The Arizona Department of Corrections has issued a Request for Proposal to build 5,000 new for-profit private prison beds in Arizona. 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.
The solution to Arizona’s 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.