Earlier this month, prisoners incarcerated by the Arizona Department of Corrections at a for-profit private prison in Kingman, Arizona rioted and destroyed much of the facility. The recent unrest and violence at the Kingman prison should come as no surprise to any of us. In fact, we should have anticipated it. Under the management of MTC, a private for-profit prison corporation based in Utah, Kingman has been the site of other unconscionable and high-level disturbances, including the escape of three people who were later tied to the murder of a couple in New Mexico.
The following are remarks by Grassroots Leadership's Executive Director Bob Libal at a July 20th press conference at the Arizona House of Representatives:
I'm very happy to be here this morning with advocates, legislators, and members of the faith community calling for Arizona to implement policies that reduce reliance on mass for-profit incarceration.
Arizona's struggles with for-profit prisons are not unique. Private prisons are well-documented for cutting corners in staffing levels, staff training and staff benefits, all which lead to notably higher staff turnover rates in private prisons than in publicly run prisons. Of course, violence, disruptions, and staff incompetency is found in publicly run prisons, too. The difference is that, as publicly run entities, they can and should be held to account by the public. But when taxpayer dollars are used to outsource the management of prisons, we actually relinquish the right to holding these companies accountable. That, too, is unconscionable. States across the country have seen the kind of incidents that Arizona has saw at the Kingman facility over the past several years. In Texas, conditions at the Willacy County Correctional Center - also operated by Management and Training Corporation, the same private prison company - deteriorated and poorly trained prison leadership reacted so badly that immigrant prisoners rioted and destroyed the facility.
In Ohio, just one year after the state turned over the Lake Erie Correctional Center to Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), an inspection found the facility plagued with drugs and violence so extreme that prison guards were simply afraid to intervene. These stories are all too common.
Simply put, further investing in a broken for-profit prison system makes no one safer. But it does not have to be this way. States and the federal government are investing in policies to reduce the number of people in prisons and close prisons, not open new ones. These changes are happening in red states and in blue states, with initiatives supported by Republicans and by Democrats.
Reducing reliance on incarceration helps save money and save lives. In my state, Texas, a bipartisan group of legislators and advocates has successfully closed three prisons in the last five years. In 2013, the legislature eliminated $100 million from the private prison line of the budget, resulting in the closure of two CCA prisons, including the troubled Dawson State Jail, a facility where multiple women incarcerated on low-level offenses had died.
I'm happy to stand here today with Arizonans calling for investment in real efforts to provide public safety and reduce incarceration, and not simply throwing more money into private prisons.