Mar 092012

By Teri Walker —

The Quaker group American Friends Service Committee is once again taking on private prisons and the Arizona Department of Corrections (DOC) with a new protest filed this week asking the State Procurement Office to cancel a request for 2,000 additional private prison beds.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) of Maricopa County joined with the Friends Service Committee to file the protest, which argues that the state of Arizona does not need, nor can it afford, additional prison beds, and that the existing prison contracts violate state statutes requiring private prisons to cost less and provide the same or better quality of service as state prisons.

The Friends Service Committee has been active in its fight against the addition of new private prison beds in Arizona, filing a series of injunction requests, lawsuits and protests throughout the extended bid process.

In January, the DOC issued a request for proposals (RFP), soliciting bids to construct 2,000 medium security beds for male inmates, which would be operated on a contractual basis with the DOC. The RFP came in the wake of the DOC cancelling its previous request for proposals for 5,000 new private prison beds that were previously mandated through legislative action.

The Friends Committee disputes whether any new beds are needed at all and states in its protest letter, “The state prison population has dropped dramatically and this decline is expected to continue…The Arizona Department of Corrections projects zero growth in the adult prison population for 2012 and 2013. Therefore no new prison beds are needed and expenditure would be a waste of taxpayer monies.”

“The required 2,000 medium security beds are based upon the population forecasted growth of 25 inmates per month throughout fiscal year 14 and 15,” said DOC public information officer Bill Lamoreaux.

When the DOC originally asked for 5,000 new private prison beds, it based the need on population growth projections of 114 inmates per month, which was derived from a history of continuous inmate population growth from 2001 through 2010, according to the department.

The DOC said because it expected the prison population to grow to nearly 50,000 inmates by the end of 2016, it forecasted a need for an additional 8,500 prison beds, both state and privately operated, by the end of 2017.

When actual prisoner growth in 2010 capped off at only 65 inmates and then declined in fiscal year 2011 by 296 inmates, the DOC recalculated its bed needs.

In December 2011, the DOC released a new needs estimate of only 2,500 new beds: the 2,000 private medium security male beds, and an additional 500 maximum-security beds, which would be operated by the DOC.

The Friends Committee and NAACP raise a number of additional issues in their letter to the State Procurement Office, including the claim that Arizona can’t afford additional private prison contracts, citing the state’s budget struggles of 2011 and 2012 as an argument that the “state does not have sufficient funds to incur this long lasting and unnecessary debt.”

The groups also argue existing private prison contractors Management and Training Corporation and GEO Group are allegedly in violation of contract provisions requiring their Arizona facilities to operate at a savings to the state, and claiming the companies have breached their contractual duty by not providing services at a lower cost, or comparable services at a higher quality, than what is provided through DOC-run facilities.

The protest letter also alleges violation of safety requirements at existing private prisons, and that private facilities violate state statutes because they have higher staff vacancy and turnover rates than equivalent state-operated prison units.

In response to the letter of protest, Lamoreaux said, “We received the letter late last night and are currently reviewing it, in detail, in accordance with GAO (Government Accounting Office) code.”

Caroline Isaacs, director of the American Friends Service Committee’s Arizona office, is unyielding in her criticism of the state’s private prison operations.

“They do not save money, they are not safe, and they are not rehabilitating prisoners,” she said. “If those were the justifications for privatization, it’s clear this experiment has been a failure.”

The groups are requesting the State Procurement Office immediately halt the prison RFP process, for which the submission deadline was March 6, while the protest letter is reviewed. The groups also have asked the DOC to “formally and permanently” cancel the RFP, and award no further contracts for additional private prisons in the state.