Only six months have passed since violent criminals escaped the private prison in Kingman, but our legislature has re-issued the request for proposals for a new private prison. Back in August of 2010, killers were literally on the loose while Arizona slept. Gary & Linda Haas were brutally murdered. Private prisons let that happen.
Perhaps our legislature thinks we’ve forgotten due to recent events. But it adds insult to injury to assume that Arizonans are uninterested about decisions affecting our safety.
In fact, Arizonans are saturated with law-and-order and tough-on-crime rhetoric. Gov. Brewer & Senator Pearce won their offices last election by touting SB 1070, even though In These Times and NPR revealed that the law was conceived in the right-wing belly of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), with influence from Corrections Corporation of America – a private company that houses immigrant detainees in Arizona.
But it seems our legislators are confused. The message surrounding SB 1070 was to discourage “criminals” from entering and staying in Arizona. However, the influence of private prison companies creates the exact opposite result: because these companies are paid per prisoner/day, they want to bring more criminals to Arizona and keep them here longer. Because land is cheap, private prison companies look at Arizona like England viewed Australia in the 1800′s – one big prison.
These corporations say they save states money, but they never guarantee it. In fact, the company’s profits/expense to the taxpayers can be increased by lockdowns, giving undeserved disciplinary tickets, resulting in loss of good-time credits. Also, because companies like CCA are involved in drafting laws, they can influence profits by supporting laws that create new crimes, and longer sentences. Cha-ching!
Legislators are galloping down this dangerous road, even though they’ve known for years that privatization will cost more and deplete our already devastated budget. Every year since 2005, our Dept. of Corrections has released an independent study comparing private and public prisons showing that some private prisons are actually more expensive than public prisons. In the 2009 criminal budget bill, there was a provision that required the state to split any savings generated with the for-profit operator! Clearly, some legislators are more interested in benefiting their corporate backers than with saving money.
Arizona laws provide that private prisons under contract with the state must notify the state of any transfers, and compensate any costs associated with escapes. Putting aside the fact that no one can ever fully compensate the people who loved Gary and Linda Haas, this is the only power Arizonans have over these companies. But CCA has six prisons in Arizona that are not under contract with the state, meaning they are not subject to even those modest regulations.
Our state government is putting our lives in danger by handing control of our prisons to the lowest bidder. Corners were cut in Kingman: maximum security prisoners were housed with medium and minimum, the alarms didn’t work, and there weren’t enough guards to watch the entire prison. Hours elapsed before Management and Training Corporation (MTC) notified the state of the escapes. The public wasn’t warned for over twelve hours.
Arizona needs to decide whether we want to reduce crime, or turn our state into the Botany Bay of America. If we get serious about crime prevention and education, we won’t need to expand our prisons… indeed, we may shrink them, save money, and make Arizona safer for everyone.