by Ed Lyon
In January 2022, when Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) announced the closing of the state prison complex in Florence, he pointed to the facility’s age—it was built in 1904—and said spending an estimated $150 million on needed repairs “just doesn’t make sense.”
What does make sense? Apparently a $420 million, five-year contract with private prison giant CoreCivic to house up to 2,706 state prisoners dislocated by the closing at a facility the firm operates in Eloy.
Before the new contract was signed, the firm’s 3,096-bed La Palma Correctional Center (LPCC) was underutilized, holding fewer than 1,000 immigrant detainees for federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement. For the privilege of buying up slack space in a desert prison nobody else wanted, the director of the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry, David Shinn, thanked “our successful partnership” with CoreCivic, “along with their modern correctional facility capacity.”
He might have also thanked the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), which ended its contract with CoreCivic to house some 2,000 prisoners from the Golden State at the Arizona facility in June 2019, thereby freeing up the space. That move was seen as an effort to keep a promise made by California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) during his successful 2018 campaign to end the state’s use of private and out-of-state prisons.
It also ended a 13-year reliance on out-of-state facilities to relieve what were once overcrowded conditions in California’s 116 in-state prisons. CDCR has since seen its prisoner population fall below 100,000 for the first time in 30 years, though much of that drop was driven by reduced admissions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and prisoner numbers are again on the rise.
Meanwhile, Arizona has over 33,000 state prisoners, about 86% of its capacity, including the old state prison complex. That won’t be completely abandoned, either: It is still home to the state’s newly refurbished death chamber.
The state also considered a bid from GEO Group, a CoreCivic rival that wanted to ship prisoners to a facility it owns in Michigan. Fortunately for Arizona prisoners and their families, those extra-long visitation drives will not be necessary.
As of July 18, 2022, CoreCivic was holding 952 prisoners for DOC at LPCC, just over 35% of the total for which the state contracted. Under terms of the deal, DOC owes a $85.12 per diem for 90% occupancy, meaning the state could owe CoreCivic over $126,000 per day for unused cells. Another 1,868 state prisoners are being held at a second lockup the firm operates in Eloy, Red Rock Correctional Center.
Sources: Arizona Republic, Globe Newswire, KTAR, Pinal Central, Sacramento Bee, U.S. News
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