Arizona Expanding Its Prison System

By Alexandra Olgin
Published: Friday, July 17, 2015 - 8:51am
Updated: Tuesday, July 21, 2015 - 1:42pm
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This week, President Barack Obama announced plans for criminal justice reform and reducing the federal prison population. Meanwhile, Arizona has increasing numbers of inmates and the state is building more prisons to accommodate the growth. 

As of June, the Arizona Department of Corrections reports the 42,611 inmates are in its care, which is about a 6-percent increase from 2013. That rising population comes with higher expenses.

This year the state budget includes $1.07 billion for corrections. Jerry Cobb, a Maricopa County Attorney’s Office spokesman, defends that number. He said the expanding prison population is keeping our community safer.

“The population that is incarcerated as it increases we see a huge and dramatic drop in crime” He said. “Arizona is enjoying some of the lowest crime rates in generations right now," Cobb said,

Earlier this year, state lawmakers approved private prison expansions to house 2,000 new male medium-security prisoners. The private prison contract would be for 10 years.

Democratic state lawmaker Eric Meyer estimates that would cost taxpayers about $500 million.

“There were questions,” Meyer said. “Is this a wise use of taxpayer dollars? Are we getting bang for our buck?”

Meyer said he looks to other states such as Texas, New Jersey and Georgia that are able to downsize their prison populations while ensuring public safety.

From his time on the bench and as an attorney, Colin Campbell observed the cost of incarcerations permeating the prison walls.

When we incarcerate people they also leave behind families that are then going to onto welfare," said Campbell, a former Maricopa County Superior Court presiding judge.

Campbell said once people are in the corrections system, they have a hard time getting out. Data from the Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys’ Advisory Council shows 39 percent of convicts in the state returned to prison within three years of release.

Arizona Year-Ending Prison Population, 1985-2013

Source: Arizona Prosecuting Attorney's Advistory Council

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