Report Reveals Widespread Problems in AZ’s Private Prisons: Cites Safety Issues, Lack of Accountability, and Cost

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Contact Caroline Isaacs, (520) 256-4146 (cell), cisaacs@afsc.org

Report Reveals Widespread Problems in Arizona’s Private Prisons: Cites Safety Issues, Lack of Accountability, and Cost

Phoenix:  A Quaker group that has been advocating against prison privatization in Arizona will release an extensive report reviewing the safety, quality, and cost of private prisons in Arizona.  The state is currently soliciting bids for construction and management of 2,000 new prison beds to for-profit operators, a move that would cost state taxpayers millions of dollars every year with little public safety return on the investment. 

The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) will hold a press conference on Wednesday, February 15th, at 10:00 am on the lawn of the state capitol to announce their findings and call on the state to cancel its plans to expand privatization.  The group will also offer a telephonic press conference at 11:30am for statewide and national media unable to travel to Phoenix.**

The AFSC’s  report, Private Prisons:  The Public’s Problem, reviews the 5 privately-operated state prisons and also studies 6 private prisons that are located in Arizona, but do not contract with the state.  These prisons, all operated by Corrections Corporation of America, import prisoners from other states, like California and Hawaii and also house immigrant detainees for the federal department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  Because the state has no oversight over these prisons, they were not included in the Biennial Comparison Review completed by the Department of Corrections.

The report cites data showing that the private prisons under contract with the state cost more than equivalent units operated by the Department of Corrections.  The group estimates that between 2008 and 2010, Arizona overpaid for these units by over $10 million. If the state adds 2,000 medium-security private beds, Arizonans could be losing over $6 million every year on private prisons.

The report also reveals that all private prisons in Arizona for which security assessment information was available had serious security flaws:

  • The Arizona Auditor General found a total of 157 security failures in the 5 private prisons under contract with the Arizona Department of Corrections, including malfunctioning cameras, doors, and alarms; holes under fences; broken perimeter lights and cameras; and inefficient or outright inept security practices across the board by state and private corrections officers and managers.
  • California’s Inspector General found serious security flaws and improper treatment of California inmates held in three CCA prisons in Arizona.  Inspectors found flaws with the incident alarm-response systems at the three prisons because there was no audible alarm, and two were found to have malfunctioning and out-of-focus security cameras.
  • AFSC found evidence of at least 28 riots in Arizona private prisons since 2009.  AFSC also found evidence of over 200 other serious disturbances involving groups of 10, 20 and even 50 prisoners classified under “refusal to obey,” “tampering with state property,” and “obstructing an officer.”  Some of these incidents involved use of force such as pepper spray.
  • There were at least 6 escapes from Arizona private prisons in the past 10 years

Both press conferences will feature the following speakers:

  1. Caroline Isaacs, Director of the Arizona American Friends Service Committee and the author of the report
  2. Dante Gordon, formerly incarcerated at the Kingman prison, operated by Management and Training Corporation.  Mr. Gordon was injured in a 2010 riot at Kingman during which the private prison guards refused to intervene as a small group of African-American prisoners were assaulted by a mob of white inmates.
  3. State Rep. Chad Campbell, who has introduced 6 bills this session that would impose reporting, oversight, and accountability requirements on all private prisons operating in Arizona.
  4. King Downing, national representative of the AFSC’s criminal justice program.  Mr. Downing will speak on what the findings of the Arizona AFSC report could mean for other states.

**For statewide and national media who cannot attend the press conference on the Capitol Lawn, AFSC will offer a telephonic press conference at 11:30am.  Reporters who wish to participate are asked to please RSVP by Monday, 2/13 by sending an email to Caroline Isaacs at cisaacs@afsc.org.  All registered participants will then receive the call in number and access code.  Phone lines must be reserved in advance, so please be sure to contact us if you wish to participate.

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The American Friends Service Committee is a non-profit organization that works for justice and human rights both nationally and internationally.  The Arizona office, based in Tucson, advocates for criminal justice reform.

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