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No More Private Prisons in Eloy!

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The Arizona Department of Corrections has issued a Request for Proposal to private prison corporations to build 5,000 new for-profit private prison beds in Arizona.  Private prison corporation Corrections Corporation of America, the huge and notorious private prison company, has submitted a proposal to build two more prisons totally 4,500 prison beds in Eloy.

Private prisons are bad for public safety, bad for the economy, and bad for the communities in which they are based.

Private prisons are unsafe.  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. US Department of Justice, which found that “Privately operated facilities have a significantly lower staffing level than publicly operated prisons and lack MIS support.” They also report a significantly higher rate of assaults on staff and inmates.

While private prisons enrich shareholders and top prison corporation executives, they do not save taxpayers money or result in economic development.  Private prisons are not saving money in Arizona. 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.

Despite the claims of private prison corporations, prisons do not encourage economic growth for small rural communities. A study by researchers at Washington State University showed that prisons actually hurt long-term economic growth in small rural communities.  And a new report (not yet published) by the same researchers at the Washington argues that privatization places downward pressure on staffing, pay and benefits for all prisons in the state. As a consequence, prisons not only fail to help but appear to harm host communities. This is evident in Eloy, where the existing prisons may have enriched a few individuals, but really have not spurred local economic development or benefitted most residents.

Corrections Corporation of America has a long and troubled history in Arizona and beyond. A prisoner in CCA’s Saguaro Correctional Center strangled his cellmate while the prison was in lockdown in June 2010; prisoners claimed the facility was “greatly under-staffed.” While correctional officers working for state prisons receive $18-$20 an hour, CCA employees are paid less to do the same job, earning only $10-$12 an hour. CCA employees also receive 240 less hours of training than those employed by ADOC.  According to the ACLU, nine deaths have taken place in CCA’s Eloy Detention Center--most were caused by inadequate or delayed medical attention.  A CCA employee at a detention center in Taylor, Texas was fired after it was discovered that he ‘told the women he was going to ‘frisk them’ and then inappropriately touched their breasts, crotch, and buttocks’ for ‘self gratification’.  In Idaho, The ACLU filed a federal prisoner civil rights action against the Idaho Correctional Center. The lawsuit included 23 assaults and claims that the correctional center has created a culture of violence prompting the prison to be nicknamed ‘gladiator school’ by the inmates

Despite this record, CCA continues to win contracts, partially because of its cozy relationships to politicians. CCA employs Highground Public Affairs Consultants whose president is Governor Jan Brewer’s top political advisor Chuck Coughlin. Governor Brewer’s spokesman Paul Senseman was previously employed by CCA and his wife is currently employed as a lobbyist for the corporation. CCA has given money to Governor Brewers past campaigns such as Prop.100 and stands to benefit greatly from SB1070. As more undocumented people are turned over to ICE it is likely that they will be sent to one of CCA’s three detention facilities in Arizona.

The solution to Eloy’s economic future and well as our state's prison system and our astronomical recidivism rate is not more incarceration, but less. Sentencing reforms have been proven to work in many other states. They save millions of taxpayer dollars and improve public safety by helping to address the issues that lead to illegal behavior--mental illness, substance abuse, and economic insecurity.

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