Mar 282012

By Teri Walker —

A Quaker group that has been persistent in its fight against private prisons in Arizona has filed an appeal with the Arizona Department of Administration after the group’s protest against the Department of Corrections (DOC) was dismissed last week.

The group, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), and the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) of Maricopa County had filed a protest against the DOC’s issuance of a request for proposals (RFP) for private vendors to supply 2,000 new beds for male prisoners in Arizona. The groups argued that the state doesn’t need and can’t afford more prison beds, and that the existing private prison contracts are in violation of state statute as well as contract provisions that require private prisons to cost less and provide the same or better quality of service as state prisons.

A DOC report unveiled in December 2011 held that the state’s private prisons operate at a cost, and offer a quality of service, comparable to that offered by state-run facilities.

The AFSC doesn’t agree with the DOC’s assertions, and continues to fight against private prisons.

On March 19, DOC Chief Procurement Officer Denel Pickering dismissed the protest, saying the groups do not have standing to protest under the state procurement code.

“There is no doubt that AFSC and NAACP fail to qualify as interested parties. Neither entity is registered as a vendor through the State of Arizona and registration is a requirement,” Pickering said in her dismissal letter.

Previously, Pickering noted, the Arizona Superior Court for Maricopa County knocked down an injunction the AFSC sought against the DOC’s issuance of a private prison solicitation.

Pickering said, “This attempted protest is obviously an attempt by the AFSC to find another method to express its political opposition to the use of private prisons in Arizona,” an attempt, Pickering holds, that isn’t appropriate to pursue through the procurement office.

Pickering said the protest must be denied on the issue of standing alone, but continued in her letter, “However, even if the AFSC and NAACP were interested parties, their purported protest would be denied on the merits.”

She then laid out a point-by-point rebuttal of the protesters’ claims.

To the argument that additional prison beds are not needed in Arizona, Pickering says, “The protesters are wrong. This sort of determination is accorded by law to the DOC. DOC has the full power and discretion to make and support its business decisions for needs related to prisons. The subjective statement by an unqualified party further supports the conclusion that the purported grounds of the protest are invalid, have no support and are unsubstantiated.”

The DOC says its need for new beds is based on prisoner increase projections.

Pickering similarly dismissed AFSC’s assertion that Arizona can’t afford more private prison contracts.

“This statement is also wrong. DOC obtains funds through its legislative budget process and believes adequate funds will be available to support the eventual contract award under this RFP.”

Of AFSC’s argument that existing private, for-profit prisons are in violation of state statute, Pickering says, “Not only is this statement wrong, even if it were correct, that would be utterly irrelevant to the current solicitation.”

Pickering went on to dismiss several other points of the AFSC’s protest.

In a statement, Caroline Isaacs, the director of AFSC’s Arizona office said Pickering didn’t offer any evidence or documentation to refute her group’s claims.

Isaacs said that AFSC was specifically directed to file a protest under the Procurement Code by the Attorney General in his motion to dismiss their lawsuit against the DOC’s last private prison RFP, and questions why the Attorney General would have given that direction if the AFSC didn’t have standing. She said AFSC also contends that the DOC is implicated in violations of state law and has failed in its responsibility to properly screen bids, monitor contracts or hold private prison corporations accountable for their mistakes.

Isaacs says that allowing the DOC to determine the outcome of the protest is “akin to letting the fox tell the farmer whether the henhouse is properly managed.”

The AFSC and NAACP are asking the Department of Administration to halt the bid review process while the groups’ appeal is reviewed. The bid period ended March 13, and DOC is reviewing proposals submitted by five private prison vendors pursuing contracts to build the 2,000 new beds.

Among the bidders is La Salle Corrections of Louisiana, which submitted three proposals, ranging from 1,000 to 2,000 beds, to build a facility next to the DOC prison in Winslow. LaSalle’s recommended proposal is 1,000 beds for the Winslow site.