Over the next few years, the state gradually reduced security at the facility, moving away from constant patrols to more mechanical security instruments. Now, it wants to not only privatize security staff at the facility, but medical and mental health treatment as well. Local leaders are upset at these recent developments, particularly because they have seen how privatization has failed to save money in many other states. Many of the COs currently employed at the facility would likely either lose their jobs or face significant reductions in pay and benefits, the area in which private prison companies are able to reduce expenses most easily (by just cutting them).
So add me to the list of people who hope the state decides to keep to its word and ensure the facility remains secure (i.e. not privatized).
That decision basically held that the state needed to remove about 40-45,000 prisoners from its state system just to ease overcrowding to the point where it could provide medical care that would not be so insufficient as to violate the prisoners’ right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. At the height of the overcrowding, it was estimated that one prisoner died every week from a preventable cause, because the state simply didn’t have the resources or manpower to treat all the people it decided to lock up (coincidentally enough, its prison population exploded due largely to sentencing initiatives like 3-Strikes and Truth in Sentencing laws, which were passed by the industry through its work in ALEC during the 90′s. But that’s a topic for a whole different post). The governor’s plan to fix the overcrowding is to send thousands of state prisoners to county jails; basically, he’s shifting responsibility for the state’s overzealous criminalization of nonviolent activities onto counties, many of which are poorly equipped to handle an influx of new prisoners.
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.
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.
I apologize for being so late on this; there are actually a few stories I’m behind on and I’ll try to catch up as much as possible.
A report was just released by the American Friends Service Committee in Arizona that found private prisons actually cost the state more to operate than their government-run counterparts. In just three years (2008-2010), the state spent $10 million more on private prison beds than it would have cost them to just operate the prisons itself. The state for some reason loves private prisons, having previously tried to privatize its entire correctional system. The state was also the first place that an iteration of the “Breathing While Brown” law (that ALEC-writtenhandout to private prison companies) was introduced It is currently seeking 2,000 additional private prison beds, which would cost $6 million more than beds the government could operate. And this comes at a time when the state’s prison population is actually decreasing. It is also looking to outsource medical and mental health care to private, for-profit providers, for as many as 34,000 prisoners; that segment of the private prison industry suffers from all the problems inherent to the profit-driven world of incarceration.
The report was conducted because the state has consistently failed to conduct analyses of private prisons, even though there is a state law mandating that it do so. After years of ignoring calls to produce such a report, the state finally finished one in January of this year, which, surprise surprise, found private prisons to be more expensive.
So you would think with all this information; that private prisons cost considerably more to taxpayers, that they consistently fail to operate prisons safely and securely, that the state’s political system would bring the hammer down and start to hold private prison operators more accountable for the millions in taxpayer dollars they benefit from, if not abolish the industry altogether. But, this is Arizona. The state legislature released a budget bill that still provides funding for private prisons, and actually eliminates the requirement for cost-comparison studies of public vs. private prisons that brought about the first report (by the state). Talk about burying your head in the sand.
Certainly, the government should have heeded the warnings it received about the private detention centers, because this crisis could have potentially been averted. Hindsight is of course 20/20. Hopefully though the government will use this as a learning experience, since it is considering giving Serco a new multi-billion dollar contract for services at a hospital (Serco already has a contract worth more than $4 billion to run the private detention centers). Especially considering a psychiatrist who just reviewed healthcare at Serco’s Scherger Detention Center concluded that “tragedy is very likely to occur” due to the prisoners’ inability to get adequate treatment. One person even went so far as to claim that Serco is compromising mental health care services in the community because of how poorly it operates.
Proposals to privatize health care and mental health care for prisoners have begun to meet resistance in both North Carolina and Pennsylvania. Let’s start with the NC situation, which really scares the crap out of me.
First is a quick read; a great little editorial discussing the drawbacks of privatization and how private vendors often fail to live up to the public’s expectations. According to the author, “the logic in privatizing the services falls short… Anticipated savings might be difficult to come by… state oversight would have to be not just maintained but intensified,” and the lack of competing bids calls the wisdom of the plan into question.
The community has started to pay attention as well. A town hall meeting was convened earlier this week at a church, where many residents expressed concerns about personal and public safety if the GEO Group starts providing mental healthcare for serious criminals.
Then there’s Pennsylvania, where Governor Tom Corbett wants to privatize liquor sales and has tossed around the idea of privatizing healthcare for state prisoners. Thankfully, that foolish plan has already met with opposition both from the general public, as nurses picketed in protest of the plan, and from local politicians. State Senator David Argall contends that the plan presents a serious risk to public safety, as would any plan in which instruments designed to promote public safety are turned over to the lowest bidder among companies with long histories of abuse and negligence.
But he didn’t stop there. Mr. Sims, who was also the mayor of this small town for decades, used the town’s taxpayers’ money to perform maintenance on the private prison. In fact, he used over $30,000 worth of their money to perform labor on the facility. Because apparently the GEO Group, which already takes in literally billions of dollars every year in taxpayer money as revenue, tens if not hundreds of millions of which ends up as profit, couldn’t perform that labor themselves.
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