Tensions are running high between Arizona county sheriffs and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). The main source of this contention is money. Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, along with other state sheriffs' offices, argue that Arizona is wasting money by moving inmates to a private prison.
Sheriffs' offices in Apache, Pinal, Cochise, Navajo, and Santa Cruz counties have all announced that they are willing to house some of the prisoners from the Department of Corrections. This solution would be far less expensive than utilizing private facilities. Meanwhile, Arizona has promised CCA a profit along with a minimum occupancy rate of 90% at the new facility.
CCA is now considered to be the third private-prison operator for the Department of Corrections. Arizona Governor, Jan Brewer, has called for the use of private facilities in order to reduce overcrowding in prisons. Private prisons have been the topic of debate for years because these facilities cost the state more money than county jails.
Arpaio has more than enough room to house inmates in Tent City. However, the facilities at Tent City will not allow for each inmate to have his own TV. Individual TVs are required by the state. Arpaio is clearly against private prisons. He was quoted as saying that “[i]f they could get more people by giving them ice cream and cake, they would do it.”
In total, the six sheriffs who have offered their counties' services could provide a minimum of 1,750 beds. This number exceeds the amount of beds that have been contracted with CCA in Eloy. In response, the Department of Corrections has stated that it is not willing to scatter the inmates throughout the state of Arizona.
Allegedly, CCA also provides for better education and rehabilitation than what sheriff-run jails are capable of providing. It is also argued that county jails are designed for a different purpose. These facilities generally house individuals who are currently awaiting trial. Jails, by definition, are supposed to be short-term detention facilities, while prisons are designed to be long-term detention facilities.
While CCA may be able to provide for more substance abuse programs, education, and work opportunities, is it worth the increased cost? Navajo County Sheriff, K.C. Clark has said that the state of Arizona is paying CCA 32% more than the $49.44 daily per-inmate rate that Navajo County received.
Interestingly enough, the governor's office and some lawmakers claim that private prisons save taxpayers money over time. Private prisons will have higher up-front costs, but may eventually see lower operating costs. In this case, it is estimated that the state will experience this lower cost in about 20 years.
Of course, statistics are not always based on apples to apples comparisons. For example, private prisons only house minimum to medium-security inmates. Further, these inmates are generally in good physical and mental health. It is primarily state-run facilities that house inmates with more serious health care conditions. This will increase the cost. This debate will most likely continue for years to come. Jails are overcrowded and money is always an issue. If you have questions about immigration matters or are facing charges, contact my office today.