Friends Committee report slams private prisons

Opponents of prison privatization are mobilizing for a showdown public hearing Tuesday, Feb. 21, at 11:10 a.m. in the New Hampshire House Finance Committee over SB 376 to create a plan to outsource a thousand or more inmates.  The bill calls for publication of a prison privatization plan by May 1 that takes into account actual bids the state receives in the next six weeks from prison vendors. That due date would give lawmakers time to submit legislation to carry out the findings of the report before the 2012 session ends.

The American Friends Service Committee plans to testify next week about a scathing report its Arizona chapter released this afternoon, Feb. 15. The 105-page study faults that state’s for-profit prisons for warehousing inmates in dangerous conditions without saving taxpayers any money. The piece entitled “Private Prisons: The Public’s Problem: A Quality Assessment of Arizona’s Private Prisons” follows litigation by the Friends over the state’s failure to perform quality assurance reviews of these secretive and proprietary vendors as required every two years by law. The first such state overview came out this December and may have been spurred by the competing research of the Friends Service Committee, which began last spring. Below are the key findings of the new Friends report, which is available in full at the link The audio of a press conference for the report is available at

Arizona does not need more prison beds.

Arizona’s prison population grew by only 65 prisoners (net) in 2010 and actually declined by 296 prisoners in FY2011—the two lowest growth rates on record (dating back to 1973). Arizona Department of Corrections projects zero growth in the adult prison population for fiscal years 2012 and 2013.

Arizona is wasting money on prison privatization.

ADC cost comparison reviews of public and private prisons found that in many cases, private prisons cost more than their public equivalents. Between 2008 and 2010, Arizona overpaid for its private prisons by about $10 million. If the requested 2,000 medium security private prison beds are built, Arizona taxpayers can expect to waste at least $6 million on privatization every year.

All prisons in Arizona for which security assessment information was available had serious security flaws.

The Arizona Auditor General found a total of 157 security failures in the 5 private prisons under contract with ADC for just the first three months of 2011, including malfunctioning cameras, doors, and alarms; holes under fences; broken perimeter lights and cameras; and inefficient or outright inept security practices across the board by state and private corrections officers and managers.

Private prisons have serious staffing problems.

Many of the problems in private prisons stem from low pay, inadequate training, poor background screening procedures, high rates of turnover, and high staff vacancy rates.

These problems contribute to larger safety problems in private facilities, where inexperienced and undertrained guards often are unprepared or unwilling to handle serious security breaches or disturbances.

For-profit prison corporations do not measure recidivism rates.

The main purpose of a prison is to reduce crime. The only measurement available of how well a prison performs this function is its recidivism rates. None of the corporations operating in Arizona measure recidivism.

For-profit prison corporations are buying influence in Arizona government.

The companies operating prisons lobby aggressively, make large political campaign contributions, and secure high-level government appointments for corporate insiders.

For-profit prison corporations are not accountable to Arizona taxpayers.

They are not subject to the same transparency, reporting or oversight requirements as government agencies. For the six private prisons that do not contract with the state of Arizona, there is virtually no state oversight whatsoever. Attempts to hold the corporations accountable are sometimes thwarted by threats of legal action.