[Updated, November 21] AFSC has filed an appeal of a court ruling dismissing its lawsuit to block the state of Arizona from contracting for 5,000 new for-profit prison beds. AFSC also has issued a fresh request for an injunction to block contracts until officials complete a state-mandated review of the performance of its existing for-profit prison contracts. AFSC filed on November 18.

We had filed suit on September 12 in Maricopa County Superior Court to prevent the Department of Corrections (DOC) from awarding any contracts until  it completes a statutorily required review of the performance of Arizona’s existing private, for-profit prisons.  While Judge Arthur Anderson had denied our request, he later ordered corrections officials to give notice before signing  any new contracts. 

AFSC took legal action because of concerns with conditions at the state’s existing for-profit prisons. The most serious problems include lack of accountability and oversight in the wake of escapes last summer that led to the deaths of two people, and serious harm to inmates of color.  AFSC’s Arizona program director Caroline Isaacs said that the group was deeply troubled by the state’s apparent disregard for the safety of the public. 

“We turned to the court as a last resort, because the state of Arizona has repeatedly turned a blind eye to the problems inherent in private for-profit prisons.  We simply cannot accept that there is no accountability for these corporations, even when their mismanagement results in loss of life, “she said.

There are currently five for-profit prisons in Arizona, housing about 6,400 of the approximately 40,000 people incarcerated by the state. There are also six prisons operated by Corrections Corporation of America located in Arizona which house prisoners from California, Hawaii, and federal agencies such as the Bureau of Prisons and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Nationally, around 99,000 people are held in private prisons, up one third over the last decade.

Caroline Isaacs noted that the dismissal of the suit hinged only on the issue of whether the plaintiffs had standing, not the substantive issues they raised about the failures of for-profit prisons. AFSC is reviewing its options to appeal.

Recently, the Arizona DOC asked the bidders to extend their bids to December 22, 2011. AFSC views this delay in the process as a positive development, and hopes its suit was a factor in the delay.

Caroline Issacs vowed that the AFSC will do everything possible to mobilize Arizonans to take action and deliver a verdict in the court of public opinion.  This includes plans to release, in January 2012, a “shadow report” to the one by the DOC. Both reports  will compare the quality of state and private prisons under contract with Arizona.

Learn more about this case, including the final ruling from the judge.