Hump Day Hall of Shame: As Arizona faces firestorm of criticism over private prison contract, ADC moves to privatize re-entry

Co-Authored by Caroline Isaacs, director of the AFSC's Arizona Program in Tucson 

You may have seen a lot of press recently about the announcement that Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) will make this Friday, awarding a contract for construction and management of up to 2,000 prison beds to one of five private, for-profit prison corporations.

Arizona advocates have engaged the support of state and national organizations to oppose Arizona’s planned expansion of its for-profit prison beds.  This week Grassroots Leadership added its name to a letter addressed to Arizona governor Jan Brewer, along with over 50 other organizations, faith leaders, and elected officials in an effort to block the award of a new private prison contract.

In the public debate over the 2,000-bed contract that will be awarded this week, it was easy to miss the Arizona Department of Corrections release of a Request for Information (RFI) for a for-profit, private “residential community corrections center” in Maricopa County

The rationale for the creation of this facility, as stated in the document, uses the difficulty released prisoners have with finding jobs and suitable housing as an excuse to keep these individuals--who pose little risk to the community and are supposed to be released--in “residential corrections centers” so that a corporation can continue to make money by housing them.

Arizona is not the first state to privatize re-entry. A series of investigative reports in the New York Times revealed that the private, for-profit halfway houses in New Jersey had become “a shadow corrections network, where drugs, gang activity and violence, including sexual assaults, often go unchecked.” The Times articles asserts that the company running the centers, Community Education Centers (CEC), had “deep connections to politicians of both parties, most notably Gov. Chris Christie.”

In addition to Community Education Centers (CEC), the other big player in the “incarceration lite” market (halfway houses, secure mental institutions, etc.) is GEO Care, a subsidiary of GEO Group. GEO already runs three private prisons in Arizona, one of which just happened to be cited in the RFI as an example of exactly the sort of facility ADC is looking for. A look at recent campaign finance reports shows that GEO Care was making the political rounds in Arizona recently, with CEO Wayne Calabrese donating directly to Arizona House Speaker Andy Tobin.

With prison populations dropping in Arizona and nationally, for-profit prison corporations are reading the writing on the wall. While some, like Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), are “going nuclear” by making wild proposals to buy state prisons and privatize entire state departments of correction, others, including GEO Group, are moving into the “alternatives” market, in an effort to position themselves to take advantage of the inevitable sentencing reforms on the way.

These corporations directly undermine attempts to reduce prison populations and promote alternative sentencing by pushing “residential” programs in lieu of true, community based reentry and rehabilitative programming. These efforts compete for state funds with local social service providers and county probation departments--siphoning state funds into corporate bank accounts in other states. And, if New Jersey is any guide, Arizona will have little to show for this misplaced investment.

To continue following developments on opposing for-profit prisons in Arizona visit Cell-Out Arizona