Sep 282011

By Linda Kor–

How secure are Arizona’s private prisons? A look at an audit unveiled Friday by the Arizona’s Office of the Auditor General showed that private prison oversight has improved, but additional actions are needed to strengthen monitoring.

It was noted in the audit that the Department of Corrections (DOC) has made some major improvements in how it oversees operations of private prisons since the escape of three inmates in July of last year. Although it has not been stated as a factor in the escapes, it was determined that the prison’s alarm system was not working properly and had not been serviced in two years. In addition, private prison staff sometimes ignored the alarms and would reset the alarms without first checking the perimeter.

In a review of private prisons throughout the state there were issues identified such as the daily tracking of tool inventory, which was not always conducted. There were also several instances when auditors and DOC personnel noted that personal property of staff and other individuals entering the prisons was not adequately searched. Auditors also witnessed inmates who did not have visible identification when moving to meals or in the yard, and officers did not enforce the related policies.

In an effort to improve, the DOC has implemented the Green Amber Red (GAR) inspection program. Under the program, various department security policies are tested monthly using a checklist. Green means compliance, amber means corrective action is needed for minor issues and red means immediate corrective action is needed to avoid threats to safety. Private prison wardens are responsible for developing corrective action plans to address amber and red findings.

The DOC will also revise its audit procedures to measure actual performance against department policies and procedures. That policy will go into effect in January 2012.

As a result of the issues uncovered, the DOC has revised its bid requirements for 5,000 additional private prison beds to be added to the state to include enhanced internal monitoring, performance measures, penalties for noncompliance, and regular testing and annual certification of security systems. The DOC is also developing training for contract monitoring staff that is scheduled to begin in this month.

The four private-prison operators bidding for the beds include Corrections Corp. of America, which would use two existing prisons it operates in Eloy that now house prisoners from other states; Geo Group Inc., which has proposed building new prisons in San Luis or Goodyear, next to the existing Perryville state prison; Management and Training Corp., which is proposing new facilities in Yuma or Coolidge; and LaSalle Corrections, which proposes to build a prison near the existing state prison in Winslow. A decision on the sites is expected at any time.