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Arizona: Told you so!

Tucson Citizen (Arizona)
July 15, 2005
Private prison mandate was wrong decision

Arizona legislators have made their philosophical point. And it is costing you $11,000 a day.
It was in 2003, when Arizona prisons were badly crowded, that the Legislature decided to act.
Called into a special session to appropriate money for building cells for 4,200 inmates, the Legislature said it would do so only if at least 1,000 of the new beds were in private prisons.
Gov. Janet Napolitano and Corrections Director Dora Schriro objected, saying there was no proof it would be cheaper to send inmates to private facilities.
But state Sen. Bob Burns, R-Peoria and chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, couldn't resist the private prison siren song: "To pass up the opportunity of the private upfront money for construction to me is not responsible fiscal management," he said back in 2003.
Well, now it's 2005 and that siren song has gone flat.
Under legislative mandate, the Department of Corrections contracted with Correctional Services Corp. to build a 1,000-bed prison in Florence for sex offenders.
But here's the kicker: CSC will charge the state $61 a day to house each inmate. The state could do it for $50 a day in a state facility. The CSC bill works out to an extra $11,000 a day for Arizona taxpayers - and an extra $4.1 million a year. So where is the "responsible fiscal management" of which legislators boasted?
CSC explains its higher cost by saying it will have an "innovative rehabilitation program." We'll see.
Because the vast majority of inmates eventually are released back into society, rehabilitation is an important part of operating a prison. Paying more for effective rehabilitation may be worth it in the long run. But sex offenders are among the most challenging inmates to rehabilitate. So CSC faces a substantial challenge.
Protecting the public from harm is one of the major responsibilities of government. But have legislators done that when they turn over the responsibility of incarcerating dangerous inmates to a private, profit-driven company?
Private prisons make money by hiring fewer correctional officers and paying lower wages. Private prisons also can fail to adequately meet inmates' needs, setting the stage for escapes or disturbances inside prisons, while leaving the state with little authority to correct mismanagement. At a CSC facility in Texas, inmates rioted in January 2003 because, they said, they were underfed.
Arizona has a responsibility not only to its law-abiding citizens, but also to its inmates to ensure they are properly, safely and humanely cared for. And it has a responsibility to do so at the most reasonable price.
Instead of dictating the use of private prisons, legislators should leave those decisions to the corrections professionals.

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