Today, the Pima County (Tucson), Arizona Board of Supervisors passed a historic resolution to prohibit contracting with private, for-profit prison companies like GEO Group or Core Civic (formerly CCA) for jail operations.
The American Friends Service Committee – Arizona (AFSC-AZ) welcomes this positive step forward. As states increasingly take steps to reduce prison populations, private prison companies are looking to make up lost revenues by exploiting other aspects of the incarceration industry, such as local jail management, halfway houses, and even “alternatives to incarceration,” like electronic monitoring.
The move in Tucson is in stark contrast to a recent contract that the City of Mesa, AZ signed with CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America, CCA) to house their jail detainees. Despite widespread and vocal community opposition, the Mesa City Council voted to approve the contract, citing promised cost savings. But critics argue that the leadership in Mesa did not do their “due diligence” on the company, and that a simple Google search would reveal widespread problems in their facilities.
For-profit prison corporations like CoreCivic rarely manage jails. Of the 47 facilities they own and/or manage, only five are jails. Two of the five are proposed or in the process of contract cancellation, including the Washington, DC jail and the Marion County Jail in Indiana. The DC jail is being transitioned back to public management after a damning report by the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs revealed serious issues, including “alarming” physical conditions, overcharging, and inadequate training for staff.
Jail populations are fundamentally different from prisons. Jails are administered at the County or municipal level and house a significant population of pre-trail detainees—people who are awaiting trial and, therefore, have not yet been convicted of a crime.
Fortunately, the leadership of Pima County chose to prioritize the well-being and safety of all of its residents, even those who have been accused of breaking the law. The resolution sends a strong message that Pima County values its people and the integrity of local government over promises of cheaper jails.
“Big for-profit corporations operate on the cheap by cutting correctional officers and other corners, which reduces public safety and creates costs we still must pay,” said Pima County Supervisor Richard Elías, sponsor of the Resolution.
AFSC-AZ hopes that this action will spur dialogue among other cities and towns about the trends in private prison companies seeking such contracts and the potential tradeoffs between promised cost savings and mismanaged, unsafe, or unconstitutional facilities.