I’ve been remiss in updating everyone on the situation in Arizona, the state that loves private prisons, even though it’s likely paying more for them than what the government could operate facilities for. After a few reports came out detailing how the state was paying through the nose for private prisons, its legislature continued to bullishly forge ahead with a request for proposals to construct an additional 2,000 private prison beds. This came despite evidence that private prisons in the state cost more and are more dangerous; the American Friends Service Committee filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction to prevent the state from entering into a new contract for these beds. But it was thrown out on a technicality; the judge basically said that citizens of Arizona have no standing to ask the Department of Corrections to follow the law.
So the AFSC and the NAACP joined together in filing a formal protest asking the court put a stop to the request for proposals, which came alongside a piece of legislation designed to prevent the state from conducting cost comparisons in the future. The Department of Corrections swiftly dismissed the request, again on a technicality basically amounting to “we don’t want to listen to socially conscious organizations working in the best interest of Arizona citizens.” The state seems to be quite insistent on these new private prison beds, possibly because its politicians have long had cozy relationships with the industry. From SB1070, which came out of ALEC, to the governor’s staff consisting of CCA lobbyists, Arizona politicians and the private prison industry are well acquainted. In fact, Dennis Deconcini, a former senator from the state, sits on CCA’s board. And it appears as though the state’s Chamber of Commerce is rife with conflicts of interest related to the industry; CCA, the GEO Group, and PHS are all represented on the board of the Chamber, either directly or through lobbying firms.
So it seems like Arizona’s political leaders are really just oblivious to common sense and the advice of groups who have thoroughly studied the problems inherent to the private prison industry. I want to believe that, rather than the alternative, which would be that they just don’t care about how terrible and inefficient the industry is, because they want to give handouts to their political allies. As Sasha Abramsky at The Nation writes, “One might think that, faced with evidence that the state isn’t getting enough bang for its buck, Arizona legislators would rethink their commitment to putting ever mroe prisoners into private facilities. Instead, in a move Orwellian even by the gutter standards of Arizona politics, they’ve simply tried to bar the state from collecting the evidence.”
With all the news about the state attempting to further privatize its prison system, it might have been easy to overlook the state’s decision to bring in a private, for-profit medical care provider, Wexford, to manage healthcare for the entire system. Which is just another clusterfuck waiting to happen. The company will charge more than the state paid last year to provide healthcare this year, and estimates it will reap of profit of more than $5 million in the process. I’m sure none of that will come from denying treatment or neglecting prisoners.