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AFSC Sues to Block More Private Prison Beds in Arizona

Cambridge Healing Center
Photo: Shayan Sanyal

Seeking to prevent Arizona from issuing contracts for 5,000 additional private prison beds, the American Friends Service Committee has filed an injunction and temporary restraining order in Maricopa County Superior Court, citing a 2010 escape with a violent aftermath, prison riots and other security concerns.

The suit filed Monday says the state shouldn’t be allowed to award new contracts until the state Department of Corrections completes a study required under state law for the evaluation of for-profit prisons – a study which has never been done, although the statue has been on the books since the 1980s.

Judge Arthur Anderson of the Maricopa court plans to act on the AFSC request for a temporary restraining order Tuesday, according to his office. The contract award is scheduled for Sept.16, and four companies have bid to build prisons at five possible sites. 

The filing is the latest in a list of actions led by AFSC to prevent the expanded use of private prisons. The AFSC’s Caroline Isaacs cited discussions with the Department of Corrections, meetings with the Secretary of State and Attorney General’s offices, public petitions, proposed legislation, and participation in public hearings. As a result, the town of Goodyear passed a resolution opposing construction of any new prisons. 

 “And yet, in spite of all evidence that privatization of prisons is an utter failure and waste of our scarce state budget dollars, the state is prepared to hand over another $650 million to one of these companies, possibly the same one whose gross negligence led to the deaths of two people last summer,” she said.

Last summer three inmates escaped from a private prison near Kingman. Two of the three face charges in New Mexico accusing them of murdering an Oklahoma couple in order to take their vehicle.  Before and after the escapes, the prison was rocked by a series of fights and riots.

The other plaintiffs in the case are Joyce and Oralee Clayton, Sr., whose son, Oralee Clayton, Jr. has been incarcerated in the same Kingman prison, operated by Management and Training Corporation (MTC) since 2009.  Mr. Clayton, and other African-American prisoners in Kingman, report that they were targeted by white prisoners during the riots and that the MTC staff was unable or unwilling to protect them from violence.

The group argues that no more contracts should be awarded until the review is finished and there is solid and objective proof that for-profit prisons are safe, providing quality services, and accountable to the taxpayers of the state.

Learn more about this lawsuit.