Activists Take Private Prison Issue To The Public

By Alexandra Olgin
Published: Wednesday, September 30, 2015 - 11:31pm
Updated: Thursday, October 1, 2015 - 10:55am

Activists are taking the issue of private prisons to the public. Justice advocacy organizations started the campaign the same day private prison companies applied for a new contract with the Arizona Department of Corrections.

The company that gets the contract with the state will build or expand a current facility to house 2,000 additional inmates. Caroline Isaacs is with the American Friends Service Committee, a justice advocacy group. She said she’s facilitating the public meetings the legislature never held before voting to expand private prisons.

“At no point was the public invited to give their input, the people who were directly impacted by these problems given a chance to speak to what happened to them,” Isaacs said.

Isaacs encouraged voters attending the meeting express their dissatisfaction to lawmakers. She is particularly concerned about expanding private facilities after July riots destroyed a portion of a prison in Kingman.

The company operating that facility, Management And Training Corporation, lost its contract with the state last month. A Department of Corrections investigation found the company was in violation of the same parts of the contract it was five years ago.  

MTC consultant and former Department of Corrections Director Terry Stewart said private prisons benefit the local community by providing jobs.

“It provides the businesses in the community commerce because those private prisons buy nearly everything they use from the local community,” Stewart said. He also said they bring in revenue, and "they also pay taxes.”

Stewart said the prisons do save the state money. He said the cost comparison the Department of Corrections did five years ago didn’t account for the value of the new facilities the private companies build.

University of Wisconsin researcher Anita Mukherjee published a paper in March evaluating whether private prisons save states money. She suggests one of the major issues with the system is contracts.

“Some economists believe there is no such thing as a bad institution, only bad incentives,” Mukherjee said. “There is a lot of truth to that. I think agents we contract with are going to act in the way that we incentivize them too, the way that we make them profit.”

The Arizona Department of Corrections pays private prison companies on a daily per-inmate calculation. Most of the contracts also guarantee an occupancy rate more than 90 percent.  

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