This terrific article, Arizona's Private Prisons: A Bad Bargain (from The Nation) discusses in detail the failures of Arizona's privatized prison scheme, which has resulted in overpayments to contractors of $10 million in a two year period. [I sympathize with fiscal conservatives who want the government to spend less; it would seem that they would therefore oppose privatization, as it so often ends up being more expensive than the government doing the task itself]. One chilling quote from the article is this:
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 more 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. On February 27 the legislature proposed a budget bill eliminating the requirement for a cost and quality review of private prison contracts. According to the AFSC, “The move would ensure that the public would have no way of knowing whether the state’s private prisons are saving money, rehabilitating prisoners, or ensuring public safety.”
Why have Arizona’s politicians taken this route? Part of the explanation may be that many of them have received large campaign contributions from private prison companies like GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America.
Sadly, this is a typical part of privatization stories. Another point from the article that is worth highlighting is this:
Arizona’s privatization schemes have become wackier in the face of recession budget woes. Legislators have sold off and then leased back the State Capitol building and pushed for the wholesale privatization of the prison system. The industry, however, is not interested. Private prisons profit only when they can cherry-pick the inmates—setting the conditions for those they’ll accept and rejecting violent or seriously ill inmates—and can make the state cover the hidden costs of running a prison, such as training drug-sniffing dogs and processing release paperwork.
- Dru Stevenson