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Arizona DOC Cancels 5,000 Bed Private Prison Contract

Arizona DOC Cancels 5,000 Bed Private Prison Contract


by Matt Clarke


Since January 2009, the Arizona Department of Corrections (DOC) has been working on a contract for private prison corporations to build and operate prisons with a capacity of 5,000 minimum and medium security beds in Arizona. The contract suffered several delays and was finally cancelled in December 2011, when the DOC announced that it would cut the number of requested beds in half and change the configuration to 500 beds in state-run prisons and 2,000 in privately-operated prisons. No time frame for proposals for the revised contract was announced.


What led to the contract's cancellation were statistics showing that the prison population in Arizona has ceased growing. The DOC presented statistics showing a growth of only 65 prisoners in FY 2010 and a decline of 296 prisoners in FY 2011. The Arizona prisoner population peaked at 40,544 in 2009 and had declined to 40,038 by December 22, 2011. The prison system's design capacity is 36,658 with another 5,216 temporary beds available. Thus, the prisoner population is well within that total capacity.


DOC statistics also show that private prisons fail to result in any significant savings for the state. Minimum custody prisoners in state custody cost an average of $55.59 per day. Those in private custody run $54.20. However, once the costs of required services that the contractors do not provide, such as medical costs, prisoner management functions and depreciation are deducted in, the average daily costs become $ 46.59 for state custody and $46.56 for private, a savings of only $.03 per prisoner per day.


The contrast to projected savings is greater for medium-custody prisoners. Average daily costs are $57.97 for state custody compared to $60.66 for private custody. Deducting the required services yields an average daily cost of $48.42 for state custody and $53.02 for private custody. That is an increased cost of $4.60 per prisoner per day.


The only savings noted was that the state doesn't have to pay the cost of financing prison construction. However, instead of being shifted to the private prison company, those costs are generally borne by a local government's development authority, which issues bonds to finance the construction of the prisons. Thus, the burden of financing the up to $250 million in prison construction costs under the reconfigured contract will merely be shifted from the state government to a local government.


Critics still oppose the idea of further privatizing DOC beds, bringing up the escapes from a Kingman, Arizona prison operated by Management and Training Corporation (MTC) that resulted in a bloody murder spree. According to them, MTC took full blame for the escapes and its aftermath, quietly settling lawsuits with the families in Oklahoma and Missouri who lost loved ones, to provide political coverage for the reelection of Governor Jan Brewer, who strongly favors prison privatization. The critics also claim that MTC was paid for thousands of unoccupied private prison beds from August 2010 until March of 2011, under a "take or pay" guarantee of 97% occupancy of beds contracted by the DOC, possibly in exchange for taking full blame for the Kingman escapes.


The same critics claim that MTC is planning to build private prisons in Yuma and Coolridge to provide the 2,000 private prison beds under the new DOC contract with a similar 97% occupancy guarantee. The question that comes to mind is why, with a decreasing prisoner population, is the DOC contracting for expansion?


Source:; The Daily Courier

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