Keep Private Prison Interests Out of Our Schools!

On Wednesday, we covered some examples of private prison interests invading schools.  Today we have more disturbing news of private prison corporations exerting influence over the education system, this time out of Arizona.

Our friends at the American Friends Service Committee (including Caroline Isaacs, our Social Justice Hero for November 2012) alerted us to another alarming situation: two members of the Arizona Board of Regents (which oversees three state universities) are also on the board of Corrections Corporation of America.  One of of them, Anne Mariucci, is fairly new to the board (she joined in December 2011).  Dennis DeConcini has also come under fire for moving over to CCA in 2008 after serving a term as a senator.  


On February 22, the East Valley Tribune (in Tempe, AZ) reported that the NAACP has filed an official complaint, stating that the presence of Mariucci and DeConcini on the UA Board of Regents presents a serious conflict of interest: the more money the state spends on education, the less they can spend on prisons.  CCA has also been implicated the school-to-prison pipeline: CCA employees have been used to conduct drug sweeps in Arizona high schools.  Unlike the situation at Florida Atlantic University, where GEO Group is making a $6 million donation in exchange for naming rights at a stadium, CCA profits from taking money away from Arizona schools.  Because of this, we, along with activists in Arizona, are calling on DeConcini and Mariucci to step down from the Arizona Board of Regents.

Private prison companies should not be allowed to influence education in the USA. With GEO Group Stadium (#Owlcatraz) making headlines, we hope to shine a light on other crises in our nation's schools. The stirring testimony delivered to the Arizona Board of Regents by Matthew Lowen, American Friends Service Committee program coordinator, is posted below.

Testimony before Arizona Board of Regents, Thursday, 12.6.12

Mr. Chairman, members of the Board, good morning. My name is Matthew Lowen. I am a graduate student in the School of Geography where my focus is on the production of carceral spaces. I also am the Criminal Justice Program Coordinator for the American Friends Service Committee, where I have worked for seven and a half years on issues of mass incarceration, and prisoner rights.
Today I am greatly concerned by what I view as an enormous conflict of interest. Sitting here on the Arizona Board of Regents are two individuals with divided loyalties. By holding positions on both the Board of Regents and the Board of Directors for Corrections Corporation of America, Dennis DeConcini and Anne Mariucci are in a position where both entities which they represent are in competition for Arizona state funds. In this case the construction, use, and incarceration of community members in new private prison beds, and the cause of higher education are pitted against each other in the Arizona state budget.

 

This funding battle between education and incarceration is nothing new in Arizona history. There has long been a link between lack of educational opportunities and higher rates of incarceration. Also, I’m sure all of you are aware — as I am along with my fellow students thanks to higher tuition rates and fees, and downsizing of departments — of the decimation in University funding over the last few years. Meanwhile the only line item in the Arizona general budget that has risen each year, is that of corrections. This trend has culminated in the signing of a contract this year with Corrections Corporation of America for 1,000 new private prison beds (with the option for another 1,000) for the next 20 years.
 

Besides the simple fact that Board Members DeConcini and Mariucci are on the wrong side of history, by supporting and profiting from the imprisonment and detention of thousands of people in this state and across the country, this division of their loyalties between cages and classrooms is extremely concerning and unacceptable. Both as a student and a taxpayer I question the authenticity and ability to best advocate for the continuance and position of higher education in Arizona in one breath. And with another breath support unequivocally the unnecessary, immoral, and antiquated practice of mass incarceration in this country.


We must value education over and above incarceration. And to that end I urge you as Board Members and colleagues of DeConcini and Mariucci, to confront them regarding their positions on the Board of CCA, so that they might better serve the cause of the Arizona Board of Regents, the university students, and the broader community of Arizona. The Board of Regents is marred by its association with CCA, it’s Board Members, and the same lobbying firm. I urge you, stand with the community, and be on the correct side of history.