Our own Bill Timberman was this week’s guest on Democratic Perspective. Bill has made several presentations in the past. This time, he focused on the privatization of prisons in Arizona.
He began by saying, “This idea of the outsourcing and privatization of services that used to be considered the natural functions of government has been in progress for almost 20 years now in public utilities, in the military, in primary and secondary education and, now, in prisons. And now that it’s been going on for 20 years, we see some significant data on how it’s working out and what conclusions we can draw.”
“There has been some excellent reporting in Arizona, particularly by The Arizona Republic and others, including the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC),” he said.
When asked why Republicans are determined to turn prisons into for-profit institutions, Bill responded, “There are two main reasons. One is that it’s cheaper – at least that’s what they say. The second is that they claim it allows states to focus on more important things.”
But as Bill points out, “The Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) own report found that, although private prison beds cost 3 cents a day less for minimum security, they cost $4.60 more per day for medium security inmates. The thing you’ve got to remember about the medium security beds being so much more expensive is that they make up 43 percent of the total in private prisons,” he said. “So the cost differential is significant.”
And the ADC studies don’t even consider all of the costs for private prisons, such as tax subsidies to the corporations managing prisons, or the cost of infrastructure support — water, sewer and electrical hookups, and access roads — all of which costs are borne by the state.
“When you add it all up,” said Timberman, “they estimate that the state has paid $10 million more over the past 2 years for private prisons than if the state ran the prisons itself. What’s even more amazing is that if the expansion of 2,500 additional prison beds goes through, the state will be paying $6 million a year more than the state would if they ran these prisons themselves.”
Interestingly, these costs fly in the face of state law. “…under Arizona law, the state can’t contract out its prison services unless the cost per bed under the contract is less than the cost in state-run prisons,” Bill reported. So why hasn’t the state moved to cancel the contracts? “Well, the informed speculation is that Arizona has no place to put them at this point,” Bill replied.
There are three reasons for privatization according to Bill, “The first one is ideology. Conservatives, particularly conservative Republicans, believe that the government is always the problem.”
“The second reason, I believe is politics,” he said. To make that point, he read a quote from the 2012 report in The Boston Occupier: “A 2010 study by the ADC showed that while private prisons utilize many cost cutting methods, they actually cost the state more than public prisons. Any money which is saved through cost cutting is ultimately taken as a profit by the corporation which owns the prison, a loss which is not present in publicly owned prisons. Cost cutting measures that have been utilized to increase private prison profits include cutting wages, the reduction of employee benefits, not hiring union guards, pushing sick or disabled prisoners back into the public prison system, and reducing rehabilitation services to prisoners.”
“It becomes pretty clear how the politics of privatization work,” Bill continued. “Profit-making business people support Republicans. Union prison guards support Democrats. These private corporations that run prisons have plenty of money to spend on lobbying and campaign contributions. That campaign contribution in Arizona is not going to go to the Democrats.”
For example, the Corrections Corporation of America spent $17.6 million on lobbying. They have 35 lobbyists in Washington, 30 of which are former aides to Congressional representatives. As a result, private prison companies have $3.8 billion in federal contracts.
“Let’s go right from that into our third reason which looks like good old-fashioned corruption,” Timberman continued. “SB 1070, the anti-immigrant law that is now being challenged in the Supreme Court, was originally conceived of as a law that would create a private prison system for undocumented immigrants. CCA looked at the upcoming immigration laws and said this looks like a wonderful profit center for prisons so they sat down together with ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) to draft model legislation to link private prisons and increase immigration enforcement. Almost word for word, that model legislation drafted by ALEC was used as the text for SB 1070.”
“During this drafting session with ALEC, guess who was sitting there? It was then Arizona Senator Russell Pearce,” said Bill.
Bill continued, “The Director of ADC from 1995-2002 was Terry Stewart. After he retired, he founded his own lobbying concern called Advanced Correctional Management (ACM), and one of his clients is CCA which is bidding in Arizona on the expansion contract. His deputy at ACM was Charles Ryan who is now the Director of the ADC and who will be the one who signs off on the bids for the Arizona prisons.”
To show how dysfunctional the prison system has become, Bill detailed the aftermath of the famous 2010 escape from a Kingman prison run by Management & Training Corporation (MTC). “They were eventually caught but in the meantime, one of them killed a couple of people. So the ADC went in to look at what happened. They found broken alarm systems, holes in the fence, a control panel that didn’t work and substandard staffing. These defeciencies didn’t get corrected in a timely fashion so the State of Arizona transferred prisoners out of the facility. Then MTC slapped them with a suit saying that they dropped below 97 percent occupancy and that they were owed a bunch of money. There’s a nice chart on The Arizona Republic website that shows that the state has paid $3 million to this company for empty beds since this happened.”
Timberman concluded by saying, “It (privatization of prisons) gives a substandard return on investment. It invites corruption. And it threatens the health and safety of the state’s inmates who may have been convicted of crimes agains society, but they don’t deserve to be treated like disposable refuse.”