By Teri Walker–
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Arthur T. Anderson has dismissed a lawsuit against the Department of Corrections (DOC), which would have delayed the department’s awarding of contracts for up to 5,000 new private prison beds in the state.
The Quaker group American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) filed an injunction request with Maricopa County Superior Court Sept. 12 as part of its ongoing opposition to private prisons.
“We went to court as a last resort, because the government of the state of Arizona has repeatedly turned a blind eye to the problems inherent in for-profit prisons,” said Caroline Isaacs, AFSC’s Arizona program director.
AFSC’s filing requested the DOC be enjoined from awarding contracts for new private prisons until the department completes a required biennial comparison of services offered by private and public prisons, and offers it to Arizona’s Joint Legislative Budget Committee for review.
In his ruling, Judge Anderson said AFSC did not have standing to bring the lawsuit, asserting the statutory requirement issued from the legislature to the DOC to prepare the biennial report was, essentially, between the two entities, and private individuals do not have the standing to request the DOC be forced to act on statutory requirements.
AFSC has been vocal in its opposition to the establishment of additional private prison facilities in the state, citing concerns about cost, safety and security.
“We simply cannot accept that there is no accountability for these corporations, even when their mismanagement results in loss of life,” said Isaacs, referring to murders that were committed by prisoners that escaped from a private prison facility operated by Utah-based Management & Training Corp. (MTC) in Kingman in 2010. The investigation following the escape found numerous security flaws at the MTC facility.
In a previous interview, Isaacs said filing the injunction was “admittedly a Hail Mary,” and that her group’s ultimate desire is to keep the DOC from issuing contracts for new private prisons until the AFSC had the opportunity to share more information with the public about its concerns related to private prison operations.
The DOC is evaluating four proposals for new prison facilities in Winslow, Coolidge, Eloy, Yuma and Goodyear.
Last week, the DOC asked the companies that had provided proposals to extend their bid deadlines to Nov. 22.
Director of Communications Barrett Marson said the DOC is still evaluating the proposals and would not speculate when the department would make a final decision. He said the AFSC lawsuit filing had not affected the DOC’s decision to extend the review deadline, and that the department had not requested additional information from the bidding organizations.
Marson would not comment on the Superior Court’s ruling against AFSC.
LaSalle Corrections of Louisiana presented a bid to construct a 1,000-bed facility in Winslow near the existing state prison, and granted the DOC the requested extension on its proposal review deadline.
LaSalle Managing Director and Co-Founder Billy McConnell said the DOC did not give a reason for the time extension, but that his company was eager to keep its bid in the running.
“We’re still very optimistic about our chances to build in Winslow, and we’re still overwhelmed by the reception we have received from the community,” said McConnell.
The prison comparison report the AFSC referenced in its lawsuit is being prepared by the DOC, which expects to release findings in January 2012.
A press release issued by the organization said AFSC is considering the possibility of an appeal or other legal action.
“The group will do everything possible to mobilize Arizonans to take action and deliver a verdict in the court of public opinion,” said Isaacs.