Private Prisons: The Public’s Problem
An Investigation into the Performance of Arizona’s Private, For-Profit Prisons
These are the preliminary findings of a report that, when released, will be the first of its kind in Arizona. To date there has been no government or independent analysis of the performance and quality of all prisons in the state. Given that private for-profit prisons have operated in Arizona for decades, this fact in itself is shocking. Arizona has invested millions of taxpayer dollars in for-profit prisons but has provided no evidence that these prisons are safe, cost effective, or competent at fulfilling the job taxpayers pay them to do.
When AFSC learned that the state had not properly monitored and reported on for-profit prison operations, as mandated by law, AFSC undertook its own investigation into the prison industry in Arizona.
The conclusions below are based on data from published studies, news reports, state audits, Department of Corrections data and safety inspection reports, and first-person testimony. The full report will paint a more complete so far available picture of the performance of for-profit prisons in Arizona.
Included in the study are data on six prisons operated by Corrections Corporation of America that are located in Arizona but do not contract with the state, putting them outside state oversight. This data provides a unique glimpse inside a group of prisons that most Arizonans don’t even know exist.
In response to public pressure, the Arizona Department of Corrections agreed in August 2011 to prepare a report of its own. AFSC believes that the public deserve an independent assessment before the signing of contracts for additional for-profit prisons.
Regardless of differing political views, most Arizonans want the same thing from their prisons: increased public safety.
In the summer of 2010, three inmates escaped from the privately operated Kingman prison, killed two people, and shattered the myth that private prisons can keep us safe. Since that time, more evidence has come to light unmasking the truth about the prison industry in Arizona: It is costly, plagued by security problems, and in some cases are violating state and federal law. State leaders have failed in their responsibility to protect the public, provide oversight of these facilities, or hold the corporations accountable for their failures.
AFSC’s analysis found patterns of serious safety lapses in all the private prisons for which data was available. Together, this data demonstrates a set of problems endemic to the industry and could lead to future tragedies like the Kingman escapes. Under-trained guards combined with poor state oversight leads to assaults, disturbances, and riots. For-profit prison staff members are too often unprepared, or unwilling, to intervene in these events, and risk losing control of the facilities. Insufficient rehabilitation programs, educational opportunities, or jobs for the prisoners provide idle time for conflicts to brew. The result is facilities that are unsafe for the people living and working inside them, as well as the surrounding community.
AFSC is releasing these preliminary findings to help the public understand the scope of the problem caused by prison privatization in Arizona and to encourage more discussion and review before any more public funds are spent on private prison beds.