Last week the Arizona Department of Corrections awarded a prison contract to Corrections Corporation of America(CCA). To no real surprise CCA employs lobbyists with close ties to Governor Jan Brewer. What is pretty shocking however is that by having CCA, a private company, run the prison instead of the state it will cost taxpayers 35% more.
So while government is getting smaller it is not getting cheaper. What’s even more wild is that government officials cite saving money because they state wont have to build a new prison, even though the facility at Eloy is already built.
CCA is based out of Nashville, Tennessee and will operate a 1000 bed medium security prison in Eloy with the option to run another 1000 beds if serious offender inmates increase in population. CCA, a publicly held company that reported $162.5million in profits last year, was one of five bidders for the contract. The firm is politically connected to Brewer, who has pushed for the prison expansion. Until mid-July, CCA employed Chuck Coughlin, an influential lobbyist who is a close friend and an adviser to Brewer. And, state lobbying records show CCA also employs Policy Development Group, a lobbying firm that includes Paul Senseman, Brewer’s former spokesman.
“If you place two of your lobbyists at the right and left hand of the governor of the state and she has the final say and oversight of the Department of Corrections, I would say that’s a pretty smart business strategy,” said Caroline Isaacs of the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker group and opponent of Arizona’s private-prison expansion.
Steve Owen, a CCA spokesman, said the company won the bid through a rigorous procurement process, and he credited the support of Eloy and others in Pinal County for helping CCA win.
“A lot of companies bid for this contract. We were selected on the merits of our proposal,” Owen said. “CCA’s proposal provides Arizona an existing prison that is staffed by experienced corrections professionals, provides established rehabilitation programs, and meets and exceeds industry standards for safety and security.”
Bill Lamoreaux, a corrections spokesman, said lobbying firms had no influence on the decision-making process.
“The award was based on the evaluation of the proposals from the prospective vendors and was not influenced by lobbyists and/or consultants from any of the submitting firms. The award decision was the responsibility and decision of the Department of Corrections,” Lamoreaux said.
Attempts to reach Brewer’s office, Coughlin and Senseman were unsuccessful after the Department of Corrections announced just before 6 p.m. that that CCA had won the bid.
The state granted the contract even though Corrections records show that it’s cheaper for taxpayers to have the state run a prison. The move comes as the state’s overall prison population has declined the past two years, is expected to remain flat the next two years and then increase only slightly thereafter.
The contract calls for CCA to be paid a per diem rate of $65.43 per bed. The most recent information available shows the average daily cost per inmate in a state-run medium-custody facility in 2010 was $48.42. The award to CCA is 35percent more than what it cost the state to house and monitor inmates two years ago.
Corrections Director Charles Ryan has justified the extra cost for a private-prison operator because he said the state is not laying out additional cash to build a new prison, and the private firm needs to recover its cost for a facility.
However, CCA is not building a new prison in Eloy. Instead, it’s using an existing prison, according to Owen.
The contract calls for 500 beds to come online in January 2014. The next 500 would be in place in January 2015. The Legislature has not determined when, or if, the remaining 1,000 beds would be added, but the decision would be based on increases in the medium-security population.
If CCA operates the Eloy facility at 90percent of capacity for the 1,000 beds, it would make nearly $21.5million annually.
The company houses more than 80,000 inmates in more than 60 facilities, including six in Arizona. CCA’s Arizona facilities house inmates from other states. CCA board members include former U.S. Sen. Dennis DeConcini, D-Ariz., and Anne Mariucci, an Arizona Board of Regents member.
State corrections records, as of Friday, show there are 2,002 empty beds in Arizona’s prison system, which houses 39,843 male and female inmates in state-operated and private prisons.
The records show that 1,153 of the empty beds are in minimum-security facilities and 724 others are in women’s prisons. There’s a shortage of 31 medium-security prison beds.
Ryan has said despite the overall surplus of beds, the state cannot place medium-security inmates in minimum-security facilities because of safety concerns. Also, men cannot be housed in female prisons.
A group of elected officials, most of whom are Democrats, along with clergy members and representatives of civil-rights groups, this week asked Brewer to intervene and stop the contract. The governor, who supported the additional beds, declined.
“The bottom line is we need to protect safety while protecting taxpayer dollars, and expansion of private prisons does neither,” said state Rep. Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix.