon we will have video of the highlights from the hearing, but for now we have an assortment of photos from last night. Thanks to all who showed up and participated last night! It was a tremendous success. Press release here.