Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Thanks, AFSC: State Records Show Private Prisons Don't Save Money

Posted By on Tue, Jul 24, 2012 at 4:00 PM

The good folks from the American Friends Service Committee posted today on their blog, Cell-Out AZ, documents they obtained that show the "state of Arizona deliberately circumvented and ultimately repealed a state law requiring private for-profit prison corporations to demonstrate cost savings in their bids on new prison contracts. These records reveal that the state was aware that existing private prison contracts were not saving the state money—despite state laws requiring private prison contractors to deliver such savings."

You can read the documents and the entire post here.

A brilliant snippet from the AFSC post:

Several of the key players in the Arizona budget process have accepted contributions from lobbyists, political action committees (PACs) and other individuals/entities associated with for-profit prison corporations. For example:

Governor Brewer’s campaign manager and top advisor, Chuck Coughlin. Coughlin runs Highground Consulting, which lobbies for CCA in Arizona.
Paul Senseman, a CCA lobbyist, is also the “spokesman” for Brewer’s PAC
John Kavanagh, Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, has accepted numerous campaign contributions from lobbyists associated with the for-profit prison industry. Kavanagh was instrumental in the passage of the 2012 CJBRA.
House Speaker Andy Tobin has raked in thousands of dollars from lobbyists and others associated with three of the for-profit prison corporations currently bidding on contracts in Arizona. This includes donations from the CEO’s of both GEO Group and GEO Care, as well as the MTC PAC.

Suspecting that the “invisible hand of the market” was behind the effort to remove the cost and quality assessment requirements, muckraking journalist extraordinaire, Beau Hodai, sent a public records request to Kavanagh’s office seeking documents related to the drafting and passage of the budget bill. [Mr. Hodai, you may recall, was responsible for first revealing the links between CCA and the Governor’s office in relationship to SB1070 for In These Times.]

In response, Hodai received a two-paragraph letter, denying access to records relating to the bill and invoking “legislative privilege.” Because, after all, what good will it do to remove all accountability from the for-profit prison industry if snooping reporters can uncover records relating to influence working behind the scenes through public records law?

The timing of the repeal coincides with plans to award a new contract for 1,000 more for-profit prison beds. The contract for these beds is expected to be signed by September 1, 2012. Funding for the beds was approved in the same budget that removed the accountability provisions. Many have questioned the wisdom of building prisons we don’t need (the state’s prison population is decreasing) and can’t afford. After all, the state is barely beginning to come back from a crippling budget deficit. And where was Arizona supposed to find the funds for a massive prison expansion, anyway?

Soon after the budget passed, the answer was revealed: The legislature planned to pay for new prison beds by sweeping $50 million from a housing trust containing money from a settlement the federal government negotiated with big banks in the wake of the mortgage crisis. The monetary aid was intended for states to assist people impacted by foreclosures. So, essentially the legislature planned to pay for overpriced prisons we don’t need by stealing the money from victims of the housing crisis. Classy.

On May 24, 2012, The Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest and the William E Morris Institute for Justice filed a lawsuit on behalf of distressed homeowners to prevent the transfer.

So, to recap, private prisons are a waste of money and everybody knows it. But because the corporations pour millions into lobbying and campaign donations, Arizona politicians have adjusted state law to “look the other way”— thus paving the way for future contracts unencumbered by pesky accountability measures and ensuring that the state budget will continue to bleed millions into corrections at the expense of education, health care and social services.

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