Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Private Prison Industry Exerts Political Influence in Arizona

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer and other state policymakers have been criticized for their close connections with private prison companies, including Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the nation’s largest for-profit prison firm.

Brewer’s senior political advisor and 2010 campaign manager, Chuck Coughlin, founded Highground Public Affairs Consultants, which lobbies for CCA. Further, Brewer’s former deputy chief of staff for communications, Paul Senseman, lobbied for CCA through Policy Development Group, Inc. both before and after working for the governor; his wife, Kathryn Senseman, is a CCA lobbyist with the same company. CCA operates six facilities in Arizona although none currently house Arizona prisoners.

Florida-based GEO Group, CCA’s main competitor and one of the bidders for a state contract to manage 2,000 private prison beds in Arizona, has taken a page from CCA’s playbook. Since CCA apparently has the governor in its pocket, GEO Group decided to influence members of the legislature who have control over the state’s purse strings.

Lobbyists associated with GEO Group gave campaign contributions to House Speaker Andy Tobin and state Rep. John Kavanagh, Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and outgoing Chair of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee. The contributions came from sources associated with Arizona-based consulting firm Public Policy Partners (PPP). GEO has seven registered lobbyists in Arizona; in addition to PPP, GEO has hired KRB Consulting, Inc. and Leibowitz Solo.

PPP has numerous Arizona clients but only two national clients – GEO Group and Ron Sachs Communications, a Florida-based public relations company that promotes prison privatization. [See: PLN, Nov. 2010, p.1]. According to Kavanagh’s campaign finance reports, PPP owner John Kaites and his wife, Ann Peralta Kaites, have contributed to Kavanagh’s campaign, as have PPP lobbyist Ken Quarterman and his wife, Laurie Quarterman. Other PPP lobbyists also made donations to Kavanagh.

“[Private prison companies] spend a lot of money, and clearly, they spend it because it benefits their interest, which is winning contracts,” said Bob Libal, a senior organizer at Grassroots Leadership, a non-profit group that opposes prison privatization.

GEO Group obviously hopes that campaign contributions to Kavanagh and other lawmakers will help it get a big slice of Arizona’s private prison contract pie; after all, such donations certainly don’t hurt. Nor does having former public officials on a company’s payroll. For example, one of CCA’s board members is former Arizona U.S. Senator Dennis DeConcini; the company has also hired Bradley Regens, who served as director of fiscal policy for the Arizona House of Representatives.

Private prison firm MTC, which is also vying for Arizona’s 2,000-bed private prison contract, hired the Dunn Stewart Group – an Arizona consulting company that includes former Arizona DOC director Terry L. Stewart. Additionally, MTC employs former Arizona DOC assistant director Carl Nink.

Arizona continues to contract with private prison companies despite serious problems in the past, including the July 30, 2010 escape of three prisoners from an MTC-operated facility in Kingman that resulted in a double homicide and nationwide manhunt. [See: PLN, March 2011, p.24; Sept. 2010, p.42].

In May 2012, the Arizona state legislature approved a compromise budget that included funding for 1,000 private prison beds – half the number initially proposed, which was down from an original bid for 5,000 private prison beds after the state’s failed attempt in 2009-2010 to privatize practically its entire prison system. [See: PLN, Sept. 2010, p.42].

The legislature also decided to remove a current requirement to study the quality and cost of public versus private prisons. The lack of such data will make it easier to contract with private prison companies in the future, since past studies have indicated that privately-operated facilities in Arizona actually cost more than public prisons.

Notably, a September 2010 report by Arizona’s Office of the Auditor General found that private prisons housing minimum-security state prisoners cost $.33 per diem more than state prisons ($46.81 per diem in state prisons vs. $47.14 in private prisons), while private prisons that house medium-security state prisoners cost $7.76 per diem more than state facilities ($48.13 per diem in state prisons vs. $55.89 in private prisons), after adjusting for comparable costs.

But why let facts stand in the way of political connections and campaign donations by private prison companies?

Sources: Tucson Citizen, Phoenix New Times, Arizona Republic,,

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login