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Too many sit behind bars

Arizona: Editorial against for-profits.
By Rosie Cisneros, The State Press

After Yavapai County inmate Jerry Wells was placed into a crowded jail cell Friday, prisoners beat the newcomer, ensuring his way out of there and into to the infirmary in the same day.

And last month, 180 inmates at the Camp Verde jail rioted, resulting in five hospitalizations and demonstrating the serious effects of overcrowding. With 600 inmates in Prescott and Campe Verde jails and only 250 beds, this problem is sure to continue.

The solution is hotly debated but not clear.

"The fiscal crisis has brought together the folks who think sentences are too long with the folks who are perfectly happy with the sentences but think prison is costing too much," explained David Boerner, chairman of the Washington Sentencing Guidelines Commission

In Arizona, Gov. Napolitano wants to expand the existing state-owned prisons, a plan that would cost nearly $470 million in borrowed funds.

But the state's Republican legislators contend that privately owned prisons provide a more economically efficient solution. They say the $5.66 less per day it costs to operate a private prison, as well as the amount the state would save on up-front capital costs, is reason enough to hand private business the jail keys.

What both of these plans lack is an acknowledgement of the long-term problem of rapid inmate population growth. Rather than focusing solely on the issue of housing inmates, reduction of prisoners is imperative and should be taken into serious consideration.

The Republican plan would consist of contracting the Correctional Services Corp. and paying it for the day-to-day operations. According to a 2002 Department of Corrections report, CSC could operate at $41.68 a day, compared to a state facility at $47.34. In addition, the facilities would be up in about half the time it takes to build one through the state, said Andrew LeFevre, executive director of the Association of Private Correctional & Treatment Organizations in an interview with the Capitol Times.

Sounds too good to be true - and it is. If Arizona contracts the CSC, the state is required to use the facilities for at least another two decades and keep the facilities 90 percent full at all times. The focus it places on retaining a large number of inmates is unnecessary and good reason to turn away from private prisons.

While a solution of spacing and perhaps bedding for the overcrowding of current prisoners is necessary, the future of our state penitentiary systems shouldn't be planned to keep inmates in. Instead, we need to focus on reduce the number of inmates.

Arizona isn't the only state facing this problem. Across the nation, other states have begun to get creative in their inmate-reduction solutions.

In Michigan, not only is there a reduction in the time for drug penalties, but inmates currently also were eligible for a new repeal of their minimum drug sentencing. It's expected to save $41 million for the state.

And Colorado passed a new law limiting the time nonviolent parole violators can be sent back. When a former prisoner violates parole for things like failing a urine test or failing to meet with his parole officer, he now can be sent back to prison only for 180 days.

Kansas, facing a $15 million expansion tab, decided that rather than continue building more prisons, its first-time drug offenders would receive rehab treatment. That law is expected to divert approximately 1,400 potential inmates each year, a definite relief on current facilities.

Kansas, Michigan and Colorado have the right idea. There are alternative ways to deal with a dangerously overcrowded prison system. Pushing the state into a contract requiring a large number of inmates to inhabit prisons ignores the socially just agenda here - reducing the number of Arizona criminals.

Rosie Cisneros is a journalism sophomore. Reach her at

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