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AZ Department of Corrections drops plans for 5,000 new private prison beds

Photo: AFSC

The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) expresses appreciation to the Arizona Department of Corrections for issuing its long overdue report on private prison performance and for dropping plans for 5,000 new private prison beds. The group also points to flaws in the DOC report, and pledged to continue to challenge any proposals for new private prison beds.

On Wednesday (December 21, 2011), the Arizona Department of Corrections (DOC) issued its first-ever legally mandated report after more than 2 decades of failing to comply with state law by evaluating the quality of private prisons and comparing their performance to public prisons. DOC also dropped its plan to issue a contract for 5,000 new private prison beds, at a potential cost to taxpayers of over $500 million, citing the decline in crime and prison admissions.

In September 2011, AFSC sued Governor Jan Brewer and the Arizona Department of Corrections because of their failure to comply with state law for more than 2 decades by not reviewing private prisons as required by state law.  While the suit was initially denied on procedural grounds regarding legal standing, AFSC appealed, and effectively forced the DOC to begin the required study.  

AFSC Arizona Director Caroline Isaacs said the report issued Wednesday by the state about private prisons appears to have methodological flaws and problems in comparability of prisons.

Isaacs urged the public and legislators to examine AFSC's own "shadow" report on private prisons in Arizona for which the group issued preliminary findings in advance of the state's report. "Now that the state has issued its report, we will continue our work educating the public and contesting the state's wrong and entrenched view that private prisons are as good a deal for taxpayers or as safe as state-run prisons. All of the evidence and competent research in Arizona and across the country shows the opposite."  The group plans to issue its full report in January when the Arizona legislature is in session.

AFSC's lead attorney in the case, Vince Rabago, stated "It is clear that our legal challenge effectively forced DOC to delay bids until the report was issued, and forced compliance with state law after decades of non-compliance." Rabago, a former state prosecutor, continued:  "It's unfortunate that we had to sue to enforce Arizona law, to make DOC do their job. We will continue to make sure that the public knows that private prisons are simply bad public policy that does not save taxpayers any money and they put the public at a greater risk."

Arizona prison report

Detailing the safety, quality, and cost of private prisons in Arizona, this is the first-ever systematic study of all for-profit prisons operating in the state. Released in February 2012, this report reveals widespread and persistent problems in private facilities around safety, lack of accountability, and cost.